Mona Jamois: “The foundation of a summer camp is a good playground”

From Summerlab in Nantes, France, to PIFcamp in the Soča valley of Slovenia, PiNG team member Mona Jamois shares her experiences and recipes for a successful summer camp.

After experiencing several editions of PiNG’s Summerlab in Nantes, Mona Jamois will participate in this year’s PIFcamp in Slovenia, as part of the Feral Labs network.

Can you introduce yourself, as well as the Nantes-based association PiNG?

I’m Mona Jamois and I’ve been working for PiNG since 2011, so it’s been eight years already! I’m in charge of communicating about PiNG’s activities to our various audiences, which is both exciting and challenging given the scope of our activities—each year is different from the one before it and the one that follows!

PiNG president Ronan Marjolet presents the association at Summerlab 2018 in Saint-Nazaire, France. © PiNG

I like to present PiNG as a hub: it’s a crossroads for people who work in formal and popular education, scientific and technical culture, digital mediation, cultural and creative communities, citizens. They come to find resources in digital culture, to understand how technological objects (both low-tech and high-tech) work, to observe how they fit into our daily lives and transform our ways of living, creating and exchanging.

Practically speaking, this can take the form of a screening of a documentary on open culture followed by a discussion, a citizen repair workshop, a talk with mediators on the issues of education within a digital space or third-space, a live-coding session, etc. We also manage a 300m2 fablab on the Island of Nantes called Plateforme C.

Plateforme C (in winter). © Makery

Between 2012 and 2018, PiNG organized five summerlabs in and around Nantes. Can you talk about the principles of cross-disciplinary and peer learning that are central to these meetings?

We often say that you don’t really understand what a summerlab is until you’ve experienced it yourself. However, the principle is simple: gather people around a common theme to explore for a week. There is no obligation to produce something, it’s just a framework to foster creativity and experimentation. The idea is to question our technological environment and try to reconnect with our natural environment, with more artisanal knowledge, to reappropriate it within the dynamics of doing-it-with-others.

The first edition of Summerlab was curated by Pedro Soler in August 2008 at LABoral, Center for Art and Industrial Creation in Gijón, Spain. In 2011, some team members from PiNG made the trip to Spain to experience this atypical encounter. Inspired by their format, we launched our own event in Nantes the following year.

Morning assembly at Summerlab 2018 in Saint Nazaire. © PiNG
Group discussion at Summerlab 2018. © PiNG

A typical day at Summerlab begins with morning assembly, the only mandatory meeting on the schedule. We share information on the day’s activities, and any participant who wishes to offer a workshop introduces it to the group. Then everyone spreads out into the various workshops, and the day begins!

Someone who arrives in the middle of the day might see one group discussing how to set up a biolab, another building a solar oven, or another testing hydrophones, while a few people are tackling the latest book by Bruno Latour, and others are peeling vegetables for lunch.

By nightfall, everyone leaves (albeit with some difficulty) their projects to see art performances, dance to 8-bit music concerts, attend a lecture, watch an experimental film.

On the last day, we always plan a collective gathering time, open to the public, where the participants can present their projects, creations, reflections to the rest of the group.

Workshop with Labomedia. © PiNG
Identifying edible wild plants in the city at Summerlab 2018. © PiNG

This year, along with the Makery team, you will participate in PIFcamp in Slovenia. What is your recipe for a successful summer camp?

Being in a pleasant environment where everyone can find a place to experiment or meditate, whether it’s surrounded by plants or by soldering irons or in a hammock. The foundation of a summer camp is a good playground! It’s summer, participants are there above all to have a good time together. Definitely the best memories of Summerlab campers (at least of the PiNG team) were during time spent together around meals or on the dance floor. And the involvement of the participants, of course!

PIFcamp 2018. © Katja Goljat

The recipe for PIFcamp seems very similar to Summerlab’s, with two notable exceptions: PIFcamp takes place outdoors in nature, and participants must stay for the entire 6 days (versus the 2-day minimum for Summerlab). I’m really looking forward to seeing how these two factors influence the progress of collective projects and interactions within the group!

More about Summerlab in Nantes and PIFcamp in Slovenia