Ask the Artists – Sinha Fuerbeck

17.11.2017

Sinha grew up in her father’s special display company and has been surrounded by multimedia devices and interactive installations since her childhood. We asked her about coming of age in the media technology industry, her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field, and solving complicated integration problems in her sleep.


Ventuz:
Your father is Bernd Fuerbeck, founder of special display company Mediascreen. Which means you grew up in the industry. What was that like?

Sinha:
I spent a lot of time in the Mediascreen office during the holidays. When I was younger that mostly meant playing video games on a 4 by 3 meter projection wall – I’m not sure that my mother is supposed to know this. Later on, they made me clean cables all day. But it was always a lot of fun. The guys there were a bit like extended family, and they still are.

Ventuz:
Did you know from an early age that you wanted to get into the same line of work?

Sinha:
Not at all. After graduating from school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was the closest thing to start with an internship at my father’s company. Since the main focus of the company was producing custom display hardware, there was only one guy at Mediascreen who actually created content, Basti Spiegl. (Read here the Artists Interview with Sebastian Spiegl) He was mainly doing interactive installations and stereo-3D content. And since he was always swamped with work, he asked me whether I was interested in trying to help him out. That is how I started. Basti taught me a great deal of things and was an important influence.

Ventuz:
What tools did you work with?

Sinha:
I created my first interactive installations with XML, later with Flash. Yes, Flash! I learned Action Script 3 mostly through online tutorials. But it didn’t take long for Ventuz to come along. Basti was already working with it, so he gave me an introduction. But I needed more training to really get into the software. Online recourses were scarce, back then, so I did two more internships: one at Three Monkeys in Dubai, and another directly at the Ventuz offices in Hamburg. Everyone was very helpful, and so I was able to create content quite quickly.

Ventuz:
You do not call yourself a designer. Where do you position yourself in the Ventuz realm?

Sinha:
That is a bit hard to say. Although I create content, my specialty is more in the logic department, which is probably due to my training at Mediascreen. They develop hardware that is very specialized and oftentimes requires a lot of control programming. For example, I have produced a lot of content for the Mediasphere, which is a rounded multitouch display. When I create content for the Mediasphere, it needs to be shaped correctly and respond to the integrated touch protocol. So, this is actually what I do: I find solutions for integration problems and hardware implementations, especially for interactive installations. I make content work on strange hardware. But I am also not a real programmer, because I don’t script very often. Instead, I use the Ventuz nodes to achieve my goals. Which puts me right in the middle between the designers and the programmers. But both design and programming are things I want to learn more about.

Ventuz:
Did you get any more education after your internships?

Sinha:
I wanted to go to university, but wasn’t sure what to major in. Basti recommended Media Information Technology, which sounded like a very strange suggestion to me. Math had almost cost me my graduation. But I did it anyway. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to stop working, so I immediately started as a self-employed entrepreneur. At age nineteen, that was quite exciting, and luckily I had no problems finding jobs. It took about three semesters until I figured out that studying fulltime and working fulltime wasn’t going to work out. I then switched to distance learning, thinking that I would be able to better arrange my schedule. The truth is, I am still a few credits short of my bachelor’s degree.

Ventuz:
Which means that you have been working fulltime with Ventuz for a few years now.

Sinha:
Yes, that is the amazing part. I have been able to build a strong customer base through my network rather quickly, including companies like Roche Diagnostics, Audi, VW, Chanel, and the Munich Airport. This is a very luxurious situation, and I am very grateful that I was able to take on interesting projects and responsibilities early on.

Ventuz:
Tell us about one such project.

Sinha:
Back in 2015, I supervised an installation in Australia. This project included a lot of firsts for me: the first time I was given full responsibility, the first time I had to communicate directly with the customer – in English, the first project with Ventuz 4. I created the content here in Germany, flew to Australia, installed the entire thing, assisted during the event, and because the customer was so happy, I immediately had to repeat the show in Paris. A very exciting and educating time for me.

Ventuz:
Are all your projects this elaborate?

Sinha:
Not all. There are those little gigs where I produce content for interactive installations in two or three days and that is it. But I do enjoy exploring new grounds. I get excited when someone asks me to do something I have never done before. Pushing myself is where I learn the most. Although I have to be careful: I tend to fall into unhealthy practices where I will be in front of the computer for three days straight, deep in my tunnel, eating nothing but chocolate and only sleeping when it is absolutely necessary.

Ventuz:
What does your workflow with Ventuz look like?

Sinha:
I usually start with a pen and paper and write down what I have and what it needs to do. Then I always get an axis, a material and a cube, and from there I start building my logic. Most of the times what I need to do is so complex that I need to try around a lot. There are a thousand ways to get to the same point in Ventuz – a curse and a blessing at the same time. It sometimes happens that I have been trying to get this one integration going all day unsuccessfully, and then in the middle of the night I wake up and – BAM – there it is. It takes your mind to calm down to come up with the simple solutions for complicated problems.

Ventuz:
What is it like as a woman in the industry?

Sinha:
I don’t want to lie: it is not easy. I vividly recall the first trade show project I did. I had prepared content for a few interactive installations and had done much of the technical setup, and of course I was on the booth during the show providing information for the visitors. I was wearing a blazer and high heels. Every time someone asked me about the content and I told them that I had created it, they looked at me all patronizing and asked to see my boss. That was an extreme experience, but it also taught me how to maneuver the industry. My solution is: the more people think that you are a bit strange, the more serious they will take you as a woman. Which is why I dress differently now. When I interact with customers, I wear either sweatpants or a baseball cap or something to not look so feminine. It is sad, but it works.

Ventuz:
Why do you think that is?

Sinha:
It’s the stereotypes we all have. I will admit, I had them. There were very few women studying media information technology in university. But even I would expect more from the ones who looked like they spent their weekends in front of their computer, the nerdy gamer girls, than from the dressed up girly girls. It was refreshing to see them break my stereotypes. But in the industry, especially in the more technical branches, us women have to battle this every day. If you dress up, they think you are an assistant. I don’t mind, I am not the haute-couture-type anyway, but it takes courage to wear sweatpants to a customer meeting, let me tell you.

Ventuz:
Yet you have managed to establish a firm customer base as an independent contractor. Are you looking to expand your company and maybe hire staff?

Sinha:
I have this ideal of a group of equals working together on projects they love. Where every member of the team is responsible for themselves, but they are all striving for the same goal. I don’t like stiff hierarchies, and I know that if you force people to do something, they won’t give their best.

Ventuz:
You have always worked with unusual technologies far beyond your average interactive installations. Is there anything that you would like to implement in the future?

Sinha:
I am really into robotics. Any control application where one device controls another interests me. I also really like the idea of smart homes. The connection between humans and technology is fascinating, bridging the gap between the body, the brain and the device. Neurobionics is the keyword here – incredibly interesting and scary at the same time. All these technologies have the potential to dehumanize our world. I mean, the age we live in practically requires us to use technology all the time. If you are not on Whatsapp, you don’t get invited to the party. Especially in my area of expertise, I often see interactive installations where I think: this doesn’t make any sense. Why does this have to be interactive? The world is plastered with touchscreens that very often don’t have a good concept or design. They are merely touchable for the sake of it, because we are so trained to put our fingers on a screen if it hangs in reaching distance. Mediascreen recently developed a new device, a very flat, curved display in an elegant stele. It is practically a digital poster, not interactive. I love this device, because it is simple and elegant.

Ventuz:
Where do you see your future with Ventuz?

Sinha:
I still have a lot to learn. Not just inside of Ventuz, although I am sure that I still haven’t discovered half of the things Ventuz 5 can do, but also more generally in terms of design and programming. Making things look pretty in Ventuz is not easy for me. I would love to just look over someone’s shoulder for a week and see how they do it. And I should enhance my programming skills in order to be able to create more complex integrations. I am really looking forward to getting better at what I do and working on ever greater projects.