How can we get people to give a damn?

According to Rachel Uwa, that’s the question. As a founder of the School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe, this artist and educator is all about connecting technology to being human. ‘Technology is at its best when people use it as a way to reflect on who they are and what they care about.’
Berlin-based Rachel Uwa offers us her no-holds-barred first impression of Utrecht. ‘I think you have a diversity problem. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of diversity in the city in general. However, I think it’s not your fault. Everything looks fine and thus appears to be fine. It’s a beautiful city but it really isolates you into believing the rest of the world is fine too. So perhaps it’s the environment that sustains the lack of diversity. To me, Berlin is really different in that matter. Diversity is very much a part of the fabric of the city. But spend enough time there and you will begin to understand that police brutality and racism is alive and well. “Diversity” can bring out a lot of things in humans you would not have known about otherwise. At the same time, it’s important to know what you, and in turn the people around you, are made of.’


As a brand-new HKU-fellow on the realm of creative technology, her first encounters with HKU evoked a similar feeling of a missing urgency. ‘Maybe I don’t know enough about this community yet, but concerning technology, as far as I can tell everybody seems to celebrate it. They don’t seem critical about it at all, whereas to me that’s really the most important part. I think that’s why Martijn van Gessel invited me to this fellowship: to bring a little more criticality into this space.’


Speaking at the HKU Dag recently, she had received a text stating that the event was mainly about reinforcing a commitment to diversity. Rachel: ‘In my mind, diversity isn’t a term to just throw around. What does diversity actually mean to the people who run this institution? Are they really willing to be diverse? Because that means you have to make that extra effort with conviction. If you can only accept a certain number of students, you have to make sure that a portion of those spots are reserved for new people, new thinking. I feel that a lot of people employ the term “diversity” these days, because they think that it’s what everyone wants to hear. But are they actually practising the things that go with it?’


‘For me it’s about: how can we get people to give a damn? The world obviously has some problems that need to be solved. The solutions are here: young people. Young people using art to tell a story that can inspire people to think differently about technology, politics, and society. But you have to address the individual. So when you talk to an individual, find out who they are and what is going on in their life. And then trace that back to how they relate to politics, technology, and so on… It all comes down to this: how do we get people to think about who they are and what they care about? Then we can use that as a starting point to think about others. That’s actually the subject and name of my fellowship: Inside then Outside.’

On display

‘At the moment we have about 9 participants in the project. Some of them work at HKU, running various Maker Spaces and labs. Also involved are several current and former students. Each of them will use creative technology for interactive works that will be on display in public space. Our plan is to showcase these works in the Summer, perhaps in the Central Station area. I will also document the overall process in some form of publication. I know my methodology well, but the question is: “can I teach it to others?” My work will always be about how technology can be connected to society, to politics, and to the experiences of being human. I feel that this is really an important direction and we all should be moving towards it. I guess it takes some effort before it catches on, but I’m sure that in the future it’s going to be a big movement.’
text & header photo: Edwin Verhoeven / photo collage: School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe