Medialab Prado


Gambiarra: The Prototyping Perspective


The prototype is an object critical of its own function. It is not finished; it may not work. What characterizes a prototype is, first and foremost, the self-reflexivity of its operation: to use it is to put it to test and to engage in its evaluation. The most important effect of a prototype is, thus, the seemingly collateral reasoning about its failure, which is feedback into the process of prototyping. Each prototype is just a dismissible iteration in this chain, a step to be overcome in order to produce the parameters of design of an even more ulterior product. The sincere objective of every prototype is nothing else than to self-differ, in the same way that the prototyping process aims to produce the fundamental différance of a standard, driving the fabrication of a million commoditized artifacts.

Of course, the laboratorial isolation of prototyping loses its meaning once manufacturing topologies become more fluid. Then, not only the dynamics of design and production come closer to each other, but they also become mingled into the everyday use of the objects as well. One of the fields in which this can be more clearly perceived is software engineering, which demands the testing of prototypes by a large number of users. Following the “release early, release often” free software motto, beta versions are public released as soon as possible, so that they can be debugged in the wild. With the emergence of open, modular hardware, this paradigm is being brought also to physical object design – its icons being the Arduino microcontroller and 3d printers such as RepRap.

In this new scenario, a prototype could be praised as the sufficient object, whose integrity is produced at the precise moment it is put into operation. Thus, based on the work of Derrida, Simondon and Flusser, we intend to approach the traditional concept of prototype to that of the Brazilian gambiarra. Gambiarra is an improvised amendment to a dysfunctional artefact, normally by the means of its combination with another object. One of the most exemplary gambiarras is the use of wire wool in TV antennas to compensate deficient signal reception. Just like traditional prototypes are created based on expectations and the projection of integrity, gambiarras are born from deception and failure. Hence, if the traditional prototype narrows the technical object down into concreteness, the gambiarra abstracts it further, at the same time revealing potentials and limitations of its discrete parts. One points towards the industrial standard – the other, post-industrial, strays away from it.

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