European programmes | FERAL LABS

Rüdiger Wassibauer: “A time when it’s not about winning but about being”

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Schmiede is a member of the Feral Labs Network, along with Makery. We discussed Schmiede with Rüdiger Wassibauer, one of the festival’s co-founders, who announced this year’s open call and its new residency program Feral AIR.

Bestowed with the Austrian Art Award in 2016, Schmiede Hallein has been running for more than 15 years as a playground of ideas in an idyllic setting on the islet of Pernerinsel in Hallein, Austria, where participants are known as Smiths, members of the Schmiede community. There is nothing common about Smiths, as the name might otherwise suggest, and their number keeps growing each year.

Schmiede takes place in Hallein, a town located in the mountains 15km south of Salzburg. @ Schmiede
The Saline building on Pernerinsel, an abandoned industrial facility with huge rooms, is a patchwork of extraordinary spaces built between 1850 and 1950. @ Schmiede

What is Schmiede?

Schmiede is an island and an annual festival. Producers gather and prototype and share what they feel passionate about. Together we create an atmosphere of cooperation and peer-to-peer feedback.

Since 2003, about 300 Smiths meet annually for 10 days on Pernerinsel in Hallein near Salzburg to figure out how we believe life should be. A life of inspiration, work, party and cooperation, where there are no bad ideas, but rather they lead to discussion, gather community and provide learning experience. A time when it is not about winning but about being. Who do we want to address? Everyone who sees him/herself at Schmiede. People rarely end up in Hallein by accident; instead they come by personal recommendation. The meta-goal is to create a space that creates itself. As you see, we are quite naive, but time has proven that substantial life journeys, as well as projects, were enabled and enhanced by Schmiede. Most Smiths have a background in the arts, creative industries or in technology, but that is not a prerequisite.

Within the diversity of Schmiede we have changing focus models, specialized Schmiedes within Schmiede called Labs at Schmiede, where two to three Smiths take an interest to another level and initiate a new group.

Most importantly: this year’s “Schmiede19: better” takes place on September 11-20, and the application deadline is May 31, 2019.

Radiofabrik at Schmiede 2015. @ Schmiede
Meet up @ Schmiede

What is a “Smith”?

Smith is our family name. Once you have participated at Schmiede, you become a Smith (Schmiede Alumni). The term Smith resulted from a misunderstanding between Walter Steinacher and myself in 2005. Following a long struggle to find an appropriate expression, including some ugly-sounding solutions, even before we started talking about gendered norms in language, in German. The term Smith emerged as a rather eloquent and funny solution, as it is a family name, it’s gender neutral, and it’s a direct translation describing a person working in a Schmiede/forge, as well as a very common English surname.

Smiths at work on e-textiles. @ Schmiede

What is the general framework you provide and what kind of philosophy do you promote?

Schmiede is a playground of ideas. The Schmiede Team builds the frame but the interesting elements are created by ideas of Smiths. Our core is peer-to-peer learning and prototyping. The most important thing is therefore to create a large, diverse and committed group of enthusiasts. The Saline (Schmiede Building) is an impressive, very large salt factory originally from the end of the 19th century with a lot of character, many large and small rooms. We start with an inspiration, exhibitions and concerts, followed by workshops, team-forming and a work phase. In the end, a work is displayed during the evening with an average of 70 presentations. Making this process inspiring and pleasant is the team’s main objective.

Few guidelines and principles stuck with us over the years. Other than that the Schmiede Team tries to step back. What happens in Hallein is not about Schmiede but about what Smiths want to do.

Schmiede is based on three principles: “Network, Create, Present”. The Schmiede rules of conduct are: All Smiths are treated equally; a Smith’s autonomy is paramount; Respect the Schmiede Team, the building, other Smiths, their work and their tools; Responsibility leads to enhanced rights; Leave no trace. Nothing we bring to or build at Schmiede stays here.

Brainstorming at Schmiede. @ Schmiede

Over the past 15 years of Schmiede, have you noticed changes in the practices and ideas of the participants?

We create a positive and safe atmosphere for a large group of enthusiasts to meet and to cooperate. I don’t believe that the raison d’être of Schmiede has changed, but it’s even more important today than it was before. In an increasingly digital world, we need face-to-face human contact and community. This is so obvious that we seem to forget about it. Over the years, around 2000 Smiths have participated and only two Smiths have never missed a Schmiede, but there are many who have participated about 10 times. This commitment creates an atmosphere of old new, dynamic stability, familiar freshness, etc.

In the beginning, we worried a lot that Schmiede would become nothing but an old boys’/girls’ club, only to be surprised by our first generational shift in 2010. Schmiede primarily appeals to people studying and/or those who are in the early years of their career. Once family and/or career gets involved, people start to lack time. However, it is great to see that Smiths, some with kids already, return to Schmiede after they have overcome this life phase. So, today Schmiede hosts several layers of Smith Communities, with both age and gender diversity.

What led you to join the Feral Labs Network?

Feral Labs is a network of temporary dislocated hubs for research in art, technology and communities all around Europe. It brings together the fringes of a movement that is heterogeneous at its core. Feral Labs’ philosophy matches Schmiede’s very closely, even though each member has its own methods and fields of expertise and experts. We are expecting great synergies and outstanding Smiths to be forged in the Feral Labs Network.

The collective kitchen at Schmiede. @ Schmiede
Sound performance at Schmiede. @ Schmiede

Can you say more about the new Feral AIR program?

Feral AIR is probably one of the nicest artist-in-residence programs we have managed to create. The deadline to apply is May 31. We can offer more than ever before, and we hope that this will attract some outstanding proposals. We have defined the call as a “Project development grant for artists/makers”. They will receive a working grant of 1000€ and we cover travel costs and housing. We have another cooperation within the Feral Labs Network: Feral Lab at Schmiede. This will be our first lab that is composed of scientists with a tech/maker background. We are in the process of defining the Lab Leaders.

Last few words to convince new “Smiths” to join Schmiede this year?

Find a Smith and let them tell you. My point of view may not correlate with your desires. Schmiede is a special space and only you can decide if you want to share so much time. So, yes it is a hard call and an uncertain jump, but I have only heard of one person who had a negative experience at Schmiede. The question you need to ask yourself is: Do I dare to take time? The rest is planning. Here you can listen to interviews with five Smiths about their experiences.

More information about Schmiede.

The Feral Labs Network is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.

The article was published on 14 May, 2019, on

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