The Five Filters at Medialab-Prado

Last month I spent around 3 weeks at the Interactivos?09 workshop in Madrid, Spain working on the Five Filters project. It was an amazing experience to be there and to work with so many wonderful people. Interactivos? is an annual event at Medialab-Prado where projects are developed during an intensive 2-week workshop and the results made available for people to see and use after the workshop. According to the site:

Interactivos? is a research and production platform for the creative and educational uses of technology. Its main goal is to expand on the use of electronic and software tools for artists, designers and educators, thus contributing to the development of local communities of cultural producers in this field.

Interactivos? events are a hybrid between a production workshop, a seminar and an showcase. A space for reflection, research, and collaborative work is created, in which proposals selected by an international open call are developed, completed and displayed. The process is open to the public from beginning to end.

I was there to work on my proposal to look at the propaganda model of the media through an interactive installation. I didn’t have a clear idea of what the end result would be, but I knew I wanted to use real newspaper clippings as input. My initial ideas were to pull in related content from non-corporate news sources (such as ZNet, Indymedia UK, Medialens, Schnews) and to try and identify the newspaper that carried the original story. Identifying newspapers turned out to be difficult because the OCR output wasn’t very accurate – it picked out most of the text correctly, but to identify the paper we needed close to 100% accuracy. So early on in the workshop we decided to focus on finding related stories from non-corporate sources. I won’t go on about the rest of the process as you can find all that on the wiki. The installation is available to use at Medialab-Prado until 20 March 2009, so if you’re in Madrid, feel free to drop in. (We now have a version running as a Java applet available online at

I also got the opportunity to see the excellent Patio Maravillas social centre. It’s a squatted building that’s open to the public and put to very good use (there are regular meetings and events including film and documentary screenings, bicycle repair, workshops on technical subjects, art, photography, and lots, lots more).

The centre also has an active hacklab (Hamlab) with hacktivists working on various projects and organising Hackademies – courses where you can learn technical skills using free software. One of their projects is Hack4Gaza – a website where you can access news on Gaza from both alternative and mainstream Spanish sources. The site is still being developed but already lets you view photos, video and news stories about Gaza. It also has pages letting you vote for the worst TV channel reporting on Gaza and information on how to take action. Tha Hamlab hactivists are very friendly and I’m glad we got the chance to discuss our projects together.

All in all, I had a great time in Spain. I’m very grateful to the wonderful collaborators who worked with me on the project: Fernanda Reis, Alon Chitayat, Raul Dominguez, Jorge Dueñas Lerín, Helena Piñán. Thanks also to Pix (Steven Pickles) for his help setting up OCROpus on a stubborn machine; all the staff at Medialab-Prado; Critical Art Ensemble; Hamlab; Lalya Gaye for telling me about the event; and the lovely Suzi for brainstorming ideas with me.

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