School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe
Fabricating Empathy Spring 2015 Program
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Question from a Curious Soul 

A few days ago I received a lovely email from a curious soul who agreed to let us answer his question in our upcoming newsletter, this newsletter in fact! Curious Soul wrote:

I'm curious why you chose to host this next session in Belgrade. Belgrade is certainly an interesting place with a very intriguing and dense past. Are there particular benefits in general to hosting a technology school there? Perhaps more importantly, how does hosting an art and design program (especially about Empathy) in Belgrade particularly influence, change, and hopefully enhance, the program itself?

First of all, really great question, thanks for asking!

One thing I've realised recently is that taking ideas out of our brains and into the world in the form of words that makes sense to others can be tricky. In a fantasy world, our minds open up like a drawbridge, allowing everyone to simply jump inside and swim around because hey, the ideas are in there! But in reality we just have to get better at explaining things more clearly.  In last week's newsletter we did go over the 'Why Belgrade' question, but admittedly that answer only covers the first half of Curious Soul's question. So let's dig deeper...

Originally 'empathy' was going to be the focus for another program. But after watching several documentaries about former Yugoslavia I thought, 'Wow, how could this program not be about empathy?'. 

Personally, I can't make any claim to truly understanding what it means to live in a country at war. I can only say that I moved away from the US over 10 years ago because of war, because I didn't believe in the government's stance on the matter. Suffice it to say, I empathise with people who don't feel represented by the actions of their government. On the other hand, I also empathise with people who trust what their families and leaders tell them to believe, without question. There are so many ways for life to go, really. I think we're here to observe, not to judge.

This brings me back to why I started this School in the first place. I wanted to build a place where we can ask ourselves real questions like 'How can we create meaningful experiences using technology to express who we are and where we came from?'. 

To me that's really the heart of it all. Recognising that who we are is more than where we come from. In the end, we are, above all, still our selves.

In a nutshell, this is what our Fabricating Empathy session is all about.  It's a unique opportunity to explore these ideas and more, alongside an international community, in the heart of a beautiful city, Belgrade.

What will happen exactly during the program?

This is the exciting part and an aspect of the program I feel I haven't done the best job of expressing. But here it is, the full story is about the be unfolded! Are you ready?

In week one, a most important aspect will be getting to know each other. We'll have some assistance with the help of BeAnotherLab in their workshop with the MachineToBeAnother. The MachineToBeAnother project is essentially a body-swap project which allows you to experience the feeling of being someone else. You wear an oculus rift, your partner wears a camera rig. You take a look at your hands, but aha! what you see are the other person's hands! When you move them, you see your partner's hands move as your own. It's quite uncanny really. A powerful experience to be sure.

Afterwards, we'll break into groups, imagining other ways this technology can be used to trigger empathy. Then, in partnership with local organisations, we'll implement our ideas, running the MachineToBeAnother experiment within the Belgrade community at large.

Throughout the first two weeks we'll also be learning 3D modelling techniques with Marcela Godoy. We'll need these skills in order to complete our first assignment, namely designing our own unique cultural artifacts.

Imagine that the world has ended. All that remains intact
are these cultural artifacts. What if aliens visit the earth and all they find are these pieces? These artifacts should communicate what it means to be you, to be us, to be human. What would your artifact look like? We will prototype our objects, learning to use 3D printers and machine tools along the way.

Throughout these first two weeks, Sitraka Rakotoniaina, and Andrew Friend will be on hand. In addition to sharing their knowledge of technical skills, they'll also be covering the finer points of how to think speculatively. This will be yet another tool we can use to tell more interesting narratives with the objects we design.

Pussykrew will be joining us in week three. They're well-known for implementing rigorous post-processing techniques into their 3D printed work which is something I'd personally never considered before being introduced to their fabulous body of work. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities! They'll teach 3D scanning techniques and cover various aspects of 3D printing and post-processing. 

At the end of week three we'll take a short jaunt into the Kopaonik mountains in Serbia to explore the combination of technology and nature. Set in the middle of the program, this is an opportunity to step back from our projects and gain a new perspective. From personal experience, this is the best way to open ourselves up to exciting new revelations and discoveries! Details are still being ironed out but we'd love to do some projection mapping onto frogs quite honestly, just like these fancy guys did recently! 

Upon returning back to Belgrade, we'll begin work on our final projects while continuing to experiment with making and machining movable parts to enhance the kinetic component of our work. 

Finally, marking the end of the program on May 22nd, we'll have a gallery showing where we will exhibit our work to the community and celebrate with them one last time before our five-week adventure comes to a close.

Will we get to work with local Belgrade geniuses?

Throughout the program we will work alongside the digifab communities of Belgrade through workshops and open community discussion. Also, as has been the case in our programs of the past, participants inevitably form a tight-knit community set on exploring the new city together during evenings and weekends.

I can't make it to Belgrade. What else are you doing in 2015?

For those who've asked, we'll be running two more programs in 2015. The next one is a three-month summer program focused on coding, social practice and interventions in public space happening in Berlin June 8-August 22. Estimated cost: €3750. 

A five-week Fall program focusing on data visualisation is also in the works. More info to come. Stay tuned!

Apply today

Hopefully this newsletter has served to clear up any questions you may have about the program. International applicants, beginners and non-beginners, those looking for a unique and special story to look back on later in life, all are encouraged to submit an application. Deadline for submissions is Sunday, March 8. 

Now please go and spread the word to your friends and colleagues,
 and APPLY

kindest regards,

Rachel Uwa
Founder, School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe

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