School of machines, making & make–believe

How can we use performance and speculative prototyping to construct alternative visions in times of political uncertainty?

  • / 31. July - 25. August 2017

  • / four weeks, full-time in Berlin, Germany

  • / 10-15 participants accepted

  • / Based in ACUD MACHT NEU


Throughout life, we’re often called upon to reimagine a better world or a different kind of future yet we’re given very few methods, models, or tools for doing so in constructive ways. “Our visions for the future are often colonized by mainstream imagery,” says Jim Dator, director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. The flying cars and other tropes being served through Hollywood films only provide meagre forums for constructing alternative visions while the need for dealing with political uncertainty has rarely been greater.

Live-action scenarios have been used for a long time by groups as diverse as psychologists, think-tanks, civilian emergency management and the police and military for training and evaluation.

These simulation techniques can also successfully be adapted and augmented to serve as design prototyping tools, allowing artists and designers to investigate, experiment, propose, and test interactions and scenarios that unfold and iterate over time.

In our own work we translate those approaches into other forms, attempting to introduce them to audiences in more accessible ways with the ultimate goal of democratizing them.

Course Description

This course will use live-action role playing (LARPing) techniques, transforming them into prototyping tools for artists and designers that are as performative as they are productive, catering to a wide range of interests.

We will learn how to conceive and actualize future scenarios through a looped process of simulation and speculative prototyping, turning them into valuable tools that will allow us to investigate, experiment, and develop provocative ideas for engaging complex social, ecological, technological and ethical issues.

Participants will learn how to conceive and actualize future scenarios, while gaining an understanding of fabrication processes in order to create objects to enhance the believability of our created world.

Key parts of the curriculum will be an introduction to live-action methods such as progressive LARPing by an experienced game-writer, an introduction to speculative design methods, a field-trip to a simulation site, lectures by researchers, rapid fabrication techniques and weekly readings.

Together, this will allow us to conceptualize, and prototype alternatives in a live-action setting with the ultimate goal of produce and document a range of concrete design proposals, both technological and not. The final result will be a series of gestures in a joint scenario which at the end of the workshop will be shared and discussed in an exhibition and immersive experience.

Who is this program for?

- Designers
- Artists
- People working in Public Service
- Architects
- Urban Planners
- Systems Engineers
- Game Designers
- Writers

After taking this course, you'll walk away with

Essential futures studies principles, learning to identify signals, extrapolate arcs, and to develop inspiring and provocative artifacts.

Ability to craft situations, script characters and practice improv as a valuable tool to evaluate complex socio-technological hypothetical worlds through life-sized environments and prototypes.

- Interdisciplinary and collaborative engagements
- Practicing improv as a valuable tool for embodied brainstorming
- Crafting Situations
- Scripting Characters
- Introduction to essential futures studies tools
- Strategies for rapid product prototyping
- Digital fabrication intensive
- Show production
- Documentation and Presentation
- Critical Analysis

Course Outline

Week 1:
- Interdisciplinary and collaborative engagements
- Practicing improv as a tool for embodied brainstorming
- Crafting Situations
- Scripting Characters

Week 2:
- Introduction to Speculative Design
- Introduction Futures Studies Tools

Week 3:
- Strategies for Rapid product prototyping
- Design Fiction through live-action role play as a design tool
- Product development through re-appropriation techniques

Week 4:
- Show production
- Documentation and Presentation
- Exhibition

  • Early fee until 1. May*
    €1350 (artists/students/freelancers)
    €1650 (professionals)

  • Regular Fee*
    €1550 (artists/students/freelancers)
    €1850 (professionals)

  • Special fee for residents of Germany: 10% if registered by May 1st.
    *Includes materials, use of space and professional mentorship



  • Chris Woebken /

    Chris Woebken is an artist, curator and educator living and working in New York. Chris holds an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London and has been a visiting scholar at NYU’s Environmental Health Clinic.

    Chris’s work was awarded the Core77 Design Award in 2013’s Speculative Design category and in 2015 got nominated for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year award. Recent residencies include the Walker Art Center, Pioneer Works, Eyebeam and the Headlands Center for the Arts. Notable exhibitions include 'Future Fictions' at Z33 in Hasselt, 'Talk to me' and 'Design and the Elastic Mind' at MoMA and 'The Prehistory of the Image' at STUK Kunstencentrum Leuven.

    Chris is co-founder of The Extrapolation Factory, a studio developing experimental methods for collaboratively prototyping, experiencing and impacting future scenarios. The studio runs design futures-oriented workshops around the world, including events in Russia, Belgium, the UK, Mexico, and Canada, as well as numerous events throughout the US.

  • Sascha Pohflepp /

    Sascha Pohflepp is an artist and researcher based between Berlin and southern California where he teaches and studies at UC San Diego. Notable exhibitions include Talk To Me at MoMA New York, Hyperlinks at the Art Institute of Chicago, Micro Impact at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum Rotterdam, Pre-History of the Image at STUK Kunstencentrum Leuven, Åzone Futures Market at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York and The House in the Sky at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn.

    Scholarships and residencies include an EPSRC grant in 2011, residencies in the NSF-funded Synthetic Aesthetics project, at Art Center College Pasadena in 2010, an honorary residency at Eyebeam, New York City in 2014 and a fellowship at Rotterdam's Het Nieuwe Instituut. His essay on living machines forms part of the volume Synthetic Aesthetics, published on MIT Press in 2013. Since 2016 he has been part of the Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA). Sascha's work has earned two Honorary Mentions from the VIDA Art and Artificial Life Awards and in June 2015 was shortlisted for the Berlin Art Prize.

  • Program Guest Speaker

  • Susan Ploetz /

    Susan Ploetz (USA/DE) is an artist/performer, somatics practitioner and larp designer. Her works combine text, movement, song+music, appropriation, story, visuals, objects, technology, choreography, somatics, dramaturgy and thaumaturgy that lie somewhere between intervention, collage, theater, game, and guided group experience.

    Susan has presented her work at such venues as Sophiensalle, ABC Art Fair, Portland Time Based Arts festival, Performa, and dOCUMENTA 13. Her performance and somatic practice led her the Nordic Larp Scene. She attended the prestigious Larpwriter Summer School and her larps have or will be run at the Minsk Larp festival, Vilnius Larp festival, and Minibar project space in Stockholm.