Critical Tools: The Fabulous School of Octopy

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Tutor: Shailoh Phillips contact:

We meet at the Interaction Station in the computer room, W.2.108

This is a process-oriented class. Therefore, it is crucial to document your research and prototyping as you progress through the module. Include in the process log some documentation of the experiments along the way (e.g., sketches, photographs, audio, and/or video), notes from the workshops, lectures, and assigned readings, as well as documentation of your final (group) projects. The aim of all this is to expand your critical repertoire with new concepts, tactics, skills and techniques. You will be pushing technology to the extreme to reveal potential problems embedded in current operations and open up new possibilities (NOT to solve problems; wicked problems cannot be solved). The final assignment can be found [below]


DAY 1: Monday 8 January - INTRO & Subversive Prototyping

13.15 Introduction to the Fabulous School of Octopy

Keywords: criticality, prototype, intervention, tools, technology, tentacular

14.00-15.00 Prototyping with Critical Making cards

15.30 Feedback and assignments

DAY 2: Tuesday 9 January: Critical Making

Critical making is less about the aesthetics of the end product and more about the process and conceptual exploration. It is the inquiry that matters and not the final solution. Through making you get a better understanding of how various technologies function. Critical Making gives birth to curiosity. While making, you question several aspects of the process, explore various directions formulating your own opinion on what works or does not work and why.

The main focus of critical making is open design. Open design develops a critical perspective on the current institutions, practices and norms of society, and reconnects materiality and morality. Matt Ratto introduces Critical Making as processes of material and conceptual exploration and creation of novel understandings by the makers themselves. Critical Making includes digital software and hardware. Software usually refers to the Raspberry Pi or Arduino, hardware refers to a computer, or any other device that facilitates an operation.

Source: Critical Making wiki

13.00-14.00 Introduction: Critical Tools in the Age of Entanglement / why and how?

14.00-15.00 Working on assignment 2: Prototyping critical making

15.00-16.00 Collective reading on Critical Making
 (see 'resources' below)

16.00-17.30 Guest Lecture: Florian Cramer: Critical Making in context

Here's a link to the video for people who missed the class or want to see it again. Discussion: is it still 'critical making' when the alt-right uses DIY open source tools? See Pepe the frog Gimp tutorial.

17.30-18.30 BREAK

18.30-21.00 (optional) reading group on critical theory + working on prototypes, research, documentation


Read selections from the Critical Making Zine

* Interview Garnet Hertz and Matt Ratto

DAY 3: Wednesday 10 January: Power Mapping & Circuit Bending

13.00-14.00 5 min presentations of first prototyping exercise

14.00-15.30 lecture and workshop: prototyping with arduino and makey makey controllers

See: Tech stuff tutorials (Arduino, MaKey MaKey etc)

16.00 walking and power mapping (we go outside to scout sites).

17.30-18.30 BREAK

18.30-21.00 (optional) reading group on critical theory + working on prototypes, research, documentation

Read this before class on Thursday:

Quote: "linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and wearing away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied". Video of reading part 2 of this chapter out loud.

  • Optional wikipedia article on the book "The Practice of Everyday Life" to give some context.


DAY 4: Thursday 11 January: Critical Theory and Radical Politics

13.00-15.00 Lecture and workshop: tactics and crash course in Critical Theory and Immanent Critique, from Kant to Chun.

15.00-17.30 Psycho-geography: power mapping

Final project ideation

18.30-21.00 (optional) reading group on critical theory + working on prototypes, research, documentation


Read the Epilogue, pages 299-302.

DAY 5: Friday 12 January: Speculation and Fabulation: Radical Imagination

13.00-14.00 Lecture and workshop From situationists to speculation: strategies and tactics 14.00-15.00 Networked Technology: what's new, what's not?

17.00 (optional) drinks

Resources: Dunne and Raby


DAY 6: Monday 15 January: Ideation-through-Making

13.00-17.00 Lecture and workshop: tactics, critical theory discussion

18.00-21 Independent working on prototypes, research, documentation

DAY 7: Tuesday 16 January: Testing and Feedback Loops

13.00-15.00 tactics and testing

15.00-21.00 Working on prototypes, research, documentation

DEADLINE version 1 project log (draft)

DAY 8: Wednesday 17 January: feedback and prototyping

13.00-14.00 preparing presentations

14.00-17.30 Individual feedback session (with Floran Cramer and guest critics)

  • 14.00-14.30: group 1 - e-waste art / recycling technologies (Fianda, Joanna, Leslie)
  • 14.30-15.00: group 2: NFC / ov-chip cards (Leonie, Verena)
  • 15.00-15.30: group 3: Crypto-currency bubbles (Jeff, Tim)

break / questions

  • 15.45-16.15: group 4: Whois Google board game (Brian, Donja, Jiazhen)
  • 16.15-16.45: group 5: (Shravani, Michael, Pilar, Sakeesha)
  • 16.45-17.15 General comments and input for final round (for everybody!)

18.30-21.00 (optional) reading group on critical theory + working on prototypes, research, documentation

DAY 9: Thursday 18 January

13.00-17.00 prepare final presentation and clean-up workspaces

17.00 DEADLINE for submitting final project portfolio (individual)

18.00-22.00 Final demos and discussion


  • group 3: Crypto-currency bubbles (Jeff, Tim)
  • group 4: Google board game (Brian, Donja, Jiazhen)
  • group 1: Planned obsolescence (Fianda, Joanna, Leslie)
  • group 5: Google Maps, live and personal (Shravani, Michael, Pilar, Sakeesha)
  • group 2: ov-chip cards feedback (Leonie, Verena)

(Optional) Closing drinks


ASSIGNMENT 1: Kick-off (Due Tuesday 8 January 12.00)

  1. Name + any information you'd like the rest of the group to know about you, such as study background (everyone in the group can see your post). Optional: include a picture.
  2. what sparked your interest in this elective? what do you hope to get out of it? (write at least 5 words and max 1 paragraph).
  3. (at least) one photo and brief description in response to this: Show a concrete example of how systems of oppression/exclusion are exercised in (semi)public spaces? Here are some sub-questions to help you along the way: > What does power look like? When is power invisible? How are hierarchies and power mechanisms embedded in architecture, in technologies, in conditioned behaviour? How do systems of oppression and exclusion manifest themselves in everyday life? who is most effected by these (think of colonial past/present, gender norms / patriarchy, heteronormativity, capitalism, extractionism, class, race, education level, physical accessibility). Tip: look at different scales, zooming in to micro level and out to megastructures.

NOTE: There is no right/wrong on this assignment. Try to find a location that might interest you for the final assignment (you can always change this along the way). HOW TO SHARE?

Please hand this in on the slack channel under #submissions by Tuesday 9 January 13.00. Also add this to your research notebook / log / portfolio as a starting point.

ASSIGNMENT 2: Prototyping critical making (5 min demo Wednesday 10 at 13.00 + document in log)

Prototype a subversive technology tweak, using the critical making cards. You can work alone or in groups. If you missed the session today, you will still have time tomorrow to jump on board. The prototypes will be presented in class on Wednesday 10 January from 13-14.00 > Document the process with photos and short written reflection. What are ideas that you would like to continue to explore? What challenges did you encounter?

ASSIGNMENT 3: References (prep for Tuesday 8 Jan and add to your log)

research critical tools and tactics used by artists/designers/philosophers (contemporary or historical). Pick three different artists/designers and look at their practice. TIP: try searching for critical design, design fiction, tactical media, situationists, critical engineering, hacking art. > >Please hand this in on the slack channel under #submissions. > Add the references to your notebook / documentation

Assignment 4: Project Log / reflection (Due Tuesday 16 Jan)

Assignment 5: Final Project Log + group demo (Due 18 Jan)

All students are required to individually submit a (digital) notebook and minimal 1A4 statement on critical tools on Thursday 18 January by 17.00 (this afternoon is dedicated to finalizing your submissions and preparing for the group presentations).

The central assignment for this course is: Research, prototype, develop and test an interactive interface (digital, physical or hybrid) that exposes and challenges power structures in a specific situation in public space.

Although you will submit individual reflection and process portfolios, you are encouraged to work in small groups of 2-3 in developing the projects.


to bring to class:

  • a laptop or tablet (there are a few computers available if you don't have one)
  • (digital) sketchbook dedicated to documenting field notes, reading, project documentation etc + prototype + your favorite drawing tools.
  • (phone) camera for documenting the process
  • any electronics equipment that you think might come in handy (wires, clippers, microcontrollers, chargers, sensors etc)
  • optional: depending on the type of project you intend on making, you may want to use microcontrollers such as Arduino, Rasberry Pi and MaKey MaKey for prototyping. Note: The focus in this elective is not on the technical skills, but the actual implementation and testing of a prototype in public space. There are a limit set of Arduinos available on loan from the WdKA (10 have been reserved for us). If you would like to keep/recycle your project after this class or intend on using microcontrollers in future projects, I recommend you purchase your own starter's kit, for example the HKU starter's kit through this website:

optional: snacks to share in the breaks