Shortlisted for an Arts & Business Award

April 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Lifestreams, our collaboration with Philips Research has been shortlisted for an Art & Business Digital Partnership Award this year.

Read the case study here.

Hidden Families at AHRC Connected Communities Showcase

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Lifestreams : Tactile Poetry

March 21, 2013 by · 14 Comments 

shell-1

Since early December last year I’ve been carrying around one of the Lifecharm shells with me every day. It was generated from personal biosensor data gleaned not just from myself but from two other studio members last summer when we were capturing a range of experimental data sets to generate prototypes with. Using the data, Stefan generated this particular lifecharm as part of our third iteration of prototypes in late July. This shell was one of several that we later chose to have 3D printed in different materials at Shapeways – this one in sterling silver, the others in glass, ceramic, resin and steel.

I have been carrying it around to see how I feel about it, what it means to me and how I weave it into my everyday life. Our original concept for the lifecharms was that they might trigger an entirely novel way of developing meaningful relationships to the kinds of personal health data gathered by sensors (such as Fitbit, Fuelband etc) that people are now adopting as part of the ‘quantified self’ meme. Our colleagues at Philips Research, David & Steffen, told us that the statistics of use of these kinds of sensors by healthy people tended towards abandonment after just a few months as interest and engagement fades. Their interest was in exploring motivations that might make self-monitoring of wellbeing and healthy lifestyle a thing someone would choose to do before they discovered a health issue that required monitoring.

Our approach to this was to think about the way such sensor data is relayed back to users – most commonly in the form of screen-based visualisations. We wondered if perhaps these simply aren’t arresting enough to weave themselves into the narratives of everyday life that people construct for themselves. I’ve long been interested in touch as a form of knowing and sharing, and Proboscis have been exploring physical outputs from digital experiences for many years (such as tangible souvenirs) so we started out by thinking about how we might embody the data in a physical form that could be carried around and used like a charm or talisman. Stefan has written previously about our research methods and the journey that led us to devise the lifecharm and its inspiration from nature. His Lifestreams film also explains the various technical processes we adopted and adapted to create the results.

diagram-v4

What’s so special about these ‘data objects’?
Unlike data visualisations the lifecharms are generated through a process of data transformation that does not confine them to an instrumental purpose such as relaying the original data back to us as information in a simplified and easy to comprehend manner. Instead, they are embodiments of the data, transformed from the abstract and ephemeral into the concrete and present. They establish the potential for uncommon insights to be perceived into the conditions from which the data was collected (i.e. someone’s health and lifestyle patterns), prompted through a process of tactile and intuitive reflection.

A Lifecharm shell synthesises the intrinsic qualities of the data within its morphology (visualisations, on the other hand, make extrinsic interpretations of such data). It is, at one and the same time, both an informational object – representing a state gleaned from sensor data – and also a philosophical thing triggering intuitive reflection. It unites different traditions of investigation and meaning making: the scientific and the mythic, or magical, both ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. However, a lifecharm is neither an ‘icon’ (nor iconic) nor an ‘implement’ (tool) – it embodies a state without representing it banally. What it exemplifies is not knowledge in the form of a ‘transactable’ commodity or product but a path to knowing that arises from an ongoing process of continuous interaction with and intervention within everyday habits, in this case practiced daily through touch.

shell-3shell-2

Tactile Poetry?
The Lifecharms are not rational, functional objects, they are magical, irrational, indeed talismanic things by which, through tactile familiarity we may come into knowledge or understanding by way of revelation. Like poetry, which is much more than the sum of words and their arrangement on a page, they are more than the sum of the data that drives their growth parameters.

Carrying a lifecharm and touching it everyday, both consciously and even as a displacement activity, causes you to develop a relationship with it over time. You become familiar with its materiality – the feel of the shape in your hand; the weight of the material it is made of, the textures of its surface. None of these reveal the patterns in the data that generated it directly, however this is precisely the point at which the lifecharm begins to operate in a mythic or magical capacity – as a performance of patterns of being and behaviour embodied and reified into a talisman. Its ‘magical power’ could be defined as the potential for revelation that it holds for you to come into an uncommon insight by handling it over time. In this way you might come to perceive new possibilities for change and adaptation in your own patterns and behaviours – triggering your own process of subjective transformation. The lifecharm is thus not just a thing of being but an thing of becoming.

Like poetry, the lifecharms are also diachronic – we can experience and relate to them across time, whilst the meaning or data they embody is fixed in time (i.e. the shape of the shell or the words of the poem do not change). Dynamic data visualisations may often be synchronous – i.e. driven by live or recent data streams – but the way we experience and relate to them is more likely to be mediated (through devices such as smartphones, tablets or computers) and determined by our behaviours and patterns of using the devices they are mediated through. This makes the lifecharms intrinsically different to screen-based visualisations of data. The information that we may glean from them is less to do with an instrumental replay in visual form, and much more to do with how we begin to learn about the patterns they embody through a growing familiarity with their physical form. This difference becomes an opportunity to augment our means of understanding the phenomena recorded in the bio sensor data – an opportunity to explore meaning making through a relationship to complexity and intersubjectivity.

I came to my own uncommon insight – that the shells were in fact, tactile poems – partly as a result of my stay in Reite village in Papua New Guinea and the conversations I have had since with anthropologist James Leach, and also with poet Hazem Tagiuri. The villagers of Reite lead a traditional ‘kastom’ lifestyle in the jungle with a fairly minimal exposure to a ‘modern’ existence predicated on patterns of consumption and mediated sociality. (Although the modern world of industrially produced goods and telecommunications is slowly but surely encroaching and making an impact on their lives and culture). They were traditionally a non-literate people and remain highly skilled makers, carving and weaving many of the things they use. Touch is a powerful sense through which they acquire information, as it could be said to be with highly skilled artisans and craftspeople of our own society. But coupled with the incredible sense of presentness in everyday Reite life and the intensity with which they conduct social relations that is so unlike our own society of discontinuous being, I felt that their physical knowledge of materials connects at a deeper level and is more attuned to detail and granularity; whereas in our own western culture it has been debased as a lower form of skill and social standing – such as the negative way manual labour is contrasted with intellectual labour, or how craft is ‘lesser’ than art.

Since returning from PNG my conversations with James have often turned on this intensity and presentness – the form of radical continuity with being that life in the village feels like. I have, in turn, attempted to convey my experiences to friends, to describe how utterly different I felt whilst in the village. During the course of one conversation with Hazem I described watching a man ‘conjure’ fire from cold sticks in a firepit without using any form of tinder, ember or fire-lighting materials. What seemed like magic was a demonstration of the uncanny power and knowledge this man had in knowing how to feel for residual warmth within the sticks, and arrange them in just the right way that would amplify the heat enough to stimulate combustion. A skill and power I have not witnessed nor even heard of before. Hazem wrote a poem about my description of this act which he sent me as I was grappling with writing about the lifecharms and what they are. His poem helped me to connect the lifecharm’s talismanic nature to poetry. It helped kindle the spark of revelation that, like the way we come to know a thing through poetry, so the kind of knowing that resides within our hands and sense of touch is not just symbolic knowledge, but practical; that we may truly come to know something through touch alone. And that, like in poetry, the precise, elusive moment in which we come into the knowledge that the lifecharm offers us remains on the edge of conscious thought; a sensation we intuitively call revelation.

Invoking Fire by Hazem Tagiuri

We talk of his time in the jungle.
He describes one marvel in particular:
how a fire was conjured from cold sticks,
as if heat swelled in their fingertips.

No tinder, hot coals; embers a day dead.
“It’s not that it seems like magic, it simply is.
Their magic. These are not illusions.”
No sleight of hand. Smoke, but no mirrors.

What we mimic through tools,
these men of power can summon,
with quiet majesty. No incantations;
they save their breath for the flames.

New Lifecharm Shells

December 12, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Our colleague at Philips R&D, David Walker, was kind enough to have some more shells 3D printed in metal for a small experiment we’re planning to run in the new year. Here are some photos he’s taken of them.

Special Offer : bookleteer book sets

December 2, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Our 5th special offer to raise funds for new projects and initiatives is an opportunity to buy three special sets of books made and published via bookleteer for our projects, City As Material, Material Conditions and Professor Starling’s Expedition.

  • City As Material : London (10 books, slip bound, 2010) featuring contributions from Tim Wright, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Simon Pope, Ben Eastop and others.
  • Material Conditions (8 books, wrapper, 2011) featuring books by London FieldWorks, Active Ingredient, Jane Prophet, Ruth Maclennan, Karla Schuh Brunet, Jules Rochielle & Janet Owen Briggs, Desperate Optimists and Sarah Butler.
  • Professor Staring’s London-Thetford-Oxford Expedition (3 books, ribbon bound 2012) featuring contributions by DodoLab (Andrew Hunter & Lisa Hirmer), Proboscis (Giles Lane & Hazem Tagiuri), Leila Armstrong & Josephine Mills.

We’re offering just 7 sets for the bargain price of £24 plus post & packing – 50% off their usual prices.

2012 Special Offer 5
Bookleteer Sets: City As Material + Material Conditions + Prof Starling
United Kingdom
European Union
USA & Canada
Rest of the World
£29
(inc p+p)
£31
(inc p+p)
£33
(inc p+p)
£34
(inc p+p)
Pay with GoCardless
Pay with Paypal

2012 Festive Offer 5 (inc p+p)



Special Offer #4 : RCA CRD RESEARCH books

December 2, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Our fourth special offer to help raise funds for new projects and initiatives is from my personal archive of publications which I published whilst I was a member of the RCA’s Computer Related Design Research Studio. These were produced between 1999 and 2001 and include some rare copies of the original first edition of Tony Dunne’s classic, Hertzian Tales and the FLIRT book, a research project led by Fiona Raby.

  • The Presence Project by Bill Gaver, Ben Hooker et al (2001)
  • Biotica : Art, Emergence & Artificial Life by Richard Brown (2001)
  • The Flirt Book, by Fiona Raby et al (2000)
  • Hertzian Tales by Anthony Dunne (1999)
  • Technological Landscapes by Richard Rogers (1999)

Sorting through my archive, I found 11 copies of each which will be available per set for just £25 plus post & packing.

2012 Special Offer 4
RCA Computer Related Design Books Set
United Kingdom
European Union
USA & Canada
Rest of the World
£32.50
(inc p+p)
£35
(inc p+p)
£37.50
(inc p+p)
£40
(inc p+p)
Pay with GoCardless
Pay with Paypal

2012 Festive Offer 4 (inc p+p)



2012 Festive Offer #3

December 2, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Our third festive offer to help raise funds for new project and initiatives is a set of publications we have collected together under the name Arts of Engagement. We have just 5 sets of these available, as some of the contents are now quite rare. It includes,

All for £20 plus post & packing.

2012 Special Offer 3
Arts of Engagement Set
United Kingdom
European Union
USA & Canada
Rest of the World
£25
(inc p+p)
£27.50
(inc p+p)
£30
(inc p+p)
£32
(inc p+p)
No longer available

Special Offer #2 : Fridge Magnets & Pack of Cards

December 1, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Our second special offer (to raise funds for new projects and initiatives) is a great deal on two of our most popular items – Alice’s Endless Landscape Magnet set and our (somewhat eccentric) pack of cards, Being in Common : Catalogue of Ideas.

We’re offering them together at 50% off their usual price – perfect as gifts for people who like to make up thwir own games and stories!  Get them for just £12.50 plus post and packing.

2012 Special Offer 2
Endless Landscape Magnets + Catalogue of Ideas cards
United Kingdom
European Union
USA & Canada
Rest of the World
£15
(inc p+p)
£16
(inc p+p)
£17
(inc p+p)
£18
(inc p+p)
Pay with Paypal

2012 Festive Offer 2 (inc p+p)



Special Offer #1 : COIL sets, Case of Perspectives, Magnets & Cards

December 1, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

This year we’re offering some special offers to help raise funds for new projects and initiatives. The first offer is a limited number of packages (15 sets only) of some of our loveliest publications – including :

We’re offering all this for £35 plus post & packing – a third of their combined original prices!
*** Hurry – we have only 9 of these available ***

2012 Special Offer 1
COIL journal set + Social Tapestries: Case of Perspectives + Endless Landscape Magnets + Catalogue of Ideas cards
United Kingdom
European Union
USA & Canada
Rest of the World
£40
(inc p+p)
£43
(inc p+p)
£45
(inc p+p)
£47
(inc p+p)
Pay with Paypal


2012 Festive Offer 1


To Papua New Guinea

October 23, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Tomorrow I start my journey to Papua New Guinea where I’m taking part in the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium on Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK), hosted by the University of Goroka (Eastern Highlands Province) and supported by the Christensen Fund. The title and abstract of my talk at the symposium is:

Digital and Physical : simple solutions for documenting and sharing community knowledge
My work is about engaging with people to identify things which they value – for instance knowledge, experiences, skills – and how they can share them with others in ways that are safe, appropriate and inspiring. As an artist and designer I have helped devise simple tools and techniques that can be adopted and adapted by people on their own terms – such as uses of everyday paper, cameras and printers alongside digital technologies such as the internet, archives and databases. I will demonstrate some examples of how these simple physical and digital tools can be used to share community knowledge in freely and easily accessible ways, so that they can also be re-worked and circulated in both paper and digital formats. I hope to offer some examples of how TEK in PNG might be widely documented and circulated as part of commonly available resources.

I wrote a piece about my initial thoughts on what I’ll be presenting and doing whilst I’m there on the bookleteer blog last month. My invitation to this event has been through James Leach, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen who will be there presenting his collaborative publication, Reite Plants, with Porer Nombo in whose village James has been doing fieldwork for 20 years. I first met Porer three years ago when he visited the UK to assist the British Museum’s Melanesia Project in identifying artefacts from the region where he lives in the Ethnographic Collection. At the time James had asked me to help him devise some new ways to document this kind of Traditional Knowledge Exchange that would capture something of the experience of all sharing knowledge that more institutional methods might miss. Consequently we used some Diffusion eNotebooks to capture and record our interactions as much as the stories and information that Porer and Pinbin shared about the artefacts. Alice and I also had the privilege of spending time with Porer and his fellow villager, Pinbin Sisau, inviting them to our home for an evening with James and his family and sharing with them some of the simple delights of central London life that people who don’t live here wouldn’t experience.

After the symposium James, Porer and myself will travel back to Porer’s village of Reite on the Rai Coast in Madang Province where we’ll stay for a week or so. There we’ll attempt to put some of our ideas into practice – I’ve designed some simple notebooks for us to use out in the bush, some printed on waterproof paper, others printed on standard papers. I’m very excited to have this unique opportunity to test out ideas I’ve had for using the Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer in the field for over 10 years now – harking back to conversations I had with anthropologist Genevieve Bell of Intel in 2003. I’m also very excited to have the privilege of visiting Porer and Pinbin in their home and meeting their families and community – joining the loop of one smaller circle of friendship and exchange and hopefully spiralling out into some larger ones that will continue into the future.

Ending an era, beginning a new chapter

October 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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!

Field Work and the Periodical

September 26, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

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.

Lifecharm Shells Redux

September 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Storyweir at Hive Beach video

September 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Proboscis at Burton v3 from David Rogers on Vimeo.

Storyweir – last few days to see

September 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

bookleteer – a fresh look and new features

August 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

New Look Home & About Pages
We’ve refreshed both home and about pages to make it clearer what bookleteer is and what it can do.

Public Library Page
The new Library Page allows anyone browsing bookleteer to see what eBooks and StoryCubes have been created and shared by members.

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!

Video clip of Storyweir Performance at Hive Beach

August 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 


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.

We Are All Food Critics – The Reviews

July 6, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

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.

Neighbourhood knowledge in Pallion

July 2, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Pallion Ideas Exchange Notebooks & Workbooks by proboscis, on Flickr

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.

3 days in Pallion

May 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

 

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.

View from our hotel in Roker

Visualising with Philips R&D

May 11, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

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.

Reflecting on our years as an RFO

March 30, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Mapping Perception Redux

March 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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).

City As Material 2 with Professor Starling of DodoLab

February 28, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

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.

COIL journal – last few sets special offer

February 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

Order your setwhile stocks last!

COIL Full Set Special Offer 2012 inc P+P



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