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make art 2009

Gabriel Menotti

Featured image: make art is an international festival focusing on Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS), and open content in digital arts

make art, one of the world’s most important free and libre art events, happens far away from the European metropolis, in the small town of Poitiers. However, it does not represent an integral piece of the ville‘s agenda to favour cultural tourism and development, as we might suppose thinking of some Brazilian film festivals and even of Bilbao’s Guggenheim. If something is to blame, it should be the grassroots effort of the native GOTO10 collective.

The name might sound familiar because not long ago they were doing a series of workshops in the UK to introduce FLOSS tools using their own pure:dyne operational system – a GNU/Linux distribution for multimedia creation. Having received some funding from the Arts Council, pure:dyne recently grew in efficiency and popularity.

Personally, the first time I heard about GOTO10 was in 2006, at that year’s Piksel festival. Some of the group’s members were there for audiovisual performances. Yes, they are artists as well – in fact, on the same days of make art, the group was taking part in the Craftivism exhibition, in Bristol. And between producing events, engineering software and, well, making art, they also found time to publish a book.

As diverse as these projects might be, they can all be inferred from the GOTO10’s creative practice, in respect of their real time interaction with people (in workshops) and machines (in live coding, etc). Given the way make art, pure:dyne and the group’s performances are interconnected, we could see them as one and the same activity, extending itself to various platforms.

Placard's concert, make art 2009
Placard’s concert, make art 2009

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, similarly, GOTO10 is a poitou group that has been expanded to other parts of the world. But, now that it has members from Greece, the Netherlands, Taiwan and the UK, the localization of make art seems even more meaningful to the collective’s identity, hinting on where and why it started.

According to Thomas Vriet, one original member who is still in town and mainly responsible for make art production. The group first got together in 2003 to promote digital art performances, workshops and exhibitions in Poitiers – sharing thoughts and ideas on things they were interested in, but could not find in the local art scene or École de Beaux-Arts.

So, in the same way pure:dyne was developed to cope up with GOTO10’s own needs for a live operational system capable of realtime audiovisual processing, make art is the ideal festival they’d wish to attend in town. Both projects find their reason in the group’s artistic demands, and grew simultaneously from it: the inaugural version of the distro was released in 2005, right on time to be used in a workshop in the first make art the following year.

Even though make art’s production is concentrated locally, the event is curated online, by the whole of GOTO10. The other member directly implied in this year’s planning, Marloes de Valk, arrived from Amsterdam just in the first day of the festival. make art is a group initiative that cannot be isolated from the larger open source community – a circuit that includes not only artists and programmers, but other venues as well. It is from this sizeable repository that the pieces that constitute the event’s programme come from. The aforementioned Piksel, for instance, has previously contributed to make art with a special selection of Norwegian works, creating an unexpected interchange between Bergen and Poitiers.

Nethack & the Guardians of the Tradition, make art 2009
Nethack & the Guardians of the Tradition, make art 2009

Together with the different Pixelache editions, these festivals form an international calendar of FLOSS art events, closely committed to developments in technology and aesthetics that, in many senses, are far more interesting that the new media proofs-of-concept proliferating elsewhere. But how does such package of extraordinary themes work in the traditional platform of the French countryside?

Altogether, make art seems to be the right size for Poitiers – not too small to feel incomplete, neither too big to feel overwhelming. The night programme may put you off if you are on a budget and decided to stay in the youth hostel (like me): there are no buses to that area after 8pm, forcing you to endure a half hour walk through cold streets. Apart from that, the city space is very well occupied by the festival, with the exhibition and debates in the central Maison de l’Architecture and a couple performances in other venues, emphasizing the curatorial logic. Posters are everywhere in town, competing for attention with those from the film festival.

However, the participation of the poitou community seems very restricted. So far, no local project has ever been sent in response to make art’s call. It might be that the theme is still alien to most people. Not surprisingly, the activity that attracted the majority of local public was the debate “Internet, Freedom and Creation” – which, beyond dealing with themes of more general concern (digital freedoms and copyright), was in French.

One of the efforts to increase this involvement was to open free places in the Fork a House! workshop to local students. Student volunteers could also be found mediating the exhibition and assisting production.

Breakfast Club, make art 2009
Breakfast Club, make art 2009

In that sense, the project that seemed to make the most of the festival’s situation was the frugal Breakfast Club. The first of these morning talks hosted by Nathalie Magnan was especially refreshing after the highly technical presentations the day before. Complex subjects were re-discussed over croissants, bringing the tone and rhythm of the event closer to the atmosphere of the #makeart IRC channel (which sometimes was livelier than the physical space).

The priority of Breakfast Club was not transparent accessibility but dialogue. Less of a tutorial and more like the public forum an open-source project cannot really do without. It made things more understandable to a laymen’s audience; it made the whole festival experience more coherent, pointing to directions in which it should grow within the city’s everyday life and structure – without having to be included in Poitiers’ tourism department masterplans.