European programmes | FERAL LABS

At Comices du Faire, Britanny’s low-tech eco-camp

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On July 15-28, the Comices du Faire micro-festival for makers tinkering with renewable energies and reclaimed resources was held in Nevez in western France. Makery went to visit.

Jean-Jacques Valette, Chronicler in residence (Feral Labs Network), words and photos

Even the road to Nevez, nestled on the southern coast of Brittany, is low tech. Past the hazelnut bushes, on two hectares of land, Atelier Z hosts all kinds of makers for two weeks each summer (read our report from 2017) at Comices du Faire. The objective of this “country maker faire” is to create an ephemeral space where everyone is free to rest or work at their own pace. A “slow” format compared to rigidly timed hackathons, with a strong emphasis on ecology and self-reliance.

“My partner Blanche and I bought this land three years ago in an effort to go green. From the very beginning we were looking for a place large enough that we could open it up to others,” says Cédric Lebreton, former skipper and founder of Comices du Faire.

Indeed, there is no lack of space: woods, prairies, a 300m2 barn and a 150m2 workshop are all available for this annual event. Dry toilets, a shower and an outdoor kitchen are all within a 10-minute bicycle ride from the beach.

Left to right: Manu, Cédric and Ronan, the founders of Atelier Z. © Jean-Jacques Valette
Atelier Z is also for woodworking. © Jean-Jacques Valette
DIY electronics at Comices du Faire. © Jean-Jacques Valette

Electric mini-car and bio-composite boat

No tickets for food or beverage here. We simply wipe off the electronics from the table to make room for peeling vegetables. Everyone participates and contributes fully and willingly.

The stone-walled barn is home to a white Mini-Comtesse, a French single-seat mini-car from the 1970s. The makers want to replace its motorscooter engine with an electric one. It’s one of the major projects of these two weeks together, aliong with the renovation of the Gold of Bengal.

“Next to us stands the first boat in the world made from bio-composites,” says Cédric. Built in Bangladesh in 2013 by marine engineer Corentin de Chatelperron, it survived six months of solitary navigation across the Indian Ocean, proving the resilience of jute as a natural alternative to synthetic fibers. It was this project that led Corentin to found the association Low Tech Lab, based in Concarneau.

The Mini-Comtesse © Jean-Jacques Valette
The Gold of Bengal. © Jean-Jacques Valette

Little house on wheels

More or less neighbors, who the same day present to the public their prototype of the self-sufficient Tiny House. A field trip is organized to visit the little house on wheels of about 15m2, already surrounded by visitors. This prototype is the incarnation of many promises: a roof for under 30,000€ that still offers great quality of life, liberated from rent, credits and even utility bills.

The Tiny House, pilot house by Low-Tech Lab. © Jean-Jacques Valette

In front, two solar panels supply power for electricity. Gutters capture rainwater that is stored in a cistern, then rejected in phytopurification after use. More surprisingly, two thermal sensors made from slate and a refrigerator grid heat the air and water inside the house. A ventilated pantry pokes out of a window in the back.

Low-Tech Lab made a web series around the Tiny House project. Below, episode 4 on water management by eco-housemates Clément Chabot and Pierre-Alain Lévêque (in french):

“In total, there are about 15 low-tech hacks in the house—accessible technologies that are easy to implement and respond to our basic needs,” says Pierre-Alain Lévêque. He has been living in the house since spring to test and measure its performance with sensors. The final open source blueprints will then be published on their website.

“Above all, we want to prove that it’s possible to reduce our needs at the source, before thinking about which renewable energy to use. We still have a few adjustments to make here and there, like for the stove or the recycled heating shower, but we’re getting there little by little!”

Pierre-Alain Lévêque inside the Tiny House. © Jean-Jacques Valette

Reappropriating life and open Internet

Back at Comices, it’s movie night. Documentary filmmaker Philippe Borrel presents La Bataille du Libre, which weaves parallels between the reappropriation of life by big agricultural and pharmaceutical companies, the battle against intellectual property, the right to repair and open Internet.

“The film is not about the digital world, it’s about the notion of Commons—how to stop being passive comsumers and take our lives into our own hands,” Philippe explains. “What interests me at Comices du Faire, is the verb Faire (“Make”). Here there’s a surprising link between people from very diverse backgrounds, such as digital media or woodworking, all doing things together.”

Chatting with the participants, it’s also one surprise after another, from an ecologist community for orphans in Morocco to restoring old sailboats around the corner.

Philippe Borrel presented his latest documentary, La Bataille du Libre. © Jean-Jacques Valette

Cryptocurrencies and earth domes

Dorian presented the open currency Ğ1 (pronounced “june”): “Our money is debt. When you give 1 euro to the baker, it’s debt. We need to rethink the global economic system, because it encourages overproduction and overconsumption.” According to him, the solution lies in this new cryptocurrency, which for certain (rather complicated) reasons would be the simplest tool to pay the unconditional revenue for existence (or universal basic income)…

Romane and Léa discuss the best way to build a geodesic dome. “It started out as a final project in engineering school, where we had to come up with a business model. So we invented a social project for renting eco-friendly habitats,” says Léa.

Léa and Romane discuss the tensegrity of geodesic domes. © Jean-Jacques Valette

Now they’re launching a collective called Klédou in order to organize participative construction fields. Their next project, currently in crowdfunding, is Kerterre, a small house made entirely of earth and recycled materials.

“These are the kind of encounters I’m looking for,” says Comices founder Cédric. “There’s a whole network forming in the South Finistère region. These days, all the money goes to the big cities, while the gap is getting bigger with the peripheral areas. Whereas given the issues we face in this century, now more than ever, we need the countryside, to share knowledge and solidarity.”

More information on the Comices du Faire wiki

Jean-Jacques Valette is chronicler in residence 2019 for the Feral Labs Network

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