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ZER01SJ Festival 2010

My Role: Space Designer
Timeframe: September 2010
Organization Site: http://growbotgarden.com
[This article is cross-published at growBotGarden.com.]

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September 6-19th, 2010

South Hall Convention Center, 01SJ Biennial, San Jose, CA

The growBot Garden team was pleased to accept an artist commission for North America’s premiere arts and technology festival, the 2010 01SJ Biennial in San Jose, California.

The theme of the festival was Build Your Own World, and we participated in the “Out of the Garage, Into the World” (“OOTG”) exhibition, where dozens of artist groups transformed an empty 80,000 square foot tent “garage” into spaces for “exhibition, performance, provocation, and interaction.” [01SJ.org OOTG.] Over the course of the two week festival, we offered a series of participatory design workshops centered around the question: How Can Robotics and Sensing Impact Small-Scale Agriculture?

Installation & Setup: September 6-10, 2010

The installation process was immersive, intense, and open to the public video. As nearby construction crews built bleachers, artist groups worked around the clock to construct their spaces from scratch, utilizing on-site heavy machinery and materials shipped in from around the globe. Interspersed with these construction efforts, our setup team interacted with passersby, gave interviews, and sourced items we’d need for our workshops from nearby stores.

The setup team arrived tasked with transforming a 20′ by 25′ slab of concrete into a temporary space for the Public Design Workshop, the project studio that houses the growBot Garden projects. Our parameters were strict: our budget was $1,500, we had to create a space to house 4 individual workshops, and we aimed to create zero waste by utilizing objects and materials that could easily be given away at the end of our two-week sojourn in California.

Upon seeing the expansive garage space, filled with large-scale artist installations, our setup team decided to create a cozy, colorful nook, complete with a ‘kitchen table’ in the center of an arcing series of pegboards and tables that held materials for each project. We aimed to create an inviting space that would entice 01SJ festivalgoers to interact with our team, transforming on the fly between vignette and active workshop.

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A series of pegboards were painted with homemade chalkboard paint, and then mounted to temporary pipe structures with twine. The pipes were left whole so they could be returned to the hardware store and reused – we later shipped the pegboards to our lab in Atlanta.

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A ‘kitchen’ table area encouraged participants to sit, draw, and chat over passive-brewed sun tea – pitcher shown here empty.

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“Conceptual” sandwiches were served daily as part of creating a hospitable environment for conversation. Temperature-stable ingredients – Southern ham and California avocado – were grilled between slices of Bay Area sourdough bread for passersby.

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Materials at the ready included hand-crafted lapboards for drawing. [More images of materials]

Workshops & Public Exhibition: September 11-19, 2010

The rest of the team arrived on Friday, September 11th to begin an eight-day series of participatory design workshops. Participants were recruited using social media and emails; reservations were made via the 01SJ website. Admission to the “OOTG” exhibit was free until the official launch of the 01SJ four day festival, when visitors could choose between $5 “garage-only” admission or comprehensive event tickets ($25/day, $45/festival).

Our team divided our time between public interactions and active workshops during the 11am-7pm timeframe that “OOTG” was open. Initially, we set our workshop timeframes from 2-5pm, but later shifted our strategy to accommodate participants’ schedules.

Participants chose from a range of workshops, either via their online reservation, or by consensus when they arrived. Each workshop followed a similar 7 step structure developed over the course of the growBot Garden Project. While the methodology was consistent, each workshop focused on a different facet of the core inquiry: How Can Robotics and Sensing Impact Small-Scale Agriculture?

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Workshop 1: Municipal Systems for Autonomous Agricultural Production Within Co-opted Non-Compliant Spaces. (seed bombing blimps)

A participatory design effort to explore the creation and uses of autonomous systems for crop deployment, dispersment, tending, and harvesting as a means of remediation of existing undesignated and forgotten terrains. How can organic materials be used in the reclamation and beautification of space?

Seedbombing and urban agriculture was the topic of the workshop whimsically entitled “Municipal Systems for Autonomous Agricultural Production Within Co-Opted Non-Compliant Spaces.” The workshop explored seedbombing as an interventionist practice for reclaiming one’s own surroundings. Participants designed and built mechanisms for seed distribution systems using weather balloons, toy robots, and remote-controlled blimps and cars.

The workshop brought a variety of participants ranging from people with an interest in guerilla gardening to young children with interests in creation and invention. While the adult crowd seemed to enjoy themselves, surprisingly, it was the children, ages 6 to 10 who really seemed inspired and amazingly uninhibited with the task of designing for their own environments; creating some of the most interesting and usable of the designs produced by the workshop.

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Workshop 2: Sheep’s Clothing (camouflaging sensors)

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Specifically looking at sensor technologies as applied to mushroom foraging, the project is founded on the hypothesis that the aesthetics of agricultural technology directly impacts cultivation through their perceived use, and designers are positioned to change farming techniques by rethinking aesthetics. In this participatory design workshop, sensor housings will be created to promote monitoring of urban mushroom growth.

Sheep’s Clothing ran four complete workshops during the 01SJ Biennial. With roughly 30 attendees, workshop participants ranged from a large class of elementary school students to a small group of experienced designers.

Workshops consisted of two parts. First, a short walk around San Jose showed participants opportunities for harvesting mushrooms in the urban environment and formed the basis for their designs. After the walk, a rapid brainstorming and prototyping phase took place, in which participants discussed, created, and presented their designs for camouflaged sensor housings. From these sessions, the designs were iterated upon again, this time by one of growBot team, who produced 3D models and demo videos further illustrating the participants’ ideas.

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Workshop 3: Food Are Here (mapping for foragers)

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Urban environments are home to edible fruits and vegetables that often go unnoticed and uneaten. How can technology – in particular mobile mapping – be used to support this community and practice? how can this research support the public participatory design of a map documenting other environmental issues like pollution and blight?

Food Are Here played out as both workshops and informal conversations with a dozen or so mappers and foragers from the Bay Area and beyond. In the workshops, participants used the Google My Maps Editor on G1 mobile phones running Android to map instances of food found in the urban environment (which included lemons, limes, ripees, and more). This exercise tested how well the application met the needs of the practice, while sparking our imaginations as to how it could be improved. The many informal conversations that resulted were just as fruitful – we discussed the future of edible landscapes in urban environments, guerrilla grafting, community gardens, and the kind of grassroots infrastructure we’d want our mapping application to support.

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Workshop 4: Cheese Computing (cheese + computation = ???)

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Cheese exists in a constant state of change as bacteria and molds grow in response to contingent environmental conditions, ever-shifting its taste, appearance and identity. This on-going development of a cheese can be tracked with simple sensing technologies, producing an abundance of data – how can we use it?

The Cheese Computing display was set up to demonstrate the ways we might combine computational media with food. While it’s certainly playful, it is also a earnest experiment of sorts, starting a design research project by asking “what are the qualities of these mediums and what are they capable of?”. Over the course of the 01SJ event, dozens of attendees stopped by to ask questions about cheese computing – Was this serious? Was this real? Why would anyone want to do this? In general the display prompted fantastic conversations that ranged from the whimsical – “Could we really use cheese as the basis of artificial intelligence?” to the pragmatic – “So how might you actually use sensors to aid in cheese production?”

Breakdown: September 19-20, 2010

After hundreds of conversations, dozens of workshop participants, and scores of ideas, the growBot Garden team broke down the entire event space within a matter of hours – giving away materials to passersby, returning a few key items to hardware stores, and donating craft supplies to a local school. Workshop collateral and other items were shipped back to the Public Design Workshop lab at Georgia Tech.

My Role

• Space Designer
• Logistics Coordinator
• Budget Nazi
• Hamcado Sandwich Maker
• Problem Solver
• Originator of growBot Concept

Numbers

• $1,500 budget
• 18 days in California
• 10 Ham Croissant Breakfasts
• 6 visits to Lowes
• 2 visits from local authorities
• 1 severely damaged finger