REBOOT operates at the edge of visual art and something akin to scientific inquiry. We exist in a research university and part of the concept of the lab is to have our work creep into traditional research venues. In this way, we might be able to subtly inject critical, subversive, political ideas into contexts that might otherwise be driven by the apolitical pursuit of strictly technical knowledge.
In addition to founding the REBOOT Lab, Rob Duarte is an artist and an assistant professor in the Department of Art at Florida State University.
What is your lab called and where is it?
REBOOT Laboratory lives in the Facility for Arts Research (FAR) at Florida State University. In addition to directing the lab, I’m also an Assistant Professor and Digital Media area head in the FSU Department of Art.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
From the website:
REBOOT is a laboratory that looks toward our culture’s production of waste as a point of departure for a critical engagement with technology. Our approach is rooted in the visual arts and is driven by our collective knowledge of process, materials, and experimentation; as well as a commitment to revealing the social, political, and cultural aspects of technology.
Through collaborations with artists and researchers at FSU and beyond, REBOOT projects cast a critical eye on technoculture and the logical consequences of the ways in which we produce, consume, and discard technology. This examination of the political components of technology occurs through a hands-on process of thinking and making, with the goal of provoking discussion and action that will bring about alternative, preferred futures.
The lab has two projects at the moment: FixShop is an art project that takes the form of a repair shop storefront. Through the theatrical play of a repair shop and its employees, we accept “broken”, outmoded, and obsolete designed objects from individuals. We discuss the owner’s relationship to the object as well as their expectations and desires for the “repaired” object. The objects are rarely restored to their former function, but are instead transformed / redesigned / reinvented to become alternately humorous, contemplative, or poetic reflections on our consumer culture, the value of mass-produced vs hand-made objects, etc.
The other project is called DIY Resource Recovery and is driven by experimental research into waste products. The aim of the project is to discover low-tech ways of converting waste into useful materials for making. The focus is on finding low-tech, personal or studio-scale methods that provide a sustainable alternative to municipal recycling. The goals for this project are not related to technical efficiency or commercialization, but pure experimentation and materials-based discovery.
Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
The lab is about research. With that said, the work that I’ve done so far has been with the assistance of undergraduate student researchers, interns, and students of mine. While the lab is not about teaching, I plan to always involve students in the projects. A goal of the lab is to involve researchers from elsewhere – visiting artists – that are working in the same vein conceptually.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
REBOOT operates at the edge of visual art and something akin to scientific inquiry. We exist in a research university and part of the concept of the lab is to have our work creep into traditional research venues. In this way, we might be able to subtly inject critical, subversive, political ideas into contexts that might otherwise be driven by the apolitical pursuit of strictly technical knowledge. Conversely, circulating the results of our work through venues common to creative research (such as the College Arts Association conference, lectures, residencies, etc.) affords us a chance to question and prod the boundaries of a “traditional” studio art practice.
Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
Our space is quite literally a lab — with benches, sinks, fume hoods, etc. The Facility for Arts Research was, in fact, a drug research facility in a past life. This space works well for the DIY Resource Recovery project and is an adequate studio for the kinds of sculptural transformations that take place with the FixShop project. FixShop’s repair shop facade, however, really needs a particular kind of unassuming storefront, conducive to walk-ins from off the street. In the meantime, the goal is to construct a mobile, immersive stage set that functions similarly.
What kind of financial support does the lab receive?
The most support that has been granted thus far is our space at the Facility for Arts Research. I also received a grant from the FSU Council on Research and Creativity to bring the lab up to speed with equipment and materials. Some outside grants are pending.
What are your major theoretical touchstones?
The major theoretical concern of the lab is intentionally quite broad: to bring to the surface the political aspects of technology. This is a trajectory that continues from my own art practice, but with a focus on the waste that’s produced as a result of our production and consumption of technology. The lab is an effort to upturn my studio practice toward one that incorporates other actors: collaborators, student researchers, participants from the community, etc.
What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
We are still in the early stages, so the most significant accomplishment thus far has been establishing the physical lab.
Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?
I am currently focusing mainly on the FixShop project, as it needs a certain critical mass of transformed objects and interactions with its audience to have the desired effect. I expect to produce a catalogue of objects and I would love for this project to arrive at a point where it has a physical home in either a storefront or a transformed mobile storefront within the next 3-5 years. The DIY Resource Recovery project will continue to iterate through known open source hardware projects that relate to materials recovery, and develop new processes and techniques. It is hard to imagine what the results of that particular investigation will be in the coming years as it is meant to be iterative and fast-moving. I do plan to be able to catalogue and document a collection of equipment and material results from this project within the next three years.
What makes your lab a lab?
Well, besides the fact that it is actually housed in a laboratory… the idea of calling it a laboratory over a studio was to emphasize that it is primarily about experimentation. There is perhaps some tongue-in-cheek use of the term, as I expect it to be lacking in the scientific rigor that is normally associated with a “laboratory” – favoring the kind of intuition, tactile experience, and provocation more closely associated with an art practice than a scientific laboratory. (On that naming note: The terms “Institute” and “Center for…” are regulated by the state, while apparently anyone can call themselves a “laboratory”…)