Selena Savic

Selena Savic is a researcher and artist with a background in architecture (Dipl. Ing. Arch., University of Belgrade 2006). After completing her Masters degree at the Networked Media department of the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, NL she received support from the Gamefonds funding scheme (NL), to continue development of her with a critical artistic game “Eat It! City Simulator”. Following a period of independent practice, Savic pursued academic research, completing her doctoral thesis “Space, people, networks” in December 2015 in the framework of the IST/EPFL Joint Doctoral Initiative, generously supported by the FCT funding. At EPFL, Savic worked as a doctoral assistant at the MediaxDesign Laboratory. She is currently a Postdoc fellow at TU Vienna. interviewed by Stefanie Wuschitz

You gave a couple of workshops on how to make solar cells. What’s your experience with this circuit?

My intention was to see how much electricity we can produce from found materials such as broken glass and fruit juice. This method seems always very easy and friendly, but it, again, requires more or less a lab situation where you have access to tools that can give precise and reliable results (such as to reach a certain temperature or grind certain materials down to nano particles). Nevertheless, we were able to produce some electricity and that was what we were interested in.

And for how long could you generate that kind of voltage?

It depends mostly on the way you can seal the cells. There is this liquid which acts as electrolyte. The cells are made from anode and cathode electrodes, which are then connected through this electrolyte. When this liquid evaporates or oxidizes, then the cell will not work anymore. So, we never had them for more than a few hours, or maybe a day. It‘s really a proof of concept rather than a technology to be used reliably or sold.

And could you extend it to have many cells in parallel?

Sure. The workshop situation is not only about teaching people a simple skill, but also about engaging a lot of people on a common task. At workshops, we were able to produce up to 50 cells. We could reach five volts power, in Vienna I think, which is the best results we had.

Did people find out new ways while they were exploring with you?

Yes, I think this is also something which is a benefit of a workshop. People had better ideas how to seal cells. Also, given the large number of cells, you‘re able to try different techniques. Things can go wrong, and there you learn what you should or should not do.

Your background is actually in architecture theory? Does it influence the way you produce things and make things?

Well, my background is in architecture practice rather than theory, but I do now work at the department of architecture theory where I don‘t, obviously, design buildings. When you engage with deep theoretical reflections, you first devote your energy to this; thus, you probably produce less than if you were a full-time maker. But I don‘t like to think theory and practice are in a way opposed to each other or mutually exclusive. It‘s something that I really work against and feel deeply against. I believe that, yes, I could probably do more practical work, for which I find much less time now. This is the reality, but it helps me also think through things that should be made or not. I don‘t think that all our ideas are necessarily made. You know, we have lots of bad ideas which we can understand by making or by thinking and reading more about the world.

It’s not like a circle that one creates the other?

Well, you can say that deep reflection helps you think through concepts that you want to realize or not. I think it really is a circle. You think and then you make something; you think about that and you think about the world; you change what you made; You change what you think by making; you may change what you make by thinking.

If you teach at university, is it an environment that inspires you or is it more easy to move in independent off spaces to teach and organize workshops? Or is it hard to compare?

Yeah. I think it‘s hard to compare. I like both. I really enjoy the workshops that are an opportunity to somehow have non-hierarchical relationship with people. At solar workshops, we were really friends, and we made things together. And at the university, of course, this relationship doesn‘t work because I give students grades. I cannot pretend that they are my friends. I nevertheless think it is very useful for people to go through this evaluation process where you basically try to achieve something and somebody else tells you whether or not they think you have achieved it. The fact that somebody is recognized as a kind of authority or a witness of one‘s knowledge, and that you as a student are able to successfully deal with this helps you in life. You learn a lot. If you, as a young person, don‘t recognize anything as a witness of your knowledge, then who is your knowledge for? I think it is useful to have a witness.

Giving an account of something.

Yeah, exactly. You can say that a MOOC is very efficient because you only have to record it once; but, there is really no social contract in doing an online course. When you have 20 students, they come and in only one semester they learn a lot, and they are obliged to submit a paper in the end. If you have this same kind of students at an online course, I‘m not sure about how much they would do in a semester without technocratic control mechanisms… and if nobody tells them in the end: „Well, you know, really, individually, you paper needs this and that adjustment.“ If they just go through it and listen to something and write something, what is learned? I don‘t know. I think there are different things to be learned – some require understanding and memorizing protocols, mechanisms, the way things are done. Other things require more reflection and feedback. Both are necessary to form a productive individual. And both can be transmitted at a workshop as well as at the university. The difference in what you pay, or what certificate you get makes a more clear distinction between these environment. And I think these things matter less.