Networked_Performance

[Yasmin_an] FABLAB

On Yasmin, Roger Malina wrote: … are any of you involved in the FABLAB network?

What is a Fablab? Fab Lab is an abbreviation for Fabrication Laboratory. It is a group of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools. Currently the labs include a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers. A falab is a rapid prototyping platform, and as such is meant to encourage local entrepreneurs to take their own ideas from the drawing board to prototypes to starting local micro businesses, Fab Lab also teaches users critical skills in computing, electronics, programming, and CAD/CAM fabrication techniques–a set of internationally recognized skills. It is additionally a platform from which a community’s technical challenges can be shared with an international roster of engineers, who can help problem solve and design solutions for the community. In return for the involvement of trained engineers with the community, engineers have an opportunity to work on real life design problems faced by large, under-served communities at the lower end of the consumer market.

A Fablab can give its users around the world the ability to locally conceptualize, design, develop, fabricate and test almost anything—for example a Falab puts communication technologies within reach of almost anyone, anywhere. Currently Fablab partners are working on creating mesh wireless, ad hoc networks in the Lyngen Alps of Norway to allow shepherds to keep track of their flocks from afar, and to allow fishermen to keep track of their boats at sea. At the Ghana Fablab, situated at the Takoradi Technical Institute, students are working on low-cost designs for mobile refrigeration and TV antennas. In Pabal, India Fablab users are making replacement gears for out-of-date copying machines, reliable tools for testing milk content and for diagnostics on human blood. At the Costa Rica Fablab young people are learning basic electronics and fabrication – by making functional objects with an array of sensors and actuators. In Boston Fablab users make jewelry, toys and crafts using recycled materials from the community.

All the labs have the same equipment and capabilities so it is possible to share digital designs and fabricated solutions between labs, Forming a network of intellectual property and idea exchange.

Jean-Baptiste LABRUNE wrote: Hey Roger :) I am somehow involved in the FABLAB network as an ex-member of How to make (almost) anything class with Neil Gershenfeld this year and hence a participant in east coast fab operations (in Boston but also in Providence at AS220 an Art and Technology community space in Rhode Island).

Constructive Desillusion: Design Friction

In the last two years, I also followed and was asked to give my opinion on the creation of French speaking fablabs, an idea sketched few years ago but that never really happened (there were some projects in grenoble, in toulouse and in paris) but that was revived last year, especially through the work of some institutional actors that see in the fablab concept a powerful political device. Many of those actors (techno think-tank like FING, prestigious design schools like ENSCI) are now educating the french opinion to what they believe is or should be these new spaces of personal production and sharing. Recently at LIFT Marseille, a paying event on innovation and future making (kind of a french TED), these actors invited many porte-parole of the Fabworld, to help people understand what are these fablabs. Internetactu ( a french techno blog also owned by FING) provided an account of the event here.

I must say I am a bit torn between the excitement of the beginning of a new project, passion, desire to make and the tension between the discourse (and discourse makers) and the reality of sharing, opening, beyond the declarations of intentions. The recent explosion of places for digital production (with CNC machines, sharing ressource on electronics, fabrication, etc) has been slowly recuperated by influencers, opinion leaders, etc. Whether these places are Fablabs, Techshops, Hackerspaces, are they really different from the places that exist in art and design schools to create new media projects (I am thinking for instance in France of the work of J.P. Mandon, Douglas E. Stanley in Aix, J.N Montagne in Main d’Oeuvres with the CRAS, and many! others)? Beyond the discourse about the future, innovation, sharing (as mentionned in all the fab presentations and videos such as the ones made for the opening of FL Arnhem or also Shift a video celebration of how things are now easy, simple, “the beginning of a new era”) where are the actual files, ressources, projects, etc…

I now believe that scenario-making, futurology, prospective and their associated discourse, envisionements , visions, imaginaries and other beautiful and convincing depictions of how things to come might be better, augmented, easier, etc is an important step towards the realization of great things, However, if these narratives is the only things created by these new places, It might not be enough to really change anything in the way people can or allow themselves to reconfigure their socio-material practices. I was on Friday at Yale to present my lab, specialised in experimental media practices. They invited me to talk about the future, as If I was coming from there :) Instead of presenting exclusively a techno-enthusiast vision of it, I try to give a more nuanced account of how the future is a fiction, and tried to reflect on the role that these story-bits play in contemporary cultural discourse making, especially in the publishing industry, my audience that day. The presentation here.

A EuroMed Fablab network ? A Sub-Saharan Fabnetwork ?

Since Yasmin is a Mediterraneo-centric project and discussion list, it could be interesting to see how the new places of fabrication will allow places that are not centers or hubs in the network of discourse to create and redistribute new forms of artistic productions but also to collectively develop repositories of engineering practices and knowledge. What about creating projects using wood from trees from the mediterranean climate (and then maybe collaborate with people in California – big sur for instance since they share these species) and then create new ways to make furniture, musical instruments, toys for children, small communication networks, etc, etc… What about Fablabs linked with water to make boats, floating stuff and other sea related innovations ? What about plunging into the incommensurable cultural reservoir of mediterranean cultures and revive traditional techniques in the context of digital fabrication and reproduction (machines are precise and can do repetitive tasks) but always with human supervision and creative insights (I am thinking for example of making a cheaper-by-an-order-of-magnitude and maybe-more-innovative instance of http://www.technologyinconservation.org/). And what about maybe creating these places not only as english or french speaking entities but on the contrary based on local language and culture ?

As mentionned in your excerpt, (and off-topic since they take place in sub-saharan africa :), some fablabs have already been created in the last few years there like in Takoradi in Ghana, where the Maker Faire Africa took place in 2009 http://makerfaireafrica.com/ but also elsewhere like Kenya, South Africa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_lab . The french speaking community is now trying to open fablabs and also other networks like OSD (On Se Debrouille, presented at Afropixel this year http://www.correspondants.org/texts/on-se-debrouille) and also BricoLabs. Again, I might be crazy but why again englitch and frentch? What about laboratory in Wolof, Zulu or Swahili? Sure, it will not be easy to share discourse and other PR materials, but if what is shared are files and conception patterns examples and projects, it might work actually. Files, Pictures of projects and creative objects could be a digital and reified lingua franca :)

Making (in digitally-operated-atoms) vs Talking about it (in story-bits): DeFabbing Spectacular Machines

To conclude on a positive note, I would like to share with you some of the works made in Fabacademy (for ex in RH http://as220.org/labs/fabacademy/ or also in BCN http://fablabbcn.org/?cat=6 and in lots of other places). I think that the commitment and excellence of innovative educative practices developped by Neil and some of his peers in the projects (http://www.fabacademy.org/index.php/faculty) led to the creation of new exciting projects such as the super cheap replica of machines used in the 40k fablab like the MTM and also many nice projects such as Fabian (a fabbable instance of Arduino), the Fluxamacutter Actuated Knife or also this amazing Weaving machine projects.

We could talk a lot about how these things can change the world, make it a better place, blablabla… But we can also maybe as Artists, Critics, Humanits or just Citizen go to experience making stuff and talking about what we have done with other nerds for a day :) SomethingLab is a trend that is maybe just nascent, what about BioFabLabs (DIYBio, OpenWetWare, Biocurious, SpaceLabs (OpenSource Satellite), DroneLabs (BrookyneAerodrome), PlaceLabs (GrassrootsMapping), etc, etc… You know Dewey, Piaget, Illich, Vygotsky, Freire, ReggioEmilia and part of the history of Arts and Sciences collaborations VS the emergent industry of its mediatisation: society of spectacle (version n.0).

Cheers!

Jb — http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeanbaptisteparis/


Aug 2, 21:14
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