Interview with Stefanie Wuschitz, part 2: Don’t scare of technology, dismantle it!

by deborah on 08/6/2011

This is the second part of the interview with Stefanie Wuschitz. Read the first part here: On Women, Technology and Hacking Playground

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Photo above by Selena Savic @Make Me Festival (cc)
Photo bellow: Miss Baltazar’s Laboratory with sound artist Lesley Flanigan
Taken from Stefanie’s private F-book album


There are many faces of it in the context of activism / hacktivism, and the use of open source for developing countries, or places with huge poverty in many senses…

SW: Yeah, I think we can learn a lot from developing countries and how they use technology. They are really changing it for their own needs, in a very creative way. Since they don’t wait for someone to help or do something for them, they have more motifs then people in Europe.

People in Europe, at least in Austria, are waiting for someone else to tell them what to do, give them the allowance to do something, give them the permission to say something, wait for commands from the above to make things better, but they don’t feel like they can do things, or they are allowed to now protest, not to create something new, or to design something new.

Animated film ‘Tetescha us – She is crossing borders’ by Stefanie Wuschitz (c)

So, in developing region I think there is in some places a high movement to just start, just try and just take something and reuse it in different in ways, totally unplanned just because there are more urgency and more pressure. There is no expectancy that someone else will do it for you, that you have to do it otherwise no one will do it. So, I’m really interested in this agency that’s informed by the environment and also your spot in the society.

Hence, I think women artist who use open source technology can develop more agencies and they feel now: OK, I’m in charge now, I can do this, I will do it! I will not wait for my brother, father or boyfriend if he has time in two weeks to do it, or if I’m really nice to them to this or that for me. It’s like: NO, I’m starting this now and I don’t have to wait for anyone else. It’s about this spectrum of actions that you suddenly see in front of yourself, it’s kind of unlimited…

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Stefanie Wuschitz, photo taken from F-book (cc)

What about the Arduino?

SW: Oh, Arduinaaaa… (laughs). I think that Arduino is very helpful to get started, because it’s still is kind of a black box for people. People really don’t understand what’s going on, but at least you have quick results and you can quickly do what you would love to do, and people can quickly see how things are connected and how they can change them in order to build the project they want. It’s not a solution for everybody, but it’s really a good way to stop the hesitation and to get people to taste blood and get interested in the whole issue.

I mean, there are drawbacks about Arduino, but I think the positive side is that people really feel that they can suddenly understand how certain tools in everyday life are made, could be used and kind of work with the material themselves. But I think it is good if you also just take off the Arduino and do circuits without it.

Just play with the pure circuits and make your own tools, because there are many artists just created their own instrument or tools and made a carrier with that. While with Arduino itself you always kind of get into the footsteps of other people again. But it’s a good way to just get started.

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Drawings by Stefanie Wuschitz made for Make.Me Festival! (cc)

Yeah, you just have to follow the instructions, download the code, upload it to your board, and voila, here you have it workable…

SW: Yeah! And many people help you online because it’s a big community…

But DIY community is really amazing…

SW: They are very enthusiastic and fantastic to collaborate with, because everyone is very much interested in openness and sharing and collaboration and so. I’ve learned a lot while doing things from other people who wanted to help me, just because they were interested in the idea. So, that’s something I never had in the art school.

I was 5 years at the art university, where we were always hiding ideas until the last moment, and they were always afraid someone would steal their concept, and in the open source scene, and hardware hacking scene it is the opposite. People want to tell you everything they know about it and they want to help you, and they want to see it happens and they don’t mind if it’s not exactly the same.

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Angst Dolls Workshop led by Stefanie Wuschitz
Photo by body pixel (cc)

Yeah, they are not jeopardized… because, if you have this wire in yourself, the next day you will get even the better idea…

SW: Yeah! It’s kind of getting beyond this authorship thing, and thinking more of it as a collective process of trying to express or do something that you think is important that someone does it, no matter who was saying it first, it’s important someone made it.

Yeah, to create something…

SW: …and then, it’s really important in every collaboration the way someone thinks, if they know what to do. You kind of really spark each other with new ideas, because someone does something and then you say: this is perfect for doing this, you know. Otherwise it wouldn’t be done, and it’s not really stealing, it’s just like developing it further. This is really a problem of licences and copy right, because everyone re-invents again and again, and the progress is necessary. If you see how brains and fantasy work then you can just help each other to make more, you know…

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Handcrafting Textile Sensors Workshop by Hannah Perner Wilson
at Miss Baltazar’s Laboratory, photo by Hannah taken from kobakant (cc)

What do you like in wearable technology?

SW: I’m interested in it, I love it if it’s a part of your everyday life, and if we can use it also to enhance communication. But I don’t like when women who are into technology are always being pushed into this corner. When I started to teach electronics, they always wanted me to teach wearables, because it’s like: ‘Oh, she’s a woman in electronics, of course, she must be doing wearables’. But I hate sewing, I have no idea what fashion and textile are.

Even now I’m teaching at the Fashion Department at the University of Art in Vienna, but I have no idea what fashion is. It’s just that you are always pushed into the corner of woman and electronics, and that must be wearables. But apart from that I like wearables, I think it’s interesting and can be wonderful tool. Actually, I never did real wearable technology project, just tinkered around with possibilities. My stuff is always more sculptured or installations.

What are your favourite materials and tools to work with?

SW: At the moment I experiment with Open Source Face Recognition Software that reacts to emotional expressions for the project “The De-Othering Machine”. It’s an inter-urban platform for connecting unemployed youth in suburbs of Krakau, Vienna and Linz. For another project I work with two dancers and a sensor in order to have them create their own sounds while performing on stage. And then I’m really into tinkering with coils and magnets right now, inspired by Hannah Perner-Wilson’s Website.

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Performance ¡DADADA! featuring Sergio Solis and Stefanie Wuschitz
Photo taken from grenzartikel.com (cc)

Could you describe me a little bit your working processes?

SW: I usually stumble across an issue or material that touches me or makes me very enthusiastic and then I try to collaborate with others who are as excited about it as I am. The De-Othering Machine is developed together with artists Claudia Eipeldauer (Austria) and Philipp Lammer (Austria). The performance is a collaboration with dancer Delphine Mei (Taiwan), painter Alessa Esteban (Mexico) and actor Sergio Sol (Mexico).

The coils will be exhibited in the context of an EU project initiated by a belgian art and media technology organisation called OKNO. After finding people you love to work with it can sometimes still take a while until you know if there is funding or not. In the mentioned projects I was lucky to get supported by the Kunstraum Goethestraße and the EU, but sometimes we just work without payment.

We meet regularly, become friends and try to keep all our deadlines to end up with a piece we are all satisfied with. The good, but also sad thing about interactive art is that it’s so volatile and fragile. It takes a lot of effort to make an installation durable, when it’s supposed to be exposed to the public.

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Public installation Vagina Dentata by Stefanie Wuschitz (cc)
Photo taken from grenzartikel.com

What fields within technology based areas would you like to explore more?

SW: To be honest I would like to explore more on how to develop Android applications. I think it’s a problem that the mobile industry is based on the exploitation of resources and workers in the developing regions. At the same time, if there was a way to build fair trade phones, I would love to use them more.

And then animation, I love hand drawn animations and would be happy to develop ways to make the process more intuitive and fast, enabling people to collaborate on animations online. And of course I would love to learn more about sustainable technology, green ways of generating power and green electronic parts that are not harming people in the production process or destroying our environment after being used.

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Sound installation Wireless Woman by Stefanie Wuschitz (cc)
Photo taken from grenzartikel.com

What would you like to explore in the future?

SW: Recently I have started a PhD because I really want to understand the context of working, there are still so many dynamics happening and micro processes, and sometimes I’m really excited why some things are going in certain directions? Who started this? Where it is now, is it traceable, what’s happening?

So, I really want to read and write more about this, and I want to continue to play with electronics and also more without microcontrollers, just the circuit itself. But I also want to try really grasping, what’s going on and what it means, you know. Is it a big movement or it is just a little toy for a rich people and artists, I really want to understand better what is it at the end and what it does to us, if we use these kind of things.

Stefanie, Thanks a lot!