Interview with Sabrina Basten & Audrey Samson, part 2: On disposable electronics

August 9, 2011

This is the second part of the interview with Sabrina Basten & Audrey Samson. Read the first part here: Hackin’ some coils into wearables


Audrey Samson & Sabrina Basten @Make Me! Festival in Belgrade
Photo: body pixel (cc)

What do you think about the DIY scene… do you feel as being a part of it, or you find yourself simply intuitive and enjoying deconstructing thingz?

AS: As I’ve been a part of Genderchangers for some years which are very much DIY I do consider myself somehow in tune with the DIY methodology and considerations.

SB:  I mean, for me it derives from a really playful starting point and I want to keep it that way, I would not put myself into any group. But I understand why the DIY is an important approach. It helps us understand the things surrounding us, how they work and function, so that, as an example, companies cannot over rule you, which brings us again to the idea of planned obsolescence, things having a life span of 2 years, so you will have to buy a new ‘one’, or the hardware is simply not compatible with the new software anymore.


Roger 10-4 making process (cc)

So, you have to get the new version and this and that… At some point it’s harder to get old things which you can open up, I guess. Now we can still find radios from the seventies or eighties, with useful material to take out, but nowadays gadgets are getting smaller and smaller and less useful. Who knows for how long we can find the nostalgic objects…

It’s like the power is kind of slipping out of your hands, like you have no other choice anymore. I can imagine that even these young people who find interest in DIY will definitely grow in their numbers simply because nowadays there is only stuff made on which you can’t lay your hands on anymore. For example, you have a PC, you can open it and change things but with an Apple product if you open it, your guarantee is gone, which does never really pay off, no?

Yeah, not only Apple… I think Sony is one of the most hostile companies against DIY. Sony even sues people for hacking their devices, it’s one of the worst companies in that sense. It’s so stupid that they have such a policy on hacking their hardware…

SB:  Yes, that’s how it is.

Nikola Tesla

Are you following DIY and open source communities on the internet?

AS: The Genderchangers mailing list that Nancy, Donna and I co-administer has FLOSS related posts (usually in relation with gender issues). I periodically follow the Pure Data community because I use this software in my work. For the rest I peruse more of less superficially though I am always interested in new tools or DIY methods.

SB: I follow some sites for inspiration or to check on how to’s, but the most updates on technology, new thoughts around technology and how companies deal with the user I get from my husband Danja  (Vasiliev, computer artist) and friends around that community of ‘critical engineers’.


(un)subordinate appendages at WdKA (cc)
photo taken from

Since I’m with Danja I’m definitely more paranoid, because I get the information about for example iPhones, Facebook and internet security first hand. If you have no clue, it’s like a big maze of information and knowledge and you don’t even try to understand.

There is no other way if you don’t know, you believe you have to use this or that. But often people don’t have the time to inform themselves. Some people still don’t have mobile phones or don’t use Facebook, very possible… I can imagine and hope that people will get more and more sensitive in this regard, which is a great part of live by now.


Scene from the Electromagnetic Cityscapes Workshop @Make Me Festival
Photo: body pixel (cc)

What are your experiences within your workshops? Do you notice some differences, mutual process between participants?

SB: I think we give quite a clear structure forming our workshop. Often we have limited time during festivals and its needed to keep up some structure. So participants are mostly working on their own creation and for some it takes some effort to solder if it is the first time. The attitude is that everyone helps each other and everybody knows something.

We are thinking of another way of getting together, it’s more like a workgroup then a workshop. A friend of mine in Berlin works like this very often. Here the participants come together, material is provided which you pay for, but its further open to what will be made or happen.  Relations between participants develop very easy by working together on a new experiment.

I enjoy this kind of get together during festivals, it’s very open minded, a good atmosphere and there is a lot to learn. I don’t see this so much in the art scene, I must say.

AS: As Sabrina said, we foster a ‘working together’ environment in the workshops but we are thinking of ways (or an environment) that could facilitate that even more.


Scene from the Electromagnetic Cityscapes Workshop @Make Me Festival
Photo: body pixel (cc)

Do you think that artists and curators have truly accepted makers and hackers? I’m not just talking about major festivals and institutions like Ars Electronica, Transmediale, or V2_, Medialab Prado… I’m talking about broader art scene… Do you think there are still many artists that have a sort of distance to the process of making although they consider themselves new media artists? Do you thing that some sort of a shift has happened among curators that would finally make them to the point where they don’t see hackers and hacker spaces, DIY electronics as a huge amateur field…

AS: No I don’t think it is truly accepted because the process of making you mention (i.e. diddling around) is not valued in conceptual art (to put it very simply). Conceptual art lends itself perfectly well to speculation and the market. I’m not sure anyone has figured out how to evaluate/quantify this process of hacking yet. Hopefully hackers will always remain one step ahead of that.


Roger 10-4 circuit sketch

SB: I think in the beginning of new media there were artists who jumped on the train of new technology, but have no clue how to make these things themselves, and they still exist and often are able to bring in quite some funding, they are more people with nice ideas. But there is a great community which believes in that you have to know the deepest within your field of technology.

It belongs to the idea of being aware and free/independent. Let’s take the example of some friends who call themselves Critical Engineers. They feel the passion to dismantle all these complex technologies to make people understand how these mechanisms work behind the interface, what are the critical or dangerous parts coming with it. They make objects, use performance or interventions on the internet to make their point. But they don’t want to call themselves artists.

It is easy to separate yourself from the arts, if your medium is so special and hard to understand, but both sides want to deal with the same, to open up peoples minds, to generate a different point of view and so on. But I believe the works of technology will one day be a part of the material of an artist, like paint or plastic. And some will call these people artist, whether they want or not.


(un)subordinate appendages at WdKA (cc)
photo taken from

What material or technique would you like to explore in the future?

AS: We are thinking about exploring flexible PCBs and trying to demodulate the signals (if that is possible).

SB: I’m thinking maybe to really take some classes of pure, straight knowledge like biology, you know, like real nature science to gather more information. New materials and techniques come with every new idea I have, something i wish to see. I often have to compromise, I have to figure out how to do this, how do I solve that.

Gravitation for example in my installations is a very hard thing for me. I always have to overcome gravitation’s. But I grow with each work and each idea that I have. And with Roger it is the same, I learn more and more every time Audrey and me work on it. Learning by doing, I would say.

Audrey & Sabrina, Thanks a lot!

August 18, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

Correction to above: Wii is a Nintendo product, not Sony.

August 18, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

hey andrew, tnx  a lot for reminding me… deleted the

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