What Crisis? First laugh, then think

Blog post by Joris van Ballegooijen. Critical reflection and inventive solutions to make the world a better place: A lot was asked from the five freshly graduated artists that presented projects at Test_Lab: What Crisis?! Not only were they asked to demonstrate their graduation projects, they were also asked many questions relating their projects to the various global crises.

Despite the serious theme, all participants and the audience seemed to greatly enjoy themselves at this edition of Test_Lab. The young artists presented their work with great energy and humor. A few of the works even made me think of the Ig Nobel Prize, the award for scientific research that makes people laugh before making them think. This respectable (to those who understand it) prize is presented at a ceremony at Harvard University each year.

In his final project for the Rietveld Academie, Sander Veenhof tried to grow a plant by means of the online attention drawn by the project. The Publicity Plant received light only when someone blogged or tweeted about it, or searched for it on Google. A relation that a generation with more friends on online social networks than in real life might feel familiar with. As a communication specialist, I was sorry to see that the original pot of flowers that Sander had in mind turned out a mere dry stalk.

In his Toaster Project, Thomas Thwaites made things difficult himself. During his final year, he took it upon himself to build a toaster out of raw materials. In this quest, he collected iron ore, copper and other materials, from which he succeeded in building the appliance. Exceptionally impressive was the way he got hold of plastic. In talking with BP, Thomas found out that it was impossible for an individual to manufacture plastic out of crude oil, so he decided that, in a world so poisoned by plastic waste, he’d be justified in extracting it from the ground as a raw material. The highlight of the evening came when he connected the toaster to the electricity network for the first time ever. Unfortunately, within two seconds, the toaster’s resistance burned out with a flash, and Thomas ended up with two slices of white bread rather than toast.

I was also looking forward to the Coinflipper demonstration by Dotmancando. The idea of a machine that can toss a coin with pure objectivity sounds like a very useful invention in these uncertain times in which making decisions can sometimes be difficult. But according to Dot, that wasn’t what was needed. “When we toss a coin,” he said, “we already know which decision we want to make. We want the coin to confirm our decision.” So he made a series of Coinflippers, that toss coins in such a way that they always land with the desired side up. “In our complicated world, it’s wonderful to be able to completely control at least one element,” he said. 

Fantastic projects that were all amusing at first glance perhaps, but each posed deeper philosophical questions that aid a viewer in these days of crisis. The work that most directly related to the crisis was Cesar Harada’s impressive Open_Sailing project. This summer he will travel to Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, and then sail down the Danube to the Black Sea. The project consists of a floating island, offering an apocalyptic-looking yet serious opportunity to escape fears caused by the crisis. Open_Sailing can’t be summed up in a few lines, but we’ll likely be hearing a lot more about this work soon. Keep track of Cesar and his team’s progress at: http://opensailing.net/blog/



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