Right to Umake
Thursday, October 5
As technological platforms have become more powerful, our ability to deconstruct them has weakened. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalizes farmers who disassemble tractors, hip-hop artists who sample vintage songs, and museum conservators who decompile obsolete software.
Store shelves over the last fifty years have likewise undergone a decline in toys that leave play to the imagination, as branded franchises with predetermined narratives like Frozen and Star Wars have crowded out open-ended playthings like generic dolls and chemistry sets.
Lego is one of the few toy companies to survive this encroachment with its reputation for exploratory play intact, yet its plastic bricks are increasingly boxed with instructions to build a single vehicle or building–a trend even more pronounced in competitors like Megablocks, whose specialized parts cannot be used to build anything else. Toys that discourage unmaking teach kids that being creative means following instructions.
Operating in contrast to the decline of hackability in today’s app and toy stores is a spectrum of creators who are decidedly not following instructions. Some hack systems without permission, like those who modify or “speedrun” Super Mario. Other artists exploit the openness of “toy” platforms like Minecraft or design microcontrollers like Arduino explicitly for hacking.
This panel invites artist and scholars to interrogate the often contradictory narratives surrounding makers and unmakers of products and platforms marketed as creative media. Depending on proposals received for the panel, its organizers may structure the discussion according to an aleatoric dynamic consistent with the theme of Lego-like creativity.
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