Garnet Hertz, Golan Levin and Alex Fleetwood speak about the difference between making and hacking and how artists have always used some type of technology in their work.
Simon Sarginson reports back from the Critical Making Talks, at the Future Everything festival – Manchester, March 2014
The Critical Making talks were some of the most interesting of the entire Future Everything event.
A maker and theorist who explores DIY cultures started the thing of by a refreshingly critical look at the ‘Maker’ movement.
While it’s a diffuse movement in part spinning of a more traditional DIY and hobby electronics culture, the modern incarnation of the Maker movement is most strongly identifiable with Make magazine and its Maker fairs, events which celebrate DIY making projects in its broadest sense.
Hertz’s critique was hilariously crudely but efficiently kicked of with his one liner
‘Making = Hacking – Controversy‘
He pointed out that Hacking has always to various degrees has been associated with subverting society, reverse engineering and manipulating various hardware and software to make it do things it was not originally intended to often making this information publicly available much to dismay of governments and companies a like.
Which looks like this:
Image source: http://hackaday.com/2012/07/25/arduino-resistor-and-barrel-plug-lay-waste-to-millions-of-hotel-locks/
Where as Making looks more like this:
Image source: http://www.makeymakey.com
Hertz went on to say that Making is in danger of turning in to an innocuous middle class hobby, a placid extension of ever expanding need for personalised products. It is worth noting that Making focuses more on pre-built units such as the Makey Makey unit seen above with easy plug and play characteristics. As such it promotes ease of use over craftsmanship and deep knowledge. Whereas the hacker community perhaps arrogantly so pride themselves often on a flexible solution working with low cost high complexity units that have to be painstakingly assembled often using advanced craft and soldering skills.
Herz tries to bring us back to the deep skills involved in making as well as engaging with political nature of subverting and reverse engineering existing hard and software.
More on Critical Making (Concept Lab)
On a final note Hertz brings up why while he remains critical of the Maker movement he sees many positive aspects as well. The huge platform and interest it stimulates in the act of making is very valuable. As apparent from the difference between the two images hacking is by and a large a middle aged male activity where as the maker movement also involves children and women to a much larger degree.
Golan followed up this talk with a dissemination of his own work which provides some examples as to what Critical Making look like in practice. First of he talks about the Universal Construction Kit a set 3d printed parts which are combinations of two popular children toy sets such as Lego and K’nex.
The blocks are used to combine play sets which usually do not fit together. The inspiration came from his son who in a typical childlike fashion did not see why he would have to build a contraption within the confines of just one of his play set and tried unsuccessfully to combine them. Golan explains the painstaking process in measuring the various attachment points of different sets resorting to industry grade machinery to be able to accurately measure and reproduce the various fittings. The resulting Universal Construction Kit is free for everyone to use and they can 3d print their own copies. He goes to explain that from industry perspective there is no commercial imperative for their users to be able to do this. This project subverts that notion by introducing these non commercial and user centric objects.
By doing so he is trying to destabilise the products and services stack which we can see to increasing degree in the software world as well. Apple’s family of products relying on other pieces of apple software which is visible in the extremely tight integration of the iPhone with services such iPhoto and iTunes.
This project illustrates a lot of aspects of critical making.
It starts with his motivation, a book by David Hockney: Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, which posits the controversial theory that many classic works of art were created with the help of optical aids rather then free hand drawing skill and deliberately obscured the use of these methods.
The Camera Lucida is one of these optical aids.
It overlays the paper with an image of what you are trying to draw so you can trace it. He described why the secretive use of tools such as these by great artists are so controversial as they not only discredit the supposed talent of the artist but on a larger scale it problematises the notion that being a great free hand drawer means you are a great artist. Golan set out for people to experience this critique made physical by having the use a Camera Lucida and see what they would make of the experience. Unfortunately he found that the Camera Lucida’s still in existence are now expensive antiques, so he set out to make his own. His subsequent successfully crowdfunded Kickstarter project put the tool in many artists hands, and is what Golan calls a ‘product as provocation’.
During the development of this endeavour he also engaged with the shadowy side of making. The Neo Lucida was made and assembled in China, by workers who earned about a pound an hour, and the factory he had it assembled was known as one the better ones he explains.
He highlighted how almost every product we touch is hand made somewhere for a very low price and how we need to face that reality.
He also tried to do some assembly himself with moderate success.
In choosing to go for manufacturing in China there is obviously the price consideration but if Levin really wanted to make a point he could have gone for American manufacturing as we can see for instance with the prized British production line for the Raspbery Pi. But by forgoing that process and actively engaging and going to China with a genuine interest in exploring and exposing the process he makes it visible and exposes the inner workings of most modern manufacturing processes. In doing so he makes us the audience think about the consequences of our need and desire of cheap and increasingly sophisticated gadgets and tools.
From the now defunct Hide and Seek, a unique design studio that made cultural games, games played out in public for various companies and cultural institutions. The company was dissolved earlier this year because Alex did not want to see his company go out with a whimper and give his employees a chance to do different things as the company became harder to finance as less and less well earning projects came in.
Alex talks openly and candidly about the process how he feels that games are still under valued as a form of culture and how he wanted to end while the company still had some life in it and not transform it in to something else to give off a signal that this was the case. Alex explains that throughout the life of the company cultural bodies especially were sympathetic to his cause of company to promote games as culture but did not supply the necessary funds for his company to their projects to keep them going.
Simon Sarginson is Creative Technologist at Cybersalon.
He can be reached via @SimonsMine