Lab Rats for Art
The Backup Festival Loungelab
> Gillian McIver
Take 16 very diverse art practitioners from different countries,
plus three novice administrators, and put them in a cavernous, cold,
former tram depot on the outskirts of a town in the heart of eastern
Germany and leave them there. Six days later, open the doors and
find an exhibition of collaborative works: installations
and media art filling the entire space with sound, light and performance
This was the audacious recipe for the 2002 BackUp Festival LoungeLab
in Weimar, Germany.
The BackUp Festival started in the mid-90s based around the
Bauhaus University (an art and media university), as a forum for
new media in film. Now it is one of the principal short
film festivals in Europe, showing a broad range of German and international
works over four days each November. The LoungeLab was originally
the café area of the festival, and showcased work by Bauhauss
art and design students.
In 2002 however, the organisers had another idea: make the LoungeLab
into a real lab and invite diverse artists to come and
experiment there: experiment with media, with collaborative processes,
with art forms, with themselves and with each other. The theme of
the project was Open Source Open Art? and questioned
where the concepts of open source as applied to software development
was also applicable to art, in other words, the experiment
of defining art as an open system, as open art.
At first sight the Strassenbahn(tram) depot was rather disconcerting:
we arrived there in the rain and found it to be empty and
given that it was November in Central Europe cold. But it
was a beautiful space: rough, unrenovated, high-ceilinged and textured
with many years of use and disuse.
The lab, it must be said, got off to a rather shaky start because,
despite weekly online preparatory chats, the artists did not know
each other. The initial process of just staying seated in the tram
depot for five or six-hour long meetings (with flip-chart) to discuss
ideas did not bear a lot of fruit and caused some frustration. The
introductory talk by Florian Cramer, got us thinking and talking
about the idea of open source, but talk did not seem to be leading
to action. The plan, understandably, was for us to get to know each
other and plan collaborations, but because of the vastly different
artistic methodologies, not to mention personalities, it did not
work out that way.
By the end of the second day, when some tempers were rather frayed,
about half of the artists repaired to a local pub and, as the bier
began to flow, frustrations began to be ironed out as we got to
know each other in a more informal environment. Natural alliances
and collaborations based on personal chemistry as much as ideas,
slowly began to develop, and over the next few days everyone poured
in an incredible amount of energy into sharing ideas, skills and
Weimar-based group Ikarus contributed to the icebreaking with their
project of cooking a meal, and encouraging us to cook, together
in the lab workspace. The shared environment of food and work served
to banish any lingering shyness or discomfort among the artist and
fuelled the dialogue of collaboration.
Different artists, based on their own practice, understandably had
different priorities in mind. For Luna Nera, as site-specific artists,
the site of the Strassenbahn depot and the immediate environment
was most important, along with questions about how to organise the
space for presentation of the works, as much as the process of making
the works themselves.
The processes developed over an intense three days, and as befits
a laboratory, the work was as experimental as possible.