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Joao Wilbert for FABRICA | Design

João Wilbert for FABRICA

João Wilbert (b. 1982, Brazil), is a Brazilian multimedia artist, creative technologist working on images, concepts, design and interaction.  João began his career as a digital designer for web and interactive companies in Brazil. In 2007 he moved to London to study interactive media and over the past years he has been focused on research and development of web, mobile and installation systems, creating different platforms that engage with the creative use of code, hacking culture and exploring the use of technology for user collaboration and creative expression. 

In 2009 he was grant holder at FABRICA, the Benetton research centre on communication where, among other interactive projects, he created Exquisite Clock - a collaborative web/mobile/installation platform exhibited widely in Europe, America and Asia including the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), New Museum (New York) and CAFA Art Museum (Beijing) - and he developed, along with the Colors editorial team, the Colors Magazine participatory website. João Wilbert is currently based in London where he lives and works.


Fabrica is a communication research centre financed by the Benetton Group. It was created in 1994 with the aim of combining culture with industry and offering young people from around the world an opportunity for creative growth and multicultural interchange. Fabrica is based in Treviso, in a complex restored and enlarged by Tadao Ando.
Fabrica invites young artists/designers to its centre, offering them a one-year study grant and providing them with a professional training opportunity and a wealth of resources and relations. The young resident artists develop cultural and social communication projects in the areas of design, visual communication, photography, interaction, video, music and publishing under the guidance of experts. Fabrica's many years of commitment to socially-aware communication have achieved manifold results. To mention just a few: the campaigns developed in collaboration with the U.N. and Reporters Without Borders; Credo, a musical study on the subject of religious tolerance; films from the world's South that won awards at Cannes, Venice and Hollywood; COLORS magazine; and its series of environmental, social and relational workshops.

Today more than ever, Fabrica's research is a cross-disciplinary commitment wherein communication interacts with other crucial sectors like the economy and social and environmental sciences and, through committed experimentation, is unfailingly alert to the changes and trends of modern society.

Exquisite Clock, 2009
João Henrique Wilbert (b. 1982, Brazil)
with iPhone development by Steve Baughman (b. 1983, USA)
Exquisite Clock is fed by a live database of images constantly updated by visitors to the website www.exquisiteclock.org. These images form an ever-changing series of numbers making up a digital clock face. The numbers are made up of everyday objects photographed by the public and uploaded to create a clock made by a series of networked participants.

Deconstructed computers, screens, cables and custom software
Courtesy of the artists


Design Museum Website questionnaire with Joao Willbert

When did you realize you wanted to be a designer?

There was really no definite moment where I decided to be designer, but I guess this naturally started to happen in my life. Since I was a child, I always had a big appreciation for making things, these being mashups of old electronics and wires. I also loved stitching together different bits of toys in order to create my own versions of them.

The same happened when I had my first IBM PC-XT computer, I had floppy disks with standard software and I started creating custom versions of it playing with very rudimentary bits of code.
Tinkering, building and rebuilding was an active part of my life, and with time I started attributing meaning to all this realizing that those mashups are in fact designs. The more I created, the more I could understand and drive what I wanted to create and this led me to devote more and more time to it, making this my profession, or a big part of it.

How would you define your design style?

My style is hugely influenced by two concepts respectively: entropy and unpredictability. In most of my work I have designed and built collaborative platforms that have great focus on the process rather the result. If you think it like a chemical reaction in which you first define an optimal formula and its components hoping it unfolds in one direction - entropy - but once they mix you can't really guess in which direction they are going to proceed - unpredictability.

In my work I designed and programmed interactive platforms, they are open enough so that these two elements can come into play and define how my design will unfold. I guess that one of the reasons to that is that this type of work focuses much more on the process rather than the result.

What would you do if you were not a designer/artist?

Musician. I always had a really big appreciation for music, and have been playing drums for quite a long time. If not a designer, I would be a musician, definitely.

Where do you draw your ideas/inspiration from?

Most of my inspiration comes from my childhood experiences, like gaming mechanics, early experiments in electricity and first early models of networked communication.

Who do you consult about works?

Usually when developing a work, I tend to talk to Graham Harwood and Andy Cameron, that are both great friends and artistic mentors.

Which of your projects do you consider a success?

Exquisite Clock, I believe. At the very core of its idea it has the concept of user participation: in the project users have to photograph numbers around them and send them over to the online platform using iPhones or their computers. Stimulating user contribution is not easy. When the project was launched there was a big danger that it would never be used by the audience, or it would be a sadly empty platform or all the content would be in very poor quality.

On the contrary, the project got a lot of attention, and a lot of people started using it, sending in numbers and exercising their creativity and it got thousands and thousands of really good images. Then I could realize the potential of the project and how it fully explored the idea of people expressing their creativity through technology, which is great.

Then, all other great things started happening, it became an installation-based piece, went around the world being exhibited in museums like the New Museum in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and other cultural sites in Europe, Asia, South America.

Which of your projects do you consider a failure?

I had a similar concept for a collaborative platform but using language and videos that never succeeded. I guess it didn't do the job the Exquisite Clock did, that was to make the collaboration process super easy so people would feel inclined in doing it. In early user testing we found out that most of people would drop out of the site, since it required too much to collaborate with no instant reward.

What is the first design work you can recall?

My first design work was a series of distorted images I realized using an old school hand scanner. When I bought my first hand scanner I found really interesting that it was a device with which you could scan reality by just dragging it in any surface, and I experimented it could be a tool to distort reality. By speeding up and rotating the device as I would scan something, I could deliberately distort a series of objects I scanned. In this way, I created a series of images made by these distorted objects.

To what extent do you believe that design should be functional?

I believe that different designs have different communication purposes. Rather than functional I would say that design needs to encapsulate an idea, if this idea encapsulates a functional element or not, this is a choice left to the designer. Some great designs generated via generative processes are not necessarily functional, but they have a purpose, and you will find an idea interrogating their principles and algorithms. Other designs are born to be functional, like an aircraft body structure, its design purpose is to make the aircraft aerodynamic enough so it can work with the right physical properties to fly.

Name a colleague you admire.

I colleague I admire is Oriol Ferrer Mesia. Oriol was a colleague at Fabrica, Benetton research centre on communication, when developing one of the most important Exquisite Clock installations. I admire Oriol for being a guru in technology and at the same time extreme feet on the ground with the reality of a project.

What have you learnt about design yourself?

I learnt that design is about an idea and simplicity is at the core of everything.

What in your opinion is the greatest design invention in recent years?

Wireless communication.

With which personality from the past would you like to have coffee?

I think witnessing Stanley Kubrick and Andy Warhol having a coffee would be enough.

Which materials interest/fascinate you most?


What advice would you give a designer at the start of his career / What advice would you have liked to receive at the start of your career?

My advice is: design the process, let it live for a while and just come back to see the result.

What are your future projects?

My future projects are related to exploring ways to intervene and reconfigure wireless networks in public spaces.

A bit more information about EXQUISITE CLOCK

Numbers are everywhere - if you care to see them: Exquisite Clock is a clock made of numbers taken from everyday life - seen, captured and uploaded by people from all over the world. The project connects time, play and visual aesthetics. It's about creativity, collaboration and exchange.

Exquisite Clock is based on the idea that time is everywhere and that people can share their vision of time. Through the website www.exquisiteclock.org, users are invited to collect and upload images of numbers that can be found in different contexts around them - objects, surfaces, landscapes, cables... anything that has a resemblance to a number. Exquisite Clock is a relational artwork where the boundaries between artist and author, producer and consumer are blurred. The Exquisite Clock invites you to participate in a global conversation about form, the limits of recognition and the poetics of the image, transforming a discussion of visual aesthetics into an exquisite game.

The exquisite clock has an online database of numbers - an exquisite database - at its core. This supplies the website and interconnected physical platforms. The online database works like a feeder that provides data to different instances of clocks in the form of the website, and installations, mobile applications, designed products and urban screens.

All uploaded numbers are tagged according to a category selected by their creator, and are added to the growing database. People viewing the clock can then choose to view all types of numbers, or can make a selection to view only numbers from a specific category - a clock made of vegetables, or clouds, or garments etc.

The exquisite clock can exist as different physical installation variations, each using the numbers provided by the database. These physical installations might be LCD monitors hanging in a gallery space, tiny cellphone screens or large scale public monitors. These variations can also be reconfigured as interactive installations where users in the space also collaborate to feed images back into the database - the principle is that all instances of the exquisite clock access the single exquisite database forming a conversant network made by different perceptions of time.

A network of exchange

Exquisite Clock is a multichannel network that seeds installations, screensavers and mobile applications around the world. All numbers uploaded to the database are available to be distributed among any device connected to the Internet. The application was designed so its content can be seamlessly connected and shared in real time to different platform and devices.

So far the network has seeded up to 5 gallery installations in Europe and US and recently started feeding Iphones application also in real time. The idea is to turn the clock into an open ended application where its database is available in different exchange formats in which any device can be connected to.

This project was created and developed Joao Henrique Wilbert at FABRICA in 2008.
Creative Direction: Andy Cameron.


Joao Wilbert for FABRICA | Design
photo: Shay Ben Efraim

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