I met Gerard and Raul in Linz, Austria last year at Ars Elektronika – they were setting up their project and I heard them speaking Catalan, it turned out that we all lived in Barcelona. Their presentation was hilarious as they explained how different technology is the most important technology depending on the situation – so one of those pens with many colours is the best tech on a Friday night as it enables people to copy the entrance “stamps” of a disco on their arms when they have no money. These guys are true “lifehackers”… they also made the “Golden Nica” I’m holding in my avatar picture.
(btw the video was recorded on skype over their mobile after all other attempts failed…)
Gerard Rubio and Raul Nieves are part of the blablabLAB collective and are currently Artists in Residence at Hangar in Barcelona. They formed the collective about 4 years ago. Gerard says that they have a cheap life, but have a lot of time, which is like their financial currency. They invest that time in acquiring knowledge which they then use to create projects and also to hold workshops to transfer the knowledge. Their latest workshop is on how to build a 3D printer, a printer which can print another printer. This workshop comes out of a project blablabLAB did on Las Ramblas in Barcelona called Be Your Own Souvenir which, unlike most of their projects, has given them the chance to earn some money.
Their projects are normally funded but most of the money goes on production costs. For example Haberlandt – “a vending machine for food crops, a bio-reactor for growing a superfood—Arthrospira platensis micro-algae—and an automated avant-cuisine machine”, had funding of 650€ but later it, and Be Your Own Souvenir, won honorary mentions in the prestigious Prix Ars Eletronika which funded a trip to Linz to exhibit the projects with further production. Haberlandt became very well known online and they received lots of offers to exhibit and began travelling and made some money from the project, something which normally doesn’t happen in Spain.
Any money they get goes back into the projects, so the aim is to break even. They usually begin with little or no investment, using materials from the trash like broken 3D printers. Although it is a limitation, it has created an ecosystem for them and meant that they learned new skills and gained new knowledge. blablabLAB is not a hobby, Raul says, but at the moment they have time and don’t need to earn a living from it. For now they are supported financially by their parents, do some jobs and get scholarships so have time to grow in exactly the direction they want. Later they will try to make a living from blablabLABs, although they think it will be hard. Both feel that the time they’ve invested in learning, acquiring skills and experimenting is beginning to pay off and they are getting more workshops and offers.
Reusing materials means that production costs are lower but they also see it as a political choice – reusing before recycling before trashing. I asked them about how far the Haberlandt project had come, it being an example of the blablabLAB ecosystem. They explain that the algae they generated in Linz was eaten by Gerard and during the winter they had about 3 litres of a hibernating culture which now needs to be grown. They are in contact with an active network of Spirulina growers in Catalonia but the main idea is to keep a little algae in case they need to take it somewhere for an exhibition. Raul explains that they have a meeting scheduled with the El Bulli Foundation of the renowned chef Ferran Adrià to talk about Haberlandt as well.
I asked if the crisis in Spain is creating more interest in the kind of things they do. Gerard replies that he thinks there’s more interest in the way they produce because it’s very economical and more people are going to be reusing stuff because they won’t have enough money to buy new things. They both feel there’s going to be a return to how things were done in the past – things that our grandparents did and ways of living, these ways of doing things disappeared, probably due to people having money, but they are coming back. They don’t feel that have set a precedent, more that things are becoming more like the way they work. So far the crisis hasn’t affected them very much, but they are more excited than scared about it. Things were already bad, but now people are seeing it and there is a chance for change – things like consumers cooperatives organising and buying produce direct from farmers and cutting out all the intermediaries, “these things are accelerating and being pushed very far”, says Raul. They are “very interested in the structures, human relationships, sociology and economic structures that can emerge.”
They see that the use of 3D printers can make a change in manufacturing and production, although it’s hard to predict how large, and point out that it’s important to create self aware communities of users who understand the issues around the use of the printers and don’t just create more environmental problems. Many manufacturers of 3D printers just want to sell large volumes and they see that open-source producers have more interest in the larger issues. They hope that someone will start a small business with the printers maybe creating jewellery or something similar.
Both Gerard and Raul admit that they do not have a good social media “policy”, citing the amount of blablabLAB things and other commitments such as studying and work, and feel they should take more advantage of the opportunities social media offers. They are heavy users of the Internet, checking out and following RepRap 3D printer developers for real time updates for example. Usually when they are working on a project they are just too busy and stressed.