Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory is a weekly event taking place in Vienna (Austria), specifically for persons who call themselves women or trans. If you love to make things, rather than consuming them, meet up at Mz Baltazar’s to share your skills. Mz Baltazar’s participants come from different backgrounds, ages and mindsets to exchange equipement, build circuits, play with DIY electronics and interactive art. We encourage each other to learn new tools and collaborate. All workshops are free in order to offer a fearless, accessible plattform to tinker with male connotated toys. The artwork created at Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory is generated with Open Source Soft- and Hardware. We see the process of demythifying technology as a fun way to articulate ourselves and become creative.
Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory playfully demystifies technology, opening up a world where learning new technological tools is fearless, interesting and clear for creative women of all ages. As an educational community, Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory organizes free (or inexpensive) workshops that teach new media technology, fostering comfortable learning environments for women who want to experiment with using electronics in artistic practices, but are unsure of where or how to begin. Building an online network connecting the participants of these workshops worldwide, Mz Baltazar’s laboratory unites an international community of women artists sharing resources and research, while continuing to promote and encourages fearless curiosity, collaboration, and intuitive approaches to technology.
Taking a holistic, top-down-learning approach to education, Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory is more than just a series of workshops designed for women. Mz Baltazar Laboratory harnesses the big picture of life-long learning by building a network that includes not only the immediate tools and experiments of contemporary technology, but also a history of knowledge by cataloging personal interview with amazing, pioneering women in art and technology. Through these interviews, established women artists serve as personal mentors to the Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory community, sharing their personal stories of learning and working with creative technology.
Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory was founded in 2008 by Stefanie Wuschitz while working as a Digital Art Fellow at the the University of Umea (HUMlab) in Sweden. Leading weekly workshops on interactive art, Stefanie was confused that most of what she was asked to teach was how to build robots and cars. She realized quickly that no matter what she did, the dynamic in her workshops always left many of her female participants silent while her male students asked frequently about robots, cars, and games. In an effort to change this dynamic, and encourage greater participation from the women in her workshops, she began to host workshops for women only. The success of her approach was inspiring and exciting as her classes grew and women were noticeably more engaged and full of questions that they simply would not have asked in a co-ed environment.
It is important to note that Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory was not born from the idea that women need extra help. It was established by recognizing the value in offering different learning environments. Generchangers.org has a nice way of explaining the value of a “women only” approach to teaching technology:
“Imagine you are alone and traveling in a country where you don’t know the language and cultural intricacies. Do you remember how it felt when you bumped into someone just like yourself? One of our goals is to get more women involved in technology. The issue here is inclusion not exclusion. We reassess this choice constantly. Presently the conclusion is that the need remains for spaces where women can share experiences, break things, make jokes and ask so-called stupid questions amongst themselves. This approach is not the goal but a means. Life outside of the workshops is ever present.”
Since 2009 Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory has made it’s home in Vienna, Austria at the hackerspace Metalab, hosting women-only events every other weeks. They are free and attract women of all ages with different professional and cultural backgrounds. It is important that these meetings are offered for women only, because a deeper learning experience comes from the interpretation of how technology should be applied. In workshops dominated by male participants (especially in beginners workshops), the emphasis is weighted heavily on applications such as robots and cars which too often loose the interest of women who generally find more interest and deeper learning through the technological application of wearable technology, handmade sensors, and expressive art. With the goal of teaching its participants how to interact with technology as a producer rather than as a consumer, the women-only component of Miss Baltazar’s Laboratory creates a relaxing space for women where all question can be asked, and daring feminine ideas are explored and tested against the culturally male dominated field of electronics.
Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory has toured its workshop and vision internationally, offering intensive interactive art workshops in Damascus, Brussels, Rotterdam, Munich, Prague, Berlin, Brooklyn and New York. Cooperating organizations have included: Transmediale (Berlin), Worm (Rotterdam), Yo Yo Yo (Prague), OKNO (Brussel), workshop, Brienner (Munchen), Takween (Damascus), CAMPUS PARTY (Madrid), NYC Resistor, Harvestworks (New York). Guest presenters and teachers have included Helga Hofbauer (AU, “How to Start Your Own Blog”), Lesley Flanigan (NY, “DIY Amplifier”), Philipp Tiefenbacher and Amir Hassan (AU, “Laser Cutter Workshop”), and Eli Skipp (CA, “Wearable Technology: fabric bright light!” )
The original Mz. Baltazar’s Laboratory in Sweden has since converted into a education club that specializes in organizing workshops in schools for teaching young girls how to playfully experiments with technology while simultaneously understanding the demand for critical, productive use of technology. All members are volunteers.
text by lesley flanigan and stefanie wuschitz
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