In June 2020, the Media Lab and Google Arts & Culture Lab came together for Open Lab: Home Sprint, a 48-hour creative exchange between more than 40 artists and creative technologists. Although many of the participants, who came from 11 countries and five continents, had never met before, they quickly formed into interdisciplinary groups to collaborate across fields from choreography to engineering; photography to architecture; sound art to interaction design.
Before the sprint, 14 artists each proposed a project idea that responded to some of the challenges and questions raised by our current extraordinary times. Based on these proposals, the artists were each paired with a group of creative technologists, designers, and/or other artists, and given two days to develop their ideas, without ever sharing the same physical space. Future Sketches head Zach Lieberman oversaw the collaborations from the Media Lab side.
Through this process, the participants began to recreate in virtual space the serendipitous connections between disciplines and unexpected discoveries that characterize the physical spaces of both the MIT Media Lab and the Google Arts & Culture Lab, both of which are currently closed.
Explore a selection of projects below
Team: Artist Nick Ryan in collaboration with Nikhil Singh, Irmandy Wicaksono + Leticia Izquierdo
Summary: What does a continent sound like? The N Dimensional Audio Project explores the concept of large-scale citizen led audio capture and imagines how millions of microphones could be used to gather sound across vast windows of time and space.
Quote: “The Open Lab Sprint immediately replaced any sense of physical distance, time zone differences, or lockdown isolation with inspiration, discourse, and creativity, and the chance to imagine new things with experts in diverse fields. We all felt this rapid outpouring of creativity will illuminate many future avenues for us a group, and as individuals, long into the future…”—Nick Ryan
Team: Jakarta-based collective Ruangrupa-GUDSKUL, in collaboration with Aruna Sankaranarayanan, Eyal Perry, + Prathima Muniyappa
Summary: Together, we initiated a dream-sharing platform, reflecting our common interests in making possible a social platform for sharing that is unproductive and slow.
Quote: “This experience has brought some new realizations for us in Gudskul. We started with the question of revisiting nongkrong in a virtual platform, and came out with something totally different from what the answer could be. A new research and development wing in Gudskul, called GudR+D, was born out of this Sprint.”—farid rakun, artist, Ruangrupa
Team: Artist Rohini Devasher in collaboration with Harshit Agrawal
Summary: The Pocket Observatory is an application that will allow users to explore the two faces of the sky, the constants of the night sky and the transforming objects of the atmosphere.
Quote: “What drew me strongly to the Google Arts & Culture Open Labs was the possibility of exploring what this moment in our planet’s history means for now and for what is to come. Mental health and well being were on my mind, specifically ways in which to create a sense of the collective, of connection and community. I came into the open labs asking if ideas of deep time and wonder could offer ways of understanding our planet as constantly evolving construct, combining the study of what we know, what we imagine, and what we hope for our future on it and with it. Over the course of the two days through intense and invigorating conversations with my collaborator Harshit Agrawal we came to the conclusion that it was! Our project, the Pocket Observatory, suggests that at this time we are all observers and that observation can be an immensely active and hopeful space.”—Rohini Devasher
Team: Artist Sumayya Vally in collaboration with Tomas Sanchez + Aaron Montoya Moraga
Summary: From an initial exploration into creating a democratic archive of the everyday of a city created by thousands of voices, we developed the brief of the project to allow deeper questions of democratizing and empowering the processes of collecting different forms of atmosphere and data of a place. Each device is linked, and can be communicated through—first to a broader community of other devices, and then to an online database of shared information. This device can become a powerful form of understanding place and empowering people.
Quote: “A venture into a shared space and the opportunity of a space to develop a project with two incredible artists and thinkers became a form of community, inspiration, and refuge for me during this time of isolation.”—Sumayya Vally
Team: Artist Matthew Burrows in collaboration with Matt Groh
Summary: We set out to explore technologies to streamline the mechanics and aid the growth of the Artist Support Pledge (ASP). We wanted to replicate the patterns of behaviour of the ASP ethos and culture and build that into the system where codes of conduct are integral to its working processes. We came up with the idea of creating a discover or stumbleupon function, using the algorithms to create opportunity for all members of the ASP community. Next steps are to evolve a website that works alongside Instagram. This will support diverse communities and enable people to seek inspiration on what to buy, search for specific artists and themes, discover new work and manage finances.
Quote: “The nature of the interdisciplinary collaboration and insights of both the Google and MIT Media Lab teams has been totally catalytic. MIT’s Matthew was immediately able to understand the philosophy and ethos of ASP, and then consider how we might exploit technology to maintain its integrity. He provided such clever technological equivalents to the culture and ethos, to enable us to create a more equitable and sustainable model.”—Matthew Burrows
Team: Stephen Tayo, in collaboration with Nicolas Ayoub + Aishni Parab
Summary: An augmented Google Street View that provides users a more sensory experience of places; working with artists to bring cityscapes to life using sound, image, smell, and stories. Users choose between active and passive engagement to either experience the sensory imprint of a place or contribute their own response to it.
Team: Artist Martial Geoffre Rouland in collaboration with Ani Liu
Summary: During the intense anxiety and isolation of the quarantine, individuals singing together from their balconies emerged as an emotional balm and act of solidarity. Imagining new ways to expand on this magical collective experience beyond geographical borders, we are creating an online application where individuals can join a collective musical performance. Inspired by real-life concerts in which a singer dynamically reacts to the mood of the audience, the music will be generated by the emotional state of the audience. Each user’s sentiment will be analyzed through computer vision, and translated into corresponding audio attributes that match the mood. Reflecting and dynamically responding to the collective emotional state of the audience, the project aims to soothe and bring individuals together, while emphasizing our global common culture at a time of great global unrest.
Quote: “Martial and I were brainstorming about how to bring people together during quarantine. How might we create meaningful connections outside of the fatigue of typical video calls? We became inspired by the power of music to soothe, heal, and bring people together. We designed this project to compose unique music inspired by the facial expressions of each participant. Then, together, these individuals create a greater symphony that may reflect on a global collective feeling. Eventually, we would like to utilize machine learning to get better at making music that complements your mood. For now, we want to offer this space as an opportunity for visitors to feel their feelings, and feel their feelings collectively with humans from around the world.”—Ani Liu
Team: Artist Krystle Wright, in collaboration with Joao Henrique Wilbert, Judith Amores, + Nan Zhao
Summary: There are still secrets embedded in Mother Nature, and as our world continues to face extreme situations, our group wanted to create a platform that allows us to investigate these phenomena through a balance of science and art. Through innovative filming strategies, not only would we create valuable data to further educate ourselves in the mysteries of nature, but also strive to create empathy in our audience by sensory experience.
Quote: “The path of an artist can often feel lonely and when there is a unique opportunity to gather artists from around the world, I personally felt beyond excited as it sparked such a creative force.”—Krystle Wright
Team: Artist Ben Cullen Williams in collaboration with Adam Haar Horowitz + Guadalupe Babio
Summary: To create a living and growing digital space for the communal sharing of grief and loss by using voice and sound to generate unique visual digital bodies, which combine the auditory and visual to create digital offerings for the space. The space then becomes a repository, in a state of constant transition that can be explored and added to by the user, who is able to take solace in knowing that they are not alone in their process of grieving.
Quote: “Open Lab harnesses a way of working that should be our modus operandi. I believe that only through working across disciplines and through the encouragement of cross pollination will we get closer to solving many of the vast challenges that the world now faces. Prosperity is mutual exchange.”—Ben Cullen Williams