A Journey to Palmyra

A Journey to Palmyra is a critical aesthetic experience that seeks to disrupt our habits and rituals. The project involves two common elements that are embedded in everyday life but rarely questioned: on the one hand, media coverage of war, and on the other, navigation using Google. It represents a cunning way of questioning two things that have become commonplace. In a world of fake news, filter bubbles, and artificial intelligence, how prudent is reliance on a source of information?

Google Maps and directions are firmly embedded in our everyday lives. We use those services every day to find a location, route, or restaurant and navigate to our destination with the aid of a technological device. They suggest a world in which we are free in the selection and production of information, but how can we actually be certain that the information is objective or even correct?

Impossible Escapes

Impossible Escapes is an escape and evasion map publication developed and distributed in collaboration with Neural magazine and transmediale festival Berlin. The project addresses illusive tendencies to escape – be it from technology, society, or earth – and gathers various strategies of how to handle this most modern impetus of escaping.

Technoculture promises many ways out of our problematic modernity and we keep running away from ourselves in iteration. But it is more than doubtful, that escape is truly possible – or desirable. How can we nevertheless value the benefits of escape as a temporary gesture, movement or process? What might be forms of effective everyday micro-escapes? And what could be alternative notions and attitudes to confront our problems?

The map publication was exclusively distributed through special editions of Neural magazine’s issue 56 (which also features an essay about the project) as well as throughout the 2017 anniversary edition of transmediale festival “ever elusive” in Berlin. As part of the festival program, three parallel workshop sessions took place at different exits of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the festival’s venue. The workshop was concluded by a field trip around the building, led by invited artist Leanne Wijnsma, who has made digging tunnels an essential part of her artistic practice.

Special thanks to Leanne Wijnsma, Paolo Patelli and Giuditta Vendrame, Alessandro Ludovico, and Sarah Sharma.

Augmented Space

The research project springs from the assumption that knowledge and its production in digital cultures is spatially organized, structured, formed, and received. It is inquired, how the the visibility and legibility of a place is changed and reconfigured by the use of interactive and locative media technologies. Center to the inquiry are the design practice and the end-user: How does the user orients in these hybrid spaces and what are the effects of this kind of knowledge production on the spatial navigation and reception?

These questions are pursued by the example of the former warehouse and open depot at the Dreispitz area in Basel. The Dreispitz is currently one of the largest urban development areas of Switzerland. The establishment of the new Campus of the Arts together with the settlement of Academy of Art and Design FHNW is paradigmatic for the transition from an industrial to an information society. The transformation of the are becomes a metaphor for the structural changes of a material world based on physical goods to a data-based, virtual, fluid, networked and digital society. Based on this diagnosis, the project assumes the form of an on-site research laboratory to explore production of space by digital media.

Machine Love?

Machine Love? represents an attempt to get a grip on cultural transformations in underground electronic music production and software engineering via the investigation of changes in infrastructural, material and technological conditions of labour induced by visions of creative economies. While we do agree with and depart from Marion von Osten’s diagnosis that the creative economies as outlined in strategy papers of European governments drafted in the late 1990s have to date only partly materialized (von Osten 2007), we think that the creative imperative has had considerable impact on cultures of production in the selected fields. We comprehend contemporary understandings of ‘creative’ practice to be entangled especially with, e.g. media of collaboration (infrastructural), based on affective relations with materials, and framed by the technological generation and exploitation of intellectual property.

The two subprojects of Machine Love? have been conceptualized in order to find new ways of researching contemporary cultures of production. We seek to be empirical by combining historical (forensic) investigation, ethnographic techniques and practice-based experience to gather evidence and make research public. It is our goal to contribute to the ongoing anthropology of late-modern societies in cultural studies and social science and to be fatihful to experience by modifying our tools in deliberations with our objects.

Designed Immediacy

Mobile, networked, multi-sensory systems and technologies with open and modular interfaces are about to change our established concept of technical extensions for humans. Thus, it will not only be on the level of prosthesis or implants that humans are connected with machines, but as well on the level of wearable sensors and intelligent environments, which make interfaces disappear and allow “unmediated” contact between the human and the technological system. Departing from a notion of holistic bodily experience and media developed in current phenomenological approaches, we want to examine the affective human perception in a mediated responsive environment. By this, we aim to explore the connecting area between the human body and a sensitive environment that feels like it connects to the body as a “second skin”.

Ubiquitous Computing

The project explores how museum exhibits and spaces can be augmented by interactive media to get visitors not only informed but also emotionally involved without the need for conventional supplemental interfaces. From the perspectives of engineering, scenography and museology the potential of ubiquitous computing for exhibition design, museum operations and knowledge transfer is considered and elaborated into a respective design toolkit.


Many companies are now working together with employees in distributed locations. Informal communication, which has been found to be an important factor for successful collaboration, is strongly diminished over spatial distance and with reduced visibility and presence. The localized character of informal communication appears to influence and limit collaboration for work in distributed organizations.

The project will therefore examine how informal communication between sites can be enabled “virtually” – without the need for frequent and close physical encounter and presence, supported by video communication. Architectural elements, furniture and video communication technology, together with guidelines for workplace organization are developed within the project that aim to support informal communication and enable successful collaboration in different spatial constellations as “places of virtual-informal communication”.

The main project objective is the development and evaluation of products to enable and promote informal communication between distributed sites. Advanced goal is the successful characterization and implementation of “places for virtual-informal communication” (OVIKs) based on the products developed. The project aims to contribute to the understanding of distributed collaboration in general and to the understanding of the specific potential and risks of the extensive use of video communication in workplace settings.

Moulding the Human Being. Clothing as a Cultural Practice

Hanro is a renowned Swiss company for undergarments with a more than 100-year-old history. In the interdisciplinary project researchers from cultural sciences and design research together with experts from archive studies and textiles of the Canton Basel-Country investigate the company’s extensive archive. The collection comprises around 20,000 specimen of production as well as design drawings, swatches, catalogues, and publicity materials from 1884 until today.

The project approaches the archive materials from three different perspectives: Firstly, the evolution of the brand Hanro of Switzerland is traced back. Secondly, it is asked, how the history of human intimacy and the development of undergarments have mutually induced. And thirdly, the design process under industrial production conditions can be investigated examplarily.

The research results contribute to the field of cultural anthropolgy of clothing and design research and are supposed to have influence on the professional education in the textile sector. Additionally, the insights will be publicly presented in exhibitions.

Reset Modernity!

The exhibition Reset Modernity!, conceived and curated by Bruno Latour and the research team behind An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence (AIME). The AIME project, located at Sciences Po médialab in Paris, is an anthropology of modernity, comprising a book, an online research platform, an ongoing series of events and the Reset Modernity! exhibition. The exhibition is going to form a further, very different rendering and extension of the inquiry. It is framed within the Globale program at ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and will open in April 2016.

The show takes the form of a Gedankenausstellung, that is, a crossing between an exhibition and a thought experiment. The exhibition is designed to enable experimentation and recomposition of the values and concepts of modernity. Artworks, documents and other artifacts are arranged around such values and invite us to take inventory (without overview), to disentangle (without ultimate ‘clarity’), and make decisions about what to keep and what to sort out. In a time where modernity has led to a crisis of planetary proportion, visitors are asked to reset its operating system. It is a reset that is not a reboot to zero but compositional in nature.

The Critical Media Lab is commissioned with design research and concept development for the exhibition scenography. In close collaboration with the research team of AIME we are developing conceptual and material metaphors that remodel the theoretical gesture of the inquiry into a spatial experience for the visitors.

Unmaking: 5 Anxieties

As part of the proceedings of the 2016 transmediale (TM) festival, the Critical Media Lab was invited to stage one of the festival’s many “conversation pieces”. The thematic of TM this year revolved around conversation and dialogue, and so Critical Media Lab researchers Moritz Greiner-Petter, Johannes Bruder, Shintaro Miyazaki, Felix Gerloff and Jamie Allen, along with collaborative partners Matthias Tarasiewicz and Sophie Wagner from the Vienna-based Research Institute for Arts and Technology, and researcher Tom Jenkins from the Public Design Workshop at Georgia Tech’s Digital Media program teamed up to frame a discussion session on maker and hacker culture.

For the session, entitled Unmaking: 5 Anxieties, we discussed the disappearance of the physical traction and perfidious engagement with materials in creative practice, the ignoring of material resource chains, the homogenisation and functionalization of once-radical grassroots sub-cultures and communities, and the ignoring of difference in the “maker movement.” The discussion was prompted by a set of ‘concept cards’, designed by Moritz Greiner-Petter. The form of this project apes other formats for ‘creative’ divination and process, like Oblique Strategies, IDEO’s method cards or Critical Making Cards.

Read a write-up of the event here.

Studio Algorhythmics

Studio Algorhythmics is a studio-lab founded by Shintaro Miyazaki dedicated to inquire algorhythmic structures in our contemporary life, culture and society. It is the continuation of an older project called “Institute for Algorhythmics”, which was initiated in 2008.

More information is available at www.algorhythmics.com.

In-depth going information on the notion of algorhythmics can be read here and here.

Experimental Data Aesthetics

In empirical sciences the media aesthetics of the very own thinking tools are seldom explicitly considered in research projects. The fact, that research results are represented not only textual but especially by visual means and that at the same time, these forms of expression have a significant influence on the research process has already been recognized and elaborated strongly by media, cultural and design studies. The application of these insights back to the representational tools of the empirical sciences is one of the most relevant contributions of design research still due. Key subject of the application-oriented research project is the cultural technique of the explorative analysis of high-dimensional data, that has been researched in the field of computational sciences since the 1960s, but rarely exceeded modes of mere visualization of data. Based on a critique of the media aesthetics of these representational modalities, the project aims at a multi-sensory approach to data analysis by the synthesis of seeing and hearing. Guiding questions are, how the conventional, standardized methods of visualization in the field of explorative data analysis can be extended by means of sonification, and how such an approach can be elaborated by experimental as well as historico-theoretical informed methods of design research.

The project is conceived at the interface of practice-based design research, media studies and aesthetics, knowledge design, sound design, and computational sciences. In regard to methodology, it strives for a close interlocking of designing, programming and critical analysis. The challenge to represent big amounts of high-dimensional data in a way, that researchers can recognize and explore them productively appears to be an immanent design problem. For the filtering and extraction of significant differences in data sets numerous algorithmic techniques have been developed since the advent of the computer. Although algorithmic efficiency is increasing and screen sizes are growing visualization strategies still (or more then ever) seem to reach the limits of productivity and meaning making. Therefore, we are interested in the sensual extension of visual representation by acoustic means and the question, whether the “visual work” of the researcher and the “calculating work” of the computer can be complemented by “sonic work” to find novel solutions to the problems of representation.

The research is structured in three parallel and interrelated parts. In a speculative design process the space of possibilities and implications regarding a multi-sensory exploration of high-dimensional data is mapped out by narrative scenarios and artifacts. In an explorative design and programming part software modules are developed, that aim for exhibiting innovative approaches to the combination of visual and sonic data representations. For that purpose, high-dimensional data sets are provided by experts of the field of computational sciences from the University of Basel and the University for Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. In the long term, we intend to scale these programming experiments to a kind of software toolbox. The research is complemented by a scientific study of the theory and history of data aesthetics.

Poetics and Politics of Data

The phenomenon of “Big Data”, the boundless generation, collection, and interpretation of a growing amount of digital data, challenges not only science and technology, but increasingly becomes a concern for artists and designers as well. Growing amounts of allegedly meaningful data not only require new methods of statistical analysis but also novel forms of aesthetic interpretation and media representations. Therefore, they are certainly a matter of artistic interrogation and media aesthetic critique.

Apart from that, the abuse of data raises ethico-juristic issues regarding the protection of democratic values, privacy, and open access, which more and more become critically addressed by artists and designers. Within the poles of possibilities and restricitions of Big Data, telling concepts and strategies of data interpretation and critique are developed in the field of media arts as well as design: be it by means of visual, sonic, or physical representations, by narrative approaches taken by critical or speculative design, or by media installations and performative interventions.

Big Data as a heterogenous matter, interweaving different strategies from media arts and design with questions of science and technology development as well as socio-cultural values will be explored in the project by the realisation of an extensive exhibition of invited but also commissioned works. It will be accompanied by an interdisciplinary program of events, a publication, and a website.

The project is funded within the Pro Helvetia initiative “Digital Culture” and carried out in cooperation with the House of Electronic Arts Basel, TA-SWISS (Centre for Technology Assessment) and Opendata.ch (Swiss Chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation).

Three Questions On Media Criticality

Three Questions On Media Criticality is the setout for an inquiry into the conditions, modes and potentials of critique of, in, and through ‘media’. After the institute’s first colloquium series on “What constitutes Critique?” and the official opening event of the Critical Media Lab in autumn 2014 it is one of the initial ventures of the lab and first public dissemination of our discussions about media criticality.

The project is a collaboration with transmediale, the festival for art and digital culture in Berlin. It was initiated with the collection of concise responses by invited scholars, artists and designers from different backgrouds on three provocative questions: What are promising modes of critique today? What is critical about media technologies? What comes after critique?

The answers were collated in a field notebook that was presented at transmediale 2015 CAPTURE ALL in Berlin. It accompanied a Critical Media Salon, an open discussion format held at the festival as well. The responses of the notebook here served as a common reference and instigation of the dialogue between the attending participants, members of ixdm, and guest interlocutors Darsha Hewitt and Christoph Brunner.

The discussion brought up a range of crucial aspects of media criticality like notions of productive and immanent critique, the temporality and periodicity of critique, or its relation to the politics, aesthetics and materiality of media technologies, among others. By that, it also serves to refine our own positioning towards criticality we elaborate at the Critical Media Lab.

Spacial Perception in the Trinational Agglomeration of Basel

The project Spacial Perception in the Trinational Agglomeration of Basel is a co-operation between the University of Basel and the FHNW and connected to the Pro Helvetia program Triptic – Kulturausstausch am Oberrhein (Cultural exchange in the Upper Rhine area). In two interdisciplinary teaching projects from 2013–14 different kinds of border crossing and spatial practices in the trinational area have been examined. The everyday life, routines, perception, experiences, connecting and separating phenomena were in the focus of the artistic-scientific research. The students of the Academy of Art and Design and of the Department of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology have collaboratively conducted research and thereby tested and generated (new) forms of knowledge. Transgressing disciplinary boundaries they took unknown paths of interdisciplinary collaboration using media like video, photography, sound, text, drawing etc.
Public presentations are foreseen during 2014 in various exhibition spaces in the region. A follow-up teaching project in winter semester 2014/15 will be conducted in collaboration with the Museum der Kulturen Basel to develop the topics further with the aim to include the arising projects into their permanent exhibition StrohGold.

Listen to an extended radio feature on the project (German). Flavia Caviezel and Ina Dietzsch talk about its background, the works developed by the students and the belonging exhibition “Hacking the boundaries”. Aired on “Freies Radio Wiesental” the 26th of June 2014.

The following student projects have been realised in 2013/14:

Audio Consumption
by Jean-Luc Haas, Frederic Robinson, Kenia Ticò and Nina Wasser (sound essay)

This sound feature describes the world of excessive consumption in a German shopping mall that is seen by people from France and Switzerland explicitly with the aim to purchase cheaper goods. The sound essay explores the atmosphere only by the means of sound, blinding out visual impressions that are usually very dominant in the context of shopping. Audio-Impressions have been written down and transformed by reading out them against the background of two ubiquitous noises: the repetitive peep of the cashiers and the rattle of hundreds of rolling baskets.

by Tanja Weidmann (installation: windows, wood, speakers, phone receiver / sound recordings)

Not too long ago the phone was part of a private environment. With the new mobile technologies this has changed profoundly. Phone conversations more and more become part of public spaces. What kind of impact does this have for the society? Tanja Weidmann interviews commuters with a catalogue of questions and creates a sound feature using the answers in a very fragmentary way.
The resulting soundscapes are installed in a replica of a public phone box. Passers-by can listen to them when approaching the phone box closely.

"Ich höre, ich sehe, je m’imagine"
by Anna Dahinden, Anna Fierz and Luzia Knobel (sound scapes / photography)

Using a collection of statements and photographs, which are out of context, the project addresses stories about the border. The complete reception of the project depends on an active visitor. With his/her association, the visitor builds a bridge between sound and image, and also between the own perception of the border and those, which are presented.

In and out
by Marion Locher and Claudio Zanini (video / sound scape)

A revolving door as a metaphor for our perception of borders and boundaries is the centre of this video: permeable at the one moment and hermetically closed at the other. For some people a border is not perceivable as border, for other people it is strictly forbidden to cross it.

Mobile Boundaries
by Laura Bauer, Josefina Massaglia and Catrin Rathgeb (photography / mobile phones / mapping / projection)

The basic issue of our project is the perception of national borders between Germany, France and Switzerland by using mobile technology. With the help of mobile phones we wanted to find answers to the following questions: Is the border crossing noticeable to commuters who cross it on a daily basis? Are there any differences or similarities between the different national borders? The project presents the border in a visual, auditory and individual way by installing pictures taken by our interlocutors during one day, mapped according to train and car rides crossing the border, and fragments of the interviews about individual habits of using mobile phones.

by Ingela Eklund and Johanna Leitner (photography)

Border – a word, a part of the trinational space, a geographic or constructional reality? Inspired by the quotation of Stefano Boeri (2003) we ask questions about what we might discover alongside a national border. What kind of borders, blurring, overlays and intersections can we perceive with a sharp eye? By presenting a panorama we aim to undermine the linearity of national borders. In a juxtaposition of the same pictures within different succession center and periphery occur at different points. The composition of the panorama changes the perception of the border space. The gaze can be sharpened and the border can be seen from all sides

(Skupevia means garbage in ancient Greek) by Sophia Erny (game)

What to do with rubbish? Giving it away? Salvaging? Making use of it, reselling or throwing away? These decisions are very subjectively made and valued. It is not the same thing to throw a sweater away or to pass it to the Red Cross. Both practices are valued differently. There is also a difference between affective and monetary values. Children’s clothes have a great affective value to a mother even if they have no monetary value anymore. The game presented here is about different ways of disposing things and valuing “garbage” or “rubbish”. Players can gain monetary money and goodwill money. The winner is the one who gains most of both categories.

The bridal gown in the context of Turkish weddings
by Kim Bollag (drawings: ink, gouache)

My leporello engages with the understanding of fashion by Turkish diaspora women. The leporello contains drawings of a variety of dresses corresponding to one basic dress that always has the same shape (therefore the proportions and the position in the image are always the same). By doing so it visually indicates the serial nature of the clothes. The story line starts with a stereotype image (pompous dress) and ends with an unusual image (casual wear). The drawings are composed with single quotes from interviews to show the diversity of taste and patterns relating to a certain generation. Basically the quotes show individuality dealing with taste, the graphical and uniform representation shows seriality.

The trinational aesthetics of garbage
by Mirella Molnàr (photography / photo collages / posters)

Object of my research is the aesthetics of garbage between Lörrach – Basel – St. Louis. At each of the places there are different rules and regulations for waste management, how to keep streets clean and well tended. Also the design of waste containers and all other types of waste bins differs significantly. The aim of this research is to explore how exactly waste management works at these places and what the specific aesthetic means of representation and design of waste containers and recycling stations are. What kind of rules and regulations for waste management are people supposed to follow at different places in different countries? What do streets, waste containers, bins and the recycling stations look like in each region? What are the particular practices of their use?

Trading experiences in a trinational area
by Agnes Oettli and Irène Portmann (video / objects to trade with)

Button, button, who’s got the button? – The project is based on a trading game, in which one item is traded on constantly in exchange for another. The research was conducted in the immediate vicinity of a border crossing, the aim being to record the items’ stories, as well as personal “borderline experiences”. In order to capture the trinational dimensions of these experiences filming took place in the tri-border area of Switzerland, France, and Germany.

Turkish weddings in the trinational agglomeration
by Sera Ohran (photography / audio recording)

Seriality is the (not only aesthetical) ordering principle making the production of Turkish weddings move smoothly. The economisation of the wedding vow – reflecting the structures of mutual material and familial dependencies all too present in the Turkish diaspora – is consistent with the logic of large scale production underlying the organisation and hosting of such festivities.
Actualized weekend after weekend in yet another marriage to partake and embodied in an enormous number of guests, gifts and food, the weddings evoke under a surface of glamour and happiness a feeling referring to assembly line production.
The project shows the ambiguity between this production process and the bridal dream, working out the complex and the multi-layered attempts of coming to terms with the varied experiences of belonging to/being foreign to a cultural practise re-invented in a trinational setting.

Von Verschwendung und Verstand
by Yannette Meshesha (animation film)

Who is not shocked about the quantities of food thrown away?
Yannetta Meshesha decided to make an animated film that tells the story of trinational food waste and containering as a counter strategy. She wants to raise awareness about the topic and asks: What can we do against food waste? What to do with leftovers? And is containering (il)legal?

+47° 35′ 42.98″, +7° 39′ 20.04″
by Rebecca Eigen, Laura Gozzer and Nina Zollinger (sound / yellow pigment color)

A yellow line is drawn on the floor across the room, deviding it in two spaces. You can stand on either side. Voices, a narration, coming from two sides. Experiences, observations from fieldwork, fictional stories, research material, a collection of quotations and theoretical thinking – all mixed up, all of them concerned with the symbolic and material dimensions of borders. They create a spaces within the space. For a short moment orientation is lost. Where are we? Here or there? Is there a border? And if so, how do poeple perceive this border?

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