The MediaLab as Experimental Garden

Sounds, texts and images wash over us every day through the new technologies that we navigate; as our devices proliferate, the way we experience and produce our world is changing. Watching television has become a zap-happy experience as we graze across hundreds of channels; large city screens send diverse mediated images in to our public spaces; and mobile telephones ensure we are always networked and online, even in the most remote location. The networked images that participate in these media landscapes can be easily reproduced and forwarded without end, while film and television are now almost seen as ‘old media’ in a larger media landscape. At the same time, other developments are having a great influence on these media environments. For example, the boundaries between art, science and technology, but also between creativity and commerce, seem to be increasingly blurring. Taken all together, this is the technological profile of our age.

The enormous influence that this stage of networked digitalisation is having on our personal and public lives, means it is important for all of us to think in new and experimental ways about media experience, technological developments, and their relationship to the present and immediate future. Children, ‘digital natives’ though they are, will have to be prepared for this ever-expanding matrix of images, technological tools and environments. Through the MediaLab, Cinekid aims to promote media awareness and create wholly unique opportunities so that children can discover, experiment and play with the myriad of questions and new developments brought about by new media technologies. The effects of such experimentation and the insights such opportunities generate, create important new kinds of media literacy and open up possibilities for our children to make strong future impacts upon media forms, visual culture and technological innovations.


Cinekid’s MediaLab is a 1,200m2 digital playground where children and their parents, alongside teachers, professionals and policymakers, can learn in an active way about the possibilities of different media. More than forty different games, installations and workshops will provide an environment in which to try out, play, learn and laugh with innovative media art and technology. In addition to enabling this close, creative interaction with unique media art works, the MediaLab is also the place where children get to contemplate how the worlds of film, television and new media meet. These converging interactions and relationships between all range of media types becomes palpable at the MediaLab, enabling visitors to see, experience and really explore the results of these latest developments for themselves.

From Oldskool to Newskool: living in media

It was back in 1969 that the media theorist Marshall McLuhan described our relationship to our increasingly technologized culture, with the words “we drive into the future using only our rear-view mirror.” McLuhan’s perspective perhaps more than anyone other, helps us to think about how important and enlightening our children’s approaches to new media experiences really are. Our kids are already demonstrating this McLuhaneseque orientation and reaping its rewards. We can learn from them and they can learn from us in thinking through media futures from the present, while glimpsing back at the past. With this statement in mind, we celebrate 25 years of Cinekid this year, in coincidence with the 100th anniversary of McLuhan’s birth, with our central theme From Oldskool to Newskool: Living in Media. Within the scope of this theme, by simultaneously looking backwards and forwards, the MediaLab will attempt on the one hand to reveal the relationships between the various developments taking place today, while on the other also demonstrating what is new, and not so new, about our present submergence in media paradigms. We no longer live simply with media; we live in media.

The MediaLab consists of four distinct areas, each of which has its own relationship to the central theme. The first of these focuses on the body: a new step has been taken in human-computer communication by the latest generation of interfaces, particularly the new Microsoft game console, Kinect. This intuitive, “un-encumbered” interface – which allows you to control the computer directly, using your whole body, without an interface device such as a mouse or keyboard, simply by pointing, waving or jumping – is now a reality. Many media artists and students have been inspired by the Kinect; the MediaLab contains exciting examples of these experiments, such as Dysmorphia, Puppet Parade and Lonely in the Crowd.

The second area is characterised by the relationship between past and present (oldskool-newskool) and the idea of remediation. In the same way new media can absorb older media, we are also now seeing classic games, for example those played by our parents, being given a new, modern twist for young and older players. Examples include Wip’n’Kip, a Dutch game in which you can win a serious race with a wooden ‘hobby-chicken’, or Silhouetris (based on Nintendo’s early Tetris game), in which you yourself are now a piece of the puzzle within the digital environment.

The third area of the MediaLab is dedicated to (digital) crafts, t(h)inkering and construction/deconstruction. With workshops such as Sumo Robots – in which children can make their own little battling robots from waste material – Cinekid strives to show how you can deconstruct things yourself to make something new. There are also workshops more geared to film and television, such as You Can Learn to Present! and Masterclass, in which children learn the tricks of the media trade and gain insights into how media messages are construed.

The fourth and final area deals with innovation and asks, ‘What’s new?’ What are the most recent developments in the area of media, visual culture and storytelling? This category includes a workshop in which children can make a short film for a smart-phone, which they can watch with an analogue click-on adaptor in 3D. They can also experiment with Face++, which works with the latest face-tracking technologies. The Japanese project Necomimi goes a step further, directly using impulses from your brain. For this work, users can try on cat’s ears that move around and twitch in response to them just concentrating or relaxing. The experiments and installations based on these new technologies are playful and investigative and give a hint of possibilities to come.

While each of the project’s various games, installations and workshops provide a specific type of experience, when experienced curated together in this way, children and adults will be able to make new connections. In some cases, works will generate more questions than answers, and this is what we hope will be the case. Generally speaking, the workshops are focussed on children being able to make things for themselves in a very hands on way. They will experience how media messages are constructed, how different media are actually made and how they can influence or make media themselves. The games in the MediaLab will show off the latest developments in the areas of interactive games and profile serious gaming and cross-media productions. Finally, the unique installations in the exhibition by internationally renowned media artists give a very innovative and experimental impression of technology at play. New and recent works by Zachary Lieberman, Theodore Watson & Emily Gobeille, Sander Veenhof and Joon Y. Moon are showcased here alongside experimental works in progress by talented emerging artists, to be tested by audiences.

The four themes of the MediaLab are all related in one way or another to the main theme Oldskool-Newskool: Living in Media, but they also overlap. The themes together can be considered as a framework or common thread when looking at the MediaLab in all its various possibilities and nuances, as well as for seeing the Lab in a broader social context. Although the MediaLab is aimed first and foremost at children, adults can also undergo the experience and find out what is new and exciting about media today through their own and their children’s responses and investigations. MediaLab aims to show and explain, but also simply to perplex and to amaze. The MediaLab is for you, so come and see for yourself. And enjoy!

This text has been published in the professionals guide for the Cinekid Festival 2011 see