Founded in Berlin, Germany, in 2014, School of MA provides unique, hands-on learning experiences at the intersection of art and technology in Europe. The school, has run five programs thus far, each with a different theme and technology focus. These include ‘Responsive Spaces’, ‘Let’s Get Physical (Computing), ‘Interventions’, ‘Fabricating Empathy’ and most recently, ‘Facts and Fictions in the Age of Data Visualisation’.
Programs run for four weeks, full-time and each program’s instructors are well-known personalities in the field of creative technology, which adds to the excitement of delving into new territories. Initially, the goal of the School of MA was non-sensical exploration of creativity and technology, based on the notion that people learn best when they’re having fun. Slowly, the focus has expanded into the arena of social engagement, speculative and critical design, and most importantly, human connection.
With each program topic we pose critical questions, such as
- ‘How can we create meaningful experiences using data to explore the facts and fictions of our modern-day lives?’
- ‘How can speculative exploration of outer space provide new ways of understanding ourselves?’
- ‘Can we create connected devices which reflect the subtleties and complexities of our human nature?’
This last question will be the focus of our upcoming program ‘Coming Soon’, the first set to take place outside of Berlin, in Turin, Italy. ‘Coming Soon’ is a partnership with Officine Arduino, Fab Lab Torino and Casa Jasmina, the connected home of the future project initiated by science fiction writer Bruce Sterling and Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi.
The program will be framed inside a fictional narrative as participants investigate the creative and expressive possibilities of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies—that is, the ever-increasing network of connected “smart” devices that surround us—while gaining a foundation in digital fabrication and design fiction methodologies.
Our instructors for the program are award-winning designers Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina, alumni of the RCA Design Interactions programme during the prolific Dunne and Raby era. Sitraka and Andrew previously led the Fabricating Empathy program at School of MA, which was centered around the idea of connecting human emotion and outer space.
What follows is a recent interview with the two designers as they expound on the upcoming program, including their views on smart devices, skepticism, and the important lessons they hope come across through their teaching.
Hi guys! So this will be your second program with School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe. How was the first one?
Andrew: It was intense, but great! An amazing group of people working in Berlin making interesting things, the commitment and energy present in the group lead to a host of new skills, peculiar objects, and fantastically unexpected outcomes.
Sitraka: It’s always great and very healthy to get to see your own practice through new and unexpected perspectives. I think we’ve learnt as much as the students did, plus we got to make new cool friends!
What led to the interest in exploring smart devices / Internet of Things technologies?
Andrew: Being surrounded by technology and interconnected devices can start to seem overwhelming, but also often the use of these things is fairly mundane, doing things because we can rather than because they serve any greater purpose. I think for me, I’m interested in the wider more critical potential of these areas, using these networked objects as both critical tool, and device/apparatus to critique the near future. I’m also interested in the creative potentials present in using these technologies, creating new networks, performance, and objects, exploring critical futures and ideas.
Sitraka: I think we often look at smart devices and technology in general from a mundane / market driven perspective which often results in a pseudo form of permanent innovation, whilst we rarely address the implications that these can have on our social/cultural structures, for example. I am interested in their potentials and how they may inform new values and drive future scenarios. Which may eventually help us to inform the greater purposes that Andrew’s talking about.
What are the good and the bad of the IoT movement at the moment? How can a healthy skepticism enhance the learning process?
Andrew: A healthy critical standpoint is very useful when exploring these areas, I don’t know if it is always skepticism as this can narrow the scope and breath of understanding. I think it is important to be able to exercise a critical position with as full an understanding of both/all sides of a technology or movement/adoption thereof. Maybe this can lead to skepticism, but an informed skepticism is the important thing! Especially in the face of the positive up selling of technologies – everything is the next greatest thing to change our worlds, how can we push this?!
Sitraka: An informed skepticism enables you to take a stance and understand the meaning of your creative output rather than making things because you technically can. I might be wrong but I don’t think that there is a good or bad. I think it is a matter of perspective, whether you’re a corporation, a hobbyist or maker, etc. But I think it is important for these technologies to be open in order to widen the conversation when addressing these areas.
Are you optimistic about technology in general? Why should others be encouraged to learn? Where will it lead us?
Andrew: That is what we want to find out! Overall I suppose I am optimistic about technology, curious. There is some cool stuff and I enjoy the potentials of technological development, the beliefs and enthusiasms that can stem from these developments, too.
Sitraka: Yes I am, since we’re living in a heavily technology driven society. Although I am not necessarily thinking that technology will solve all our issues. I think it is as important as the values that lead to their creation. That’s maybe why I think we need to educate ourselves.
What are the most important lessons you hope come across when you teach?
Andrew: We want to explore with a critical edge, we will use speculative and design fictions approaches to develop this. If we can surprise students with either a theoretical angle that they have not experienced before, and equally a physical achievement, making and realising their critical designs in new unexpected ways then we will have achieved our goals. We also learn from the students opening up new conversations and dialogues challenging our own preconceptions.
Sitraka: pretty much what Andrew says.
How would you describe the upcoming program and why should people be excited about it?
Andrew: It will be intense, fascinating and surprising, we will cover so much stuff from electronics and programming, to three-dimensional fabrication and making all within a strong critical framework, basically the chance to spend a month making interesting things in Turin – an amazing chance!
Sitraka: And it will be super fun. We will hang out with cool people, in cool places, and use cool machines. What else do you want?
Anything else you care to add?
Andrew: Sign up, and join us!
‘Coming Soon’ Program Dates: 1 February – 28 February 2016
Special Holiday application deadline: 26 December 2015
Regular Application deadline: 1 January 2016
For more information about the program and to apply, visit our website: http://schoolofma.org
Andrew Friend – http://www.andrewfriend.co.uk
Andrew is an artist and designer who’s work explores experience, and the relationship between people, their surroundings, and their desires. His work spans a range of media, through narrative and drawings to physical objects designed to examine relationships between the known and unknown, the real and imagined in the individual quest to harness the sublime. Andrew holds an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art, and is a tutor in the department of Spatial Practices at Central St Martins. In 2015 he was awarded the Arte Laguna prize for Land Art, Venice, Italy.
Sitraka Rakotoniaina – http://sitraka.co.uk
Sitraka is an artist and designer based in London with a background in product and interaction design. He holds an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London, United Kingdom. With an interest in speculative design, his practice aims to ‘craft narratives’ fuelled by science to imagine new scenarios and relationships between people and technology. He uses the design of objects, artefacts and their installation as medium to bring new perspectives on society. His work has been exhibited internationally and he is currently represented by Nexus Interactive Arts as a director.