Autolabs, Sao Paulo (2004)
By Ricardo Rosas and Tatiana Wells
Sao Paulo is a place where social inequalities are extreme. It is a global city full of abundance and hunger, of advanced universities and problems with access to basic education, with sprawling villas and lots of homeless and landless people. From this background social movements arise and spread in different intensities, trying to answer and confront a situation which the ruling powers tends to render as insoluble. Besides, the mediascape is dominated by great monopolies that obviously defend the very interests of these elites to maintain the apparent order and a complacent consensus towards a social situation which sometimes dares to show its angry face and explode in riots.
Despite the dominance of media monopolies, independent media projects have a long history in Brazil. During the last dictatorship in the 70s lots of alternative magazines, the "imprensa nanica" (small press), produced uncountable zines, samizdats and culture magazines against the established government. This created a sort of a counterculture. From the 80s onwards this movement was gradually reduced to a pop market of fandom publishing. Could that situation be changed or, at least, challenged? Such a gigantic task would demand great efforts, for which media tacticians could only do a small, if significant part, in order to minimize the devastating aspects of this almost entirely monopolized mediascape. This dilemma was the main reason for one of the Brazilian TML organizers to take a very clear position. Believing in media autonomy for the masses, media activists conceived the Autolabs, a project for labs of tactical media to be taught to young people on the periphery, in poor districts and slums in São Paulo.
Autonomously created with the help of local communities, the Autolabs are thought to be laboratorial prototypes of media literacy and technical formation in new technologies and media. All based on tactical concepts, Autolabs use cheap DIY media, allowed by the digital revolution accessibility, promoting the development and improvement of independent individual and/or collective media production in a creative way and using free software/open source operational systems. Autolabs are centers of orientation, documentation and self-education with free and open access, where human mediation prevails in the process of accessing knowledge as a generalized exchange of wisdoms stimulating participation and collective work.
The Autolabs workshops were run from January to July 2004, involving 300 youngsters between 17 and 21 from three poor districts of Sao Paulo's periphery: Sao Miguel Paulista, Ermelino Matarazzo and Itaquera. They were divided in four different unities teaching:
Technical Nucleus: Recycled Computers Maintenance. Technical learning of computer maintenance and assembly of recycled hardware.
Support Nucleus: IT for Independent Media. Computer literacy for independent media, mobilization and online collaboration through dynamic content websites and mailing lists as well as the knowledge of the principles of free software and copyleft.
Digital Media Nucleus: Graphic Production/Publication and Digital Stories. Digital media production through design experimentation and graphic publishing as well as production of content through digital storytelling.
Sound Nucleus: Free/Web Radio, DJ-ing and Music Production. Sound production, free radio/web radio programming and edition/finalization of CDs.
Local people from peripheral communities created their own Autolabs since its very beginning, that is, recycling discarded computers and learning how to keep them, setting a laboratory in a local decided by a leadership from their own community, learning how to actively use the machines to produce their own media and showing the results with a website and planned events to happen along the course that will integrate all the results - movies, music, radio programs, zines and an storytelling archive. Those events happened both during and at the end of the course and comprise a week of lectures, debates - with national and foreign theoreticians and media activists - and a festive weekend held in one of the targeted peripheral districts.
The Autolabs experience provided important input for a much larger government initiative, the pontos de cultura, to create a network of interlinked community media centers, based entirely on free software. Currently, about 200 such centers are being created country-wide. The plans is to create as many as 1000 such centers by 2007.
The address for the collective weblog is
Ricardo Rosas is a writer, translator and experimental musician. He was one of the organizers of the Brazilian Tactical Media Lab in Sao Paulo. He has studied Social Communication and German Studies at Universidade de Sao Paulo and is currently senior editor of Rizoma (www.rizoma.net), a web site devoted to activism, tactical media underground culture in general, net critic, conspiracy stuff and occulture. He writes about media activism and (anti) pop culture.
Tatiana Wells is one of the organisers of the Sao Paolo Tactical Media Lab and also worked some time for a computer clubhouse at an NGO in Sao Paulo, Brazil.