Cookie Conversation with Guillaume Slizewicz

IMPAKT Exhibition Don't Be Evil

Guillaume Slizewicz is a designer, researcher and artist who specialises in working with data, robotics, machine-learning and digital fabrication methods. He participated in CODE 2022, working on the project DSMA Unlimited (currently on display in Reclaiming Digital Agency), and in 2023 he developed his work The Stack with the support of Werktank, IMPAKT and Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles. The Stack is an exploration of material and concept, comprising five inscribed clay tablets connected by brass spacers, visually echoing the functional aesthetics of electronics.

Your work The Stack brings together clay tablets and modern technology, almost as a clash between the ancient and the contemporary. What inspired your choice to work with clay tablets?

This work is a continuation of an exploration named tablets, in which I started working with clay tablets as a way to question the different ways we have to convey and share information and knowledge. It is a nod to the different proto-writing archeological artefact that we have and that we try to decipher.
 We don’t know what humans will make of smartphones and computers in 1000 years if/when they excavate them from the floor. But they will be able to see the sign on a clay tablet and ponder about what they meant.

A recurring element in this work is the phrase ‘But I thought this was cheating’. Could you explain the meaning behind this mantra?

This mantra comes from an internet meme popular in music making circles:

“I thought using loops was cheating, so I programmed my own using samples. I then thought using samples was cheating, so I recorded real drums. Then I thought that programming was cheating, so I learned to play drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating, so I learned to make my own. Then I thought using pre-made skins was cheating, so I killed a goat and skinned it. Then I thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I haven’t made any music lately, what with the goat farming and all.”

At the beginning of the residency I did with IMPAKT and Werktank, I wanted to work with the most simple basic element of computing and create my own PCB circuit using ceramic and copper by melting copper in a ceramic kiln. Of course, it was doomed to fail. Because with such a small amount of copper and in an environment that is rich in oxygen, the copper oxidizes and becomes brittle and non-conductive. I tried many ways to make it work and was fixated on this idea of really proving that this was possible that I lost the plot and ended up spending a lot of time on something that even if it worked, would not have been especially interesting.

Little by little, this meme resurfaced back in my brain.

It resonated a lot with my practice and the never-ending, futile quest for a kind of pure act of creation. At some point in the residency, while talking with Arjon (from IMPAKT) and Kurt (from Werktank), we had a breakthrough realising that I should change the viewpoint, explain this tension that we face as digital designers/people working with technology and use it as a central element in my work.

So, in the end, I ended up using it because it summed up beautifully the situation I was in.

How does your broader artistic practice relate to the IMPAKT festival we held recently with the theme Our Terms, Our Conditions?

My artistic practice revolves around using digital tools in physical spaces, via objects, installations, or manufacturing processes. It’s about finding common ways to use them and localising them, making sense of them on a local scale, as well as playfully working with them.

I think some of the works I’ve done take a more direct approach to addressing the inequalities and social issues arising from monopolies, economic models, and the political structures that shape our digital lives (such as Accept All, DSMA Unlimited, or Michel Google Cassandra and the others).

I consider us fortunate to live in an area where these risks are taken seriously, and lawmakers genuinely strive to implement safeguards against the most egregious effects. I don’t believe this is sufficient, but it’s better than anywhere else in the world. Perhaps this is because we lack major industrial champions in this field, with a few exceptions.

Beyond individual situations, in a world where people spend most of their time on screens and hours on social networks with little visibility into the individually tailored content they consume, it jeopardises our society and our political models. Especially when such networks originate from non-democratic countries or foreign profit seeking oligopolies.

I do think we need to continue trying to create coalitions of citizens, designers, and lawmakers to educate ourselves and create the conditions for our digital well-being. That’s why a festival like IMPAKT is so important.

In the theme of the festival, this year we created a series of Fortune Cookies with wishes for the future of technology and privacy. Currently, each visitor to the exhibition gets to take one with them. Which fortune cookie wish would you hope to find?

I’d hope for a fortune cookie that says something along the lines of “It’s not cheating if you acknowledge it”, or “There’s no deceit in creativity, only layers of ingenuity.”

Our other Cookie Conversation guests are Renske Leijten, Lotje Beek, Julia Janssen, Dasha Ilina, Caroline Sinders, Jeroen van Loon, Roel Heremans, Leon van Oldenborgh and Tomo Kihara.

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