Boing Boing pal Eric Paulos, an engineering professor and artist at UC Berkeley, has a history of high-tech provocations, from his early work with machine performance group Survival Research Laboratories to his controversial art installations such as a vending machine for pathogens. Above is the performance/prank Eric recently staged to open his Critical Making class:
On the first day of class, I wanted to make a point about expectations – about expectations for this course and more importantly about leaving them behind as we engage in the material and topics within Critical Making. Rather than say it or even show a slide, I unexpectedly and dramatically lifted "my" laptop and smashed it across the floor of the classroom.
Next, I setup the room, ensuring that the impact area would be clear and safe and also that I could adequately conceal my real laptop underneath using a haphazardly stacked set of design textbooks as camouflage. You can see my real laptop in the image below, carefully concealed underneath the broken laptop. I was able to easily advance my slides using a handheld remote control. I placed a board across, concealing my real laptop and then placed the staged laptop on top. A few more books covered up the board and a fake cable were attached to the broken laptop giving the illusion that all was normal – as expected.
I rehearsed the staging, where I would stand, what I would say, and how I would grab the laptop. Remember the bottom of the laptop would completely fall apart if lifted improperly. Finally, I made sure to come very early to class where my GSI, Christie Dierk, helped me get setup before any students arrived.
Class started and everything went smoothly. I asked everyone to introduce themselves by giving their name, what they study, an artists or scientist they admire, and something they DID NOT do over winter break. When it came to me I added that "I had not smashed a laptop over break" (a slight foreshadowing for what was to come 45 minutes later in class).
Finally, when the time came, my GSI, Christie distracted the class with an announcement while I ensured the camera was in position and I begin to stage the performance. When the moment came, I lifted the laptop and smashed it gloriously into the floor, causing it to fragment and shatter across the cement studio floor. A timed delay on the real slide deck displayed up a broken video signal and the class stopped in silence. When I had their attention, I called out our charge – to break from stereotypes, view the world through a lens of compassion, to be inclusive in all your actions, to make artifacts and experiences that are poetic and provocative, to use and develop your skills and passions to create change and to improve the lives and well being across communities, neighborhoods, society, and the world, and most of all to be the authentic you. At the end of the manifesto, everyone applauded and the performance ended. A few days later we critiqued and discussed the overall performance in class. And yes, the laptop parts all ended up properly recycled into electronic waste.