Project: Baltan Laboratories, mapping a lab space
Organisation: Baltan Laboratories
Moderator: Liesbeth Huybrechts, Jon Stam, Thomas Laureyssens, Priscilla Machils (MAD-Faculty, Social Spaces) and Angela Plohman (Baltan Lab)
BALTAN Laboratories initiates, supports and disseminates innovative research and development activities in the field of art, technology and culture. BALTAN Laboratories actively pursues new collaborations between disciplines and acts as point of intersection for artists working with technology in Eindhoven and beyond. For more information, see: http://www.baltanlaboratories.org/.
The main goal of the workshop is to find out what a lab is, what a lab can be and what a lab needs to function as good as possible. “The Future of the Lab” is explored through a mapping session that has the intention to be a social event where the different participants had a first opportunity to exchange thoughts in a playful way. It did not want to stimulate conversations about an abstract lab, but about the lab the participants would know/run.
The participants are divided in four groups. The moderators of the overall session and the groups are Liesbeth Huybrechts, Jon Stam, Thomas Laureyssens, Priscilla Machils (Media & Design Academy, Social Spaces) and Angela Plohman (Baltan Lab). The moderator explains the rules of the game and facilitates the sessions. Each group should name 1 ‘presenter’. The presenter switches tables at each session and presents the group results in the end of the workshop. The group participants stay at their table.
The map is divided in two zones: a border area where personal experiences could be mapped and a central collaborative zone that has the concrete form of the Baltan lab. Key values, people, things, infrastructural traits and key threats related to the lab are visualised via different prepared icons. We made a prefab taglist of values based on the different written descriptions the participants made of their labs, namely: art, awareness, collaboration, consultancy, creativity, culture, dissemination, distribution, ethics, experimentation, hybridity, industry, innovation, interdisciplinary, international, meeting place, national, networked, open, production, public engagement, reflection, research, research & development, scientific, shared expertise, shared practice, society, technology, transparent
Each participant receives a series of coloured "expressive" icons for personal feedback that contains 1 bomb-icon, 1 safety-icon and 2 thumbs. With a safety icon, in the form of lock, people can make sure that items on the map can not be removed. A bomb-card can be played when a participant doesn’t agree with a situation/item on the map. The thumbs can be played when a participant likes/dislikes a situation/item on the map.
The workshop has 3 sessions. After each session the presenter changes tables including the map of the lab, the border area stays on the table. In each session, items can be removed from or added to the map. The moderator will give instructions. The first session was 60 minutes. People start to map the different aspects (such as people, infrastructural elements) on the map and prioritize the different items in a zone in the form of a compass. After 50 minutes the group can decide which items on the map have to be secured, because in a second session a new group will adapt the map. The second session is 30 minutes. The map moves to a next group. The members of this group start with bombing things on the map they are confronted with and than continues to work on it. The third session is 10 minutes. The map moves again. ”Facebooklike” a group can like and dislike items on the map of an other group.
The mapping methodology is used to visualise a process in space and time. Mapping stimulates people to engage in a participatory design process. We created a low-tech mapping system, an open and extendible set of icons allowing participants to make their thoughts explicit in a visual way in the form of a map. Whereas the semantic space created during a participatory design event is not just visual, but also linguistic, tactile and emotional, the visual aspect of the mapping was combined with a verbal notation of the conversations triggered by the icons.
This session in Eindhoven was the first time – in a series of mapping sessions we organized the past years – we used ’strange and playful objects’ (bombs, thumbs and locks). The added value of collaborative processes is that different disciplines present different views on a subject. In a lot of the former mapping sessions, people were too eager to please each other and to search as quickly as possible for common ground. By making the ’strange’ or the conflict part of the conversation, people are allowed to disagree, enabling them to risk a step on uncommon ground, which is more conductive to creativity. In this adapted set of icons for Baltan, some icons will disturb the process when people feel they do not agree with how things are modeled. In relation to the conversation space, a series of tactics will be developed, such as the forced usage of bombs that enable the participants to remove constallations on the map they do not entirely agree upon.
Group 1 put fluidity, awareness and process central in the vision of their lab. They linked the role of the generalist, the broker and the producer to this vision. Face to face work and online collaborative work is an important factor to perform these roles, via brainstorming, scenario making, stories, workshops, wikis, low tech tools, etc. All these methods and tools are used to bring the stories out of and in the lab, to interface with daily life. Non-hierarchical structures are connected to open and transparant methodologies to stimulate bottom-up work. Technology should be light and inexpensive, so it can be taken out and in of the lab quite quickly. Awareness of history, a living archive and experiments with that history should be present and are preconditions to flexible access to knowledge. Trust is the glue in this lab. Money was an issue, just like it was for all the other labs: too little or too much money can have a huge impact on how things work.
While the former group put interdisciplinary work central and not art, the second group saw art production as a central issue. They did have doubts if art production should be called artistic research or R&D. In any case they wanted to provide a critical space, rather than a space filled with tools. Artefacts would be constructed in the lab and disseminated outside of the space by a mediator. The group found it difficult to decide what the role or the name of this mediator should be: a curator or a facilitator or ... ?
Group 3 built a quite big lab where visionary, nerdy and artistic people meet. To reach the public a disseminator would do a significant amount of work. The other groups think this disseminator should be rather called a collaborator. Also, the other groups state, the lab group 3 constructed was too big and had too much specialized spaces, which made the lab inflexible. This lead the discussion to the interesting issue that the bigger a lab gets, the more difficult it becomes to organize it. Would you do everything in the lab or would you share practices over labs? Is more collaboration among the medialabs necessary? Can you spread functions internationally? The lab coordinators agreed it was possible and even good to spread functions, but they also stated it is difficult for labs to invest in working on the network, since their work in the lab is already quite intense. Extra funding could maybe invested in maintaining the network.
Group 4 put society, sharing, network, public engagement and awareness central in their lab. They discussed the tension between two models: the division of roles and tasks (such as technical, curatorial, community) in a hierarchical way, aided by a advisory board (1) and a grassroots model where the artist is developer and the other way around (2). This second model was preferred by the group. The artist-developer may be a person, a team or just a vision that is shared with others in many non-hierarchical ways. The goal is to convince traditionalists and to leave the idea of the audience in the traditional sense. The audience should be in the centre of the space and become participants through systems of collaboration and coproduction organized by the lab. Sharing is a core issue: knowledge, expertise, practice, tools and resources are shared in sustainable ways.
The mapping session made it possible to formulate some issues to discuss further during the rest of the expert meeting. The results of the mapping were useful for Baltan Lab, since they were able to gain a better insight into how the lab was changing those days and how the lab of the future would look like.The session also showedhow MAP-it can be a perfect reflecting instrument on future projects.
Text by Liesbeth Huybrechts. See: http://www.socialspaces.be.
Photographs (2) and (3) by Nik Gaffney in "Future of the Lab" (2010), Baltan Labs.)