Why Feral Labs?

All across Europe, the Americas and Asia, we are witnessing thriving numbers of Creative Hubs, Maker-, Bio-, Art-, Coworking- Labs and -Spaces. Now the old-school hack(er)spaces, dedicated originally mainly to coding rather than tinkering with machines, are more often than not shifting their focus to better accommodate the needs of the new “maker” culture. With the use of affordable CNC machines, 3D printers, 3D scanning techniques, drones, microcontrollers and various kinds of open-source DIY electronics, we are witnessing a definite move into the digital production beyond the immaterial realms, away from computer screens and into the rematerialized, tangible forms, as well as the virtual and augmented three-dimensional realities.

These numerous new and reinvented Creative Hubs operate as initiatives that give participants a social space equipped with technological opportunities, a space where everyone is encouraged to experiment, explore, create and share. What also permeates these spaces is a new momentum of the Free- and Open Culture: the basic debates over proprietary and non-proprietary digital content seem less heated and the communities are much stronger and more diversified. Makers, artists and scientists freely share their creative contents on the internet. The utilization of open licences such as Creative Commons is widespread and within the online communities, public circulation of one’s changes to “borrowed” original sources are strongly widespread and encouraged.

For decades now, we have been hearing that life-long learning is the norm. Yet, the spirit of contemporary Creative Hubs emphasizes active learning within a social context. Their modus operandi is one’s learning-through-doing, although what is perhaps even more cherished than becoming the ultimate expert, is the ability to share your knowledge within a social environment and being open to learn from others.

These community-based activities correspond to the world of paradoxical lack of information in an age of unlimited information (over)flow. Direct peer-to-peer communication is becoming more important than ever for one to attain the relevant information, shape the context and manage the “search filters”. In the realm of the fast-shifting and evermore affordable technological advances, informal education plays a much more indispensable role than ever. Peer learning adapts to the needs and interests in a much swifter way than the systems of formal education. This however does not mean that the former and the latter necessarily come into discord. To be fair, many of these quickly adapting Creative Hubs owe a significant debt of gratitude for their existence to the “old” academic structures and the education system. Nevertheless, as everybody seems to be setting up their own maker-spaces and creative labs, it is becoming clear that we are increasingly investing into peer learning and co-creation modes within the scientific and educational institutions throughout the world.

Not unlike in art, culture and education, the rather passive “visitor” of the 20th century seems to be less and less relevant in science and engineering too. Moreover, this thinking spreads beyond the world of culture. The current political agenda of the European Commission in science, for instance, is to endorse the goals and means of open innovation, open science and open to the world (- the three O’s). Great hopes are projected into concepts like citizen-science and open-science, which hold considerable potentials for greater transparency, the (democratic) legitimation of scientific research and for creativity in thinking and creation as well.
Despite these shifts, propagated by the spread of digitalisation into every pore of the contemporary creative process, the barrier between the creator and the audience(s) still exists. Creative work and the results of research in art are still chiefly presented at exhibitions, shows, biennials, festivals and in other standard modalities that maintain the typical divide between the author(s) and the visitor(s), spectator(s), the public(s). We do not argue that art biennials, international festivals and art exhibitions are obsolete and should disappear, just as we are not advocating for the disassembly of the system of scientific (peer-reviewed) journals and international conferences or the annihilation of the academic milieu. We are not of the opinion that concerts, shows or gallery exhibitions have no essential role in the future of art. On the contrary, they might transform, but they are here to stay.

However, we are certain that these forms are not always adequate. For propagation and effective development of the practices of contemporary work at the intersection of art, design, engineering and science, that we can observe converging in contemporary creative communities, we also need to think about less presentation-focused formats and more process-based activities. What needs to be encouraged, are other kinds of modalities that take into consideration lessons of these new forms of production and do not disregard questions like:
– What does it mean to create, present and distribute art in the context of contemporary (re-materialised, tangible) digital production? What roles do communities and participatory approaches have in the creation within the context of digitally born cultural production?
– How should art be created, distributed and presented today? And in the future?
– If Creative Hubs rely on a strong communal set-up, what is the role and significance of Creative Hubs beyond their local communities? How do these creative environments inter-connect on the local, regional and European level?
– How to expand and widen the networks of contemporary cultural operators dealing with technology? How do we utilize the most valuable lessons of informal and peer-based learning through demand based knowledge exchange and through intensive co-creation? How do we disseminate and propagate content beyond the immediate peer networks? And how do we enable our peers to propagate the results even further, to the peers out of our immediate reach?

In order to address these questions, Feral Labs bring together a consortium of partners that form a network of temporary dislocated hubs for research in art, technology and communities. Six partners from six EU countries joined in their common interest in art-science research and contemporary do-it-yourself (DIY) & do-it-with-others (DIWO) communities will organise a diverse set of actions. Instead on presentational modes like exhibitions and festivals, our main focus will be on connecting and organising a series of camps and similar kinds of temporary creative environments, all with a strong emphasis on process-based activities like peer learning, field work, research and co-creation. What these activities have in common is their deliberate setting in a remote environment, away from the usual urban set-up of contemporary Creative Hubs. Partners will create a variety of temporary creative hubs that will vary in scope, format and topics covered, but will all have a joint methodological starting point. These actions will be additionally extended and connected via a strong transnational outreach and media strategy and the accompanying developmental, as well as community oriented Artist-In-Residence programmes.

The Feral Labs network is cofinanced by the Ceative Europe program of the Europen Union. The cooperation is led by Projekt Atol in Ljubljana (Slovenia). Among the other #ferallabs partnairs: Bioart Society (Helsinki, Finland), Catch (Helsingor, Denmark), Radiona (Zagreb, Croatia), Schmiede (Hallein, Austria) et Art2M/Makery (France).

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