on Fri, 21 Apr 2000 09:42:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Visit to the Makrolab

Key concepts:  Makrolab station,, weather 
stations, Slovenia, Australia, environmentalism, Ladomir 
Faktura ideology, adorable quokkas

Attention Conservation Notice:  Involves Eastern European 
performance art and is narrated by an Australian.  Over 
1,400 words.

Entries in the Greenhouse Disaster Symbol contest:
This contest expires May 31, 2000.

Links:  Nifty net toys.  WARNING: attention-hogs of the 
first order:
The blazingly-popular Soda Constructor now has its own 
A Java-based, dynamic-systems, gravity simulator toy:
There's a Tetris game in Rhode Island that's 30 meters 

(((Here's the unlikely, entertaining tale of a cybergreen 
mobile Slovenian installation in rural Australia.  
I've already been getting email from *within* this 
Makrolab device, so I'm pleased to learn what they've been 
up to.)))

From:^^** (Graham Mann)
Subject: A Visit to Makrolab II


Interestingly futuristic outing on Monday, when I and my 
friend Indulis Bernsteins from IBM visited Makrolab II on 
Rottnest Island. This is a high-tech, art-science project 
designed by Slovenian designer Marko Peljan, whom I met 
last week. He invited us to visit his installation, which 
has been there since Feb 5, 2000. 

    Rottnest is a holiday resort, much loved by  teenagers 
trying to escape parental supervision, fishermen, urban 
escapees, and Japanese tourists. It's a dry, scrubby, 
ponded place with names out of a pirate story: Fishook 
Bay, Lookout Hill, Parakeet Island.

    On shore, we knock back coffee-and-apricot-muffins in 
an Italian cafe franchise. The smog surrounding the 
distant Perth city skyscrapers is very evident from this 
distance; the place is turning into Los Angeles. After 
replacing batteries in some of our digital equipment from 
the small general store, we bicycle nine km along the 
single winding road, past  ancient lighthouses, stinking 
pink lakes and WWII gun emplacements, to  the west end of 
the island, Cape Vlamingh, where the lab is situated.  
(Viridians can come along with us on a "virtual bike" at 

   The terrain is sun-blasted low scrub, and kind of 
hilly. We out-of-shape terminal jockeys are soon puffing 
from the exertion. Three brown furry "quokkas"  == pocket 
sized kangaroo-oid marsupials == jump us during a rest 
stop on the road. They are evidently used to being a photo 
opportunity for passing sucker tourists. They're all over 
the island. When William Vlamingh first came ashore in 
1696, he thought the island was a nest of huge rats == and 
named the island accordingly. 

    These three quokkas can smell the fresh bread we have 
in our packs and want some, but the local  ecologists say 
it's bad to feed them. The quokkas look disappointed when 
they realise we are that environmentally correct. 

      Makrolab II is a Gibsonesque hexagonal prism 
bristling with antennae  and weather instruments.  It was 
shipped onto the island in a Seatainer, then plugged into 
communications networks and satellite links. It produces 
its own power, recycles its water, and supports a crew of 
up to seven.

     The Makrolab is funded by arts organisations, 
including the Art Gallery of Western Australia (for more 
on the entire "Home" exhibition, see plus government and 
commercial organisations such as the Ministrstvo za 
Kulturo Republike Slovenije and IBM Slovenia. Lubljana may 
well end up being the new Prague.  These guys are serious 
European longhair virtual intellectuals. 

       We clank up the metal steps, and bang on the 
laminated ribbed plastic hull. A shadowy figure asks us to 
step back. A section of the hull hisses upwards on smooth 
pneumatic pistons. 

      Marko  greets us warmly. He's a handsome modern 
central European with striking blue eyes.  He is at home 
on the boundaries between art, science, engineering and 
design. After reading a poem by the visionary Russian poet 
Klebnikov, he developed the notion of "Ladomir Faktura" - 
roughly, "process of living in harmony and peace". Project 
Atol is his not-for-profit legal/funding framework for art  

     Makrolab II is a "processual work-machine" on a ten-
year tour of the planet's remote locations, studying their 
telecommunications, animal migration and weather patterns. 

     The only other person here today is Thomas Mulcaire 
== a lanky, relaxed performance artist from Capetown. It 
is, of course, fairly difficult to maintain a long-term, 
unpaid crew in remote locations, so the lab tends to be a 
bit understaffed. Indulis is soon engaged in a brisk 
conversation with Thomas about the energy systems on the 
station. They are glad of the fresh food and drink we hand 
over == the lab is well into its four months of stored 
provisions. Thomas says they hope to provide green 
vewgetables,  installing hydroponic gardens in the lighted 
cavities between the outer walls and inner insulation 

     One entire side panel of lab is open, forming a sort 
of porch. There's a fine view of the Indian Ocean. We sit 
in blue plastic directors chairs on a metal mesh balcony, 
sipping herbal tea, enjoying the view. The 2880W solar 
photovoltaic bank can easily supply the electrical needs 
of the  entire station, even without the extra 90W wind 
generator. Thomas says there's zero inconvenience, though 
the windmill's a bit noisy at night.

      Beneath us are a 950 litre fresh water tank and a 
900 litre liquid waste tank. Don't get them mixed up. 

     We talk over the difficulties of getting complete 
recycling working on a small scale.

      Marko turns on his laptop to show off his cool STS-
plus satellite spotting program. It announces that MIR is 
directly overhead. We can't see it, but it's cool to know 
it is up there == and the cosmonauts on board are probably 
busy shooting a feature movie. Marko had previously been 
in contact with MIR by radio, but they normally only 
listen when the space station is over Europe (that station 
is understaffed at present as well). 

       Marko has had trouble getting the local bureaucrats 
to recognise his Slovenian amateur radio licenses, and he 
doesn't want to provoke them with any illegal 
transmissions. He cannot keep up with the demand for 
photos,  news interviews, admin support, science data. He 
tells me that crew from an earlier roster == now departed 
== had collected data, but have not yet posted it. It was 
promised "real soon now". Science activities are at a 
lower priority than the the self-contained power, water 
and food systems. 

      In a few days a sound artist named Cartsen Nicolai 
will arrive. Thomas  puts on Cartsen Nicolai CD. Lots of 
ambient communications hiss, crackle and beep; here in 
Makrolab, it seems as natural as the waves crashing on the 
beach. When the conversation turns to novel ways of 
displaying or representing the weather data, I suggest 
that they have Nicolai convert it into music.

      There's an excellent website which you should check 
out, which has the  complete skinny on Project Atol and 
its history.  The Makrolab I evidently  made quite a 
splash at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany in 1997 - because 
the the actual lab was placed in a forest outside the 
town, and a lot of visitors had no idea where all those 
transmissions and images were coming from.  The website 
features manifestos, considerable technical details about 
the lab itself, live feeds from webcams and instruments, 
weird improv poetry/webraving, pictures and some profiles 
of the regular crew. This is at 
Well worth a browse. 

      What's the significance of this?  Makrolab is 
modelling a new kind of activity, sitting astride the 
traditional (read: 20th century) disciplinary divides. 
Their presence at Rottnest is high-impact in the realm of 
information, yet low-profile in the physical environment. 
This is a desirable combination for the future modus 
vivendi. We need positive examples that show human 
activity moving away from landscape destruction into 
information refineries: exchanging news, sharing artforms, 
telling stories, collecting useful data, constructing 
working models of  dynamic energy flows. 

     It's no accident that the Makrolab has been likened 
to a spaceship. Like a spaceship, it needs to support its 
occupants without drawing on the local, ubiquitous, 
market-oriented, oversupply of consumer goods. It moves to 
different locations to sample different weather patterns, 
animal movements and datascapes which Earth has to offer. 
It depends on  state-of the-art technology to function. 
And it occasionally spooks and mystifies passers-by as an 
out-of-the-ordinary manifestation of tomorrow. 

     Next stop for Makrolab is somewhere in the highlands 
of Scotland, where Marko wants to test the station in 
cold-weather conditions. He now wants me to 1) come over
again and participate in a satellite tele-conference to 
Slovenia at 3am on  Good Friday  2) sign on as one of the 
science crew in the planned 2007  deployment of Makrolab 
in Antarctica. I might just take him up on these. 


Graham Mann

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