Mz* Balthasars Laboratory’s goal is to have a community of female and non-binary makers and hackers in Vienna, creating a safe space for informal education on art, craft and technology. Furthermore Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory enables artists to continue making art, by offering a support network and a space for solo shows, group exhibitions, and workshops.
The intention is to create safe and inclusive spaces for female and non-binary artists, activists and curious minds. These should be havens for informal learning and exploring around art technology and activism. How do you achieve this? Some things to consider when looking at Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory as tool and inspiration are: What prejudice exists in your organisation, informing the programming of gallery space and solo exhibitions? Which external factors drive your decisions when selecting artists, speakers and workshop or exhibition topics? Funding bodies?; local politics?; contemporary art trends? political tendencies? How open is your organisation to having a collective decision making process and knowledge and information sharing? How flexible can you make your space to work around the financial, logistic and practical obstacles which hinders female and non-binary artists and participants in being able to exhibit, create and partake. E.g. childcare issues, access to the space, and timings for set up, workshops and exhibition openings. Are you willing to give less exposed non-cis male artists solo shows with free reins? If not, what is stopping this? How can you create an atmosphere where the passion for a topic is allowed to become all encompassing, and encourage the deep dive into learning and experimental outcomes? Or how comfortable are you with the learning itself being allowed to take priority over any pre-disposed goals and aspirations? Consider all of these when venturing into creating your gender inclusive artist space.
Here are the key steps as explained by founder Stefanie Wuschitz, to create an inclusive and safe space for learning, creating and exhibiting: [To use the tools and model used by Mz* Balthasar’s Lab should] it should be an independent environment, to explore non formal education without a particular goal, in something you love that you're passionate about. Curiosity: I'm inspired by Montessori because she says that the child could have this amazing attention to practice... and it will just do it until it understands. And then it can let go and do something completely different. But what leads people and children to freely choose what they are ready to learn? And how to enhance and support this curiosity? Passion as a driving force: In this way coding is similar: if you really want to have that code work, want to have this projection do that, or you want to have this sound happening from exactly that oscillator...you put so much energy in it! And then when it's done, it's mostly really brilliant, but maybe that wasn’t even the goal. It was more about this fascination for a practice, for a subject or for a problem. No one can ever study and learn as much as someone who really wants it for their own sake. Fear stops learning: What keeps you from becoming brilliant is fear that you think ‘I'm not the one who can do it’. Maybe if you hang out in a space and get this implicit knowledge that there is someone who looks like me, but also does it and has fun...You become aware of it, on a low conscious or unconscious level. And then I really believe that you can do it too. Maybe not right away, but maybe in two years, and you will try it. Trust and self reflection in the Community: Most important is that the community really know and trust each other. And feel responsible and committed. Then try to show each other: What do I need to feel respected and acknowledged? What makes me feel oppressed? What are you performing here? This kind of mirroring and discussing. You can question yourself, and you don't take things for granted. Horizontal organisation: We want to be horizontally organised and not have one boss, even if that boss gets elected. We usually decide things together. Of course, there are people who are more responsible for social media and others for writing applications etc. But all in all people know what everyone is doing. Knowledge sharing: Because we are volunteers, there is a lot of coming and going. So it's always necessary that everyone knows everything, so they can take over. For example, when I had two babies, I was not as capable of working like a boss. I didn't have any time. So it has to be in our tools: Keeping that knowledge kind of floating between us, among us. Supportive and safe spaces for exhibitions: I would say that the key to tools like this is that they try to have a safe space. We try to care for the artists who come in and give an exhibition. For example, if they need extra support, help or encouragement, we try to kind of be their little army. So whatever that means, like bringing toys for the baby that sits on the floor when she sets up the exhibition; bringing an extra projector..There are so many different things that can keep you from making your own solo exhibition. We see that young artists who are seen as a female, usually don't get solo exhibitions, or if they get a solo exhibition, they have to really bend a lot in order to fit into that framework. It's rare that they really have a space where they can just show what they want to show, and get help getting that done. So our solo exhibitions are about giving a voice to people that we feel close to, and who we identify with as feminists. And workshops critiquing technology : The workshops are really more about analysing how technology comes into the world... and how is this technology harming people? What kind of technology could work differently? How could we apply technology differently? Create it; think it; fantasise it differently, so that it's not destroying things that we find valuable. -It’s like a tech critique, but in a productive, fruitful way: A lot of open sources and a lot about bias in AI or in media channels; about countercultures. -How can we broadcast different voices and diversity in the media? What we have done for 10 years is now kind of mainstream, but there wasn’t much talk about open source and art [then]. That’s why it's important to reflect upon how technology is transforming our society. Changing engendered language: What we do in my workshops is always changing the names, like instead of Arduino as an Arduina; every tech tool in Austria and Germany is male. In Germany, everything has a gender. So it's hard maybe to imagine what we do [if you only speak English], but we try to say the female form ..we try to change the language a little bit to play with that and all the imaginary landscapes coming with the word.
Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory is a Vienna based hack and exhibition space, which has existed for 13 years in different shapes and locations. The organisation was started by Stefanie Wuschitz an Austrian academic who at the time was a digital art fellow at Umea University in Sweden. Initially the idea was to provide a different learning environment for women, and in this setting create workshops and make space for exploration of more complex tools. Subsequently, for the first three years of its existence, Mz* Balthasar's Laboratory was a touring entity, giving interactive workshops in universities and arts spaces across the world. In 2011 the laboratory found a home in it’s newly founded feminist hackspace, created and manged by a collective of female hackers, artists and activists. It is largely volunteer run and funded partly via arts funding and through research projects, including the Austria wide project FEMAD which is running a three year project identifying ways to make Makers spaces and Fablabs more gender neutral. Initially with the idea of creating a safe space for free expression and exploration of technology, digital arts, but as time has passed the space also served as artists studios, and now is equal parts art exhibition space and workshop and maker space. The space is for women and non-binary artists exhibiting, but allows all genders to attend the exhibitions, The workshops are for solely for women and non-binary persons, to allow a safe space for learning and experimenting with art and technology. The exhibitions and workshops are often gender political and radical in their content. Whether dealing with sex and gender topics, or more alternative takes and approaches to technology media and representation. Since it’s first location Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory has had 4 homes, in different parts of Vienna. As the political climate in Austria changes, so do the parameters for the organisation and its survival strategy, as a subversive space in a conservative climate.
In addition to its own activities Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory has excellent listings of similar organisations and initiatives, as well as a through archive of past exhibitions and workshops. There is also and code of conduct for safe spaces, based on a template from the Geek Feminist Wiki created by the ADA initiative.
Mz* Balthasar’s Laboratory Collective, Stefanie Wuschitz for the interview