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IBI trying Town Crier, a device which recognises and reads geo-tagged tweets through a megaphone

Last week, i was telling you about Le Cadavre Exquis, an interactive installation commissioned Making Future Work. This Nottingham-based initiative that called for artists, designers and organisations based in East Midlands to submit proposals that would respond to four distinct areas of practice: Co creation / Online Space, Pervasive Gaming / Urban Screens, Re-imaging Redundant Systems and Live Cinema / 3D.

The Urban Immune System Research, one of the 4 winning projects, investigates parallel futures in the emergence of the 'smart-city'. During their research, the Institute has produced a series of speculative prototypes that combine digital technology and biometrics: one of the devices 'functions as a social sixth sense', a second one is a backpack mounted with 4 megaphones that shouts out geo-located tweets as you walk around, a third one attempts to make its wearer get a sense of what might it feel like to walk through a 'data cloud' or a 'data meadow'.

The devices are the starting point of a series of user tests, performative research and public engagement events that seek to provoke debate and facilitate wider public discussion around potential urban futures, and our role in shaping them.

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Just a few words of introduction about The Institute for Boundary Interactions before i proceed with our interview. IBI is a group of artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative producers conduct practice-based research into the complex relationships between people, places and recent developments in the field of science, technology and culture.

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The Institute for Boundary Interactions display L.O.S.T. Stone and Sticky Data. Image credit: Melissa Gueneau, courtesy MFW

The name of your project is quite intriguing. Why did you call it Urban Immune System Research? How does the immune system of a city compare to the human body immune system, for example? What are the differences and similarities?



The Urban Immune System Research [UISR] project was the culmination of a two day event we ran in December 2010 as part of our LAB commission for Sideshow2010. We set out to discuss the relationship between notions of 'intelligent' systems, and principles of ecology. A whole raft of interesting and thought provoking ideas emerged but after some discussion they coalesced into the UISR project.



We found the immune system a fascinating and intriguing departure point because it demonstrates complex self-organising properties, but what's interesting about this to us is how this kind of system is understood outside of scientific circles, in the everyday and within the context of the city. There is a general understanding of these kinds of systems, but we discovered an absence in the general lexicon of everyday terms with which to describe the kind of phenomena we explored in that workshop. So in part the name of the project is to ask questions about perceptions of intelligence and explore that gap between the science and the experience.



The interest in looking at urban space as an organism developed from thinking about this relationship between ecologies and intelligent systems. We looked at how these systems scale up, inspired by Geoffery West's research into the similarities and differences between mammalian and urban scaling. So despite their very clear differences urban ecologies correlate strongly to biological systems and although made of different components behave in similar ways.



This research quickly grew into a fascination by what happens at that juncture where human technology meets ecology, how personal electronic devices, micro-biology and nano-technology effect us at the macro level. We were interested in how this will manifest  macroscopically, or ecolologically if you will, and how this in turn will affect us individually as constituent parts of that urban ecology. Asking what form an Urban Immune System might take, and the devices we have developed under this title thus far are the first steps in our efforts to understand these ideas and their implications.



The devices all look to find alternative ways of connecting the individual directly to their ecology (the urban organism) and feel their place within it. These technologies operate to mediate our relationship to, and navigation through physical, social and virtual space. This process of upgrading could be seen as the momentum leading us towards transhumanism, an imagined yet possible future where the augmented body replaces natural selection as an evolutionary process in turn effecting the development of our 'ecological' surroundings. 



This notion of transhumanism is another aspect that we we're very interested to explore within this project as it has a lot of synergy with the notion of the urban organism. From one perspective we are looking at the inorganic environment as an organic organism, and from another we look at the organic organism as a component within an inorganic machine. 





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Trying IBI's Sticky Data device. Image credit: Melissa Gueneau, courtesy MFW

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Sticky Data display. Image courtesy of IBI

With The Sticky Data device you were asking "What might it feel like to walk through a 'data cloud' or a 'data meadow'?" Did you find an answer to the question while you were testing the device? Is the experience of knowing how much data our body goes through every single second a stimulating one? or is it rather stressing? worrying? overwhelming? Does it influence the way you navigate a city afterwards? Would you for example avoid a quiet street because you've discovered that it might looks like a pleasant street empty of cars and passersby but with a data traffic that you find too intense?



The most stimulating thing about being able to sense geo-located data is the thought that you are physically feeling traces of people's experiences in the same place where they happened. We think this gives an extra sense of connection to a place, even if only for a moment.



It's difficult to say exactly what that should feel like, we're still playing with different haptic sensations, but the device certainly challenged our assumptions about certain areas. For example, in one test we found a really high density of data outside a bus depot, whereas across the street near a stadium, a seemingly much more social and 'eventful' place, there was comparatively little. So you definitely get a sense that the topography of a city's data layer can be quite different to that of its architectural space, but also an alternative sense of a places social makeup. So, finding themselves in a less sociable environment, did the inhabitants of the bus depot turn to more digital forms of social interaction, while the stadium offered enough 'face to face' social encounters that digital interaction was unnecessary?



The hope is definitely to ask people to question their relationship with space by providing a very different experience of navigating a city - the technologies that we use everyday are creating this digital topography, so how does this affect the urban organism and our interactions within it? 



Sticky Data App Field Test

At the end of your description of the Sticky Data project, you explain that "As the user moves on, data seeds will be copied and dropped in new locations spreading them throughout the city or collected and cataloged by the device." Why did you feel the need to add this 'manipulation' of the data? Is it not going to make the 'datascape' too confusing?



This was an idea that came from discussions around the notion of the Urban Immune System. We talked about the idea that perhaps urban space already has an immune system of sorts that operates to keep the city within normative parameters. We discussed this redistribution as something that might function like an immunisation to bolster this existing immune system by disrupting it with non-normative behaviour to see how it responded.  



We were interested in devices that have parasitic (viral) properties or where the owner could engage in the production of data and urban data configuration using the traces that others leave behind just through wearing the device and walking.  We leave behind traces of our electronic identities almost daily and it's something that we are not really aware of.  



Also, if data is part of our physical world then it in some way degrades or gets pasted over like the posters in a metro station over time, the datascape is constantly shifting.  We were going to be selective over how what qualities of data we were looking for, so older data might not be as 'memetically healthy' and so may not spread as far or at all. We were interested in being deliberately disruptive to see what might happen if we push messages into and across territories.  So the Sticky Data project could sift through what is there in electronic space to find data that might benefit the wearer or be most disruptive.




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Testing sticky data. Image courtesy of IBI

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Conductive glove. Image courtesy of IBI

One of the objectives of UISR is to explore new ways to 'sense the social characteristics of a city as you would temperature, or air quality.' Do you have a better idea of Nottingham (or any other city where you have experimented with the devices) after having tested your prototypes through its streets? Do you see the city with another eye?



The devices have opened up new ways of experiencing the city, so we're pleased about that. When testing the Sticky Data device we discovered huge amounts of twitter data in surprising places - like the bus depot on an unremarkable street that we mentioned before. So the device certainly challenges your perceptions of the social makeup of your environment and certain expectations or pre-judgments you may have made. Of course it also has the ability to re-enforce some prejudices too. However, not knowing what the messages are it leaves you to read into their presence from what is physically around you, building the virtual narrative into the physical narrative of your surroundings.



In the tests we have carried out we have felt some interesting things that have challenged and re-enforced our assumptions of particular locations. However no one of us has tested the device thoroughly across the city yet as we are still fine tuning it and have remained largely within familiar areas. Personally I am looking forward to taking the device somewhere totally unfamiliar and finding out what a city you've never visited before feels like. If you have no pre-suppositions about a particular street does the device make it easier to walk down or give you spidey-sense tingle that there will be something unpleasant around the corner? We just don't know yet.  



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LOST display. Image courtesy IBI

Could you describe The LOST (Local Only Shared Telemetry) device? How does it work?



The idea with the LOST device is for it to function as a social sixth sense. It's a wireless device, kept in close contact with the body that stores its owners profile. It simply transmits and receives this profile data over relatively small distances. When it finds a similar signal to its own the device communicates this to the owner by changing its temperature.



We wondered how a system that is similar to that of ants leaving pheromone trails might work in the social context of a city. In antithesis to the omniscient Internet this device doesn't use any kind of infrastructure as it communicates only locally, so the user has to physically travel to find new data rather than just clicking hyperlinks. The sensory feedback the wearer receives is specific only to the time and place in which they find themselves.



It's a thought experiment thinking that if everyone in an urban space wore such a device you would develop a very granular sense of the social make up of your very local vicinity with the cumulative heating, cooling effect of everyone else's device surrounding you. In such a way you could get a very clear feeling about whether a particular area is sympathetic to you as an individual or not. Kind of like blind man's buff, but instead of other players saying warmer or colder you simply feel it directly.



As with the sticky data device, having no lingual or visual output, it interfaces at a somatic level - we're interested in what happens when social data is perceived physiologically rather than visually. By integrating these digital sensory devices into our normal bodily senses we can start to understand the possible positive and negative implications not just of existing systems but also our rapid progress towards transhumanism. 



The notion of being a trans-human is very exciting but until technologies are developed we can never really know what the implications of them will be. Devices like the LOST device allow ways of imagining how technological and biological integration might operate and in turn perhaps begin to understand their consequences individually and socially.  



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IBI trying Town Crier, their latest device which recognises and reads geo-tagged tweets through a megaphone. Image credit: Melissa Gueneau, courtesy MFW

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IBI trying Town Crier, their latest device which recognises and reads geo-tagged tweets through a megaphone. Image credit: Melissa Gueneau, courtesy MFW

I'm afraid i forgot the name of the device you used for the public performance on the day of Making Future Collaboration Work. Beyond the fun and spectacular side of the performance, what are you trying to achieve with this piece?



That was the Town Crier. It's a backpack mounted with 4 megaphones that shouts out geo-located tweets as you walk around. The other two devices we made offer very subtle, private interactions, so we wanted to try something a little more confrontational. 



The idea was to use the disparity between what can often be intended as very private or relatively anonymous reflections, and the openness of physical spaces that they are associated with. Shouting out these bits of text wrenches them, quite forcibly, back into public view. On the other hand though, the electronic voice puts all these statements on an even plane, and democratizes them giving a sense of the voice belonging to the place rather than any individual. These statements are at different times nonsensical, funny, or timely and touching, but they all add to the texture of a place, offering a glimpse of the collective memory embedded within it.





Town Crier Public Field Test Documentation

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Town Crier. Image courtesy IBI

Are you still working on the project? Do you plan to push the prototypes any further? Add new ones?



We see this as a long term research project so we are definitely still working on not only testing and improving current devices, but also using this process to develop our understanding of the data city, the technologically augmented human, and the ecology that they create.



We're currently developing the town crier into some kind of performance work and playing with the Google Navigation voice more as a means of exploring the way in which the network operates as a continuous landmark in our landscape. 



The Sticky Data and LOST device projects are still very much a works in progress. With Sticky Data we are going to continue experimenting with the way that the data is sensed or output. The immediate question we want to address is the character of the sensation in relation to the density of data being sensed. Similarly, what types of data are being sensed, and what are the most appropriate modes of sensation for these different bits of data? With the LOST stone, we are going to play with what information is used to form the user profile to find which provide most effective functionality. 



Once we've worked out the technical challenges with both of these devices we want to produce enough of them for each of us to wear and live with them for a significant period of time. Perhaps with the LOST device also using willing volunteers to test them to increase the area density. 



We'd like to know what it would feel like if I put on a sticky data sleeve at the same time you put on your watch in the morning and wore it wherever you go for a month. Is it an irritation, will you get muscle spasms, or forget you've got it on most of the time and only notice more drastic or uncharacteristic changes?



After this we hope to have a better idea of how we can develop the project further, fine tuning these devices and perhaps developing new ones. To put it in techno-garb, perhaps create the Urban Immune System 1.0 rather than its current beta version. 



It is perhaps worth making clear that the focus will remain on provoking speculation on what the possible social implications of developing this sort of technology might be, rather than trying to create a cure for urban illness. Technology is exciting and interesting, however the implications of innovations are rarely visible until you have the grace of hindsight. One can only speculate how developments might or might not change the world, but that process of speculation is really interesting and tells us something about our current understanding of our society and technological culture.

Thanks Institute for Boundary Interactions!

Previously: Le Cadavre Exquis.

Sponsored by:





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.

Cost is still a major limiting factor for low-carbon energy technologies. What if consumers were able to fund these technologies just by trying out some new and exciting entertainment experiences? The Energy Pilots, the project that Elliott P. Montgomery is presenting right now at the graduation show of Design Interactions at RCA (god, i really need to write about other schools once in a while), is a research program that develops hypothetical business models by borrowing proven techniques from other sectors, and adapting them to fit the financial challenges of specific low-carbon technologies.

The introduction video below explains the premise of the research initiative:

The research has been presented -as much as performed- at the Sparks Energy Symposium and at the Responsible Business Conference in 2011, catalysing a discussion around the future of energy business and the associated implications. The next presentation of the project is going to be decidedly corporate as Montgomery will be submitting his ideas to Shell. The designer's speculative devices are also demonstrated in public spaces to raise a discussion about the viability and social implications of these theoretical strategies. Some of them are purely provocative. Others, in particular the Extreme Tourism Model, are rather seductive.

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Research devices in use

While Richard Branson plans to send passengers above the atmosphere, Montgomery's Extreme Tourism Model follows Jules Verne's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by offering thrill-seekers the possibility to travel deep into the crust of the Earth and witness its geological wonders.

The deepest hole in the Earth so far is the TauTona Mine, near Johannesburg. The gold mine reaches some 3.9 km (2.4 mi) underground. The Extreme Tourism Model will travel 5 kilometers underground. The cost of a ticket to 'the center of the Earth" would be slightly less elevated than the one for a trip aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip and will fund enhanced geothermal systems.

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A second proposal, the Thrill Attraction Model would enable a solar energy company to attract customers by offering them a chance to win a prize each time the customer pays their energy bill. At the bottom of the customer's bill would be a unique number. Within each billing cycle, one winning number would be selected, and the corresponding customer would win the jackpot.

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The thrill of winning money would be an incentive, helping consumers overcome their natural aversion to a higher priced energy service. If we aren't always dependably altruistic, maybe simple cash would bring us to make greener choices.

A key part of the Thrill Attraction Model, the Solar Lottery Ball Tumbler device would be used to hold test lotteries, in public spaces, as a way to study the model, to see whether people would be interested, but also to discuss the ethics of this possibly manipulative technique.

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A representative device - the Solar Lottery Ball Tumbler - is used to discuss the Thrill Attraction Model in the public domain

Much more appealing to corporations, the Advertising Capital Model aims to generate additional revenue by advertising using the energy infrastructure. 100m high wind turbines outfitted with smoke printing nozzles would spell out advertisement messages into the sky. The fees for these advertisements would help to finance additional wind farm construction.

This is what it would look like in theory:

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And this is the state of the system right now:

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A rough 4.5m tall prototype of the Advertising Capital Model is demonstrated and studied in public spaces

Finally, the Alternate Service Model is a solar updraft tower tailored to the needs of a company developing a new solar technology.

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The Updraft Replicator used to test drive the Alternate Service Model

The tower would allow people to launch objects into the sky using the vertical gust from the plant. An Updraft Replicator is used to study this model. So far, people interrogated about this new entertainment service have expressed the desire to send seeds or the ashes of their pets up in the clouds.

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Presentation at the Sparks Energy Symposium

Check out The Energy Pilots at the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition until 3 July 2011 on Kensington Gore.

For other smoke systems: Smoke and Hot Air by Ali Momeni and Robin Mandel. See also SWAMP (Studies of Work Atmosphere and Mass Production)'s machine that blows miniature artificial house shaped clouds.

A couple of weeks ago the French branch of The Council met at the Maison des Métallos in Paris to discuss about the challenges and promises of 'the internet of things.' There were presentations by artists, hackers, designers, researchers and also by various people in suits. The highlight of the event for me (and for many other people i'm sure) was a presentation by Jean-Baptiste Labrune on DIY Transducers.

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Piezo Flower. Image by JB Labrune

Currently working for Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, Dr Jean-Baptiste Labrune has recently traveled back to Paris after a couple of years spent as a postdoctoral researcher in the Tangible Media Group at the MIT Medialab. The Council was not our first encounter, I had met the French computer scientist before at interaction design workshops, media art conferences, dorkbot meetings and in other events where hackers, artists, designers and engineers might want to hang out and discuss.

His presentation gave a provocative (and much welcome) twist to the discussion about 'the internet of things.' Labrune's talk revolved around the idea of developing organic circuits and, more broadly, about an internet of thing which might one day be made of materials that grow, evolve, decay and die just like us.

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Jean-Baptiste Labrune at The Council. Image by Pierre Metivier

Labrune manages to be very witty, very geek and very funny at the same time. The chaotic notes i took during his presentation are, alas!, unable to reproduce his style and ideas so I thought it would be best if i'd have him speak in a super short interview about his work:

One of the projects you developed while researching at MIT was a reflection on electronic components that wouldn't be made of plastic nor metal but of natural materials? Can you tell us about the outcome of that research? What did your prototypes look like?

Because of their homogeneous hence controllable nature, many modern objects are made using the same materials, like plastic for example. Fabrication line-ups engineers like to control i.e. predict in advance the rate of failure and in a way eliminate error from the production process of high-end artefacts. Because I think that our capacity to repurpose unpredictability into meaning is what makes us human by opposition to machine, I was exploring in this project how using less controllable process and materials might lead to different results than traditional techniques for electronics like PCB for instance. Among the prototypes, I try to develop simple circuits with simple functions to more complex ones with microcontrollers or microchip programmers. I was also interested in creating unstable sensors and actuators made out of wood for instance where regular components would be only press-fit and connected to the circuit trace by dry-paint and not solder joints, allowing young children to create simple electromechanical artefacts without soldering irons or chemical etchant.

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Four Copper Preg LaserCut Boards. The one in the down right is wood, other are PMMA (acrylic). Image JB Labrune

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Liquid copper. Image JB Labrune

You employed a rather unusual material, some kind of liquid copper? Can you explain it its role in your prototype?

Some of my colleagues and friends (Leah Buechley, Hannah Perner-Wilson, Nadya Peek) are the best in collecting nice stuff that conduct electricity like all kind of liquid suspensions, animal exoskeletons or felted particles... I realised different prototypes of circuits boards using liquid copper since with silver, this metal is a very good conductor of electricity, which we like in general (except if you want to make resistive sensors). The particular one used in the project you mentioned is the moderately cheap CuPro-CoteTM paint from LessEMF, a website specialised in anti-abduction garments, well known from electronic textile folks since it proposes all kind of nice conductive fabric based on copper or silver with beautiful and strange names like Flectron or Zelt. Because it is almost entirely composed of copper, this paint is in principle not dangerous for health since copper can even be moderately ingerated (in principle :). Leah Buechley and her research group frequently use it to make paper electronics by directly painting circuits on paper with such paints. My idea was to use a fast CNC machine (like a laser cutter for example) to quickly draft electronic objects since this kind of machines are precise and good at repetitive tasks, and then let a human finish them since they are usually very good at the inverse, therefore creating an interesting tension between repeatability and originality. The boards were made out of different materials with various hydrophobic or hydrophilic surfaces (PMMA, Wood, BioComposites) inviting the liquid copper to go into machine cut channels according to precise paths. The precision of the CNC machines I used allowed to create rather compact circuits at SOIC or even QFN pitch (which corresponds to most of artistic grade electronic components) but also, and interestingly enough to develop precise high frequency antennas or very precise solenoids (electromagnets) by simple depositions, which led me for example to create monolithic speakers from wood and copper in a following project.

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Simple implementation of the FabISP made by David A. Mellis in a HTMAA class. Image JB Labrune

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Wooden PCB. Image JB Labrune

Was your project motivated by a strong sense of ecology and respect for nature?

Well, I am not sure it was motivated by nature or ecology in the greenwashing sense, but more in the idea of situatedness (à la Lucy Suchman), or as Von Huexküll puts it in the beginning of the last century, in terms of non-forgetting the idea of Umwelt, where an object is as defined by everything it is not than by its internal or intrinsic components. Let say that I was motivated by these ideas and also by the desire of a playful drift from the ubiquitous idea of cybernetics, theory of governance and control (kybernetika, the art of steering), minimising the presence of predictive control (feedforward, feedback, negative-feedback) by systems or their operators, while, like in poetic cybernetics, celebrating human abilities to appreciate scale-invariance, navigate through intricate recursive assemblages and adapt to ad-infinitum changes. A second perspective is the ability to create processes or machines that intervene into natural environment but then withdraw themselves to let their artificiality being re-conquered by living entities, controlled by extra-human rules. I am thinking here for example of the works of land art researchers and artists like Philip Beesley for instance who comes to forests on deserted islands with many students, knit their roots and then go for many years to finally come back and see how nature interpreted their interpretations.

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Cardboard Hello. Image JB Labrune

How do you think users will relate to tech components that are going to 'grow old' and 'die'? Do you feel they will care for them more? Develop an altogether different relationship to technology?

One of the outcome of this quick investigation of electronic devices made out of wood for instance is the idea that if we would make circuits on living entities, they would perform differently according to the environment or the homeostatic state of the substrate. This will lead to situations where regular objects that usually are our slaves and perform their function in a controlled and predictable manner would then resist to us, fail to obey to our desires or the anticipated ones designed by technological designers. This resistance might anthropomorphise them and maybe create a feeling of empathy due to the then finite nature of the object relation, that might stop if not nurtured or a least manifested and preserved. Anthropologues and thinkers such as Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour or Michel Serres frequently remind us of the political nature of nature. In the electric or electronic field, luxuriant and drifting definitions of nature are often replaced by an efficient determinist ballistic culture. What if technology to come would integrate natural substrates? Would it transform human sophisticated illusion of control and wishes to tell the future as a serious fiction? Maybe it will actually be the limits of technology that will invite users, as humans, to re-question their relationship with modern environments, especially when most of them are now created by other humans.

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Solenoid test (50 spires) is to show whether laser engraving can create precise circuits to make magnetic coil, inductors and even pretty high frequency antenna (for RFID, Radio, etc.) Image JB Labrune

Merci Jean-Baptiste!

More: Slideshare of DIY Transducers, flickr set on Lasercutting, and Orgatronics.

Related: Interactivos? Garage Science: the Fruit Computer Laboratory.

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Prédiction was the biggest exhibition of the International Design Biennial in Saint Étienne. Its ambition was to reposition the boundaries of contemporary design, exploring in over 150 artefacts and 2000 m2 the new types, methods, and practices of the discipline.

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© Pierre Grasset

SMS Printer, brainwave sofa, amorph objects for lonely people or unpredicted needs. It was so fast, so bright, so 'finger on the pulse', i sometimes had the feeling of walking physically inside one of the design blogs dedicated to the chase of the 'ultimate coolness.' Not that it prevents the objects exhibited (or the design blogs just mentioned) to have depth and intelligence of course.

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© Pierre Grasset

The exhibition space was shaped at the image of a Gallic Village (i kid you not!) half guarded behind high fences.

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© Pierre Grasset

Curator Benjamin Loyauté had selected both established names and young, still unknown talents from the hundreds of submissions his call for design had gathered. Here is a walk through some of the discoveries i made at the show:

One of the most interesting design projects for me is The T-shirt Issue, by Linda Kostowski, Hande Akcayli and Murat Kocyigit from Marshallah Design. 3 people got their portrait in t-shirt -not 'on' a t-shirt. Their bodies were scanned, then turned into a 3D file. Linked with their biographical memories a digital twin of the body was thus created, which expanded and personified the garment. The 3D data then became sewing patterns by the use of the same unfolding function that is used in industrial design to make paper models. The single fabric pieces and the inner interface which defines the edges were cut out by the help of a lasercutter.

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No 419 - Markus

By hacking a very mundane SNILLE office chair, Sander van Bussel, converted a hyper-impersonal IKEA piece of furniture into the place where the most intimate and personal activities take place.

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Sander van Bussel, Gynea

I never thought that one of the most memorable designs of the exhibition for me would be a chair. So you get a second image of it.

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Sander van Bussel, GYNEA

Part of Richard Hutten's Playing with Tradition series of oriental rugs, this wool carpet design evokes the time of the good old dial-up modem when images failed to load properly.

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Richard Hutten, from The Playing with Tradition series, 2008. Photo I+I Milan

China is both the country where many European companies have their products manufactured and one of the largest producers of copied and pirated goods.

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Laura Strasser, With Love from China, 2009

Designer Laura Strasser decided to take the copying of her work in her own hands. She found a "business to business platform" and emailed 40 Chinese manufacturers, asking them to copy her physionomy. 31 producers replied immediately. When I described my project in greater detail and gave the quantity and the time-frame, eleven turned down my request because the quantity was too small, four because they only produced tableware, but six agreed emphatically.
(...)
The title of my work, and thus of my copy, is taken from the last e-mail from my Chinese copier: "With love from China", he added when sending me my copy, Made in China.

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Laura Strasser, With Love from China, 2009

In the exhibition space, the little porcelain reproductions evoke the soldiers of the Terracotta Army.

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© Pierre Grasset

Union Political Table Radio by Nanar Kradjian symbolizes the political tensions in Lebanon. Up to six people can sit together at the same table, plug headphones in the cube and listen to the political message of their choice since Kradjian's radio integrates 6 radios, one for each of the main political parties in the country.

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Nanar Kradijian, Union Political Table Radio, 2010 (photo designboom)

Wieki Somers's Consume or Conserve? series uses human ashes to create sculptures as different as dung beetles and toasters.

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Wieki Somers, Consume or Conserve, 2010

Jo Meesters' Ornamental Inheritance is a series of sand blasted used ceramics that combine the immediately recognizable delfware ornaments with contemporary symbols, such as airplanes, wind turbine and architecture.

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Jo Meesters, Ornamental Inheritance, 2004. Photo: Lisa Klappe

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Bless, Carcover, 2008. Photo: Grégoire Alexandre

I promised myself i would make a pass at the RCA people projects just once but sometimes temptation cannot be resisted:

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Noam Toran and Onkar Kular, The MacGuffin Library - Koons Balloon Mold, 2008. © Noam Toran and Onkar Kular, Crédits Photo: Sylvain Deleu

Also Part of the Prédiction exhibition: The House That Herman Built.
Previously: The Fakir's Rest and other tales of mobility.

The Open, by Mattia Casalegno, is a mask that wraps around your face and forces you to smell a fresh patch of grass and listen to your own breath.

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The device defines also a sensory territory constructed by the rhytm of the breath, which is diffused from the headphones with a 1.5 sec. delay.

The work plays with the Deleuzian notion of ritornell, and about the quality of sound to define a territory. The space defined by the sound of breathing is in a state of costant imbalance between the physical act and its sensory perception and traces an unstable relationship with the intimate environment the garment reproduces.

I usually do not accept submissions -no matter how fantastic they are- on my blog. There are several reasons for that. The main one is that i prefer to see and experience the work before i write about it. Another reason is that long overdue stories are already preventing me from sleeping at night (yes, it's that bad!) But once in a while there's a submission that makes me want to go further. Hence the following conversation with Mattia Casalegno:

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How long are participants advised to wear the mask to make sure that they really get the experience? Are they willing to wear the mask longer or do they report feelings of discomfort (physical or not)?


They can wear it as long as they want. There have been people who wear it for few seconds or several minutes, some who were allergic and some who just refused to wear it. Others came back to experience it several times. In the room there's also a chair similar to the ones you could find in a psychanalyst office, and overall the setting is meant to be inviting.

Despite the chair, after a certain amount of time, the experience can become slightly unsettling due to tightness of the mask. I liked the idea of constructing an experience that is comfortable but at the same time disturbing, enveloping but claustrophobic. Inside it's warm, and you can hear your own breath, which usually induces relaxation and security, but after a while you feel the tightness and realize that the sound of your breath is actually delayed, resulting in a distorted experience.

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More generally, what were the reactions of the people who tried the mask on?

Actually, they were very disparate. Some people instantly freaked out, thinking of all the other people's faces that worn the mask. Other just liked the idea to lay down and relax for a while. Some had memories of their childhood, others speculated about death.
There's obviously something very primordial in the act of putting your entire face so close to the soil, something referring to the earth, the womb. But also something very sexual which not only refers to the birth, but to an act of exploration, immersion and abandon implied in sex, which is an irresistible and frightening power. I first had the idea for this piece thinking about sex with my lover but later I found out that it had more to do with a universal experience and has multiple meanings.

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The Open, as you write, "plays with the Deleuzian notion of ritornell, and about the quality of sound to define a territory." Can you expand on this? Why for example did you associate breathing with turf?


I liked the idea of sound defining a territory and I tried to apply this notion to the project. Deleuze and Guattari in "Thousand Plateaux" talk about the capacity of structured sounds, notably rhythm, to define a space: an example the birds who negotiate their interaction spaces with their refrains - which is the english world for "ritornell", or the child who softly sings a song in the dark. The refrain is the first hint of a stable and quiet center, the primordial will to organize chaos. The idea of rhythm emerging from chaos belongs to any cosmogony, but what happens if, instead of externalizing such a process, we trace it from the inside, and thus define a kind of "inner cosmogony"? We could then define territories between our sensory system and our unconscious, libido, fears, etc. As we enter the mask, the refrain is our own breathing, but the territories thus delineated somehow don't overlap, are slightly conflicting because of the delay, there's an inconsistency between the act and the perception of it.

Did you try to convey other kinds of experience(s)? Maybe a reconnection of the urban dweller with nature (if a piece of turf can be called nature of course)? Or an attempt to make them engage with senses that are less solicited by our dominantly visual culture?

Yes, the sod can be a reference to nature, although a very rationalized and domesticated one. This kind of grass reminds us of the idealized landscapes and the organized fields of the English garden, a symbol of dominion of man over nature, if we want. The fact that the experience gets slightly anxious underlines somehow this kind of schizo-relationship with Nature, where we we are captivated by our natural environment but also afraid of it.

Why did you name your piece The Open when people's face is so dramatically enclosed inside a mask?


I wanted to play with this duality of proximity and distance, this exaggerated physical proximity and the space left between the perception of an outside and an inside, the environment and the self. The title is also borrowed from the name of a book by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, written in 2002: "The Open: Man and Animal," in which he investigates the opening of such a space and the differences between being human and animal. Maybe this goes a bit too far from the original idea for this piece, but I like this quote:

"What is man, if he is always the place―and, at the same time, the result―of ceaseless divisions and caesurae? It is more urgent to work on these divisions, to ask in what way―within man―has man been separated from non-man, and the animal from the human, than it is to take positions on the great issues, on so-called human rights and values."

Now for a more personal question. You have been working actively as a multidsciplinary artist for a decade. Yet, last year, you decided to move to the U.S. and attend the Design | Media Arts graduate program at University of California Los Angeles. This is imho the best school for media art and interactive design you could have chosen but what made you think you needed to go back to school? Did you feel that your practice was not enough and that you needed to acquire new skills?


I don't know, maybe was less about acquiring skills and more a need to put in prospective my work, to step back and see where I was going with all that. I was also working a lot with video and live-media performances and I wanted more time to experiment with different media and follow some obsessions I had in mind, so I felt that to fly to an other continent where I knew nobody was a good opportunity to
concentrate on my work. Also, I had an appointment with Johanna Reed.

The D|MA program has a great faculty covering almost any field of media art, the approach is very much oriented to any kind of media. It's a small and very intense program, you end spending all your time there, and get to see people so often that after a while it's like having a big family, I'm already sad this is my last year here.

Thanks Mattia!

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