Consumer Electronics Industry and Mining in Congo

(Original posting on Pixelache site)

Coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a rogue industry that produces financial profit for the various factions of the on-going civil war. This issue has been discussed in artist/activist circles for some years already, but there have been no signs for any solution to this problem.

This situation unexpectedly changed last week, when US Senate passed a new bill that requires companies to disclose whether they are sourcing coltan or other minerals from the DRC or adjoining countries. Companies have to provide details about the measures they have taken to avoid sourcing these minerals from DRC armed groups, which are guilty of massacres and other atrocities. This means that companies like Apple, Dell, HP, Intel and Nokia can no longer wash their hands of this issue.

The move by US lawmakers can perhaps be partly explained by commercial motives. The fact that China has become the number one supplier of many important metals has recently raised concern in US and Europe (see article in New York Times). Increased transparency in mineral industry is likely to increase the mineral prices, and this might turn mining and other related industries into profitable business again in Europe and US.

Although the new law can be seen as a positive first step towards more fair consumer electronics, it can also have negative side effects. The new law might result in a complete boycott of minerals from DRC, which might make the local situation even worse. Also auditing the supply chains is a complex task and probably prone to corruption.

According to a report by Finnwatch, the raw materials from Congolese mines are traded by Belgian trading houses to ports in Kenya and Tansania. From there the materials are transported to Thailand, Malesia, India and China where the worlds biggest foundries are located. In the case of Nokia, after the foundry has extracted the metal, there are still 4 or 5 more middlemen before the metal ends up in a ready Nokia product. According to an article in Taloussanomat (in Finnish), Nokia requires their material suppliers not to use minerals from conflict areas, but the new law will require Nokia to do more extensive auditing.

Valise Pédagogique – teaching methods

During the past days, I have been impressed by the teaching methods that Jean-Noël and Olivier Heinry use in the ‘Valise Pédagogique Création Interactive’ workshop.

During a break I did a very short interview with Olivier, here is a brief summary –

The workshop began with a history of interactive art, starting from cave paintings, continuing with automatons in ancient Egypt and during the Enlightment era, presenting the work of Nicolas Schöffer and finally examples of interactive art done by artists today.

The workshop lessons about interactive tools and programming are divided into three parts: 1. Data capturing, 2. Data filtering and 3. Action – what are the effects that system can generate. This is an autonomous, interactive system, and also a basis for a methodology for creating interactive art. The purpose is to offer a simple approach that anyone can learn.

But this workshop actually aims for much more than just teaching these theoretical and practical lessons. The approach is holistic – the workshop teaches ‘how to be an artist who uses interactive technologies’. This means, for example, that the participants are educated about the financial aspects related to interactive technologies, so while they are learning about the tools they should also think about what kind of economical logic (not only in the sense on money, but use of time, and other resources) could work for them in future. The students learn the basics of Cybernetics through various simple examples.

In his teaching, Olivier is using the methods he has learned in working as a member of various dance projects (especially via working with Good Work Productions), and also partly from his knowledge about collective software development. Olivier studied fine arts and learned his computer / software skills himself, and he was particularly impressed by a method called Scrum. This method is an iterative process, which assigns roles to people (instead of building a top-down hierarchy) and allows the teacher not to be the ‘boss’ but rather a facilitator of activities. For Olivier, it’s important to aim for the autonomy of the participants. The participants themselves occasionally become teachers themselves – once they have mastered a skill they can assist others, or they can give a presentation about related projects that they have been previously been working on.

Here are some examples of what this approach means in practice: Every morning, the students and teachers sit in a circle and repeat each others names, so that everyone would learn all the names more quickly. In the space where the lessons are given, all the chairs and tables have been removed, the projector is also placed on the floor, to remove all the physical signs of hierarchy. Ideas are collected into a big colorful cloud of post-it notes on the wall. Etc, etc…

>> More information about Valise Pédagogique Création Interactive in French

(>> original posting on Pixelache blog)

Digital Craftsmanship

Photo: Pulse by Markus Kison (DE)

According to the participants of Pixelache09 Digital Craftsmanship seminar, Digital Craftsmanship is about:

  • Thinking with your hands
  • Developing digital media cookbooks and recipes
  • Getting different people to share same focus, taking steps in the areas where they are not comfortable
  • Contributing back to the community of teachers
  • Being cross-over artists and designers, enough skills to 99% of things needed
  • Allowing non-specialists to enter, make technology itself culturally diverse
  • Building spaces for learning that reflect the culture that we have online

The discussion involved people from UdK Berlin, Culture Lab Newcastle, Taik Media Lab, Konstfack Stockholm, Kitchen Budapest and other schools/labs. It was evident that digital craftsmanship is difficult to compare with traditional master-apprentice relationship. It seems to be more about a specific approach (or one could even say attitude) to working with digital media. All the basic building blocks (physical parts, hardware, software) are kept open for modifying and one should have enough skills and confidence to work on all different aspects of the project. A key for successful learning and development is to be connected to a network of peers and knowledge / resources that can be shared.

(>> original posting on Pixelache09 site)

Climate Hack workshop

During the three days that our brave Cotton Candy experimentation team spent enclosed in a small room in Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, we learned quite a few things:

– Cotton candy is a challenging material to work with. The temperature has just high enough for the sugar to melt but low enough for the plastic candy machine itself not to melt. If one wants to use color effects, these need to be applied beforehand – once sugar is reached its fluffy and flying cotton candy form, it’s very difficult to apply any extra effects to it. Refilling the machines on the fly (when they are hot and rotating sugar at high speed) was also not a very easy thing to figure out.

– Cotton candy is great material for art about environmental issues – it’s made of pure white sugar that gives us pure solid energy to burn. Very efficient and very unhealthy. The sugar we bought in Germany said ‘Made in Germany’ in the package while it’s obvious that it has been grown by some low-wage workers in Africa or South-America. Eating cotton candy is also a ritual, a ceremony associated with places such as circuses or fun fairs –  places that have been designed for the kids to have fun and for the parents to… pretend to have fun?

– Compared to the English words cotton candy and candy floss, the Finnish and French equivalents ‘hattara’ and ‘barpapapa’ are more interesting and versatile. The word hattara can be applied to all kinds of fluffy things (clouds, hairdos, etc) and it has a connotation of superficiality. In addition to Barpapapa comic book characters, barpapapa also means ‘daddy’s beard’.

Some of the concrete results (see photos above) we achieved were the Cotton Candy Tornado (Aleksi Pihkanen was the main chef), Cotton Candy Crystals (by Christopher Baker) and the ‘redemption ritual’ (design by Tuomo Tammenpää). These were the side effects of the main purpose of the workshop: to bring an interesting bunch of people together to hack, chat and have fun for a few days. Thanks a lot for crew of Kitchen Budapest and for the good times and for Transmediale 09 for hosting us!

>> More thoughts + photos in Tuomo Tammenpää’s blog
>> More photos by Miska Knapek
>> Climate Hack wiki

(>> original posting on Pixelache09 blog)

Self-organisation survey

Boxwars @ Pixelache 2008 (photo by Antti Ahonen)

In connection with Pixelache 2008 festival, we made a survey about organisational strategies of some prominent grassroot initiatives. We received replies from these people / organisations:

– Ben Fry & Casey Reas / Processing
– David Cuartielles / Arduino
– Douglas Repetto / Dorkbot
– Damien Deadly / Boxwars UK

The questions were:

* What are the aims of the project you are involved in?
* How is the project organised?
* How do you support the work financially and what impact does this have on your project?
* What do you feel you have achieved, and what are the problems you face?
* Are there any past projects/models which have inspired you?
* What are your hopes for the future?

Some excerpts from the survey:

* How do you support the work financially and what impact does this have on your project?

Casey Reas & Ben Fry / Processing: We’ve made a conscious effort to keep money out of the project. We don’t take donations, sell anything, or put ads on the site. We don’t make money directly for working on it and we hope that sets the example for others to contribute. We both have other jobs to pay for our food and rent. We were fortunate to receive a grant early in the project that was used to pay for a few developers to write key components of the software. Last year, Ben received a personal grant that provided some concentrated time to focus on the project. Our web hosting is thankfully donated.

* Are there any past projects/models which have inspired you?

David Cuartielles / Arduino: Before I was member of a design collective called Aeswad, based in Malmo, Sweden. There we had a pretty anarchic way of dealing with projects, deciding how to be paid, etc. The financial model we had was really thought through and helped me to understand that distributed organizations need of a completely different degree of freedom that corporations do. On the other hand I could learn how to make (a lot of) money making the things I like the most and letting the others do the same.

Distributed strategies for world-wide organizations can actually provide a way of living to their members. It is just that nobody will explain you how to make it happen. There is no business school focusing on that. Corporate is a cancer we gotta eliminate from society if we are about to make this new way of thinking/living/working possible.

* What are your hopes for the future?

Douglas Repetto / Dorkbot: I try to stay kind of neutral about the future of dorkbot. As organizations grow they often develop self-protection mechanisms, and sometimes maintaining the organization becomes more important than the actual activities of the organization. If dorkbot is no longer useful or interesting in a particular city, then we just let it die. Sometimes it comes back in another form, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t try to revive meetings or put any pressure on people to continue meeting. I will keep doing dorkbot in New York as long as it’s interesting and people keep volunteering to give presentations. But there are lots of other organizations doing similar things to dorkbot, so I’m sure that if we go away other things that are just as useful/interesting will take its place.

I’m constantly working to understand how something can seem to be both the most important thing in the world and also completely inconsequential. That’s my primary organizational strategy!

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The self-organisation survey can be found here:


Interferenze Festival

DSCN3100The theme of Interferenze 2006 was ‘Naturalis Electronica’, the encounter of nature and electronic art. I was invited to curate the interactive/software art section which eventually featured following artists/projects: Casey Reas (Process 6, 7, 8), LeCielEstBleu, Ralf Schreiber, Marianne Decoster-Taivalkoski (Aquatic), An Earful of Italy (Jean-Philippe Renoult, Kate Sieper, Dinah Bird ) and IMPROVe (Zeenath Hasan, Richard Widerberg).

Alessandro Ludovico wrote a report of Interferenze 2006 in Neural and there are plenty of photos on Interferenze site,  below some of my own photos.

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Photos from the valley, from the city of San Martino Valle Caudina:
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Software and generative strategies in art and design (lectures by Casey Reas + Marius Watz)

A short summary of the lectures Casey Reas and Marius Watz at Lume Media Centre, an event which was organised by PixelACHE & friends (see earlier posting).

Marius Watz (on the left) and Casey Reas (Photos: Jokko Korhonen)

Casey and Marius arrived to Helsinki straight from the Generator.x conference / exhibition in Oslo, an ambitious project initiated by Marius Watz. Generator.x brought together an international group of artists / designers / researchers to explore ‘the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design’.

Marius quoted the definition of generative art from Philip Galanter:

Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist uses a system, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art.

(here is the academic paper where the quote is from)

Another relevant quote from Generator.x:

True literacy means being able to both read and write. If to use pre-existing software is to “read” digital media, then programming is the equivalent to writing. The Generator.x project focuses on artists and designers who embrace this new literacy not as a technical obstacle, but as a way to redefine the tools and the media they work in.

This is a slightly modified version of an original statement from Alan Kay:

The ability to ‘read’ a medium means you can access materials and tools created by others. The ability to ‘write’ in a medium means you can generate materials and tools for others. You must have both to be literate. In print writing, the tools you generate are rhetorical; they demonstrate and convince. In computer writing, the tools you generate are processes; they simulate and decide.

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