Our feature story for this month is about Cindy Lin (left in photo), co-organizer of The Nenek Project (Proyek Nenek) a transnational collaboration between Stefanie Wuschitz (right in photo) , Cindy Lin and citizen lab, Lifepatch in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to encapsulate elderly women’s ways of experiencing, understanding and doing science and technology.
1. Tell us about The Nenek Project
Cindy: The Nenek Project is a transnational collaboration between Stefanie Wuschitz (AUS) – geek, artist and researcher, Lifepatch (IDN) – a citizen initiative blending art, science and technology and myself. Spending most of our time with the mothers of some Lifepatch members, we attempted to understand the social and political underpinnings of the vibrant DIY culture in Indonesia. From our interview narratives, we managed to identify the tactical ways elderly women employ to survive in local and global economic crisis, the subtle constraints of ibu ideologies, and the everyday supportive structures to elderly women build together.
Poster is designed by Antirender from Lifepatch
2. What motivated you to start this project with Stefanie and Lifepatch?
Cindy: I will speak for myself here. As a researcher interested in spaces of science and technology, I often wonder to myself if there are particular socialising factors or inherent capability for particular genders and sexualities to do science and technology better than other genders and sexualities. I was also a little tired of the stereotypical depiction of a geek as a bespectacled male glued to a screen and typing away. By saying this, I don’t mean to suggest that there is an overrepresentation of self-identified males in STEM fields. However, it is apparent that there appears to be a lack of elderly, female-identified participants in STEM fields. And I do believe that Nenek Project can be an interesting and productive entry point to understand the relationships between open spaces, knowledge exchanges and hacker and maker cultures.
When I was in Indonesia, I became curious about vernacular technologies and knowledge as I was collecting data and spending time with my friends at Yogyakarta during fieldwork. I was also fascinated about how and why women in Yogyakarta seem to challenge this public and private divide with the relations they create and sustain by engaging in particular activities. These activities are not only centered on how women were very active at the pasar (market) but also as administrators for particular population control duties. As foreigners, Stefanie and I grew more and more curious about how and why elderly women do science and technology in Indonesia.
With the collaboration of Lifepatch and most of their mothers, all of us were presented with a refreshing insight into doing and making among elderly, self-identified nenek-nenek (grandmothers) or ibu-ibu (mothers).
3. What surprised you the most about the participants of the project?
Cindy: The mothers behind the Nenek Project surprised Stefanie, Lifepatch members and myself with how reflexive and aware they are behind the politics of doing technology and science. Of course, it is also an amazing realisation for the children (Lifepatch members) when their mothers revealed particular skills and knowledge similar to what Lifepatch members have attempted to exchange, learn and do as a collective. For example, one of the members’ mothers have been working on river management and hydraulic techniques in Solo and Yogyakarta – some of these techniques and knowledge will be useful for Lifepatch’s Jogja River Project. Another mother is a professor specialising in systems at Gadjah Mada University. There are also other mothers who expressed the practice of doing science and technology in more lo-tech yet highly skilful manners.
What I am trying to say is that there are many ways one can initiate a group or start a collective. However, to sustain it as a constantly negotiating, fair and collaborative collective is a different ball game. Stefanie mentioned before that sustaining a collective such as a hackerspace is like a technique, a technology that does not only exist in a material form. I was also very taken by this. And this is what most of the collaborative, long-term sister economies built by the elderly ladies (whether formally or informally) surprised us most with – their microfinance programmes, their daily exercises, their participation in the departure of deceased neighbours, their cross-warung/toko (small restaurant/shop) collaborations and their meetups at arisan (small gatherings for various purposes). Of course, there are the not so positive sides of particular activities and engagements but throughout our four months, particular techniques employed to sustain sister economies and relations stood out a lot.
“Ibu Rini Astuti Nasution is one of our interlocutors for The Nenek Project. She has three phones, two of which are smartphones.”
4. What are the future plans for The Nenek Project and yourself?
Cindy: Stefanie, Lifepatch and I are still discussing our future plans. All of us do need to reflect, discuss and understand the impact and relevance of our previous outputs during our exhibition at Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There were some plans to have the mothers do workshops in Lifepatch or a gallery space but these are not yet realised.
Nonetheless, two of our exhibition works are currently shown at HeK — Critical Make turning functionality at Basel. One of it is GLOSSARY NGOPREK (2015) – a collection of terms used to describe Indonesian and Javanese verbs and nouns related to hacking, making, sharing and exchanging in Indonesia employed and used by the interviewed elderly women and Lifepatch members. Another work is PROYEK NENEK — an approx. 30 minute documentary featuring the interviewed mothers filmed by some of the interviewers and edited by Antirender from Lifepatch. I hope to show it in Singapore. I will like to understand what elderly self-identified women do, think and perceive science and technology as in Singapore. It will be nice to see how social and political factors have shaped and been shaped by elderly self-identified women.
5. What do you think about the tech ecosystem in the region?
Cindy: The tech ecosystem in this region surprises me most. As a researcher deeply enamoured by the intricacies of cultural peculiarities and how these interweave with technological making, consuming and thinking in Southeast Asia (SEA), vernacular technologies and repair culture excite me most. The invisible users and makers who recombine and reuse articles and artefacts lying at the border of decay reminds me how uneven flows and transmissions of scientific and technological knowledges and materials are in SEA. For example, the practices of tukang ban (tyre repair men) on Indonesian streets. That being said, this street exuberance should not be exoticised. It might be more productive to analyse the intersections of both hi- and lo-tech knowledges and understand how knowledge is both globalised and local at the same time.
Aside from an emphasis on creating a more mature start-up culture, I also think the larger stakeholders determining the tech ecosystem in SEA should invest itself into weighing the advantages and disadvantages behind Human-Computer Interaction For Development (HCI4D) projects and appropriate technology projects in smaller scales. I believe technological solutions can be beneficial but it can also be very disadvantageous and irrelevant to particular so-called sample populations of particular development technologies. I also hope to see how critical design can be articulated via the cultural peculiarities of various global South countries.
The innovation discourse in Southeast Asia will also be another aspect that thrills me most… especially with regards to how it shapes the balance in inflows of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and extent of government intervention for funding tech start-ups in Southeast Asia.
6. Where should someone who is interested to explore the maker/hacker community start?
Cindy: It is definitely interesting to see how the maker/hacker cultures articulate and shape their own identities in Indonesia and Singapore. Or to even see how hacker and maker culture elsewhere is a subset of what is happening in SEA. If we are looking at Singapore, I find myself most comfortable in Hackerspace Singapore. Luther from Hackerspace Singapore has always been supportive of another initiative I am in, DIYbio Singapore. From hosting our workshops on fermentation to teaching some of DIYbio-ers soldering skills, the members of Hackerspace SG have always supported DIYbio SG’s cause. I will also recommend any enthusiast to be on one of Joo Khai’s informal electronics tour where he will bring you to several places in Bras Brasah area. The One Maker Group’s Prototyping Lab @ National Design Centre (NDC) has one of the most well-equipped and informative workshops I have been to in Singapore. It definitely has a different workshop style from the workshops I have attended in Indonesia, and explains how knowledge is most effectively transferred in different cultures and spaces. The Geek Girls meetups will be another mobile meetup I hope more enthusiasts, geeks and newcomers will attend. An alternative insight in to how the technological and scientific industry can work is definitely worth a visit.
I will also say that it might be more exciting for someone to go beyond what is formally recognised as hacker and maker cultures and trace historically, such practices in Southeast Asia.
Please do not hesitate to send me an email at email@example.com or visit my website at http://cindylin.org/
Stefanie Wuschitz: http://grenzartikel.com/
More information about The Nenek Project can be found here:
Science and Tech spaces to visit in Singapore (non-exhaustive):
The Lifepatch members include Agus Tri Budiarto, Nur Akbar Arofatullah, Budi Prakosa, Andreas Siagian, Agung Geger, Arifin Wicaksono, Adhari Donora, Ferial Afiff, Wawies Wisnu Wisdantio.