Introducing Libre Graphics Research Unit

Introducing Libre Graphics Research Unit

This week the second meeting of Libre Graphics Research Unit is taking place in Brussels. We haven't really introduced you to this new interesting initiative before, and Olivier Saraja volunteered to fix that.

Pretty much everything below is written by him based on the first, unofficial meeting in December that he attended, so consider it a kind of guest blogging. Photos from the first meeting are courtesy by Michael Murtaugh.

So what's this LGRU thing?

The Libre Graphics Research Unit initiative is a traveling laboratory that researches new ideas regarding creative tools. The unit travels across Europe visiting four medialabs heavily involved with free/libre and open source software and culture.

LGRU in Rotterdam

Funded by the European Commission and by the four European medialabs, this laboratory aims at providing prototypes, building specifications (ranging from wishlists to software designs), exchanging FLOSS practices, strategies and methods, and also providing a collection of bibliographies and commissioned texts through a specifically developed reader.

Four facts about the LGRU

It isn't such an easy job to offer a comprehensive presentation of a research unit that encompasses such a broad range of concepts. Let's try to break it down to a few synthetic facts, so that the nature of the LGRU and the scope of its work is easy to see.

Fact #1

The LGRU initiative is a cross-disciplinary project, whose purpose is to initiate a reflexion on graphics tools in order to re-apply them, change them, or connect them together.

Fact #2

Interconnected threads will help during this re-exploration:

  • Networked Graphics (past project) studied how the Web influences the creation process, the way users tend to become producers and how the modern workflow becomes networked and distributed.
  • Co-position (ongoing project) has the ambition to re-invent the layout, delving both into concepts of materiality (media, file formats) and workflow (canvas editing, dynamic layout, typography, Web to Print or Print on Demand)
  • Piksels and lines (future project) is a reflection about the current technologies, trying to find what is inbetween of pixel manipulation and vector manipulation, with specific attention to canvas and gestures, leading to modern concepts of live performance, like Vjing.
  • Abstracting craft (future project) bases its studies on manuals as an interface between programmers and end-users, extend them to book sprints and their specific workflows and tools. It will elaborate a case study between learning, development and creation.

Fact #3

The LGRU initiative will last two years and will host or elaborate: research meetings, research commissions, a publication, workshops, a conference.

Fact #4

The LGRU is co-funded by the European Commission and the four medialabs: Constant (Belgium), Piksel (Norway), WORM (Netherlands), Medialab Prado (Spain). Some associate partners also provide support to the initiative.

First meeting: Networked Graphics

The first research meeting was held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and was hosted by the WORMS Institute. The 5 days long event was packed with presentations, workshops and performances.

The attendees enjoyed a journey through "The extremes of Networked Graphics", but because of the threads interconnection, incursions in other themes were quite frequent, showing the benefits of a global approach over a specific standalone field of study.

LGRU meeting

This article doesn't aim at highlighting all the events of the first meeting, but it should provide a fair feedback on the experimental and slightly atypical approach of the laboratory.


A wide range of presentations showed the possibilities of networked graphics. One of the apparent goals was to provide the attendees with a wider vision of possibilities, informing, analyzing and matching various concepts from very different specialties.

LGRU talks

Here are just a few examples to give you an idea:

  • Constant did a session about networked layout, demonstrating a plethora of edition and layout solutions.
  • Bas Schouten offered an introduction to Mozilla's Azure project, a new 2D graphic API for accelerating rendering, while Visa-Valtteri "visy" Pimiä introduced us to WebGL geekery.
  • Thomas Oster reviewed VisiCut, a tool to create, save and send jobs to lasercutters, developed as part of his Bachelor thesis.
  • Aymeric Mansoux gave a tour of the Networked Media department of the Piet Zwart Institute and its students trained to the use of FLOSS tools.

But the apex for broadening the minds of the attendees was most probably the dive into Robert B. Lisek's NE5T project. As a mathematician and artist focusing on systems and processes, Robert gave some insight on the information management in complex environments with unsuspected applications to fields such as counter-terrorism.


Each medialab is working on commissioned projects, ensuring that this tumultuous brainstorming laboratory will give birth to some concrete and real projects.

So far, the WORM institute developed Hotglue, a content management system allowing to construct websites directly in a web browser, preserving visual homogeneity between editing and viewing modes. Using a concept of multi-layered collages, Hotglue ensures the originality of the web pages created.

Dave? :)

Constant, in return, in working on the LGRU Reader, which is an evolving publication used for defining, developing and supporting the work at the Research Unit. The goal is to develop it into a teaching tool that makes LGRU studies accessible to design students and young professionals.


With such a concentration of art geeks as the ones hosted at the WORM institute, a selection of artists focused on producing and performing with FLOSS tools and open and DIY hardware (Andre Castro, TONESUCKER, Robet B. Lisek and Chris Galarreta) offered live performances based on experimental sounds, electronic hardwares, and live video editing.

A demo party showcased the best entries from the Golden Age of the demo scene to nowadays, with presentations and insight given by Tobias Leingruber and Visa-Valtteri "visy" Pimiä.

What's next?

The second meeting, Co-position, is currently taking place at the Constant medialab in Brussel, Belgium. It focuses on arranging texts and graphic elements through very speculative presentations, discussions and development of prototypes.

Olivier Saraja is a French 2D and 3D artist and Blender trainer who is mostly known as the author of the book "La 3D Libre avec Blender" published at Eyrolles and tireless maintainer of

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17 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Very interesting indeed! Sounds like much good will come out of this initiative!

  2. Using windows and linux, i must say the way of getting the latest versions of gimp, blender etc… is far more easy than on linux. You don’t need to search a packager and use command line to get a ppa or another rpm/source repo. It doesn’t replace system’s-vital librairies that makes the whole system unstable (like GTK for gimp and gnome). If you like a little distro that is not popular, or be happy with gnome2 and don’t want to upgrade your distro, you are stuck with old versions of your programmes (latest blender works even on XP SP1 = 10 yeras old OS). So many people are not free anymore of choosing their distro, they take and upgrade one because it has the programme they want even if they hate gnome3 and/or get instability in other programmes they don’t want cutting edge but only stable (like the boot manager, so many people have problems with grub2 and who really wants it ?) etc…
    So for linux users would it be possible to ask gimp’s, inkscape’s, mypaint’s etc…. programmers to agree and do the followings (blender already does as far as i know, you just have to unpack the latest archive on ur desktop and it runs) :
    make every programmes comes in one self installing in home folder file, with all needed librairies, dependencies and so in it’s own directory (really, with 10 such programmes 50 MB pro librairies, you get maximal 500 MB wasted space because of duplication, most of the time less because those 10 progs don’t use the same librairies, so it’s not duplicated)
    Benefit :
          -> Stability and cutting edge functions : gnome2 stay linked to GTK2 and is stable, latest gimp has th new one, both progs works, updating one doesn’t brake the other or the system, if gimp stop working, you just restart it, like on windows.
          -> you can run a 8 year old OS you like and you know is stable for what is important to you.
          -> if only one person make such an installer, all the UNIX community benefit from it, not only people with the latest ubuntu.
          -> no need of command line install of repo’s, good for artist that don’t want to learn bash. And they are a lot.
          -> because it only does user space things (given ur system rights managment is secure) the new program you run can’t compromise the whole system.

  3. Good job Olivier, you should write more often for LGW :)

  4. To make it short ^^, good article, and good idea winux but long :D
    Make portalbe versions of mypaint, gimp, blender, etc… for linux would be great. To work in team and have all the team get the latest version fast independently of the OS.
    Would be nice.

  5. Alexandre Prokoudine 27 February 2012 at 2:12 am

    As a matter of fact, first Inkscape builds are making their way to Graphicall. For now, only for Windows.

  6. First time I heard of a traveling laboratory. It is a very nice idea because you will surely be able to reach those hard to reach people or areas with great or innovating technological plans for the future.

  7. Nice idea, I think this is a fascinating concept, Will you be updating?

  8. Very good initiative Oliver. Waiting for the second meeting in Belgium.

  9. Very good statistics and information. Thanks for posting!

  10. Website Developer 03 April 2013 at 8:59 am

    Great idea! More innovative work needed from the open source platform and custom software. Thanks for this nice post.

  11. Sounds like fun and an excelllent idea. You say Europe, do you ever intend visiting places like the Canary Islands?

  12. Sounds really interesting, although I wouldn’t say I’m heavy into graphic work, I can dabble a little.

  13. This is good information if you’re into graphic work. I do some of this on our back end for sure. Thanks.

  14. Great feedback! Definitely some ideas I can use on our backend. Thank you!

  15. Thanks for summarry… Great idea! More innovative work needed from the open source platform and custom software. Thanks for this nice post.

  16. This is so interesting! Will LGRU also travel US in the near future?