Re-Bo (Bootleg Objects)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
In the fetishistic world of consumer electronics devices, the tendency to want more from an existing design is usually prevalent amongst buyers. Whether the feature creep relates to increased backward compatibility or multi-purpose functionality, the chances that a device is missing something is much higher than those that have it all. Taking this distinction to new heights is the German-based duo of Markus Bader and Max Wolf. Their project, Bootleg Objects , is a series of sound related, biographical, and science influenced objects that aim to challenge the impersonal nature of mass-produced devices on the everyday consumer. Each device in the group is augmented or hacked to expose how cutting-edge technology is influenced in its design and function by the simplistic nature of outdated equipment. GIZMODO caught up with Bootleg Object s Markus Bader and Max Wolf to talk about how combining past and present often creates a new angle of ingenuity.
Name(s): Markus Bader, Max Wolf
Age(s): 37 , 34
Education: Diploma in Visual Design/Media Art and Product Design, HfG Offenbach.
Affiliation:Artist, Visiting Professor, Bahaus University, Weimar (Max).
URL (s): www.bootleg-objects.com
GIZMODO: How did you first become interested in hacking into consumer electronics devices and furniture?
BO: We met at university in the early nineties and both our approaches have always dealt with the way we perceive — and modify, or 'hack' — our surroundings. (see http://www.natural-reality.de and http://wolf.meso.net for some earlier examples) Studying art and design also tends to make one feel that 'newness' is not a value by itself, and that there already exist splendid designs for most tasks. Consequently, one does not need to 'invent' the right shape for a thing, but can rather go and 'find' it, or cultivate a sense of 'curatorship' sampling from design history in order to create something new. That already sums up our approach to designing things, I guess.
RE-SL (Bootleg Objects)
GIZMODO: In RE-SL (a turntable that no longer spins), were you were attempting to bring attention to the physical inertness of modern musical devices like Apple's iPod and the MP3 file format?
BO: Not exactly. We like the concept of solid-state electronic devices (without moving parts), as it is technically elegant. It also lends itself well to the DIY approach (less precision needed). But what MP3 did for music was to finally immaterialize it, and that is a big liberation from all the unneeded weight (think: meters of Vinyl on a shelf). Freedom to shape future music devices into any form. Which the series 'sound' is an exercise in. In chemical terms, not inertness, but it's opposite, 'reactiveness.'
GIZMODO: "Rebraun", (a vintage FM radio turned wireless, networked music
server) attempts to challenge the existing format of broadcast radio. What were you trying to say about the future of broadcast media?
BO: Owing to 1960s technology, the original re-Braun had a large, and from today's point of view, nostalgic-looking frequency plate, where FM, AM and LW were literally 'hard-wired' into the system. With these systems becoming obsolete, the audio was about to become unusable. Exchanging this bunch of tubes and transistors for a multi-purpose computer is really meant as an act of salvation, an attempt to add flexibility for the future. It still does receive FM, but now also Internet streams.
GIZMODO: Your work often reacts to outdated or "dying" technology by substituting old media formats with newer ones. This is evident with projects like the "RE-BO," which replaces the audiocassette input with a Smart card reader. Do you see this trend as inevitabile with current consumer electronics devices?
"RE-BO" (Bootleg Objects)
BO: The marketing principle of deliberately and actively outdating formats in order to sell more boxes is apparently, but sadly, unavoidable in capitalism. The trend will supposedly slow down with a certain saturation of storage space and bandwidth (like it is already with office applications). For now, we consider it our responsibility to create a little awareness to the fact that alternatives exist.
"Self-Ray" (Bootleg Objects)
GIZMODO: With "BOOTLEG OBJECT #BO.07: Self Ray" you attempt to bring out a personal side to the often impersonal design of Ray Eames, how do you see this change affecting the final piece?
BO: Eames' Design is beautiful and admirable, but it's 'lobby architecture,' [their] items often remain anonymous and a-historical. My design here is only that of an irrational deed — buying a new stool and immediately destroying it — the only remaining part being the certificate of authenticity, which is then applied to the copy of the stool, which was made from a personal piece of wood. The uninitiated won't even tell the difference. Experts will notice that the craftsmanship is different (as the self ray is turned from a single piece). But to the owner it becomes a carrier of personal memories, something to be romantically fond of, a 'souvenir' and a design classic at the same time. I like this hidden virtue.
"BO.06: Michael Faraday" (Bootleg Objects)
GIZMODO: With Bootleg Object BO:06, you recreate Physicist Michael Faraday's stool by following the design from a "blurry" picture taken with a mobile phone. How do you see this technological mediator affecting the final outcome of the design?
BO: In the Series 'Science', this imprecision of communication becomes the driving creative force. All of the stools differ from their 'blueprints' due to a semi-automatic, intentional act of 'misunderstanding', which you could also consider a principle of evolution, adding noise to the gene pool. It also reinforces the notable fact that a precise copy does not make a more interesting object.
GIZMODO: What is your most recent work about? How is it similar or different from the previous projects?
BO: We will be starting some new projects later this year together, but the outcome of those is open for now. [Max] In my current projects, the guiding principle is still the idea of adding personal value to existing objects. There is an exciting multitude of ways to do so, both high and low tech, and I intend to try out as many as possible. There is a link to our mailing list on the site which you can subscribe to and be updated on future news.