Laboratorio el Sombrero (now we have re-called ourselves “Exploratorio Sombrero” because we feel ‘exploring’ is a more welcoming/democratic concept) is a research-action project that aims to create space for learning and experimentation in urban areas where access to diverse sources knowledge is limited. Its final goal is to fight segregation and inequality by gaining capabilities to crowd the physical and digital public space around an urban hill called Sombrero. Age of Wonderland has been helping us create such space.
Our attention is on everyone’s knowledge and willingness to try, fail, learn and do so with others, no matter age, gender, origin or training.
Through its initiative 100 Days of Learning (100DoL), Age of Wonderland (AoW) provided inspiration and funding for one learning day we then decided to divide in five days: Talleres de Fabricación de Luces sin Batería (workshops for fabricating battery-less lights or lanterns). The good news is that, as AoW hoped and stated in its Manifesto, the whisper turned into a roar, as people joined and their voices gained confidence.
9th of July as another start, not a culmination
On the 9th of July, our fifth and final AoW day of learning took place. It was the culmination of a series of five workshops, organized in two different but adjacent neighborhoods (Francisco Werchez and Teniente Merino Alto) at the footsteps of the Sombrero hill. One of them has a community center, while the other does not, therefore the need to claim the street (we did so with tables and a big tent — occupy-style). The initial objective was to create 100 lights, together with 100 neighbors in all five workshops. We didn’t get to make 100 lights, but we were close (around 75). When ready, on the night of the 9th, we went up the hill and turned them all at once. And we didn’t count the lights, it really didn’t matter, nobody felt it mattered. Watch a short video here.
The collective making and powering of the lights was a demonstration of activism. We wanted to show what the neighborhoods in the shadows of the hill are capable of doing when acting together. It was be a day of making, playing (music too) and learning by the very people living in this forgotten and marginalized backyard of the city. The lights transformed the space and transformed us.
Five workshops instead of one
We wanted to iterate, try out different light designs, see who would come more than one time, and grow the number of participants from one workshop to the next through the whispering of the makers. Everyone would be a maker (a teacher) and a learner at the same time.
Who came? The last workshop had participants coming from the same neighborhood (Teniente Merino Alto), from the neighboring Francisco Werchez, and from other parts of the city. Around 40% of them had participated in one or more of the previous workshops. And those who did distributed their knowledge among the new participants. Fernando (11 years old) was one of them. Having created one light himself in the second workshop, Fernando assisted many others in all the other workshops, even when meant missing out on the important Chile football matches of “Copa FIFA Confederaciones” (which had Chile in the final against Germany), or walking alone to the other neighborhood while raining dogs and cats. Some of the participants had never been to these neighborhoods before. They didn’t know they existed, or thought of them as dangerous no-go areas. That was the case of those who came to see their kids/siblings play with the Big Band, a band from a middle class private school, which kindly came animate the making process. Many of the participants were immigrants from Haiti, and most of them live close to the hill (Chile is experience an explosive immigration phenomenon).
Lights making, what did we use?
We use ‘trash’ which can easily become not-really-trash, like plastic bottles and cans for the body structures, easy to find tools and materials like silicone glue, drills, LED lights, cables, screws and motors we found in discarded printers. The motors were low rpm (revolutions per minute) and low voltage. If bought new, they cost around 20USD, but if you have an old printer or electronic equipment with any type of opening/closing mechanism, then open it up and see if you find a motor (the rest, try to send it for recycling). We published a more detailed guide on how to make the lights in the Public Lab’s web, so anyone can replicate, improve or hack them (others or we might update this guide when we find out how to use capacitors to make the lights last).
Lighting up the space — and lighting us up
We went up the hill when it was already dark. Again we didn’t count people, but our estimates are around 50, plus another 10 that stayed by the tent to watch us from bellow. We chanted and sang while turning the lights on, in Creole, French, Spanish and English (a short video here).
What we wanted to teach? That learning together is like earning together, that it happens when mixing hands and minds, that the most diverse those are the better, that making stuff that involve tech (“high” or “low”) is highly enjoyable and easy (and when is not is even more fun), and transformative, and that we need to crave such transformation. By breaking and making we become more powerful as individuals, and as a group.
Our learning? We’ve gathered quite a few lessons, but the process of collecting documenting them is still ongoing. We want to pay attention not only to the outputs, but also to the outcomes. We will interview some of those who participated, and return the lights to those makers that couldn’t join us on the 9th. A more careful reflection process is needed to see how knowledge, trust and inspiration entered the equation. We are stepping into a goldmine, it feels, but how to keep mining, what new iterations will be tried, is yet to be decided.
We still need to learn how to roar louder, and whisper into more ears.
Watch this space for a compilation video of the fifth workshop including the lighting of the hill, and for a more throughout learning report in the coming weeks.
Special thanks go to Daniela, Juan, Carlos, Yanet, Quillagua, La Loica, Fernando (11yrs old), Ricardo, Paty, Daniel Lühr, Andrés, Pilar, Lorena, Andrea, Paty, Fernando (Castro) and to the many others who provided hands, ideas, transport, money, food, electricity (+enthusiasm) to make this logistically possible.
And last but not least, Jeffe Van Holle, an student at the Design Academy Eindhoven was the co-organizer of these DoL workshops at el Sombrero. He was just great-awesome.
If you want to know more, have a chat or collaborate, send a hi: firstname.lastname@example.org