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  • Holger Dielenberg

Media Lab Melbourne mix arts and technology for the Winter Festival at Fed Square

Media Lab Melbourne were recently asked by the City of Melbourne to make an interactive arts installation for the Winter Festival at Fed Square that incorporates technology, community and fun.

Media Lab are a bunch of art tech practitioners who tend to ride outside institutional norms. As creative technologists, they often go unrecognized by the arts, hacker and business communities alike because they don’t strictly fit in to any of those categories. These guys dabble in all areas or art, technology and social intervention and they tend to come up with brilliant synergistic concepts that embrace many disciplines and solve unique problems. They are in it for the fun of it and that’s what makes this group of people so curious and appealing.

For the Fed Square Winter Festival project on Saturday 18 June, Media Lab designed a fun project called Light Duel which can be described as a 2 player retro future, dual lane battle pong. You can challenge your friends to an interactive game that employs light as its medium. Two glowing strips serve as the battleground for a two person, pong-like game whereby each participant sends two light pucks flying at speed towards their opponent in the hope that they will miss their return volley. Employing dual arcade style buttons, players battle it out in a frenzy of electronic bleeps and neon computer controlled lighting!

Like a lot of what Media Lab do, this was a true community art project. Many talented makers and local Melbourne businesses worked on the project including Callan Morgan, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Ballis plastics, Space Tank Studio and Dan Macnish.

The Light Duel project is a fantastic example of inserting the A (Art) into STEM traditions (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Adding the A to STEM to create STEAM has been a call to action for some years now as tech and business communities slowly recognise that creativity is the most essential ingredient of all.

Media Lab incorporate art and play into their technology projects because they are powerful forces of attraction that promote usability and inclusivity. Being engaged creatively lowers our guard and entices us down a rabbit hole of intrigue. Interactive music, motion control, avatar relations, game sims and organic matter indicators are all good fodder.

The Media Lab website hosts details of their various activities which includes lectures, workshops and exhibitions. The group understand that new technologies and electronic media are likely to provide both the causes and solutions to our problems of the future and a creative approach often provides the key to unlocking the door to the solutions.

It is exactly this kind of collaborative ethos and embracing of creativity that spurs on the boom town that is Silicon Valley where disruptive creative technologists who don’t fit any other category have the courage to look at things differently and to challenge the status quo. Here in Australia, the departure of our automotive industry is a stark call to action to us. We must strengthen our position on innovation and a design lead economy. We have the opportunity, resources and know how to look at brand new ways of doing things that challenge old methodologies.

Pouring millions of dollars into established corporations and orgs to spur innovation runs the risk of dressing an old emperor in new clothes. If we can address the need to support grass roots innovation then we can provide the platform for surprising developments in creative technologies.

For these reasons. taking cues from Media Lab can be inspiring and also insightful. You can just imagine how great things can be discovered and developed once you pull into focus and amplify the way these guys embrace collaborative thinking and practice. All levels of manufacturing in Australia could do well by looking at the disruptive examples of emerging technologists no matter what medium they work with. It is the willingness to explore new directions that is most important to us today.

Using play and collaboration as the key to all of their work has propelled Media Lab into many exciting projects that engage audiences and workshop participants. A look at their website demonstrates the flexibility and breadth of their practice and I believe it is small organisations like this that will soon make a large impact on Melbourne’s radar because they are not afraid to peer into the future of things.

It was great to be involved with these guys on the Light Duel project and we certainly hope to participate with them down the road.

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