School of machines, making & make–believe

How can we design experiences using performance, machine learning, 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


Course Description

In this four-week intensive program guided by artists and speculative designers Sascha Pohflepp and Chris Woebken, you will be designing experiences through use of live-action role play techniques (LARPing), computer vision, machine learning, and speculative prototyping.

We will provide a framework that revolves around a rapidly changing world increasingly bound to be populated by non-humans, both natural and artificial—such as advanced AI systems. Making their perspectives experienceable is going to be a key angle to designing for the new societies that will emerge.

The techniques will be diverse and collaborative exploration will be encouraged. A design for a specific community may be prototyped by crafting a narrative and using it as a laboratory in an iterative design process. More fictional challenges could be prototyped in a virtual environment allowing for a collaborative exploration of otherwise impossible spaces.

Key parts of the curriculum will be an introduction to simulation techniques across a wide variety of scales and media, including progressive live-action methods guided by artist and game designer Susan Ploetz, an introduction to speculative design methods and access to tools and working with digital fabrication technologies.

A second workshop with artificial intelligence specialist Gene Kogan will give participants an opportunity to create systems that may be informed by insights gained during previous exercises.

Field-trips to practitioners working with simulation tools,weekly readings and discussions around the subject aim to both supplement the learning experience, to provide inspiration and critical analysis.

At the end of the class, those methods will have helped you to make great steps forward in your design process and you will have gained a whole new toolset within the scope of your practice. The final result will be a series of design provocations, shared and discussed in an event at ACUD which will be an exhibition as much an immersive experience.

Who is this program for?

- Designers
- Artists
- People working in Public Service
- Architects
- Urban Planners
- Writers
- Engineers
- Game Designers
- Economists
- Many More

What should you bring?

Bring something you would like to explore within the field of your work. Bring a question. Bring a design or engineering problem. Bring an unexplored world. Bring an experiment.


  • Regular Fee*
    €1250 (artists/students/freelancers)
    €1450 (professionals)
    *Includes materials, use of space and professional mentorship

Course Schedule

Week 1:
Focuses on ideas/concepts/larping/performance/play

- Interdisciplinary and collaborative engagements
- Practicing improv as a tool for embodied brainstorming
- Crafting Situations
- Scripting Characters
- Product development through re-appropriation techniques
- Strategies for Rapid product prototyping

Week 2:
Prototyping designs with Computer Vision/Machine Learning with Gene Kogan

- Introduction to Computer Vision/Machine Learning
- 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

- Continued iterations and finalization of designs
- Documentation and Presentation
- Exhibition

During this course

Participants will engage with essential futures studies principles and learn to identify, extrapolate, and develop inspiring and provocative fabricated artifacts.

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


- 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

Animal Superpowers, Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada, 2008 A series of devices making the mystery of animal superpowers accessible to help us question and imagine the world through their lens.

A Pawn Tomorrow - TELE-SQUITO, Extrapolation Factory, 2014 A mosquito bootleg device to capture mosquitoes and extract proprietary genes - implant into other mosquitos for fun and business.

A Pawn Tomorrow - DE-EXTINCT GUN, Extrapolation Factory, 2014 A gun to protect biodiversity by paralyzing endangered animals with energized air and flashlight and sample their genetic material.

A Pawn Tomorrow - THE CRITTER ORCHESTRA, Extrapolation Factory, 2014A device that allows the user to compose and assign new sounds to small critters (insects, find frogs, reptiles, etc.) These animals can be deliberately programmed to produce your tunes.

Dense captioning of Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot, Gene Kogan, 2016.This video demonstrates both the impressive capabilities of neural captioning systems, as well as the humorous (and maybe unsettling) limitations of such systems when their training data lack the vocabulary to fully describe the scene. Notably, no "robots" or "machines" appear in this video according to densecap, and the robot is variously labeled as a person, man, motorcycle, and fire hydrant.

The Society for Speculative Rocketry, Chris Woebken & Sascha Pohflepp, 2014 - Eyebeam, NYC In a weekend long workshop society members explored the relationship between past and future realities of space travel.

Alternative Unknowns, Extrapolation Factory, 2015 A live action simulator setup exploring the value of pre-enactments in emergency situations. Developed in partnership with NYC Emergency Management Department.

Participants Work

Hipster Bar, Max Dovey, 2016 A pop-up bar that only admits people recognised as a 'hipster' by a facial recognition computer algorithm.

How To Be More Or Less Human, Max Dovey, 2015 A performance setup investigating how Computer vision and online databases form an identity of the human subject.



  • 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.

  • Guest Instructors

  • 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.

  • Gene Kogan /

    Gene Kogan is an artist and programmer who is interested in generative systems and the application of emerging technology into artistic and expressive contexts. He writes code for live music, performance, and visual art. He contributes to open-source software projects and gives workshops and demonstrations on topics related to code and art.

    He is a contributor to openFrameworks, Processing, and p5.js, an adjunct professor at Bennington College and ITP-NYU, and a former resident at Eyebeam.