This is the first post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.
By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch
Profile on Laura Olalde, a visual artist in Argentina who blends science art, and technology.
Laura has won several grants and awards, and did a residency at Medialab-Prado (Madrid) that widened her experience in co-production across disciplines. Since 2012, she has incorporated bioart practices to her work, working with bioluminescent microorganisms. In 2013 she was invited to attend the postgraduate course of Synthetic Biology at the University of Buenos Aires, where she joined together with molecular biologists and social scientists in a sci-artcollective called PROTEUS. As an outcome of this exchange she performed a thesis based on sci-art coproduction for her Master’s Degree in Electronic Arts. After that she went in depth about the open source movement. Following that path, she met the Hackteria Global Network for bio artists. It was through a post by one of its founders, Marc Dusseiller, that Laura first knew about GOSH. “I read the Manifesto and I thought: ‘this is the way to go’”, she remembers. She signed it and applied for the 2017 meeting, where she was selected. “I totally subscribe to the idea of opening the black box and sharing open knowledge,” she explains. “I’m interested in interdisciplinarity, or anti-disciplinarity: erasing those borders that sometimes hinder exchange and dialogue, opening up the tools so that the other can understand them and making a commitment to a common language”.
“I got off the plane in Santiago, I went straight to the meeting at the university and I found a large room with people talking in pairs. I said ‘wow, so social!’, because they were all chatting at 9 AM. It turned out that it was one dynamic of introductions: that’s when I loved it”, she remembers. She highlights as a GOSH feature “how people with different paths are mixed”, and “the fairness of representation, which creates a substantial platform for exchange”. Also remarks the ethics: “I like the tempo, how the other’s word is respected, how equal participation is encouraged. Everyone is looking for access to open technology for freedom, for education, for equity, for inclusion: it’s an ethical issue. In the GOSH community that’s a basic agreement”.
From that first moment, Laura wanted to collaborate. “I had a good vibe with the community, and so I proposed a photographic record. I like to be a bit behind the scenes, to look at what happens from a different perspective,” she says.
From this spontaneous offer, Laura became GOSH’s documenter. “At the end of each day, I shared the material. On the last day I worked on editing the report with Juanma [Juan Manuel García] and Max [Liboiron]”. For the next edition, in Shenzhen (2018), Laura responded to a call on the GOSH forum and took on the role of coordinator of the volunteer documentation team. “This organisation shows this willingness to transfer, to expand knowledge horizontally. I didn’t have to be particularly expert, but I had to be willing, and of course I had to count on the collaboration of a lot of people. There was coordination before the trip, online. Then we arrived in Shenzhen beforehand and held a meeting where everyone said ‘I am more skilled at this, I can collaborate with that…’. There was a lot of willingness. In addition, each session’s organiser was asked to always have someone taking written notes and to immediately write them down in a document. That’s important.”
Laura photographed each of the sessions. “I was in all of them, a little step outside. I felt a great responsibility and at the same time there was some resignation to accomplish the documentation purpose that I chose”, she says.
Access to information
“Documentation is key, because it is access to information. If it is not documented, what happened remains only for those who were able to attend the event. The important thing is that a teacher in a rural area can have access to clear documentation to build a simple microscope with her students,” says Laura. “It is key to establish links with educational communities, so extensive documentation and data transparency is vital. Documentation must be transparent, accessible, simple, editable, on open platforms. That is how the movement grows. Otherwise, GOSH would risk becoming an event that ends up being closed to a few experts who have the privilege of access, and alien to the communities that could benefit from the knowledge that can be derived from opening up technologies”.
This requires a methodology: “Documentation has to be on the spot. There has to be an online repository of every meeting, everything has to be recorded. Without any delay: the record shall be part of the event, the event shall also consist of the record” recommends Laura. “There has to be awareness-raising beforehand, building a consensus on the importance of keeping a record for whoever comes after us. It requires a commitment, and a space and time specifically dedicated to downloading and editing the material at the end of each day. It doesn’t happen magically. In the rush, the day went by, and what you didn’t record is gone with the wind. Afterwards, reconstructing is much more laborious, you have to start looking for bits of records, like a Frankenstein”, she regrets.
“I would publicly ask the whole group, not just the volunteers, what format we want this communication to take, to shape it together,” Laura proposes. “In Shenzhen, Ananda Gabo did a drawn chronicle: wonderful drawings that can transform the record into something else, to condense a lot of things with a few key phrases, like an infographic. That’s why I think we have to propose at the beginning of the event if someone wants to make a drawn chronicle or a storyboard, to generate this pool of wills,” she says.
“We have to prioritise documentation, because it is what remains”, highlights Laura. “It is the link for the next generation: if it is not there, a lot is lost. Because these communities are also built through alternative channels, it’s not that all universities are talking about open science hardware. We have to be aware that our channels cannot decline, we have to nourish them, to generate new ways of producing open knowledge”.