“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 activity.

This was the audacious recipe for the 2002 BackUp Festival LoungeLab in Weimar, Germany.

The BackUp Festival started in the mid-90’s 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 Bauhaus’s 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 practical work.

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


Unbekannt/Unknown - installation from Buchenwald 2.
LoungeLab artists
Madhouse - installaiton by Gillian McIver, Pearl Gluck, Julian
Ronnefeldt, Dijgital Riot
Event: The Backup Festival Loungelab
Weimar, Germany
Time: November, 2002
Words: Gillian McIver
Photos: Sandrine Albert
Backup Festival : http://www.backup-festival.com
Luna Nera : http://www.luna-nera.org
Ikarus: http://www.dofly.de
Dijgital Riot: http://www.dijgitalriot.de
Artificial Paradises http://www.1010.co.uk/
Micz Flor http://mi.cz/
Dfuse http://www.dfuse.com
Pearl Gluck http://www.divan-thecouch.com