The Media Lab at LASALLE College of the Arts operates as a research and practice-oriented environment. It is focused on creating artefacts and prototypes with the use of technology. It is concerned with research involving computation, interaction and making applicable to everyday situations, the design process, or within an artistic context.

Although works realized within the Media Lab are strongly centred on technological tools, they may also be driven by art practices with a Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-With-Others approach as well as open source cultures. Rather than purely working with high-tech technologies, the lab explores the potential of low-tech technologies by developing its own tools using low cost materials, custom electronics and open source hardware and software.

Whilst the results that emerge from this lab can be experimental and playful, they can also be applied to real world scenarios. The Media Lab is primarily interested in investigating the potential of using technology in an audio, visual and spatial arts context. With a strong interdisciplinary approach and collaborations with other disciplines such as Music, Theatre, Dance, Design or Fine Arts, the Media Lab aims to expand the use of technology into myriad forms of artistic expressions.

Tinkering with Technology

Andreas Schlegel
Coordinator, Media Lab

A large part of what is done at the Media Lab at LASALLE College of the Arts requires the various modes of tinkering, be it the act of playing, fixing, tampering or just fiddling around with hardware and software. I see this idea of tinkering and the many manifestations of it as a very important aspect of the Media Lab and also in art making and research. Without that experimentation, one first of all cannot hope to find much joy and excitement in the act of making nor would there be spontaneity and discovery through trials and errors.

Technology had become such a pervasive aspect of our everyday life that it is becoming harder to ignore its potential and its consequences. People from many societies and from all walks of life and age groups are unwittingly a part of this scheme of things.Technology is encroaching not just in our visible world but also presents itself as a powerful tool that commands our invisible world, be it by analyzing and controlling data or making systems work. With this, I believe that it is not just pertinent but urgent that people be more aware of the ubiquitous nature of technology today and to understand how it functions in order to question it and eventually create one’s own technologies to shape our world. In short, to quote Douglas Rushkoff “It is really that simple: Program or be Programmed.” [1]

Certainly, technology that one encounters on a daily basis is typically entertaining and even superficial - bringing us games, social media and TV shows on the smart phone or the changing media façade of buildings and malls. What is more to technology than its obviously playful, information-laden and entertaining nature, I would like to ask?

What we do in the Media Lab is in a large part situated in that ‘playfulness’ that characterized it. We want to adopt the ‘playfulness’ not just in the way of making but also in encouragingthe viewer to be part of that playing. In the making, it is crucial that there should be much playing, tinkering and testing the boundaries and the potential of technology, so that it can go beyond to become a tool to discuss and reflect on what it can do. Furthermore, it is about conducting research, going ‘behind-the-scene’, delving into the invisible world of technology via programming in order to manipulate how the sensorial world can be felt.

On the viewer’s part, the Media Lab hopes to engage them to play as well.Their involvement and interactions with the works transverse the maker’s world, affecting how technology had initially set out to achieve but is constantly being shaped and reshaped by the user.This is in a way a direct reference to how we are indeed not passive by-users, but one who plays an active role in intentionally and sometimes unintentionally altering the technology as we use it.

With these thoughts and guiding principles about technology, the Media Lab had been involved in a range of projects and research activities that provide different angles of what technology is capable of as a medium, equipment or tool. Whether it is about addressing social phenomena and concerns or reinventing ideas or conventions between art and technology, the Media Lab strives to provide multiple dimensions to storytelling and to art making. On the other hand, the Media Lab also plays an active role in bringing various disciplines of art together. With these interdisciplinary projects, the development of the artwork becomes a platform and avenue for artists to find solutions and coalesce thoughts and practices from differing art disciplines. Yet, more so than others, I find that the act of tinkering becomes most pronounced in student projects for they in essence were done with much trial and error, with much propensity to explore, drift and invent.

It is with these thoughts about technology and what we had done thus far that drive me to envision how the Media Lab is part of the dialogue in understanding what technology means in our lives, through artistic projects that highlight its multifarious roles. In here, tinkering with technology requires a spontaneous approach to making, combined with a good dosage of curiosity in order to bring forth the technological narratives we want to create.

Likewise, the Media Lab hopes to motivate the act of tinkering as well, encouraging a space for people to explore, interact and communicate with technology, and also to spur one to ponder, reflect and question what lies beyond that first encounter, so that it generates a constant dialogue between play and thought.

As part of the Faculty of Media Arts, the Media Lab has created a range of projects that are featured in the following pages. These projects and research activities are some of the highlights which include exploring open source hardware and software, prototyping, interdisciplinarity and collaboration.

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[1]: Douglas Rushkoff. Program or be Programmed:Ten Commands for a Digital Age. New York: OR Books, 2010.