Welcome to HMKV's blog.

This blog currently documents a research trip to twelve former Soviet Republics for a new regional project of the Goethe-Institut (2015-17). Earlier entries document the "Afro-Tech and the Future of (Re-)Invention" research trip to Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria (10-25 April 2014, Anne Bergner and Inke Arns), and the INDUSTRIAL on Tour trip to five industrial cities in Poland (27 Sep - 9 Oct 2011, Thibaut de Ruyter, Inke Arns et al.)

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Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-invention. Alternative Technological Energies and Intelligences in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria

The technological imperative is a false Western construction. The form of technology we have come to know and be dependent on is not a given. It is just one of many possibilities. And while operating systems, devices, and applications with more and more impressive features are introduced daily, they rarely challenge the assumptions, politics, and aesthetics of earlier versions. They are in essence just new versions of the same logic, expressing the same basic cultural ideas centred around office life and creative industries. Companies and users alike are satisfied with this progress of thing. No questions asked. The market thrives on. However, it is a process of development that prevents radical and visionary invention or rather re-invention of contemporary technology from other cultural perspectives of non-Western origin. This is a missed opportunity, a forgotten potential.

As a machine of global communication the computer is also becoming a machine of globalisation, enforcing standards on a multiplicity of cultures. The One Laptop per Child programme teaches children computer use through operating systems of the same mold as the ones used by Westerns. Why not use the opportunity to develop an operating system based on the vocabularies, knowledge, and perceptions of the cultures who uses the computer? As anthropologist Wade Davis has pointed out the world is becoming intellectually poorer every day as original languages disappear. The argument could be made that the computer world is also becoming poorer because we are not integrating other languages than the Western ones in our hardware and software solutions. The Italian artist jaromil has created an entire operating system based on Rastafarian philosophy and the project indirectly suggest that other “philosophies” be used to develop other operating systems and technologies.

With Afro-Tech, we want to turn to three countries on the African continent to explore how artists and cultural producers are developing and using technology though other cultural ideas than those of the West. It is an attempt to discover a different approach to technology that while it might not be as high-tech in the conventional sense it is nevertheless advanced in sense of inventiveness and vision and expanded path to a truly diverse and rich global computer culture beyond the horizon of prefabricated products.

(Inke Arns / Jacob Lillemose, 2013)

Afro-Tech FAQs

What is the project about?  
Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-invention is a research project by Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV) which looks at the use, the adaptation and (re-)invention of (new) technologies in three African countries. The subtitle reads: Alternative Technological Energies and Intelligences in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.  

Who are you?
We are two people: Inke Arns and Anne Bergner. Inke and Anne will be travelling and doing field-work in Lagos, Nairobi and Joahnnesburg (10 - 24 April 2014). Inke Arns is a curator and currently artistic director of of HMKV (Dortmund), Anne Bergner is a designer based in Munich and a professor of design at Hochschule Coburg. They're both from Germany.  

Why did you team up?
Inke and Anne know each other since 2001, when they incidentally bumped into each other in the streets of Mumbai, India (OK, both being guests of the Max Mueller Bhavan, the Indian Goethe-Institute). One of the projects they have co-organised since then is the Recorder Race at HMKV (2006) - a model car race for pimped-up Walkmen (BWPWP: portable analogue cassette recorders initially produced by the Japanese company Sony). The media simply loved it!  

What are you looking for? What do you hope to find?
We are looking for interesting, experimental, weird stuff: New approaches to using, adapting and (re-)inventing (new) technologies in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. We are interested in "people doing strange things with technology/electricity/software". Those who are not contending themselves with corporate solutions designed for the global North and who, out of this dissatisfaction, are starting to develop their own solutions. These can help solving everyday problems or deal with highly specialized issues. In short: We are looking for advanced - in the sense of inventiveness and vision - approaches that expand the path to a truly diverse and rich global (computer) culture beyond the horizon of prefabricated products.  

Can you give concrete examples?
Yes, let's get practical. We're interested in what's happening, e.g., at the Maker Faire Africa (Lagos 2012), at FabLabs, Hardware Hacking Garages, Robotics Labs. DIY stuff. We read about a porridge making machine by a Malawian inventor, triggered by an SMS, about the Urine Powered Generator invented by four Nigerian teenage girls („1 liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity“), about the Flying Donkey Challenge, and about Ushahidi's BRCK back up generator for the Internet. Now we want to see these things - and many more - with our very own eyes.  

Who do you hope to meet?
We're looking forward to meet all of you creative hackers, subversive innovators & inventors, critical artists, amazing tinkerers, crazy designers. DIY rules!

What is Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV)?
HMKV is a non-profit art association based in Dortmund, Germany. It was founded in 1996 and since has been very active in the fields of contemporary (media) art, art & politics, and critical thinking about media & technology. HMKV has been producing exhibitions that have been awarded twice by the German section of AICA (International Art Critics' Association), and that have received many more prizes. Since 2010 HMKV is located in a former brewery at the very city center of Dortmund, located in the Ruhr area. Check out www.hmkv.de for more information.  

What are you going to do with your research?
Eventually our findings will take the form of an exhibition at HMKV in 2015 -- or a publication. We still don't know. It really depends on what we will find and the people we meet on the ground.

Who is paying for this research?
HMKV received a research grant from the German Federal Cultural Foundation (TURN Fonds) which is covering our travel costs.

When will you be in Nairobi?
We will be in Nairobi from 11 - 13 April and from 21 - 24 April. This is because we are flying in and out of Nairobi.  

When will you be in Johannesburg?
We will be in Johannesburg from 13 - 17 April.  

When will you be in Lagos?
We will be in Lagos from 17 - 21 April.  

How can I get in touch with you?
By e-mail: inke.arns@hmkv.de