A few weeks ago i received a 'Bloggers' View Invitation' to visit Power of Making, an exhibition set up by The Crafts Council, one of my favourite organizations in UK, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. To make it even more enticing, the email explained that The first 10 bloggers to arrive will receive a free copy of the Power of Making book. Now i had never received an invitation that openly segregated bloggers from journalists but since it offered a tour with the curator and the possibility to meet some of the artists/designers, i chose not to ask myself too many questions. I wasn't in town on the day of the tour so i asked Nelly Ben Hayoun (a talented Creative Director & Experience Designer whose show Glitch Fiction has just open in Paris) to visit the exhibition for me.

Now I'm going to shut up here and let Nelly tell you what she thought about the Power of Making show:

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Power of Making © V&A images

Power of Making is currently showing at the V&A until 2nd January 2012. The exhibition, curated by Daniel Charny "aims to show how the act of making in its various forms, from human expression to practical problem solving, is shared by all. We hope the exhibition will inspire people and cause them to thoughtfully consider the role of making in their life, in society in commerce and in education."

Emphasis is put on explaining the various making processes ranging from carving to clicking to checkering to locksmithing or wickerworking, to the public.

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Shauna Richardson, Crochetdermy Bear, 2007 ©Shauna Richardson

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Shauna Richardson, Crochetdermy Bear (detail), 2007 ©Shauna Richardson

We navigate over an organized series of cabinets into a grey room finding ourselves in front of life-size crochet bear, lion-shaped Ghanaian coffin, wooden bicycles, glass noses, etc.

The exhibition is inspired by the Power of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames' film depicting the relative scale of the universe, which is to say according to Daniel Charny that "we should look into the knowledge (the bigger picture) as much as the maker's skill (detail)."

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Power of Making © V&A images

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Power of Making © V&A images

Daniel Charny wants to speak to 'people's curiosity, to change our perception of craft and present us with the contemporary motivation behind making.' Therefore, makers in the exhibition are not seen through their discipline but through their actual making. "Making can do" the curator told us, so there is no differentiation between professional and amateurs and no mention of the in-between maker community "the Pro-ams". What is key to Daniel is to present us with a state of imagination at this point in time.

While the exhibition reflects the technicality of making, it barely considers the context of it.

The challenge in presenting the 'making culture' resides in the understanding of the context in which the maker make: its community, its peers, its communications tools. Makers do have power and impact and like spiders they have developed ingenious ways in which they can act as a group in order to "hack the post-industrial milieu" as explained by Bruce Sterling. This is not a clean process and it is not always as well defined as the Power of Making exhibition would let you believe. It is, as Sterling calls it, a real "culture of the mashup".

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Michael Rea, A Prosthetic Suit for Stephen Hawking with Japanese Steel , 2007 © Contemporary Art Museum Virginia Beach

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Damian O'Sullivan, Ceramic eye patch © Damian O'Sullivan

It is a choice made by Daniel Charny not to show the profession of the makers, the piece must stand out by itself , it is about the making of it and not really about the maker....
But I can't stop wondering: Which maker(s) are we talking about? Which one(s) have the 'Power"? Are they the "outsiders"? The "popular" ones? The marginals? The ones who develop "countercultures"? Are they the nerds, geeks, anoraks, enthusiasts, hackers, men in their sheds, bricoleurs, amateurs, hobbyists, "Pro-am", members of the instructables community, new social hybrids, creators, inventors of all ages and all cultures? Each of them is unique, they all have a different practice of the everyday and they all find their inspirations within it.

Another point i'd like to raise is that one of the differences between a professional maker and a pro-am or amateur is that the amateur 'makes' during his leisure time. Pro-ams have changed dramatically the consumer framework. Nowadays, we now not only speak about leisure as a time where the "modern man" can relax but we actually speak of a real economy. Leisure produces specific products and services. Passionate makers enjoy "leisure activities".

Once again, this issue seems to be a curatorial challenge, how do you represent the time of making in an exhibition?

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David Mach RA, 'King Silver' gorilla sculpture, 2011 ©Private Collection, photographer Richard Riddick thedpc.com

Another qualm for me is that although the exhibition does present us with the technicality behind the making, it doesn't give us a view on the process of it. When looking at David Mach's King silver Gorilla Sculpture I would like to see how these coat hangers have been put together, I would like to feel the pain, the mess or clean aspect of making such a work.

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Major A. T. Casdagli RAOC, 'God Save the King, F*** Hitler' ,1941 ©Captain A. T. Casdagli

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Power of Making © V&A images

Funnily enough, before arriving to the "Power of Making" exhibition, I was reading about Bourdieu and his The forms of Capital. Bourdieu is one of the first French academics to have proclaimed the power and the creativity of the popular culture in the 80's. Under the name of "counter-cultures" Bourdieu studied the variety of outsider practice. He differentiated three kinds of capital that the individual experiences in his life, "economic capital", "social capital" which is based on the network, relationship, membership we are enable to create. And then "cultural capital" which is about the knowledge, skills, education that you have and that can give you higher status. Indeed cultural capital is what makes the difference between an amateur-maker and a usual consumer, by making the amateur is increasing his cultural capital.

How to make? When? And what is the learning process? These are three aspects I would have liked to see being explored in the exhibition.

I expected to see the making of the future revolution, the power and the people behind it! What I saw was the craft and technicality of it. But I guess this is the way to do it, first think through the tools and then get the Bastille!?

To conclude, i'd say that Power of Making is a highly recommended exhibition on the techniques behind making. And good job Daniel! You got me going on the topic!

The Power of Making is currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 2nd January 2012. Admission free.
Sponsored by:





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Coletivo Gambiologia (Fred Paulino, Ganso and Lucas Mafra), Gambiociclo, 2010 (image Eduardo Berthier)

Gambiarra is the Brazilian practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to quirky and smart improvisation in order to repair what doesn't work or to create what you need with what you have at your disposal. Gambiologia is the 'science' that studies this form of creative improvisation and celebrates it by combining it with electronic-digital techniques.

Gambiologia is also the name of a collective of artists - Fred Paulino, Lucas Mafra and Paulo Henrique 'Ganso Pessoa' - who mix this art of improvisation with DIY culture & technology to develop electronic artifacts.

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Saulo Policarpo, Prismatic Gambièrre. Image Pedro David

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Mariana Manhães, Isso (Taça Azul) e Isso (Taça de Cristal). Image Pedro David

Last year, Fred Paulino gathered the work of Gambiologia along with the one of over 20 Brazilian and international artists in an exhibition titled "Gambiólogos - Kludging in a Digital Era". The objects, sculptures and installations selected explored the concept of technological gambiarra: they adapt, reinvent recycled and found materials using electronic technologies and much improvisation.

Fred Paulino, who is an artist, designer, gambiologist as well as the curator of the exhibition, was kind enough to send me the catalog of the show a few months ago (you can also download the catalog in its PDF form.) I liked its content so much i thought it was my duty to pester him with my questions:

You translate 'gambiologia' with Kludging. How different is it from hacking?

Gambiologia is something like "The science of gambiarra", which is a Brazilian cultural practice of solving problems creatively in alternative ways with low cost and lots of spontaneity, or giving unusual functions to everyday life objects. There is no exact translation for 'gambiarra' so we initially used kludge which means (from Wikipedia): 'a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem, typically using parts that are cobbled together'. In the US they'd call it makeshift. Gambiologia is the study of 'gambiarra' in a technological context.

We actually stopped translating Gambiologia at all :^)

I 'd say it is a specific kind of hacking - it's the proposal of hacking not only electronics or codes, but objects as well. It's about using things (or bits, maybe) in functions they were not initially proposed to. Modify them or join them in improvised and creative ways so they'll not accomplish the original task anymore. Using parts that were not supposed to be together to create a distressing whole. In our case it's also deeply linked to Brazilian folk culture.

Before we go to the artworks themselves, could you give us a few examples of everyday gambiology in the streets of Belo Horizonte?

It's easy to find many samples of 'gambiarras' if you travel anywhere in Brazil. You can also get many pics if you google it but I attached some I collected myself.
Many Gambiologia's - as we propose artistically - can be found at our group's website www.gambiologia.net or at the collective exhibition I proposed about the theme.
Also in www.thereifixedit.com you'll get it the north-american way.

Samples:

Audio cable fixed with candy wrapper:

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Beer chilled in suspended pail:

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Sound systems:

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Shower in a pet bottle:

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Mobile beer chilling:

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Pet bottle lamp:

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Car mirror:

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Safe plug:

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Simplest way to leave it open:

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Among the works presented in the catalogue i was particularly curious about the following ones:. O Grivo, Polvo, Eles estão vivos, Furadeiras. Can you describe them briefly and tell us what they are about?'

Passo a Passo (Step by Step) is a work by the guys of O Grivo. They propose a random percussion symphony where different notes are played as the shadows of small pieces of wood are detected by sensors connected to a computer. Each of these pieces is attached by the end of a stick which rotates 360º at random speed, so when it gets to 0º, it plays its own note very loud. It proposes an interesting contrast between a very delicate structure and loud music tones in a kind of physically constructed musical timeline.

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O Grivo, Passo A Passo, 2010. Image Pedro David

Polvo (Octopus) from Paulo Nenflidio is a sound machine made by plastic conduits. These are originally used to hold electric cables but Paulo used them to hold compressed air. As the visitor "plays" a keyboard made out of door ring bells, the conduits blow, generating different sounds. The seven bells form a complete tone set. This bizarre octopus-instrument still have an 8th note generated by an water spray on its top.

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Paulo Nenflídio, Polvo, 2010. Image Pedro David

Eles Estão Vivos (They're Still Alive) was created by Paulo Waisberg. I initially invited him to be the scenographer of the exhibition but he also came with this work. We had all these old displays and keyboards that were donated by the city's council but we didn't know how to use. Paulo created this artwork during the exhibition preparation just a day before the opening, using old footage of blinking eyes in the displays. In my opinion it tells a lot about how re-creating can be much more interesting than recycling. It's also a good demonstration of how a strong sense of improvisation and spontaneity was incorporated all through the exhibition.

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Paulo Waisberg, Eles Estão Vivos. Image Pedro David

Furadeiras (Drills) is one of the simplest exhibited artworks but surely one of the smartest. It's by Guto Lacaz, an experienced artist from Sao Paulo. He proposed an unusual meeting between "different generation" drills - one being analogue and the other electrical. It's an ironic interpretation between planned obsolescence and how technology evolves, sometimes just rotating around itself in an infinite loop. Or how the old (low-tech) and the new (high-tech) can live collaboratively.

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Guto Lacaz, Furadeiras. Image Pedro David

How about Gambiociclo? What made you decide to create this 'mobile unit of multimedia transmission"?
Have you used it outside of the exhibition space? How was the experience and how did people react to it?

The Gambiocycle is inspired on Graffiti Research Lab's mobile broadcast unit. I got to be friend with those guys a few years ago, we made some stuff together, they proposed to me run GRL Brazilian sister cell www.graffitiresearchlab.com.br . We run it in parallel to Gambiologia.

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Sketch of the Gambiociclo (image by angelicasegui)

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Coletivo Gambiologia (Fred Paulino, Ganso and Lucas Mafra), Gambiociclo, 2010

I always wish to have a multimedia vehicle that could project video and digital graffiti in public space. It's terrific how that can be a straight path to a democratic dialogue between people and the city itself. But our MBU should be gambiological - reflecting the logics and aesthetics of 'gambiarra' with this strong Brazilian accent. So we built it inspired by trolleys of salesmen who ride here mostly selling products or doing political advertisement. The idea was to mix performance, happening, electronic art, graffiti and 'gambiarras'.

Yes. People are always surprised as they're not much used to digital graffiti or having electronic art in the streets here. But what impressed me the most is the immediate affinity that the Gambiocycle caused in ordinary people not directly involved to art. I was initially most worried about the vehicle's funcionality or the performances' visual contents, but probably due to the strong local aesthetics it incorporates, people were suddenly feeling more like touching the MBU, taking pictures with it or riding it. I believe it comes from this unconscious feeling of spontainity the work proposes and everybody practice some way since childhood.

And we just got the news that Gambiocycle got an Honorary Mention at Prix Ars Electronica 2011 yeah!

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Alexandre B, O Instante Impossível. Image Pedro David

Is there a conscious art community of gambilogos in Brazil but also beyond it? Or is it more like a natural and widespread way of using technology that doesn't really need a name or a purpose community to exist?

Gambiologia was initially the name our three guys' collective but the word is now being used here to identify a new way of think about technology, hacking and (Brazilian) pop culture. Like a science or a movement... It somehow captured the feeling of many creators, and I believe not only in this country. Many artists worldwide are "gambiólogos" (gambiologists) without knowing that. I recently had been in touch with the work of European artists like Niklas Roy which are pretty much gambiological! That's the feeling that Gambiólogos exhibition proposed to group and show.

It doesn't need a name at all but if it had that should be in Brazilian Portuguese :^) Yes I strongly believe this country is a perfect example of chaotic miscegenation - cultural or technological - that results in a notion of creative spontaneity. As a colonial country we initially didn't have enough resources for solving everyday problems so we had to invent simple and cheap solutions... Gambiologia tries to go beyond this, bring it into the art scene with an aesthetical and political discussion about technology.

Does Gambiologia have any consideration for aesthetics?

Sure! But for us we had enough of Apple-like clean aesthetics, we had enough newly-released electronics. People can't stand so many rubbish and consumption... That's why we love to work and play with recycling, remixing and - why not - reproposing the notion of "old" and "new".

Obrigada Fred!

The dream of self-sufficiency and sustainability has become true. Everyone is now able to produce goods, to communicate with anyone without being charged or tracked and to fulfill their basic needs without forgoing modern conveniences.

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Rendering of the Cruiser Charisma

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Model of Cruiser Charisma as exhibited at RCA

Cruiser Charisma intertwines extrapolations about the latest (and upcoming) advances in technologies with a series of research trips that designer Jonas Loh made into intentional communities, groups of people who attempt to establish their own society on a micro-scale. He visited Earthaven which is ruled by community consensus and divided in small villages, went to see what remained of the ethics and ideals of The Farm and even made a trip to Berlin, Ohio, to get to know the Amish lifestyle built around religious beliefs and resistance to modernity.

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Amish doll are faceless

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Caravan at Earthaven Community

The project also professes faith into D.I.Y. and open source movement which could one day take technologies that are currently out of you and i -such as synthetic biology, genetic engineering, bio-printing and new form of production methods- out of the hands of venture capitalists and politicians and into everybody else's backyard.

The outcome of the project is utopian, yet credible: a caravan which will run on advanced biofuels, whose inhabitants will be able to produce all kinds of goods and organic materials thanks to a 3D printing production unit, eat synthetic protein rich meat that will be grown through a new generation of plants, recycle their poo to produce energy and experiment with new ways of community living.

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Useful Synthetic Plant Garden & Production Facility

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Conveyor belt, part of the production unit

Interestingly residents would communicate over long distance using the Earth-Moon-Earth, aka moon bounce, a radio communications technique developed after World War II. The system relies on the propagation of radio waves from an Earth-based transmitter directed via reflection from the surface of the Moon back to an Earth-based receiver. The residents of the caravan selected this form of long-distance communication because it is not yet privatized and because their personal data doesn't get tracked.

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Rendering of the Cruiser Charisma

The project explores the possibility to reach a total state of self-sufficiency and with it a different social, political and economical system.

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Amish One-Room School

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Earthaven Community

All images courtesy of Jonas Loh.
Another project by Jonas Loh (together with Steffen Fielder): Known Unknowns.

Cruiser Charisma is a project developed at the Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art in London.

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Back to Berlin where a few weeks ago i was visiting the DMY design festival. As i explained the other day, the most exciting part of the exhibition was the MakerLab where visitors could discover, discuss and handle new technologies, materials, tools, open-source ideas and concepts. In the middle of this happy creative feast, a group of smiling girls were introducing visitors to the joys of mushroom cultivation. All 'in the comfort of their own home.'

Titled fungutopia, their work is an installation, a workshop, a prototype and a community-project.

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

In installation mode, Fungutopia demonstrates that mushrooms can be used as open source medicine, food, fertilizer and soil-recovery-method. Fungutopia is also a series of hands-on workshops that teach participants how to easily cultivate mushrooms in cities, even indoor.

The project is also accompanied by the DIY MUSHroom grow kit that combines Open Source Electronics with Biology to grow even more rare medicinal species year round indoor.

Finally, fungutopia is a community-project that attempts to bring together people for urban fungiculture and share knowledge and experience.

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

Laura Popplow, the creator of Fungutopia, was kind enough to answer my questions:

How did you get interested in fungi and rare medicinal species of fungi?

Fungutopia is my master thesis at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne (in the department of hybrid space) but already started more than a year ago and will hopefully go on. I started being interested in mushrooms in general and some medical mushrooms especially because i was searching for some natural method to remediate soil of old industrial areas and because my father, who is working with cancer-patients told me about some special fungi that were very promising in cancer therapy some years ago. This came first together in the work FUNGIFICTION with Tine Tillmann.

I collaborate on the topics of medical fungis with Tine Tillmann since 2010 when we worked together on an installation about fungi as remediators of contaminated soil in the ruhr area for the ISEA2010 in Dortmund. Our collaboration there was named FUNGIFICTION and consisted of a video and a kind of science/shop/showroom installation that told the story of the RUHR REISHI, a fungus, that was left on the grounds of an old coal plant in Dortmund that was deconstructed for two years by Chinese workers. These workers left spores of the reishi, one of the most powerful medical mushrooms known especially in the Chinese traditional medicine. These reishi mushrooms not only remediated the contaminated coke plant soil, but also developed some extra-powers on this special soils. That's why a new mushroom research center was founded on the grounds of the old coke plant area by our collaborators from the Mushroom Research Center Austria to research and find out about this surprising phenomena, that was the start of a mushroom revolution in the Ruhr area, that changed not only the quality of the soils in the old heavy industry area but also was the starting point of a social change, bringing new medical, ecological and economical wealth to the people. The biggest part of this story is actually true, it's just some facts that we enhanced and dreamed a little further.

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Fungutopia at Pixelache 2001

The collaboration with Tine Tillmann grew further when we exhibited a new work-in-progress of the idea of FUNGIFICTION at the Pixelache Festival in Helsinki this March. There, we developed the idea of creating mushroom cultivation methods on old military grounds like Soumenlinna island, where the exhibition took place. in Pixelache I also exhibited a first type of modell of a MUSHroom, a growing habitat for medical mushrooms. from the starting point of a mixture of fiction and reality i took more the direction of realising the utopia (at least in small parts) whereas Tine is working even more in the direction of (science-)fiction and utopia. Both approaches are working together on the idea how mushrooms can possibly save the world.

The fungutopia station is my practical approach to get people involved in mushroom cultivation and their abilities to recycle, clean, heal and even grow material. The installation for DMY was developed together with Kyra Porada, an exhibition designer and good friend of mine. Fungutopia is part of her master thesis at the FH Düsseldorf in exhibition design.

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

When i saw the fungutopia station at DMY Berlin, i was particularly surprised by the type of mushrooms you were cultivating. They are most unusual to me. Could you explain me which kind of mushrooms you cultivate and why?

The mushroom you mention is most likely known as reishi, lingh zhi or in latin ganoderma lucidum. It's the holy mushroom in Asia, where its medical powers are known already for thousands of years. it is used in the traditional Chinese medicine against a wide range of health problems and serious diseases: its powers especially in cancer therapy have been proofed also by Western medical studies. Apart from being the most potent medical fungus, it can develop an extraordinary shape, material and colour. That was what attracted me in the first place. When i first saw some rheishi mushrooms grown in shapes you would never expect to be a mushroom I thought this is what you can really call a kind of "natural art". Visitors tend to think it's an artificially made sculpture.

Plus: you can influence the fungus in its shape with the amount of CO2 during its growth. The more people around the room where it grows, the more coral-like it gets.

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

The text describing Fungutopia presents "mushroom culivation as a way to make the world a better place." That's ambitious. How can home mushroom cultivation achieve that?

There are several ways mushrooms are already helping to keep the world balanced. Mushrooms are basically the recycling system of nature. As they are an own species, they are able to "digest" which means that they transform and split up molecules. That's how they remediate soil or can also help to filter water. The mycelium, the essential part of the mushroom, mostly hidden in the ground is a rhizomatic network that mostly lives in symbiosis with plants. Some mushrooms such as the mycorrhizia mushrooms don't even form fruiting bodies but are working as natural fertilizers that enlarge with their rhizomatic structure the roots of the plants to get water and nutrients for them from the ground. 80-90% of all plants are living from this symbiosis. Paul Stamets, a famous mushroom cultivator describes different methods how mushrooms can save the world: as medicine, water filters, soil-remediators and even natural pesticides.

In my opinion mushrooms should be cultivated more widely in cities, because they have two characteristics that make them an ideal partner of urban agriculture: they don't need much space and ground and they don't need much light. Plus, they could help to clean city-soil and work as natural fertilizers for plants grown in urban agriculture.

Last but nor least: the mycelium can even produce material that could be used as isolating material in buildings. That's what ecovative design is already doing on an industrial scale. You can grow your own forms from mushrooms- amazing isn't it?

i believe that mushrooms could be able to help us in much more problems, we just don't know enough about them - and we are too afraid of them. To some people they are like aliens.

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MUSHroom

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MUSHroom

Could you describe me the prototype MUSHroom? What is it made of? How big is it? Are you supposed to leave it on a balcony or inside the house?

The prototype of MUSHroom is a small greenhouse with the possibility to control temperature and humidity through an arduino controller, which makes it possible to grow different mushrooms indoor. It is about 50cm X 50cm X 50cm made out of triangles and squares that form an cuboctahedron, one of the archimedean forms that were considered by Buckminster Fuller as a form of vector equilibrum. I hope to build it in the near future from plates made from bio-plastics. But so far it is made from glass or plexiglass. It's still in its first stage of development. The idea is to develop it further as a kind of open source project with the help of the mushroomcultivator community that is also quite active online and to develop some kind of modular kit. A role model for this is the windowfarms project and its distribution model.

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

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Picture by Martin Schlecht

How much time/commitment/care does it involve to cultivate these fairly rare mushrooms?

You don't need so much time, when you just start with a prepared substrate that you can order online in sealed plastic bags with an air filter. You will just need to take care when the fruiting bodies appear and you cut the bag to make them grow better. Then they need humidity and some of them need higher temperatures, but that depends on the species. Some of them also grow in our Western Europe climate conditions.

if you want to start your own mushroom cultivation from spores or mycelium, then you will need time to experiment and build some kind of mini laboratory with clean working conditions. But it's still possible - lots of people are developing methods to cultivate mushrooms at home in small scale solutions as a kind of hobby. They are also the people I want to get together with the online platform grow.fungutopia.org to work on further solutions for mushrooms cultivation in cities as a kind of community project like guerrilla gardening. People should get together to build small mushrooms laboratories to deliver substrates that enable people to easily grow fresh mushrooms in their neighbour community.

Thanks Laura!

Previously: Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design).

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Worklab 'Temporary photoElectric Digestopians' [TpED #6] At DMY Design Festival Berlin Berlin [Ger], part of 'MakerLab Finland' (Pixelache), June 2,3; 2011

As i mentioned the other day, the most exciting part of DMY, the International Design Festival Berlin was the MakeLabs, an arena for experimenting with new technologies, materials, communication tools, open-source ideas and for exchanging concepts.

That's where i met Bartaku aka Bart Vandeput from FoAM, a Brussels-based research group and laboratory for speculative culture. Bart was leading the Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design) lab which invited participants to discover the relation between light, food, body and electric energy and then work with edible materials to create 'e-tapas' that were to be ta(e)sted on the heliotropic tongue.

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Preparation of the workshop at DMY

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Preparation of the workshop at DMY

The TpED worklab series is a node of Bart's ongoing research "PhoEf: The Undisclosed Poésis of the Photovoltaic Effect." The project fuses arts, science and technology and looks into the micro and macro realms of Photovoltaics: the conversion of light energy into electrical energy.

Extract from a brief conversation with Bart follows...

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Worklab 'Temporary photoElectric Digestopians' [TpED #6] At DMY Design Festival Berlin, part of 'MakerLab Finland' (Pixelache)

Hi Bart! You recently lead a workshop called "Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design)" at DMY, the International Design Festival in Berlin. You invited participants to experiment with photovoltaics and food and cook 'e-tapas'. Can you explain us how the workshop unfolds? What are you and the participants doing and what is the outcome of the workshop?

The name of these series is TpED Worklabs. I prefer lab since this word expresses -more than workshop- the focus on experimentation, 'guided improvisation', the close link with old and new science, the use of less known materials and the way they are used, like f.i agar agar, an algae based gelatine that is used as a transparent top layer for a TpED.

The TpED Worklabs follow a fixed pattern, starting off with a short auto-presentation of the temporary collaborators, the explanation of the lab content, context and proceedings.
Then, matter, tools and method are introduced after which -in group or individually- recipes are composed, reflecting consideration of taste, aesthetics (form, pattern, color, texture), smell and functionality (photoelectrochemical principles). Then, the experimenting starts, leading towards the creation of a TpED. It is then tested on the tongue, in a heliotropic movement, seeking the point with the highest concentration of light: hence pointing the tongue towards the sun or a classic light bulb. The red and black leads of the multimeter are held -by another temp. collaborator- against the edible silver cathode and anode, checking for electrical energy flow. Pictures are taken, and the taste and test-person is asked what he/she observes, something like 'a tickle on the tongue'.

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CSM Future Textiles_TpED. Detail of connecting one Temporary photoElectric Digestopian to the gold-circuitry of the TpED-panel

In case the lab runs more than a day, more elaborate and complex iterations emerge. F.i. at the TpED Worklab #3 at Textile Futures Deptmnt. of Central Saint Martins College for Art & Design in London, 90 TpED's were laid out on marzipan, interconnected with gold leaf, based on the design of a classic crystalline silicon solar panel.

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Co-creation Worklab_2 "Temporary photoElectric Digestopians" at Burning Ice, Changing Tents, Brussels, Jan. 22, 2011

What does solar technology brings to the cooking and tasting experience?

It makes it possible to express/comment on the connection between light energy, food energy (power plants) and body energy; the relation between kJoules and Watts.

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TpED_2_e-sushi. Produced by participant of PhoEf's WorkLab at the Tactile Research Lab, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, The Hague

The workshop is part of a broader research called "PhoEf: The Undisclosed Poésis of the Photovoltaic Effect." How did you get interested in studying and experimenting with the Photovoltaic Effect?

I used to start a PhoEf-talk by saying that 'two observations presumably lead to PhoEF:
the first one in 2006 in Kinshasa (DRCongo) where people were electrocuted whilst wading home in the flooded city during downpours. In an attempt to have access to electricity people connect wires to the main grid, that are pending on the ground, hence creating electrocution fields during floodings... An image that brings back 'Edison's Topsy' the elephant.

The second one was at a Solar Fair in Germany, where -amongst the sun tanned promo-boys'n girls in big shiny stands, I came accross a Chinese vendor of solar cell water pumps. There I saw how shade can be a controller of aesthetics, patterns, rather then being an enemy (as it is for users of solar sys).'

It is more thoroughly explained here: PDF.

Where does that research extends beyond culinary experiments? Your bio refers to "micro-interventions." Can you explain us what these micro-interventions involve?

Maybe an example is at place here. In 2009/10 I was invited by artist collective Desire Machine Collective to do a residency 'on' the Periferry, on the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati, North-East India. This icon of the petrol society floating on the mighty and powerful Brahmaputra seemed for me the perfect context, offering huge contrast with the micro-energies I am mostly dealing with.

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A Slow Flow, North view

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A Slow Flow. The precise cutting of the bamboo by craftsmen of the "cane and bamboo technology center" in Guwahati

The process emerged into a work that tried to comment on the relation between the city and its energy flows, interweaving past, present and possible futures. Therefore the work - made with the help of Kiran Ganghadaran- consisted of a perfect mathematical bamboo spiral -designed to host power plants (suitable for solar cells) and to filter water, sun/shade controlled audio, a short video showing of a heliotropic ear cleaning session- and copper pots that bring the purified water back to the Brahmaputra. The spiral is mounted on top of the captain's hut, the tiniest available surface but also the most visible one, that is moving according to the dry and wet season towards (above) and away from the river boulevard...
Some photos.

Thanks Bart!

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PhoEf's T(emporary)p(hoto)E(lectric)D(igestopian)-WorkLab at the Tactile Research Lab, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, The Hague

All images courtesy of Bartaku.

Previously: DMY - International Design Festival Berlin.

Ayah Bdeir is a media artist, engineer and interaction designer whose work I've been following her work for a few years from the time she was graduating from MIT Media Lab. She is now an artist fellow at Eyebeam in New York.

Her most recent project aims to contribute to the democratization of technology and the explosion of creativity by challenging black-boxed technology but also our absent-minded consumption of all things new, pre-packaged and electronic.

littleBits is a growing library of preassembled circuit boards, made easy by tiny magnets. All logic and circuitry is pre-engineered, so you can play with electronics without knowing electronics. Tiny magnets act as connectors and enforce polarity, so you can't put things in the wrong way. And all the schematics will be shared under an opensource license so you can download, upload, suggest new bits and hopefully see them come to life.

I went to see the littleBits exhibition while i was in New York, the bits and pieces looked like precious candies in a square glass frame, the way littleBits works seems indeed to be very accessible even for clichés like me who need assistance when the light bulb is burnt out. But that doesn't mean i don't have questions for Ayah:

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littleBits' library is growing. do you see an end to the list of littelBits modules you'll have to develop?

Part of the reason why the version1 of littleBits took time to come out is that we wanted to really focus on making a solid platform that's extendable. the littleBits have 3 lines, a power line, a signal line and a ground line, and a huge amount of things we can think of at this time can somehow fit into the platform. The main trick is to think in terms of interaction design. For every new module, we think: what are the behaviors we would need the module to do? and we pre-program the module to do those behaviors, providing some ability to control (buttons, switches knobs, etc). However, of course, some modules will be too complex or big to be able to get away with interaction design in order to embody their experience . For example so far, i am not sure how to develop a useful multitouch screen.

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Speaker littleBits

How do you imagine to spread littleBits around? Would you sell them in kits or organize workshops and invite people to design and craft their own based on your experience?

Both. Right now the starter kit is for sale, and soon more advanced and extended kits will be available, and also individual bits. But also, more importantly i would like to organize workshops where we give the littleBits to people and ask them to make something, and see how people with different interests and backgrounds interpret the idea of 'geeky fun'. Eventually we are going to set up a littleBits gallery online where people can post their creations and show off their stuff.

I'm also hoping that a community will form around littleBits. People who suggest their own modules, who design them, who make them, who buy them, hopefully they can spread the word and bring them into their work and play places. It started a little, we had over 500 people on our mailing list before the bits were even ready.

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Even if littleBits makes prototyping easier, most people still need to know the basics about how electrical systems work. Is that something that the project addresses as well?

A lot of these issues, we try to address that through design. i worked with Luma Shihab-Eldin who did all graphics for littleBits to come up with a way to explain electronic circuits in an easy way. For example: the bits are divided into 4 categories, with each category represented by a color (see attachment): Power (magenta), Input (blue), Output (green) and Wire (orange). And the instructions tell you, to make a circuit you need one magenta, at least one green and then blue and orange are optional. Also, as i was saying above, we are looking at electronic modules as if they were electronic appliances. Just like a blender has 3 modes and 3 buttons to control speed of the motor, some littleBits have controls on the board, a potentiometer to adjust length of time (pulse module), a switch to determine direction of rotation (dc motor module), etc.

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So like electronic appliances, most functions are pre-programmed. But eventually if people want to do more sophisticated things with electronics, they have to learn. we are hoping with littleBits will make electronics sexy, and when you see how empowering it is, then you will want to learn more, as opposed to thinking it's too hard and boring.

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Why did you chose magnets? is it simply because magnets are 'fun' as your video says?

The idea for magnets came from a very unusual place. i was doing another project with electronic panties from syria (www.haniyassecrets.com). And in one of them, the panty was held up by an electro magnet, that was remote controlled. So at the time Jeff Hoefs and I were struggling to find tiny, polarized connectors but still be easy to assemble (as opposed to molex connectors etc), and then it hit me: Magnets! magnets are electrically conductive, easy to put together, and will litterally prevent you from connecting littleBits the wrong way no matter how hard you try. The fun part was just an added bonus.

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What are the next steps for the project?

The immediate next step is maker faire. I will be going to maker faire in San Mateo on may 30th and 31st and selling the littleBits starter kit and trying to present them to talk to people and get feedback. then the next step is to focus on developing a strong web platform for people to share littleBits ideas and schematics through. And after that to do workshops, try to test littleBits out in high schools and design schools, and see how that goes. Of course, along the way, always to continue to develop new modules!

Thanks Ayah!

Also by Ayah Bdeir: SP4M. D0 Y OU SWA1LOW? and random search.
Images Jonathan Hokklo 2009, more on littleBits exhibition page.

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