Earlier this week Louise Whiteley and I visited Labitat preparing for a project that aims to combine synthetic biology, design, democracy and the museum – easy, when you are (getting to) know the right people …
“Labitat is a makerspace in CPH. We are a group of people with diverse interests in technology. We are an independent physical space, working creatively with technology, bridging interactive technology with design and art.”
In a basement in Frederiksberg we found ourselves surrounded by boxes sprouting electronics, a home-built laser-cutter, a beauty of a 1950s lathe with curves like a vintage espresso machine, a box of impotent retractable biros whose springs had sacrificed to a recent project, a cosy kitchen and a bunchof people showing stuff to each other or chatting and tapping on laptops. It generated the kind of excitement I remember from digging my hands into a box of LEGO full of rare and especially cool bits.
So Labitat is exactly what it says on the packet: Half laboratory and half habitat, i.e., the natural environment for a population of organisms.
The inhabitants of this environment are sometimes called ‘hackers’, but ‘hacking’ is understood as building stuff rather than breaking the law. According to the definition in the Hacker Jargon File a ‘hacker’ is “a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system …” And this goes for genetic as well as computer codes and for innards made of wires as well as wet-ware.
In recent years, the focus of ‘hacker’ and maker spaces on electronics and computing has been supplemented by experiments with biotechnology. This move has grown out of greater knowledge about genetics, and the possibility of using bits of genetic code or molecules as building bricks to create systems designed to perform specific functions: a field known as synthetic biology, i.e. man-made biology. And with the low cost and accessibility of genetic materials and equipment, synthetic biology is moving into open science: As we learnt at Labitat, much of the kit needed to work with DNA can be hacked out of domestic appliances and discarded lab equipment.
With the biological and medical sciences Medical Museion joins the fray ….
Medical Museion and Open Biology
We’re here to meet with Rüdiger Trojek and Martin Malthe Borch, who are members of Labitat and our partners in hosting an Open Biology Lab at Medical Museion as part of our contribution to the EU-wide Studiolab project (see description of the project here). The idea is to bring an open lab into the museum space, and thus make it accessible to people who like to peek before they produce, offering hands-on experience without any (perceived) need for pre-existing ability with soldering irons or centrifuges.
Studiolab aims to explore overlaps between artist’s studio and research laboratories. In our project, instead of bringing together art and science in their purest forms, we want to combine the closer relations of design, craft and open science. To make science accessible by giving a hands-on sense of the vicinity of the lab bench to the kitchen sink, the proximity of experiment to creative design, and the continuum between brewing coffee, making yoghurt and synthesizing DNA.
And now off to see if someone wants to donate an old kitchen sink …