At the Foundation for Contemporary Art in Accra, Ghana, artist Akwasi Bediako Afrane held his workshop TRONSFORMATION – Sustainability through hacking. There, he lead conversations about our relationship with consumer electronics, and connected participants to collectively build and exhibit their own TRONS.
A line-following robot; a sculpture-machine made of bluetooth stereo speakers; and an installation using old desktop monitors, a webcam, a kettle and an AM/FM receiver—these are some of the TRONS built in artist Akwasi Bediako Afrane’s TRONSFORMATION workshop. The artist works with discarded consumer electronics and turns them into sculptural machines (so-called TRONS) that reflect our relation to discarded electronics while tracing their market circulation. Afrane is investigating what he calls “the eight major agents” that touch the lifecycle of those electronic products: “These include miners, producers, distributors, consumers, second-hand dealers, repairers, scrap dealers, and recyclers of these devices.” Participating in the workshop were three electronic repairers, one scrap dealer, a university student, a student from a senior high school, an Uber driver, three street artists, an artist assistant, staff from the FCA-Ghana, and a materials engineer. Afrane’s idea was to create a platform for discussion and connection for those “whose livelihood is overwhelmed with electronic gadgets, but who never have the opportunity to engage with each other in conversations such as sustainability and hacking, which is actually the core of their activities from my perspective.”
TRONSFORMATION extended over 6 days, exploring themes of electronic consumer goods and rethinking hacking as a way of accessing information through computer systems, as in this case through recombining their material parts. During the first day, Afrane introduced the program of the week and gave some insights into his artistic practice building electronic TRONS. The participants also introduced themselves and their field of expertise, creating a multidisciplinary framework for the workshop. On the second day, Afrane was able to dive deeper into his practice sharing his research interests around mining and the circular economy that led to this workshop. At the end of the day, the participants were divided into two groups which would work together on two TRON projects within the following days.
On days three, four, and five, the two groups went through the materials, presenting ideas, and constructing collectively. The materials were mostly second-hand gadgets: Afrane explains how “I got a few from Siemens, I brought a few, some of the participants and invited guests brought a few and I also purchased a few from second-hand electronics dealers in Accra.” In them, the participants also implemented other electronic components, such as microcontrollers or sensors. On the sixth and last day, the two groups exhibited their TRONS to the public, and a roundtable discussion allowed reflection on the week. In addition to the TRONS developed in the workshop, Afrane also collaborated with seventeen children from the “No Limits” Foster Home. The artist described how their collaboration used “parts from an audio cassette player, old fluorescent tubes from rechargeable lamps and a compact disc (CD),” which led to the “construction of a car-like aircraft TRON.”
Throughout these six days of constructing, connecting and material research, the participants were exposed to a new angle on the electronic infrastructure they are surrounded by and working with day to day; this allowed them to create new relations with this infrastructure. Through deconstructing electronic devices, they learned how to mine mineral materials like gold from those second-hand objects, and how to creatively work with the given fragments. Through rethinking how to piece those electronic fragments back together, participants learned how to shape new technologies, as well as how to collectively imagine new futures from given waste parts. Those imaginations resulted in various TRONS, as well as in the social relations formed between the participants during a week of sharing and building together. For Afrane, the takeaway was clear: “The most beautiful thing that happened for me was seeing how this workshop was able to connect these participants with promises of future projects.”
Images by Akwasi Bediako Afrane, Text by Aisha Altenhofen