From: Bruce Sterling []
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2000 2:24 PM
To: Viridian List
Subject: Viridian Note 00149: 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 website: A Java-based, dynamic-systems, gravity simulator toy: There's a Tetris game in Rhode Island that's 30 meters tall:

(((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 performances.

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 blankets.

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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