Interview with Selena Savic, part 2: DIY Solar for public spaces

by deborah on 09/3/2011

This is the second part of the interview with Selena Savic. Read the first part here: On architecture and people

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Selena Savic @Make Me Festival during DIY Solar cells workshop
Photo by Gordan Savicic (cc)


Could you tell us more about your work ‘eat it! city simulator 1.0′

SS: It is a game. A city building game, I made as an attempt to de-construct the business relations, as mentioned above. I was thinking a lot about this, how to present a problem in a way that would engage people to interpret it themselves. So I created a set of rules, which I developed and modified with my colleague students and friends.

We were playing the game for about six months before it was shaped as it is now. It goes like this: you start with a certain number of houses and farms (determined by an online voting from, which is just a mock of participation). Shops are appealing if there is enough need (houses) and if there is enough supply (farms).

You build more houses and farms to suite your development plans. Once there is industrial farming present on the board (the players can choose to set it up or not), you are also allowed to convert grocery stores into Supermarkets. It’s a two player game and the winner is the one who has more Supermarkets at the end of the game.

I presented the project under development at Make Art (Groningen) and Pixelache (Helsinki) and got interesting feedback. Later it was exhibited at V2, in Belgrade, Vienna, The Hague… I also developed ‘eat it! city simulator 2.0′, working with a friend from Rotterdam, Mr Stock. It is a digital board and you can play on your own, while building rules are applied automatically.

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Selena Savic and Gordan Savicic
Taken from Selena’s private album

Selena, you are very skilled with Linux. You collaborate very often with your partner Gordan Savicic, who is known for his project ‘the 120days of *buntu‘… Peeps from DIY scene use a lot Apple computers, especially in the States, claiming it’s the best thing… Give us few reasons why a tinkerer and crafts oriented person should use Linux for the best :)

SS: Well, there are obvious adventages – open source, community around it, licencing… We could say that Linux is the most ‘customisable’ operating system today. By customisation, I don’t mean that you will be overwhelmed by beautifully designed GUIs that offer you to express your personality through a choice of certain settings and preferences instead of some others.

With every system, it is not easy to control it if you don’t know what you want. But if you do, you will find a way to do it in Linux. The development of Linux today is offering also user friendly environments, so you will find a window manager that tries to look like an OSX environment. Still, what is behind it is open source and scriptable, like no other system is.

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Linux Logo taken from linux.softpedia.com (cc)

The community around Linux users is also very supportive, at most times. Of course, if you search for something like “Ubuntu+really need help fast!” you’re most likely gonna get crucified on forums by those guys (they are mostly men, the “gurus”). But again, if you know how to phrase your problem – and it is not hard to learn with a little bit of browsing, you will find bugs and fixes and patches and you will never be pointed to download more useless software to fix problems that were caused by useless software you downloaded before (M. Windows).

You need to know a little bit of the language to begin with, and then the doors to forums are open! You are not gonna have such a great time fixing some really basic things that won’t work, but you will be able to fix them eventually and then you will know exactly what’s going on. Ha ha, this is pure propaganda. I don’t know, it’s a choice, and I like it. I don’t think everyone should use Linux.

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Selena Savic: ‘eat it! city simulator 1.0′ (c)

OK, now you are delved into free culture movement, open source and DIY movement… and this Festival here is a result of that… How did you come up to organize the Festival here in Belgrade, with international guests?

SS: I wanted to organize some workshops here and I had some people in the focus. Not so many things of this kind happen here. I mean, there are workshops and events within the free culture, with open source software, especially here in Rex Cultural Centre. But I had an idea for this festival! I wanted to tackle the gender problem, women’s role in the DIY and open source community, and technology in general.

In that sense, it is always somehow extreme here. You only have two choices: PRO or CON. I’m really not for such radical view, and I don’t want to be involved in this point of view who can or can’t work. I wanted to bring together people I knew from abroad and generate some activity here.

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Scene from testing DIY solar cells @Make Festival
Photo by Selena Savic (cc)

I was previously in Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory in Vienna, and I gave a workshop in Supermarket Deconstruction. There I was introduced to Stefanie, the founder of the lab, with whom I first spoke about this festival. Mz Baltazar’s Lab supported us a lot in putting Naprave Me! festival together. I also knew Genderchangers from Holland and I was in contact with some of them.

So, I thought it would be interesting to go through this problem. Simply to be together, to gathered around some topic and work, deal with some common theme, that is not exclusive for anybody. I wanted to have and inclusive topic, and for me that’s the presence of technology in public space and in our lives.

What is your future plan regarding the Make Me Festival?

SS: We would like to organize a similar event in Vienna. Eventually, I would like it to become a travelling festival. Making potatoes on the roof, I would love to do this (laughs). I would like to make this festival in continuity, with new lecturers and workshops included. But the concept would be the similar. For me the unifying factor would be around the gender context but with the focus on education and technology.

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Scene from Make Me Festival
Photo by Gordan Savicic (c)

Tell me something about your Solar workshop?

SS: I was again turned to the public space and the possibility to power something permanent which would then occupy it. Till now I made some devices that mainly work on batteries, etc. I made satellite plates that have a speaker instead of a receiver, so they reflect and direct the sound a little bit different. I had an idea to make a composition, so these plates could be used as instruments.

In this way they can make some rhythm overlapping that would be perceived differently on different spots. It was my intention to make a spatial composition, which would be permanently installed on façades. That is when I realized I really need solar cells! If I didn’t have to worry about battery life or proximity (and ownership) of an electrical socket, I would be able to install any device to run outdoors, in the street or square…

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Solar Cells by Selena Savic (cc)
Photo taken from kucjica.org/solar/

There is a lot of decision making by private parties about what is going to happen in public space. There is a book by Miodrag Mitranovic ‘Total landscape, theme parks, public space’ where he identifies PROPASt: Privately Owned, Publicly Accessible Spaces. It’s about these half public spaces as shopping malls or amusement parks, where people are spending free time but where the conditions of use are decided upon by corporations. That is the reason why I wanted to put things at places that are available to everyone, and claim them.

Industrial solar cells are not so innocent, they are toxic, non-degradable and also very expensive. After some research, I got hooked up to the idea to make my own solar cells. At first I thought that it’s terrible complicated, practically impossible.

But then I found many instructions on the web, and I discovered that the EPFL Institute of Technology from Lausanne patented solar cells that work like a reverse photosynthesis. They could be also be produced transparent and used as an architectural element in façades and furniture. I was trying to replicate their process of production with cheap and easily accessible materials. We managed to get about 0.4V from the best cells here.

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Selena Savic: Diskohedron (c)
Photo taken from kucjica.org/disko3200/

What is your opinion on DIY cultures and open source in art context?

SS: I think it is a scene that is, or tries to be, closely related to computer sciences and engineering. Because of this, it gives an impression that it is dealing with “real stuff” unlike today’s fine art scene that is openly and arrogantly turned to itself. The part of the art scene that does open source and DIY stuff is turned more to the future, to the consequences of today’s development and production. The question here is: What is it that we are “Doing It Ourselves”? Is it art? Is it tools? It think it’s both, and it depends on the context it’s presented in.

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Selena Savic: pp disko (c)
Photo taken from kucjica.org/pp-disko

What do you think the future is going to look like regarding public spaces and DIY possibilities?

SS: Interesting. On one hand, you can see an increase in the number and level of knowledge in people who are working with DIY technologies. More artists and collectives are using, making and teaching open source software and hardware. How to make a robot or produce energy … But these yesterday’s stars, we cannot follow cutting edge science with a soldering iron and a screw driver. And cutting edge science is working for corporations.

The question is – how long will we be able to reinvent or replicate hardware manufacturing. I can not be really optimistic. I think it is going to be increasingly difficult to make something useful with technology and tools that will be available to us. Which is exactly why I like like to engage in doing these kind of thins now!

Selena, Thanks a lot!

 

Related links:
Interview with Stefanie Wuschitz
Interview with Audrey Samson & Sabrina Basten