This happened, the Amsterdam edition #1

For the first time the Utrecht-based This happened event was organized in Amsterdam. In the Vlaams Cultuurhuis De Brakke Grond four speakers dived into the road to some beautiful projects. The venue did a great job to host a wonderful evening again, and the Amsterdam edition has proven already to be a good addition to the Utrecht ones. As always I like to share my thoughts on the talks, and who knows, a theme of the evening will emerge at the end.

The evening started with the project of Belgium collective Unfold called Kiosk, a mobile 3D printer especially made for the Salone Mobile in Milan. The installation wants to discuss the value of products, I guess, but the presentation focused – in the best tradition of This happened – on the developing of the product. In that sense it was interesting to see what iterations the Kiosk made, some earlier models were disapproved becaused it was not enough design. This is of course an interesting statement if you are fighting the concept of high brow design with the art installation.

In the Q&A an interesting discussion evolved around the realness of the prints. Not really important of course, they make a strong point I think to offer this new future of 3D printing in the heart of the design mekka. This idea behind the installation was a bit weakened as the presenter did emphasize the differences of the original and the print due to the quality of the prints.

The second speaker was Edo Paulus who showed the lovely project of SonOrb, a sound installation made for the Klankspeeltuin in the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw aimed at children aged 7 to 12. His inspiration was the insight that abstract electronic sound normally has not the direct relation with the playing as acoustic sound does. This installation tries to add a physical handling to abstract electronic sound.

Edo showed how he used a lot of low tech solutions to create his installation. This was both caused by the circumstances, but brings also an extra robustness with the easy to replace elements. It seems as if the most of his design choices were a kind of incident like the choosing for the ballerina balls, that fits the right weight and characteristics for the children, and also make it foolproof when thet kids throw the balls around. The execution of the ideas of Edo showed a nice way of craftmanship in buidling an appealing work. With the way he was thinking on the volumes and the composition of the modular system he showed a true designer.

What was a bit underexposed was the way the installation was used by the children. In the Q&A we learned that the children could not play by themselves, an supervisor is necessary to get better experiences on the one hand and prevent misuse. It would be interesting to see if it was possible to have the same installation in a complete open play mode. On the other hand was the quote of Edo in reaction very strong: you need a clear framework to play more freely.

The third speaker was Dimitri Nieuwenhuizen of LUSTlab. In contrary to the other speakers he made more of a lecture on his visions than a talk on what happened in the design proces, however he touched some important choices en passant. In that sense his talk resembles a lot the way Daan Roosegaarde presented once at This happened. If the speaker and the story is as strong as that of Daan and also Dimitri , it delivers a very nice experience though. In the talk the consequences of our move to an Internet of Things were clearly sketched and the project that was put central was Res Sapiens, a set of the cheapest IKEA lamps that have an emotion to it by its moves. The interesting part is the energy that moves the lamps, which is public data of the Internet. Data and form was the central theme of his presentation. The objects are a translator of the data to emotions, the objects become an interpreter and a hub between people via the data.

The most interesting part of this talk was triggered by the question Kars Alfrink asked on the role these research could play to shape this kind of emotional products that are fed with data, and this enhanced IKEA lamp may well be the future of our products.

This kind of intertwining of our real world and the digital space are definitely also part of the last project that was presented that evening. Tim Knapen showed his older project Godmode, an installation where all kind of drawings are translated to animated creatures. The device itself is an old copy machine equiped with beamer, digicam and computer. The interesting part is the way he made the algorithms for the translation from the drawings to animated creatures. He wanted to make something that could work for every drawing with hardly any restrictions. It was nice to see how he is inspired by the creatures of Theo Jansen, because I see some resemblance in the way Theo Jansen made algorithms to simulate evolution in order to find the perfect dimensions of the legs of its creatures. In that sense was the solution of Tim less sophisticated because it misses the self learning aspect. But the way the animation learns is beautiful. And so is the result.

Tim Knapen did a real This happened presentation both in the presenting of the working process and the road to the result. In this first Amsterdam edition we saw less variation in projects. No games or applied products, all the projects were well thought-through installations. That did not make it a weaker (or better) edition, it was interesting to see though.
All talks had a kind of relation to our emerging post digital world we are shifting into now, the code/space context we are living in. Post digital could be defined bluntly as the reversal of digital and reality: in stead of a digital world that copies reality is our real world more and more acting following the rules of the digital. The projects of Tim Knapen and LUSTlab are directly related to this, and the Kiosk of Unfold is of course the mirror for the believers of a superior real world. Edo Paulus mentioned it as his inspiration for his project; how to make the digital abstractness into a physical world. He showed a form of interfaces that will be an important first stage in our will to get in touch with our digital context.

The guys from This Happened (@kaeru, @ianus, @dmos) did again a wonderful job in orchestrating such hands-on tangible interpretation of the transformations we are experiencing in our digitized life. Hope to be present again at the next edition on March 30 in Utrecht or at a possible THAMS #2!

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Iskander Smit is an innovation director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting professor at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab, and chairman and organizer of ThingsCon Netherlands.

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