An Interview with Professor Bo Reimer of Medea Lab
Interview by Darren Wershler, Jussi Parikka, and Lori Emerson
Interviewers: What is your lab called and where is it?
Bo Reimer: It is called MEDEA LAB MALMÖ, and it is located in Malmö, Sweden, as part of Malmö University. It started in 2009. It grew out of the work conducted within the School of Arts and Communication, which started in 1998 when Malmö University was inaugurated.
Interviewers: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Bo Reimer: We deal with societal challenges through experiments and interventions. The focus is on what we term collaborative media, [as well as] on design, and public engagement. We combine critical and theoretical work with design and arts based practices.
Interviewers: Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
Bo Reimer: It is primarily a research lab. About 30 researchers from Malmö University are involved in the work. Researchers come from fields such as Media and Communication Studies, Media Technology, Interaction Design, Design Theory, Computer Science, Comparative Literature and Art History. The work is carried out in collaboration with students and with researchers from other universities, and with people from outside academia belonging to public sector organizations, civil society organizations, the culture sector, and the creative industries.
In addition to research, there is an outreach part of Medea. We have by now arranged more than 40 public lectures in our Medea Talks series, and more than 20 podcasts in our Medea Vox series. Speakers include Dick Hebdige, Lucy Suchman, Nick Montfort, Joanna Zylinska, Jay Bolter and Susan Schuppli.
Interviewers: What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
Bo Reimer: As well as the above mentioned lecture and podcast series, we produce academic books, articles and conference proceedings (by now more than 100 publications), symposia and art installations. Recent work includes the books Collaborative Media (Löwgren and Reimer, 2013) and Making Futures (Ehn, Nilsson and Topgaard, eds, 2014), both published by The MIT Press, the symposium The New Human, 2016, produced in collaboration with The Modern Museum Malmö, the symposium Executions: Conversations on Code, Politics & Practice, 2016, produced in collaboration with PhD Students Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter and Eric Snodgrass, and art installation World Brain, 2015, produced in collaboration with artists and researchers Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, and stage designer Amanda Wickman. The fanzine-style magazine Prototyping Futures from 2012 gives a nice overview over the kinds of collaborative projects we had carried out up until then.
Interviewers: Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
Bo Reimer: We used to have a designated space, but since last year, we move between spaces, depending on our specific needs at specific times. There are pros and cons [associated] with this. There is obviously a point in having a designated space as a physical meeting space, but it is also expensive and may not always function optimally for the things one wants to do. Not having a designated space within the university also adds to the likelihood of conducting events and experiments outside the university setting, which suits and interests us.
Interviewers: What sorts of support does the lab receive?
Bo Reimer: The lab gets base funding from The Faculty of Culture and Society at Malmö University. In addition to that, over the years funding has primarily come from Swedish research funders such as The Swedish Research Council and Knowledge Foundation, and from EU.
Interviewers: What are your major theoretical touchstones?
Bo Reimer: We take our points of departure on the one hand in the American pragmatism tradition of John Dewey and its continuation in the works of Donald Schön, on the other hand in the Scandinavian participatory design tradition. [We are also influenced by] Bauhaus.
Interviewers: What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
Bo Reimer: It would be a bit boring to say that our two books on The MIT press are the most significant accomplishments, even though academically they obviously are the most significant. But I would also like to point to the more tangible and material accomplishments of our work. Examples [include] our participation in the setting up of the now permanent maker space STPLN; working with film director Hanna Sköld in making her movie Nasty Old People into the first Swedish movie with a Creative Commons licence and the first movie ever to be distributed via the Pirate Bay; [and our] participation in the making of Malmö City Symphony, a collaborative documentary/arts film based on footage gathered by Malmö citizens which was then remixed by VJs [and performed] together with musicians in a live performance.
Interviewers: Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3–5 years?
Bo Reimer: In general, we will continue with the kind of work we have done the last couple of years, while obviously trying to sharpen and refine it. We have a number of international partners and we would like to deepen the collaborations we have with them. One direction our work has taken is towards what may be called collaborative future-making. We are presently part of a network at Malmö University seeking long-term funding for a research program. In relation to the work carried out at Medea thus far, this network constitutes an academic broadening, bringing academics from fields such as social work, educational sciences, and political science into the Medea community.
Interviewers: What makes your lab a lab?
Bo Reimer: We decided to explicitly call our environment a lab due to the experimental character of the work we do. It is experimental in the sense of conducting work where the outcome is not predetermined, and where the participants bring with them quite different kinds of experiences and get to work with people they are not accustomed to working with. Using the term 'lab' also indicates the material aspect of what we do. It is not a maker space or a living lab, but the combination of theory and practice [in our process] is crucial.