"Sega controls Panasonic" (Ibars 2005)
Among certain fetishistic subcultures of the consumer electronics world, there seems to be a common credo: If it s not hackable, it s worthless. Putting this saying to the test is Roger Ibars, a designer-slash-researcher based in London. Ibars work involves hacking into and modding vintage console game controllers and other devices such as alarm clocks and calculators. Instead of repurposing or altering the objects themselves, Ibars connects one or more devices up to one another in order to challenge the relationship between branding and consumption. The result is a series of devices that subvert their manufacturer's intended uses, to say the least. The Nintendo Controls Sony project (where an 80s Nintendo controller is connected up to a Sony Clock Radio) presents a figurative challenge to the branding and marketing of devices that often compete for attention in the living room or toy closet. GIZMODO caught up with Ibars to talk about his practice, ideology, and his current show at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, France.
Name: Roger Ibars
Education: Sociology (UAB), Industrial Design (ESDI), Interaction Design, MA(RCA)
Affiliation: Device Designer, User Researcher
Exhibitions: Centre Pompidou (Paris), Bienal de Lisboa (Portugal), Digital Hub (Dublin), H20 Gallery (Barcelona), Game Paused (London)
"Self Control" (Ibars, 2002)
GIZMODO: How did you first become interested in augmenting / hacking consumer electronics devices?
RI: I wanted to create interactive electronic objects, but I had a lot of coding limitations. I still have them; I come from a sociology background. But then I started to experiment with low-tech electronics and the concept of control. For example I was obsessed with the film "Alphaville" from Jean-Luc Godard. In this film a computer and a mad scientist start to take control of all Paris citizens, removing their ability to love each other. This film is a classic of control and film noir. I designed a remote control that is only controlled by the film. With simple electronics, I hard-wired a light sensor directly to the fast forward button of the remote control. Then I attached the light sensor to the TV screen with a suction cup. When there is light on the screen, the film itself presses the button and fast-forwards to the next scene. As a result, the viewer is only allowed to watch the dark parts of the film, the Film Noir. "Self-Control" was my first augmented device.—a film with the ability to control the TV remote.
GIZMODO: The retro gaming consoles and peripherals in your "Hard-wired Devices" series seem to be favorite objects of yours, what is your attraction to these devices?
RI: I have another obsession apart from films: joysticks. They are such beautiful devices! The shape and forms are ergonomic and gentle in the hand, the buttons are big and colorful and the quality of the plastic is extremely good because they have to suffer a lot of mechanical movement. Just think of the classic Atari joystick. It is so robust, strong, it s like a Mies Van Der Rohe chair but from electronic, modern times.
"Atari Controls Phillips" (Ibars, 2004)
GIZMODO: The self-made objects series presents objects that react to their own mechanisms; such as the "Alarm clock that wakes up the alarm clock." Do you see these types of functionalities being built into future devices?
RI: I would like to see products doing more interesting things with their functions! In product design we still have this idea of labor saving devices. Things have to work first and the most important thing: things need a user. With self-made objects I wanted to question this idea. I designed objects with a common premise: removing the user of the object. What would happen if we design objects without a user in mind? Are users using objects or are the objects using users? I'm not sure but I think design is nowadays more interested in designing users rather that objects.
"Nintendo Controls Phillips" (Ibars 2003)
This is the core idea of this project, which I materialized in eight different objects in animated illustrations. These self-made objects are designed to have an experience of their own functions. For example, there is a kitchen scale that turns itself over and weighs itself. This is an example of an object having a self-reflection experience because the function for which the object has been designed has turned into the one that gives it meaning.
"Alarm clock that wakes up an alarm clock" (Ibars 2003)
Some products on the market already have self-referential functions. I think we are in a new era of automatism what I'm saying with self-made objects is that all this automatism has to be acknowledged to the objects and not taken for granted. Kind of Marxist ideas adapted to the object's way of life. Otherwise the relation between technology and us will be based on functional slavery. Maybe I'm talking about this in very basic terms of how we understand technology in western societies, but this is what interests me from the sociological point of view. Like Bruno Latour would say, we have to look from the point of view of the technology.
"Nintendo Controls Sony" (Ibars 2003)
GIZMODO: Your work often challenges the brand names of devices such as in "Nintendo Controls Sony" and "Atari Controls Philips." Why is this conflict important to your work?
RI: I used to do a "casting" for the objects I choose to connect. I always look for devices with interesting design and I have to admit that some brands more than others did a great job in some of their products. Why not admit it. If you open a Sony alarm clock, inside you will see a very well designed electronic product. You can dismantle everything and put everything back easily. Screws are strong and don't break the plastic after 10 years!
I don't connect two objects having only in mind a conflict of brands. I only did that twice: with Donkeytron II, where you can play a handheld Nintendo with a Sega pad and with Karatetron, where you can play the game with controllers from Scalextric and TCR - two companies that were competitors in the market. They were like Mac and PC for car racing tracks. I had TRC by the way.
"Donkey Tron II" (Ibars 2004)
GIZMODO: Consumer electronics like the iPod and the mobile phone are becoming a global phenomenon. How does the social adoption and use of electronic devices play into your work?
RI: The iPod is a great example of mass consumer fetishism. I love it. In Hard-wired devices I aim to combine objects which trigger some kind of fetishism libido. The same electronic fetishism that some brands played at some point: Bang & Olufsen for example plays that role but my taste is more about round corners and shiny plastic than the untouchable and arrogant cordless phones from the Danish company.
"Unknown Controls Casio" (Ibars 2003)
At the moment I have few hard-wired devices on exhibition at Centre Pompidou. My pieces are in a section next to the iPod and the Bootleg Objects from designers Markus Bader and Max Wolf. The thing is that the iPod is inside glass boxes so nobody can touch them. My objects can be touched and used. It is interesting to see the different exhibition strategy for each product, even though our goal is the same: to trigger desire for electronic devices.
Visitor to Pompidou Exhibition (Ibars 2005)
GIZMODO: What is your most recent work about? How is it similar or different from the previous projects?
RI: On 17th of September I'm presenting a whole new series of Hard-wired devices for the Biennale of Lisbon in Portugal. This new series includes 8 new commissioned pieces and they will have on exhibition until 30th of October. And in the beginning of November, there is a very interesting event in London called GAME PAUSED in which hopefully I will present a few more pieces, some for sale. This work keeps the same idea of connecting amazing electronic devices from the '70s and '80s, but there are also a few new things, which are different from the previous work. For example in one piece I used a zip drive (the classic blue 100MB from Iomega) to switch on an old Philips radio. The sound and the movement of ejecting a 100MB zip disc from this drive is so pleasurable! And I wanted to rescue this function from unstoppable technological forgetfulness.