This week we interviewed the founder of School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe about what brought her to where she is now, what we can expect from the 2019 program and how she envisions the future of the School.
Hi Rachel! Can you tell us a little bit about your life before School of MA? What brought you to where you are now?
Having a complicated childhood always informs who we are as adults. I started doing volunteer work at homeless shelters, and the first AIDS hospice in my hometown in my early years of high school. Basically knowing struggle makes you realise how no one deserves it, and so you do what you can to help others. These things have informed everything I think and do from a young age. Later I worked in audio and visual effects (VFX) for a bit. VFX was initially exciting but eventually began to feel superficial. I realised a lot of the things we were seeing in the movies could already be created and used in the real world so I decided to focus on that instead. So I left that field, bought an iPad and started learning to code.
The School has existed since 2014. The workshops and programs change every year, and respond to topics and matters which are still very mystified. What is your process for brainstorming and sketching the programs?
Originally, I was inspired by people like Niklas Roy and wanted to focus on interactive, non-sensical uses of creative technology. But then I realised I could put who I am and what I care about into my work. I started to think about technology and activism and realised the most interesting and important part of both of these are the humans behind them. I still love non-sensical work of course! But equally, I love work that has something more to say.
“I started to think about technology and activism and realised the most interesting and important part of both of these are the humans behind them”
How does education fit into your practice, mission, goals as a human?
I’m insanely curious about the world! What is going on with humans and psychology, behaviour, science, societies, politics, governments, money, technology. From our inherent humanness to the stories we’ve made up collectively and believed for centuries, what are we doing to ourselves and each other on this earth?
I want to understand just about everything including what it means to be a better human because I believe better humans will fight for and create better societies. Some people might think that’s a broad scope but I believe it is possible to grasp. At least, I’m willing to try!
This year, there are month-long programs happening in China and Ireland. Do you have more plans in the future to expand geographically?
Yes! I want to continue to run programs in Berlin in summer each year but in Spring and Fall I’d like to continue to travel with the school. More programs in China (Hong Kong, Beijing, a return to Shenzhen!), India, Chile, and eastern Europe are all places on my mind at the moment!
Students attend School of MA from all around the world and inevitably I’d like to visit the places they’re from and help to create something with them. I think creative technology is like a gateway drug, it makes people excited and curious, it gives hope. I want to help people in the world have something that triggers all these emotions in them. ‘We all deserve to be happy’ was a message written on a fortune cookie I once had. I kept that tiny slip of paper around for years! I absolutely believe it’s true.
“Creative technology is like a gateway drug, it makes people excited and curious, it gives hope”
The 2019 programs are all relevant in their own way, but the Evidence and Waiting and Escaping are two programs which I never really thought about. Can you tell us a bit about why these additions are important?
When I discovered the work of Forensic Architecture (from a talk by founder Eyal Weizman at the CCC conference in Leipzig, late 2017) I literally shed some tears. The fact that they’re using the same kinds of tools that one would use to create visual effects for big budget commercial films, but instead of using them for entertainment purposes, they’re using them to investigate crimes committed by governments against their citizens; I mean, what insanely important work! Hearing about it blew my mind.
My take-away: All it takes is concerned humans learning to look at the world with a different mindset, using the same tools they see and work with every day to envision a new world. These are the kinds of classes I want to see in the world. So we’re doing all we can to make them happen!
Regarding Waiting and Escaping, that’s also another class I’m super excited about! I went to see an exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau some years ago by Omer Fast. I had to ask the security person where to find it and she said, ‘It’s right there in front of you. This is it.’ It was a replica of an airport waiting room! The main artworks were actually the videos inside the waiting rooms as Omer is a video artist.
At the time, I was having a lot of conversations in which I realised that everyone is waiting for something. Waiting for permission, waiting for a raise, waiting for a break-up, waiting to meet someone and start a family. I wanted to create an opportunity for people to ask themselves what it is they’re waiting for and why they’re waiting for it.
VR was becoming more popular around this time and all these ideas came together. I thought: Waiting Room Design! The escape room design aspect of the class came about because we need an immersive experience to design a waiting room for, so I thought, let’s design both!
Omer Fast will in fact be a guest lecturer in the class as well as a couple of founders from Meow Wolf, an immersive art collective based in New Mexico doing breathtaking work. I feel pretty over-joyed!
“My take-away: All it takes is concerned humans learning to look at the world with a different mindset, using the same tools they see and work with every day to envision a new world.”
How do you select instructors for the courses? Do you design the programs collectively?
Up until now, I’ve designed all the programs based on things that I’m interested in learning myself. I try to really pay attention constantly to what’s going on in the world and create programs based on that; what’s happening now. In that way, you might say, society is designing the programs!
Can you tell us what’s in store for the (near, distant or speculative) future of the School?
Well, we’re in the process of becoming an official non-profit, so once that’s set, I’d love to partner with organisations in eastern europe and latin america, and other places where there aren’t a lot of jobs or prospects. An important aspect of that will be to find opportunities for former students to help train people in these areas; to help create something wonderful for others with them! I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and am super excited about this prospect. Let’s see what the future brings!
To learn more about our 2019 programs and to apply, visit: http://schoolofma.org/programs/
17 April 2019