“Future Tools” was the title of the 8th edition of the Libre Graphics Meeting (http://libregraphicsmeeting.org/) that this year took place from April 10 to 13 at the new Media Lab Prado In Madrid (http://medialab-prado.es). For the first time, the title of the meeting not only pointed to the search for new tools for Open Graphics & Publishing, but also emphasized the need to extend the use of FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) to the wider population of users. There were lots of innovative elements this year. Among them, the most important was no doubt the fact that the meeting took place at the same time as Interactivos?’13: Tools for a Read-Write World (http://medialab-prado.es/article/future_tools).
Between April 9 and April 27, illustrators, graphic designers, writers, artists, researchers, and programmers had the opportunity to work in Madrid side by side to the developers of new tools. Interactivos? is a research platform that has created several international networks since 2006. This platform made it possible to many practitioners to engage in a comprehensive discussion on the creative and educational uses of FLOSS software. This discussion was open to the public and it was not based on the model of the traditional workshop or on the typical relation student/teacher where the expert gives instructions and the students learn and execute. Interactivos? is based on a continuous exchange of information among all the participants to the workshop, no matter what their role or skills are. The goal is to experiment with software and hardware for the arts, design, and education, thus contributing to the development of an increasing number of communities in this sector.
These two weeks in Madrid were organized within the program Libre Graphic Research Unit (http://lgru.net/) in collaboration with the Media Lab Prado, Constant (Bruxelles, Belgium – http://www.constantvzw.org/site/), Worm (Rotterdam, the Netherlands – http://www.worm.org/) and Piksel (Bergen, Norway – http://www.piksel.no/). The proposals, selected by an international call and developed during these two weeks, were introduced for the first time to the public during the Libre Graphics Meeting. In line with the spirit of the meeting, the first four days saw a considerable number of presentations and projects originating not only from those original software communities who had initiated this event in 2006, namely: GIMP, Blender, Inkscape, Scribus; but also from Fedora design suite, from Libre Graphics Magazine, Krita and Krita sketch, Forgefont, Laidout, the project Kune, G’Mic, Mikado and many more.
Femke Snelting, a Brussels-based artist, member of the OSP collective (Open Source Publishing – http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/blog/about), involved with the Constant research center, and organizer of the project Libre Graphic Research Unit, wisely moderated these brief presentations. The aim of the presentations was well beyond showing the software state-of-the-art. They were rather conceived to ignite a reflection on their developments, to initiate a critical dialogue and possible collaborations.
Three themes appeared to shape and guide the entire meeting. A first issue emerged as part of the education systems that intend to disseminate free and open source software. On the very first day, Brandan Howell proposed the project Pycessing (http://pycessing.org/), a tool that allows non-experienced users to learn the python language without having to acquire other previous programming skills. The dissemination of touch screen interfaces allows immediate access to different devices that would normally be very complex to use. This factor tends to shy away the user from learning and understanding the programming languages that underlie these devices. What made the satellite laboratory, promoted by Aymeric Mansoux and other instructors from the Willem de Kooning Academy of Rotterdam (http://www.wdka.nl/), particularly interesting were its awareness of the increasing complexity of information systems vis-à-vis and the poor distribution of FLOSS software. This meeting proposed to create a series of schools or research groups interested in sharing methods and instruments for the education in art and design. The teaching environment at the Rotterdam Academy is certainly an exception in Europe: in fact, it is the only one that has fully embraced FLOSS software. This is why the idea of creating a network to promote –or even discuss– this educational option at an international level was a challenge that many other organizations welcomed enthusiastically.
The second theme proposed during the meeting was related to the recent transformations of the editorial industry and graphic design. In her presentation “Printed Books versus eBooks; What we will use DTP for in the future” Claudia Krummenacher addressed the two different approaches that form the foundations of the digital format on the one hand, and the printed press on the other. For the former the text is a continuous flux that requires a liquid design that hardly agrees with the standards of the printed press. So far, graphic designers have been forced to distinguish between two different types of designs, since FLOSS software do not usually allows easy conversion between the two formats. However, many pointed out that it was necessary to create more compatibility between the two modes of design.
This critical aspect leads us to the third theme. This is a much broader theme that emerged during different debates and presentations: it consists of a push towards better communication between different FLOSS software. Tom Lechner (Laidout)’s Shareable Tools (http://tomlechner.com/) and Ale Rimoldi’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe (http://ideale.ch/) in particular constantly went back to this theme, but it constituted a sheer presence during pretty much the entire organization of the meeting. Developing Free and Open Source software can’t occur without dealing with choice, freedom, and the inclusion of different communities. The three discussions organized at the end of each day appeared to converge on these issues.
During the first day, Joaquín Rodríguez, author of the book “El potlatch digital” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/8437628830), provided an introductory and detailed sociological analysis of the Wikipedia community. This phenomenon, he pointed out, partially emerged from the free initiative of some committed users. However, it also initiated some ritualistic mechanism able to define the meaning and the role, often even the power of a few users. This double element often hinders the participation of a broader spectrum of users.
During day two, Christopher Kelty, author of “Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software and the Internet” (http://www.amazon.com/Two-Bits-Cultural-Significance-Software/dp/0822342642), specified the notions of freedom and participation. These notions were extremely important for the social, cultural, and technological development of the Internet in the past two decades. From Free and open source software and crowdsourcing to peer-to-peer production, these two notions justify a great deal of activity and projects. At the same time, these concepts are in turn remodeled by new practices and technologies, sometimes to promote an ideological direction, sometimes to make sense of the practical challenges created by new technologies in a global economy. During his talk, Kelty discussed how freedom and participation can be interpreted as a guidance towards new technological practices and how some projects were able to succeed while others did not manage to develop these two aspects in their full potentials.
During the last talk, Kat Braybrooke, drawing on the experience of the Open Design Working Group, presented a project of collaboration with the focusing on Open Design. The project proposes new ways to realize in practice the two concepts that Kelty had previously analyzed. It consists of a collaborative drafting of a manifesto able to underline the complexities and differences of Open Design, and to clarify its paradigms and aspiration towards openness.
In general, the body of workshops, meetings, and seminars of this four-day Libre Graphics Meeting were conceived to make it possible for the participants to engage in collaborations and exchanges among the most disparate actors. In contrast to the previous years, graphic designers and programmers were able to find more common points of discussion and research.
The entire project continued to develop until the end of April. Such a rich laboratory coincided with the opening of the new Media Lab Prado, a large space that extends over the three floors of an ex-factory. Marcos Garcia and Laura Fernandez coordinated the organization internally with limited resources and budget, due to the crisis.
A few weeks ago an open call for nominations was distributed to nominate the new artistic director of the center. The activities for the next few months will be numerous. In fact, there are many other programs beyond Interactivos:? “Inclusiva.net”, including research and reflections on network culture; “Visualizar”, instruments and strategies for data visualization; “Commons Lab”, an interdisciplinary discussion on common goods; “AVLAB”, audio-video and creation of sound; “Fachada digital”, a project of integration and reflection on public space. Despite the economic constraints, the activities organized in this new space have very promising and interesting developments. We are looking forward to the imminent nomination of the artistic director.