Mz* Baltazar’s Laboratory / Vienna (Austria)
In 2009, 3 of the 4 female members of the hackerspace MetaLab sought to create their very own intersectional feminist space for female, trans and nonbinary makers. Mz* Baltazar (http://www.mzbaltazarslaboratory.org/) was founded in Vienna, mostly by activists and political scientists, who – at that time – were part of the association’s board. They started doing their own workshops for female, nonbinary and trans makers who wanted to creatively engage with hardware, technology and open source.
Currently, Mz* Baltazar’s Laboratory has 5 board members as core team, and collective, and a wider community – their newsletter is received by more than 300 persons. The board members do their work for free and try to juggle their multiple responsibilities with their formal employments.
Mz* Baltazar currently operates quite hardware focussed, working with sensors, and embedded tactile environments. They focus on open source and the question of using technology meaningfully escaping as they call it “the current triangle of violence, consisting of military intervention, planned obsolescence and e-waste”. Their critical making approach reflects differently constructed, recycled and long-lasting technology.
From the very beginning, Mz* Baltazar sought to be a visible space, operating from locations with large open windows and open doors. Since its foundation, the space has changed its locations several times, with major effects not only on their self-organisation but also on their representation, with arts becoming a more and more visible axis of their activities. The current space is located in Brigittenau/Vienna, Austria, a district with high shares of persons with migration histories, as well as low-income levels compared to the city of Vienna as a whole. Their current clientele is quite diverse, reaching persons who are somehow interested in arts or technology across all socio-economic strata.
Their current location consists of different rooms with diverging levels of visibility: the first room being visible from the outside (street level) offers white walls with the opportunity to be used for different purposes. Most often, they are read as a gallery. Another room, the ‘chaos room’, offers space for Mz* Baltazar’s community, being equipped with several tools, such as soldering stations, but also old hardware and other tools that have been donated for give away. Their current space also has a kitchen and a bathroom as community rooms. The new possibilities related to their room-situation also helped them being able to joint three research projects.
Gender and other inequalities
Mz* Baltazar started being a space proactively supporting solo-exhibitions from female-identifying artists. For these artists, and especially for younger female artists, such exhibition spaces are still hard to get as arts are, like media and technology, still cis-male dominated spaces.
The lab aspires to be a space for female, nonbinary and trans persons to learn, to encourage each other and to be independent, but also to offer possibilities to express themselves and getting heard and to create their own network of artists to be invited for workshops and exhibitions.
The open-door policy – i.e. interessees are welcome to come in and comment– is an important part of Mz* Baltazar’s activity, as they put a lot of effort on interaction in the social space and face-to-face settings.Everyone should be encouraged to educate and learn, to offer space for failures and space to try things out for free, and to offer space for gender analysis. These are both community driven, as they are sought by explicitly feminist artists, who approach Mz* Baltazar for being (more) explicit and open about their criticism of other places. They also purposefully invite feminist and, in particular queer feminist, artists to play with gender norms, to critically dismantle intersectional injustices of the current system. Gender relations are therefore critically addressed by the community as well as the organisers in a positively reinforcing feedback loop.
Mz* Baltazar also has a code of conduct visible on their website, which emphasises the need to respect each others’ living realities, resources and identities/definition. This was formulated by board members and has not been questioned since. However, Mz* Baltazar’s stance is continually discussed amongst its members and re-evaluated. Mz* Baltazar tries to support their community and their respective needs, e.g. with organising child care solutions and supporting the artists.
Best practices and challenges
Safe spaces are important resources for non-dominant groups in the maker and hacker community as well as in arts. It is important to consider different needs and resources resulting from people’s entanglements and social positions. Not everyone has the same needs or possibilities.
“The maker culture is still cis-male dominated, influencing what kind of persons, art and work are deemed being important.”