Its been 12 years since we published Performance Notations, the first series of Diffusion eBooks, and launched our unique publishing format on an unsuspecting world. In that time, we have commissioned and facilitated hundreds of original eBooks and StoryCubes by an incredibly diverse range of people from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds. In that time we also began to evolve our own free and online software platform for people without professional design skills to be able to create their own eBooks and StoryCubes. Our first proof of concept prototype was made in the summer of 2003. We then spent a few years building a fully working version – the Diffusion Generator – which was online between 2006 and 2009. In September 2009 we launched bookleteer, a whole new set of ways for making and sharing eBooks and StoryCubes.
A New Place for Future eBooks & StoryCubes
This summer we made a series of technical changes to bookleteer that allow users to share their own publications directly with others via a Public Library. Each user has their own personal profile page listing all their shared publications (for instance, here’s mine) and each publication has its page listing both the downloadable PDFs and the bookreader online version (for example, see Material Conditions: Epilogue). We have further exciting developments in the pipeline too.
To continue our long tradition of commissioning and publishing new work, we have created a new Curated by Proboscis library which will, from now on, be where all new commissions and featured eBooks and StoryCubes will be listed. Our long-serving Diffusion Library website will remain online indefinitely as an archive of more than 12 years of pushing the boundaries of what we think of as publishing and creative practice.
As part of these changes we are also launching a new monthly publication – the Periodical – which will select, print and send out to subscribers some of the most exciting, experimental, imaginative and insipring eBooks created and shared on bookleteer. Anyone can take part – just sign up, make and share something on bookleteer. Each month we’ll pick one eBook to print and send out. We are also devising special projects, like Field Work, that will enable people to participate in other ways. And we are developing partnerships and collaborations to commission new series that will also be distributed as part of the Periodical’s monthly issues.
Subscribe to the Periodical and get bookleteering!
Publishing remains at the heart of Proboscis. We began 18 years ago with COIL journal of the moving image and followed this with many series of Diffusion eBooks. Since 1994, we have commissioned and published works by hundreds of different people in many formats.
Our latest publishing venture, the Periodical, aims to re-imagine publishing as public authoring – a phrase we’ve been using for over 10 years to describe the process by which people actively make and share what they value – knowledge, skills, experiences, observations – those things we characterise as Public Goods. Based on bookleteer, the Periodical is a way for people to participate in publishing as well as reading – in addition to receiving a printed eBook (sometimes more than just one) by post each month subscribers are encouraged to use bookleteer to make and share their own publications, which may then be chosen to be printed and posted out for a future issue.
Our first project being developed as part of this venture is Field Work : subscribers will be sent a custom eNotebook to use as a sketch and note book for a project of their own. Once they’ve filled it in they can return it to us to be digitised and shared on bookleteer. Several times a year we will select and print someone’s Field Work eNotebook to be sent out as part of a monthly issue of the Periodical.
Why are we doing this? We’ve long used the Diffusion eBook format to make custom notebooks for our projects and digitised them as part of our shareables concept. We think that such new possibilities of sharing our creative and research processes with others is a key strength of what these hybrid digital/physical technologies offer. Creating a vehicle, via the Periodical, for others to take part in an emergent and evolving conversation about how and why we do what we do seems like a natural step forward. If you’d like to take part, subscribe here.
Our collaborator at Philips R&D in Cambridge, David Walker, was generous enough to have some of the Lifecharm shells fabbed in a range of more exotic materials than our initial prototypes using Shapeways (a 3D printing firm spun-out of Royal Philips Electronics). The materials used range from metal/silver, ceramic and frosted and transparent glass.
Many thanks also to Dipak Mistry, our collaborator on Visualise Lifestreams at Arts & Business Cambridge who dropped them by the studio this morning.
Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th are the final two days of Storyweir on Hive Beach. This video documents the two evenings of projections and live cello performances, by Matthew Benjamin, on August 3rd & 4th.
Our installation on Hive Beach in Dorset, Storyweir, finishes on Sunday 9th September. Here are some photos taken by photographer Pete Millson. From October 13th we will also be participating in an exhibition about the ExLab commissions in Bridport Arts Centre’s Allsop Gallery.
Last week we quietly updated bookleteer to give it a fresh look and to introduce the sharing features we announced previously. We’ve been tweaking and bug-fixing over the last week or so and are now very excited to let everyone know about it.
Individual Publication Pages
Each publication that is shared publicly has a unique page created for it which can be linked to and shared via popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook etc). eBooks have an embedded version of the bookreader in the page for previewing as well as download links for the PDFs. StoryCubes also have preview images and download link.
Member Public Profile Page
A new public profile page has been created to list all the shared publications by each member, also displaying a short bio and links to personal blog, website, twitter and facebook pages. These can be added in the member’s account page.
These are just the first in a series of updates and improvements to bookleteer that we’re adding over the next few months – stay tuned for further announcements!
A short video clip from the Storyweir performance at Hive Beach, Dorset on Friday 3rd August 2012. Video projections by Proboscis (Gary Stewart & Alice Angus) with live cello by Matthew Benjamin.
One of the most fun things we’ve done this year has to be the little project we ran as part of the Soho Food Feast : helping some of the children of Soho Parish Primary School produce their own reviews of the amazing foods on offer in specially designed eNotebooks. The children would choose something from one of the many stalls, bring it to be photographed and a Polaroid PoGo photo sticker printed out an stuck into one of the eNotebooks, then they’d write about what the dish looked, smelt, felt, sounded and tasted like. This idea of doing the reviews through the 5 senses, along with the great introduction, was contributed by Fay Maschler, the restaurant critic of the London Evening Standard and one of the Food Feast committee members.
We’ve now published a compilation of the best reviews which is available via the Diffusion Library as downloadable eBooks and in the bookreader format. We’re also printing a short run edition which will go the children themselves (and a few for the school to sell to raise funds – get one while you can!). Thanks to everyone who took part in this project – the children of Soho Parish and Soho Youth, members of the Food Feast Committee (Anita Coppins, Wendy Cope, Clare Lynch), Rachel Earnshaw (Head Teacher) and the team here : Mandy Tang, Haz Tagiuri & Stefan Kueppers.
Last Thursday I visited members of the Pallion Ideas Exchange (PAGPIE) at Pallion Action Group to bring them the latest elements of the toolkit we’ve been co-designing with them. Since our last trip and series of workshops with them we’ve refined some of the thinking tools and adapted others to better suit the needs and capabilities of local people.
Using bookleteer‘s Short Run printing service we printed up a batch of specially designed notebooks for people to use to help them collect notes in meetings and at events; manage their way through a problem with the help of other PAGPIE members; work out how to share ideas and solutions online in a safe and open way; and a simple notebook for keeping a list of important things to do, when they need done by, and what to do next once they’ve been completed.
We designed a series of large wall posters, or thinksheets, for the community to use in different ways : one as a simple and open way to collect notes and ideas during public meetings and events; another to enable people to anonymously post problems for others to suggests potential solutions and other comments; another for collaborative problem solving and one for flagging up opportunities, who they’re for, what they offer and how to publicise them.
These posters emerged from our last workshop – we had designed several others as part of process of engaging with the people who came along to the earlier meetings and workshops, and they liked the open and collaborative way that the poster format engaged people in working through issues. We all agreed that a special set for use by the members of PAGPIE would be a highly useful addition to their ways of capturing and sharing knowledge and ideas, as well as really simple to photograph and blog about or share online in different ways.
Last time I was up we had helped a couple of the members set up a group email address, a twitter account and a generic blog site – they’ve not yet been used as people have been away and the full core group haven’t quite got to grips with how they’ve going to use the online tools and spaces. My next trip up in a few weeks will be to help them map out who will take on what roles, what tools they’re actually going to start using and how. I’ll also be hoping I won’t get caught out by flash floods and storms again!
We are also finishing up the designs of the last few thinksheets – a beautiful visualisation of the journey from starting the PAGPIE network and how its various activities feed into the broader aspirations of the community (which Mandy will be blogging about soon); a visual matrix indicating where different online service lie on the read/write:public/private axes; as well as a couple of earlier posters designed to help people map out their home economies and budgets (income and expenditure).
Our next task will be to create a set of StoryCubes which can be used playfully to explore how a community or a neighbourhood group could set up their own Ideas Exchange. It’ll be a set of 27 StoryCubes, with three different sets of 9 cubes each – mirroring to some degree Mandy’s Outside the Box set for children. We’re planning to release a full Neighbourhood Ideas Exchange package later this summer/autumn which will contain generic versions of all the tools we’ve designed for PAGPIE as well as the complete set of StoryCubes.
This week just passed Alice, Haz and myself have been running some co-design workshops with local community members in Pallion, a neighbourhood in the city of Sunderland, and with Lizzie Coles-Kemp and Elahe Kani-Zabihi of Royal Holloway’s Information Security Group, hosted at Pallion Action Group. The workshops, our second round following some others in early April, were focused around visualising the shape, needs and resources available to local people in building their own sustainable knowledge and support network – the Pallion Ideas Exchange. We also worked on testing the various tools and aids which we’ve designed in response to what we’ve learned of the issues and concerns facing individuals and the community in general.
The first day was spent making a visualisation of the hopes and aspirations for what PIE could achieve, the various kinds of activities it would do, and all the things they would need to make this happen. Based on previous discussions and workshops we’d drawn up a list of the kinds of activities PIE might do and the kinds of things they’d need and Mandy had done a great job over the past couple of weeks creating lots of simple sketches to help build up the visual map, to which were added lots of other issues, activity ideas, resources and hoped for outcomes.
Visualising PIE this way allowed for wide-ranging discussions about what people want to achieve and what it would need to happen – from building confidence in young people and the community more generally, to being resilient in the face of intimidation by local neer-do-wells. Over the course of the first afternoon the shape changed dramatically as the relationships between outcomes, activities, needs, people and resources began to emerge and the discussion revealed different understandings and interpretations of what people wanted.
On the second day we focused on the tools and aids we’ve been designing – a series of flow diagrams breaking down into simple steps some methods for problem solving, recording and sharing solutions and tips online, how to promote and share opportunities to people they would benefit and things to consider about safety and privacy before posting information online. We’ve also designed some simple notebooks with prompts to help do things like take notes during meetings and at events, a notebook for breaking problems down into small chunks that can be addressed more easily alongside place to note what, who and where help from PIE is available, and a notebook for organising and managing information and experiences of PIE members about sharing solutions to common problems that can be safer shared online. As the props for a co-design workshop these were all up for re-design or being left to one side if not relevant or useful. An important factor that emerged during the discussion was that people might feel uncomfortable with notes being written in a notebook during a social event – the solution arrived at was to design a series of ‘worksheet posters’ which could be put up on the walls and which everyone could see and add notes, ideas or comments to. The issue of respecting anonymity about problems people have also led to the suggestion of a suggestions box where people could post problems anonymously, and an ‘Ideas Wall’ where the problems could be highlighted and possible solutions proposed. We came away with a list of new things to design and some small tweaks to the notebooks to make them more useful – it was also really helpful to see a few examples of how local people had started using the tools we’ve designed to get a feel for them:
On the afternoon of the second day we also spent a long time discussing the technologies for sharing the community’s knowledge and solutions that would be most appropriate and accessible. We looked at a whole range of possibilities, from the most obvious and generic social media platforms and publishing platforms to more targeted tools (such as SMS Gateways for broadcasting to mobiles). As we are working with a highly intergenerational group who are forming the core of PIE (ages range from 16 – 62) there were all kinds of fluencies with different technologies. This project is also part of the wider Vome project addressing issues of privacy awareness so we spent much of the time considering the specific issues of using social media to share knowledge and experiences in a local community where information leakage can have very serious consequences. Ultimately we are aiming towards developing an awareness for sharing that we are calling Informed Disclosure. Only a few days before I had heard about cases of loan sharks now mining Facebook information to identify potential vulnerable targets in local communities, and using the information they can glean from unwitting sharing of personal information to befriend and inveigle themselves into people’s trust. The recent grooming cases have also highlighted the issues for vulnerable teenagers in revealing personal information on public networks. Our workshop participants also shared some of their own experiences of private information being accidentally or unknowing leaked out into public networks. At the end of the day we had devised a basic outline for the tools and technologies that PIE could begin to use to get going.
Our final day at Pallion was spent helping the core PIE group set up various online tools : email, a website/blog, a web-based collaboration platform for the core group to organise and manage the network, and a twitter stream to make announcements about upcoming events. Over the summer, as more people in Pallion get involved we’re anticipating seeing other tools, such as video sharing, audio sharing and possibly SMS broadcast services being adopted and integrated into this suite of (mainly) free and open tools.
The workshops were great fun, hugely productive but also involved a steep learning curve for all of us. We’d like to thank Pat, Andrea, Ashleigh and Demi (who have taken on the roles of ‘community champions’ to get PIE up and running) for all their commitment and patience in working with us over the three days, as well as Karen & Doreen at PAG who have facilitated the process and made everything possible. And also to our partners, RHUL’s Lizzie and Elahe who have placed great faith and trust in our ability to devise and deliver a co-design process with the community that reflects on the issues at the heart of Vome.
Back in February Proboscis was commissioned by Andy Robinson of Futurecity, with the assistance of Dipak Mistry of Arts & Business Cambridge, to undertake an Art+Tech collaboration with a local industry partner in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme. This strand seeks to engage “leading Cambridge technology companies to collaborate with contemporary artists on the creative use of technology in public life.”
Over the past few months Stefan and I have been meeting with David Walker and Steffen Reymann of Philips R&D (based in the Cambridge Science Park) to establish a creative dialogue. The initial topics for our creative exploration were suggested by Philips based on research subjects being explored in their lab – Near Field Communications and health monitoring technologies. Our discussions quickly began to revolve around personal motivations for monitoring health and lifestyle –
- Why do people routinely lose abandon using health monitoring technologies?
- What might inspire new habits that actively involve monitoring?
- How could we create delightful ways for people to make connections between personal data and Quality of Life?
- How could we rethink the nature of data collection away from the purely rational towards the realm of the numinous and speculative?
Our initial thinking suggested that perhaps the problem with data collection is that it is often too crude and reductive – trying to make impossibly simple connections between phenomena in a complex system. Data visualisations are often barely more than pretty graphs – but our lives, our environments and the ways we live are so much more than that. How might we make tangible souvenirs from the data generated by our bodies and habits that could help us discern the longer term, harder to perceive patterns?
As our discussions have continued we have begun to explore how we might generate talismanic objects – lifecharms – from personal monitoring data using 3D fabbing. Things which could act as everyday reminders about patterns the data suggests, which are at once both formed of the data and yet do not offer literal readings of the data. Objects which are allusive, interpretative and perceptible, but still mysterious. What would it feel like to have an object in one’s pocket that was generated from data gleaned from one’s own body and behaviours? How might this help us maintain a peripheral awareness of the things we eat, how much we exercise, our general state of happiness and perceive the subtle changes and shifts over time?
Stefan is writing elsewhere how we have been inspired by shells – excretions produced by creatures that tell (in a non-literal way) the story of the creature’s life – what minerals it ingested, what environmental factors affected it. For the lifecharms we’re experimenting with using personal data to drive 3D morphogenetic algorithms that can generate unique shell-like forms which we’ll then render into tangible souvenirs.
As a more macro counterpoint to the micro of the personal lifecharms we have also been considering how local public health data could be translated into forms which could be experienced as a group in a public setting – we’re investigating making a ‘fly eye’ geodesic dome with a light source to throw light upon the patterns in the data.
We’ll be continuing our discussions with Philips for another 3 months or so, gathering some test data (from ourselves) then making some prototypes and maquettes of our ideas for an event in Cambridge in the Autumn where we’ll present our work.
Today was the last working day of our 2011-12 financial year and, as such, Proboscis’ last day as an Arts Council England Regularly Funded Organisation. What has this meant to us and what will our future trajectory be? As we near Proboscis’ 18th anniversary in June (with a by no means certain path ahead) I feel I should mark this moment of transition in some way – pausing to reflect back on what being an RFO meant to us and how we mean to forge ahead.
Becoming an RFO in 2004 was a key transformation point for Proboscis, allowing us to concentrate on developing our programme in a way we hadn’t had the resources to do before. Specifically it allowed us to engage in longer term developments, such as working in research and social engagement as well as enabling us to cashflow projects where the funding was paid in arrears (such as Technology Strategy Board funds etc). Our attitude to being an RFO was that it provided us with leverage to explore areas and partnerships where artistic practice were not mainstream, where we could slowly build relationships and nurture opportunities to work in other fields than traditional art contexts. To this end, we were able to become recognised by the UK Research Councils as an Independent Research Organisation (the only artist-led organisation to do so), to win funding from diverse sources such as the Ministry of Justice, the Technology Strategy Board and Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute and to create international partnerships that took us to work in Australia, Japan, Brazil and Canada. We were able to support seven young people into creative careers (two of whom are still with us) through our participation in the Future Jobs Fund programme. It also enabled us to develop a specific kind of collaborative practice with partners (such as universities) who were unused to collaboration (being more used to commissioning or consulting) – enabling us to be treated as a peer, not a sub-contractor.
Regular funding provided us with the resources to invest time and energy into smaller projects that were less likely to win funding on their own, but were crucial to developing our presence in critical and creative spheres – such as our 10 year programme of commissions for various series of Diffusion eBooks and the early experiments with the Diffusion Generator, a precursor to our self-publishing platform, bookleteer. The recent experiments with digital fabric printing have also benefitted from being able to take a longer view over what was originally a solution for a single project.
Times change and perhaps we are measured by our ability to respond to them. Over the past year we have been attempting to give Proboscis a new sense of direction – welcoming Gary Stewart and Stefan Kueppers into the fold as key creative associates. We’ve mapped out a new core conceptual theme, Public Goods, and several strands of practice and research that we’re currently exploring through projects and experiments. New partnerships have also begun to emerge with, for instance, Headway East London, Royal Holloway’s Information Security Group and Philips R&D (our collaborator in the Art + Tech Commission for ARU’s Visualise programme) as well as older ones being re-affirmed.
What does it mean for us to no longer receive regular funding? For sure it means a drop in immediate and reliable income and less short term flexibility to ‘follow our noses’ as to where interesting creative opportunities may lie in less familiar contexts without seeking funding first. It means we are having to work even harder and look wider than before to locate the kinds of funded and resourced opportunities that will cover the costs of running a studio and paying our team of creative practitioners. We are by no means sure that in the current economic climate we will be able to achieve the level of new investment that Proboscis needs to grow through this change, or how long it might take us. No doubt we will have to adopt a more elastic approach to our own infrastructure and working practices.
But what all this is making clear is that the reason Proboscis will endure, persevere and find new pastures is that it is not driven purely by business goals, by financial ambition or a career path, but by artistic vision, passion, compassion and the desire to learn from others by working with them, sharing what we have discovered along the way. I cannot divine the shape that Proboscis will take on in a year or two or more’s time, but the threads of imagination, exploration and experimentation that we are weaving will certainly continue to be woven howsoever we can.
Ten years ago, in 2002, we completed a major 5 year collaboration between myself, filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting and the neurologist Dr Mark Lythgoe. The project, Mapping Perception, had been an extraordinary journey for us exploring the membrane between our perceptions of ability and disability, through the prism of impaired brain function. Andrew’s daughter, Eden, who was born with a congenital syndrome called Joubert’s (which causes the cerebellum to remain underdeveloped) was both the inspiration for this project and its heart. For the project we produced a major site-specific installation, a 35mm 37 minute film and a publication and CD-Rom.
On Monday 19th March the BFI is to release a new DVD (which includes the Mapping Perception film as a special feature) of Andrew’s latest film, This Our Still Life – a portrait of Eden now grown into a young woman. We’re really excited that MP is present on the DVD as it will mean a whole new audience for the work and are teaming up with the BFI to provide 50 free copies of the Mapping Perception Book & CD-Rom for people ordering the DVD (more details / link to come).
Once again we have been collaborating with our esteemed colleagues Andrew Hunter and Lisa Hirmer at DodoLab on a discursive exploration of place and knowledge as part of our ongoing investigations and collaborative publishing project, City As Material. This time we have been undertaking a research expedition with Professor William Starling into the decline of the European Starling in Britain, seeking stories and evidence to explain their rapid disappearance in three towns : Thetford (in Norfolk), London and Oxford. Alongside Proboscis and DodoLab, we were accompanied by expedition members Dr Josie Mills, Curator of the Art Gallery at the University of Lethbridge, Canada and artist Leila Armstrong.
Haz has posted reports for each of the journeys and visitations which we undertook in Thetford, London and Oxford over on our bookleteer blog and we are now collaborating to produce a series of eBooks charting the expedition’s activities and findings – blending together questions, observations, musings, photos, drawings, rubbings and other things collected. As before, we’ll print up a limited edition of the books as well as placing downloadable PDFs in the online Diffusion Library for handmade versions and enabling bookreader versions for reading online.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been re-arranging the studio to create new work spaces (such as the fabbing corner for the Public Goods Lab) and have been sifting through our archive to make space. We’ve been culling the number of archive copies we keep of various publications, especially of our older works which means we can release them for sale. As such, we are now making the last 15 complete sets of COIL journal of the moving image available for sale at the super low price of £25 plus shipping.
COIL journal was a 10 issue part-work commissioning new writing, critique as well as artists projects about experimental film, video and the emerging electronic/digital art field between 1995 and 2000. Over 130 filmmakers, artists, writers, critics and others were commissioned for the series – each one invited to make their own intervention in the journal about moving image culture (rather than respond to editorial themes). The journal deliberately eschewed featuring the then-current ‘YBA’ group of artists, focusing on a mix of younger emerging talent with older mid-career artists – many of whom we’re less visible at the time. COIL is thus a snapshot of a fecund period during which the shift from analogue to digital technologies gathered pace and the changes in creative practices associated with these became more pronounced.
On December 15th 2011 we will be launching a new series of Diffusion commissions called Material Conditions. This series asks professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.
The contributors are : Active Ingredient (Rachel Jacobs et al); Karla Brunet; Sarah Butler, Desperate Optimists (Jo Lawlor & Christine Molloy); London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist & Jo Joelson); Ruth Maclennan; Jules Rochielle & Janet Owen Driggs; and Jane Prophet.
The first set of 8 contributions will be published as Diffusion eBooks (made with bookleteer) and available as downloadable PDFs for handmade books, online via bookreader versions and in a limited edition (50) of professionally printed and bound copies which will be available for sale (at £16 per set plus P&P).
Material Conditions is part of Proboscis’ Public Goods programme – seeking to create a library of responses to these urgent questions that can inspire others in the process of developing their own everyday practices of creativity; that can guide those seeking meaning for their choices; that can set out positions for action around which people can rally.
Agencies of Engagement is a new 4 volume publication created by Proboscis as part of a research collaboration with the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technology and the Crucible Network at the University of Cambridge. The project explored the nature of groups and group behaviours within the context of the university’s communities and the design of software platforms for collaboration.
The books are designed to act as a creative thinking and doing tool – documenting and sharing the processes, tools, methods, insights, observations and recommendations from the project. They are offered as a ‘public good’ for others to learn from, adopt and adapt.
Download, print out and make up the set for yourself on Diffusion or read the online versions.
This year we have 3 special offers for the festive season :
- Special Offer 1 – only £10 + shipping for a batch of our past publications : Social Tapestries Case of Perpectives + Endless Landscape Magnet Set + COIL 9/10 + Mapping Perception + Pavel Buchler’s Ghost Stories. Offer ends 14th December.
- Special Offer 2 – Reduced Prices on StoryCube packs of 27, 64 & 125 cubes. Offer ends 14th December.
- 10% discount on all bookleteer Short Run Printing (can’t be combined with other offers) :
Last Printing Date for StoryCubes will be 5th December
Last Printing Date for eBooks will be 8th December
Please use the discount code – BKLTRXMAS11
A few days ago we deployed a simple but exciting design change to bookleteer.com, namely we have added QR Codes and Short URL links to every Diffusion eBook’s back page. These link directly to the online bookreader version of the eBook – a web-based version that makes it possible to read the eBooks directly on mobile devices such as smartphones (Android, iPhone, Blackberry etc), tablets (iPad, Galaxy tab etc) or any computer.
What’s so exciting about that you may ask? Well, we have been thinking about ‘tangible souvenirs‘ for a few years now – exploring ways of capturing and sharing aspects of ‘digital experiences’ into physical forms such as the Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes. This might be data visualisations or digital assets such as photos, tweets etc arranged to act as mementoes of ephemeral experiences which are primarily mediated through digital technologies. Conversely we have also been thinking about how to share these ‘tangible souvenirs’ digitally as well as physically. This thinking originated in a small project we helped take place between schoolchildren in a village in rural Nigeria making and sharing eBooks with schoolchildren in Watford, north London. In parts of Africa computers, printers, paper and internet access were (and remain) scarce – yet mobile phones were proliferating fast. If people who had never before had access to low cost publishing technologies through the simple tools we had created (Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer.com) could use these to publish their own knowledge and experiences how then would they share them when the means of production (computers, printers, paper etc) which we take for granted in the industrialised world, were still scarce?
The answer was to find another bridge between the digital and the physical – enabling people to share their Diffusion eBooks not only through the PDF files and printed formats, but also via mobile phones. In 2007 I wrote a post on diffusion.org.uk (our free library of eBooks and StoryCubes) speculating on how we might in future use visual barcodes to make sharing the eBooks simpler. At that time we didn’t have the online bookreader format, so there was still the problem of how someone with a mobile phone could print out and read the book. However, with the implementation of bookreader (a fantastic piece of open source software created by the Internet Archive) we have been able to realise this in a remarkably simple but potentially crucial way. If someone has a printed or handmade copy of a Diffusion eBook then they can share its content with anyone else simply by letting them use their mobile device to scan the QR code (there are multiple free QR readers for most types of phone or tablet device). Or they can take a photo of the back page and email it or send it via MMS to someone who can then scan it in themselves.
By placing the Short URL link alongside the QR code we have also provided a human-readable alternative to the QR code. This way anyone can simply type the URL into a web browser on any internet-connected device to begin reading the eBook. The URLs are also short enough to send via SMS, Twitter or any other social messaging system.
Over the years we have described the concept behind the hybrid digital/physical nature of Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes as being about creating ‘Shareables‘ – things which can float between these states, which can exist in more than one place at a time as both physical and digital objects. We have collaborated with friends, colleagues and partners to explore the affordances of capturing unique handwritten and handmade books and StoryCubes and being able to share them directly with others, almost without restriction. This simple addition linking the physical PDF/printed versions to their online bookreader versions amplifies this rippling effect between the physical and the digital in ways we can only begin to imagine.
We think this could be a step change in the uses and usefulness of bookleteer.com and the Diffusion eBook format – we’d love to hear what other people think too.
Over the summer we’ve been beavering away in the background exploring new partnerships and planning project ideas and proposals for our emerging Public Goods programme. Although its too early to reveal the projects and partners we’re engaging with just now, we are excited that our aspirations for the programme are beginning to cohere around some specific topics and themes. As the projects and partnerships take shape over the next few months we’ll be posting more about them as well as the experiments and activities we’re developing alongside them.
We’ve also welcomed two new members into the Proboscis team : Gary Stewart and Stefan Kueppers, both of whom have collaborated with Proboscis in different capacities before. Gary is an artist and researcher, currently an Artist in Residence/Research Associate at Queen Mary University of London; Stefan is a designer and technologist who has most recently been a Design & Collaboration Technology Specialist for the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London.
Meanwhile, since the Spring we have been working on a collaborative research project with the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) and Crucible at the University of Cambridge which is now in its final stage. The public output of the project will be a set of books made with bookleteer that explore the methods we used; an account of the project’s process, the insights and observations that resulted and the outcome of our reflections. We’re hoping to launch these publications at an event in Cambridge in November this year and will post details nearer the time.
This year’s seen several major milestones achieved in developing our bookleteer platform. At the beginning of the year we launched a User API (Application Programming Interface) allowing people to create and share eBooks and StoryCubes directly from their own projects, applications and websites.
In February we unveiled a new price estimator to help people calculate the costs of printing and shipping (all over the world) eBooks and StoryCubes through our Short Run Printing Service. We combined this with new pricing structures that make both the eBooks and StoryCubes cheaper and easier to order in small quantities (from 50 copies)
This month we’ve launched what we think is our most exciting new feature : an online bookreader allowing users to read and share their eBooks via standard web browsers. We have also re-vamped the user interface for creating and editing eBooks which should make it simpler and more intuitive. Below is an example of an embedded ‘mini reader’ showing an eBook created by Caroline Maclennan as part of Alice’s As It Comes project in Lancaster:
You can also find plenty more (and growing) over on our Diffusion website.
Next week I’m travelling to Sydney to participate, as a ‘provocateur’ in the Hot Science, Global Citizens Symposium, held at the Powerhouse Museum. I’m taking part in a session called Creative Agency and Programming in Museums and Science Centres with Seb Chan, Wayne LaBar, Tara Morelos & Declan Kuch. I’m also hoping to do one or more City As Material/Anarchaeology events whilst I’m there – more on that soon.
My talk is called Oblique Devices :
In Proboscis’ work we rarely address problems like ‘Climate Change’ head-on. As artists we feel empowered to raise questions but cannot claim to have definitive answers or solutions. Our practice is to entice, provoke, humour and challenge, not to preach or claim authority. However, change is a constant feature of history and how humans respond to it reflects our social and cultural adaptability, the dynamism and resilience of our cultures and civilisations. By creating projects that provoke dialogue within and across communities we hope to challenge some of the powerful, and often misleading, nostrums of our age; to pause and reflect before we commit ourselves to unequivocal outcomes. What we offer is critical dissent; what we hope is that people are inspired and empowered to shape their own responses, to weave their own patterns within the changes that surround them.
About the session :
Panelists will address key aspects of creative thinking and creative practices about climate change, discussing their own projects and visions on climate change in response to some of the key themes being addresses by the HSGC ARC Research Linkage Project in order to stimulate debate around climate change. Possible themes may include: climate change and citizen engagement; artist-led projects on creative mitigation and environmental education; creative strategies for audience engagement and civic participation; developing awareness campaigns and critical consciousness on climate change action; the role of interactive and pervasive technologies for collaborative initiatives and local community engagement on climate change, such as sensor technologies, alternate reality games, social media, smart phone apps, GIS mapping, etc. Speakers are invited to present ideas for museums/science centres creative programming design and to offer their views on opportunities of transdisciplinary and collaborative research.
More information about the symposium :
HOT SCIENCE, GLOBAL CITIZENS: the agency of the museum and science centre sector in climate change interventions Symposium,
Sydney, Australia, 5-6 May 2011
Climate change is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon that is reshaping the way we think about ourselves, our societies and humanity’s place on Earth. This symposium presents the research findings of the Australian Research Council international Linkage project, Hot Science, Global Citizens: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions along with other leading research to develop new knowledge about what constitutes effective action around climate change, the critical roles that institutions can play and visions for the future of museums and science centres. The second day will feature an ‘unconference’ session to tease out innovative programming ideas and engage participants in discussions.
Professor Mike Hulme School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK
Elaine Heumann Gurian International Museum Consultant
Dr Emlyn Koster CEO Liberty Science Center, USA
Professor David Karoly Climate scientist and public commentator
Dr Saffron O’Neill Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne
Giles Lane Director, Proboscis, London, UK
Dr Dawn Casey Director, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Frank Howarth Director, Australian Museum, Sydney
Professor Graham Durant Director, Questacon, Canberra
Tara Morelos d/Lux/MediaArts
Wayne LaBar Vice President, Exhibitions and Programs, Liberty Science Center, USA
Seb Chan Head of Digital, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Declan Kuch Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition
Project researchers Academic team: Dr Fiona Cameron (Lead Chief Investigator); Professor Robert Hodge; Associate Professor Brett Neilson and Dr Juan Salazar from the Centre for Cultural Research, with Professor Jann Conroy from the Centre for Plant and Food Science and Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne, Dr Ben Dibley, Dr Anne Newstead, Dr Ann Deslandes, Dr Carol Farbotko
Partner organisations and researchers: Museum Victoria, Melbourne; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney; Australian Museum, Sydney; Questacon, Canberra; Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, US with the University of Melbourne, Earth Sciences and the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK.
This Thursday 31st March 2011 we’re hosting an evening at our studio in Clerkenwell to launch our first limited edition slipcase set of books published and printed using bookleteer‘s Short Run Printing Service. The set in question contains the 10 books commissioned and produced as part of last Autumn’s City As Material series of urban explorations and collaborative bookmaking.
If you’d like to come please email us info at proboscis.org.uk – we’ll have drinks as well as offering a 20% discount off all publications. Or sign up on the Facebook event page.
Last month saw just two eBooks published on diffusion.org.uk, but great ones nonetheless. John’s book is the latest commission in our Transformations series, and Ben’s is a commission for our City As Material series :
Towards Psychonutrition by John Hartley
River Gap by Ben Eastop
This year we will begin a major new programme of projects exploring the intangible things we value most about the people, places and communities we live in : Public Goods. Through a series of projects over a 5 year period we’ll be making artworks, films, events, exhibitions and publications in places across the nation (and hopefully abroad too) working in collaboration with both other creative practitioners and local people.
In this first year we’re planning a series of smaller research projects to help us meet and engage with collaborators, identify places and communities, themes and activities. We’ll be using our City As Material format for collaborative urban exploration and zine-making as a method of investigating new places with local people, and also focused projects, like Alice’s As It Comes, in both urban and rural settings exploring other knowledges and experiences that are often overlooked or are being swept away by the fast pace of social change. We also plan to continue our research collaborations into new technologies for public authoring, play and sensing the world around us (such as Urban Tapestries, bookleteer and Sensory Threads).
Our aim is to build up an archive, or archives, of the intangible goods that people most value and want to share – transmitting hope and belief through artistic practice to others in the present and for the future. In the teeth of a radical onslaught against the tangible public assets we are familiar with (libraries, forests, education etc), Public Goods seeks to celebrate and champion a re-valuation of those public assets which don’t readily fit within the budget lines of an accountant’s spreadsheet.
We’d love to hear from communities, practitioners or organisations who’d like us to work with them around this theme – do get in touch.