Visualise: Making Art in Context

January 20, 2014 by · 3 Comments 

Visualise book_cover
Anglia Ruskin University has published a book, edited by Bronac Ferran, reflecting on the Visualise public art programme. We have contributed a short piece describing our Lifestreams collaboration with Philips Research.

Visualise: Making Art in Context
Published by Anglia Ruskin University
Edited by Bronac Ferran
Designed by Giulia Garbin
ISBN: 978-0-9565608-6-5
Published 28th November 2013
Copies can be ordered from : Pam Duncan, Bibliographic Services Manager, University Library, Anglia Ruskin University

The book brings together essays by artists featured in the Visualise public art programme, which took place from Autumn 2011-Summer 2012 across Cambridge, managed by Futurecity with guest curator Bronac Ferran. It includes reflections on the development of the programme by Professor Chris Owen Head of Cambridge School of Art and from Andy Robinson of Futurecity on the role artists can play in our cities ecology and contested public realm. Among the essays are newly commissioned pieces relating to poetry, composition, music, code, language and place by Liliane Lijn, Eduardo Kac, Tom Hall, Alan Sutcliffe and Ernest Edmonds as well as interviews with Duncan Speakman and William Latham, reflections on two art and industry collaborations by Bettina Furnee and Dylan Banarse, and Giles Lane of Proboscis and David Walker of Philips Research and a previously unpublished holograph by Gustav Metzger.

About Visualise: Making Art in Context
From tales of a transgenic green bunny to a singing painting, from computer-generated lifecharms to a soundwalk at dusk through Cambridge’s streets, parks and arcades, this publication conveys some of the myriad happenings which characterised Visualise; a programme of public art, curated for Anglia Ruskin University in 2012. Funded by the University from Percent for Art sources, Visualise brought new life to hard streets, providing opportunities for public engagement through challenging visual art and sound installations, temporary events and exhibitions. It connected in direct and indirect ways to perceptions of Cambridge as context and site of scientific discovery and technological inventiveness. The book weaves the history of Cambridge School of Art and the Ruskin Gallery (the place where Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd played his first gig and Gustav Metzger, renowned founder of auto-destructive art, had his first arts education before the end of the Second World War) with today’s digital developments. A series of newly commissioned essays provide intriguingly personal insight into how world-leading international and local artists create lasting ‘mark and meaning’ (Eduardo Kac) working in contexts of historical time as well as in physical space.

StoryMaker PlayCubes

November 16, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

storymaker-set

StoryMaker PlayCubes

StoryMaker is a set of 9 playcubes (1 of 3 sets from Outside The Box) that incite the telling of fantastical tales. Roll the three control cubes to decide how to tell your story, what kind of story it should be and where to set it. Then use the six word cubes as your cue to invent a story on the spot. Each set comes flatpacked with a PlayGuide booklet. You can browse all the cubes and the play guide on bookleteer.
Make up stories on your own or with friends. Challenge your storymaking skills with the Genre, Context and Method cubes to suggest what type of story you can tell, what time or place it is set in and how you’re going to tell it. Use the Word cubes to make the game even more fun: choose one set of words to tell you story with, or combine different sets to make up longer stories or more complex games.

Earlier this year we printed up a small edition of the StoryMaker PlayCubes which are now available to purchase. If you’d like a set then please order below or visit our web store for other options.

StoryMaker PlayCubes Set
9 PlayCubes + PlayGuide Booklet
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£15 
(inc VAT & p+p)
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StoryMaker Sets (inc VAT & P+P)


Thoughts on failure

November 13, 2013 by · 6 Comments 

This week we failed to reach our kickstarter goal for the PlayCubes project. And not by a small margin: at the close of play we had only reached 13% of our goal – just £528 out of £4,000. So I find myself asking, “What does it mean to have failed?”

The campaign was an experiment to see if this form of fundraising could work for us. It was ‘low risk’ in the sense that we were not raising funds for a new project, but to complement an already finished one with an additional outcome. It is certainly disappointing not to be able to manufacture the sets and get them out into the world as we planned; there are clearly things we can look at and consider changing such as reward types, pledge amounts and even the physical form of the PlayCubes. But do these issues indicate why the campaign failed or could there be other reasons?

Tim Wight wrote an excellent post a few weeks ago on innovation and failure which I have been thinking about during the campaign and especially once it became clear we would be unlikely to reach our target (essentially after the fifth day of a two week campaign). Tim has some great observations about the way failure is perceived and addressed culturally; how so often people seek to ‘recuperate’ failure by turning it into a risk-averse ‘learning’ opportunity rather than accepting failure as is, as something intrinsic to the creative process.

“I’d argue, however, that we don’t always have to learn from failure, and that sometimes making the same mistakes over and over again might even be part of the innovation (or rather the *invention*) process.”

What can I learn from this process? Is there anything, in fact, worthwhile to learn? Did the project “fail” or is it that I didn’t “sell” it well enough? Is it a failure of concept, execution or communication?

“…failure doesn’t necessarily need to have a learning point or any value.
We can just noodle about and experiment and repeat and fail again and again and again without any obvious point. Many great artists have done this. “

As I’m sure others who’ve launched kickstarter projects have experienced, I received a number of messages offering me advice and professional services to enhance the campaign. Essentially all the advice boiled down to a simple nugget, that the only way to succeed was to already have a significant “fanbase” who could be “activated” or motivated to pledge support and then amplify it by sharing the fact they’d supported the project to their friends and social circles. If I’ve learnt anything then its probably that Proboscis doesn’t have a fanbase as such to activate.

The irony, too, was not lost on me of trying to raise funding for a project about free play and improvisation without rules, winners or rewards on a crowdfunding platform entirely structured around rewards and goals – where there are only winners (those who reach or surpass their goal) and losers. Could there be more to this than just irony? Could it be that the conceptual nature of the PlayCubes (indeed of my whole practice) is just so diametrically opposite to the way in which kickstarter and the communities which form around it operate that it was always unlikely to succeed? Tim’s post also quotes Tom Uglow writing about a project they collaborated on, #dream40

“Artistic projects like this do not fit one-size-fits all metrics; and I’m not sure what those metrics are anyway – though I do know that targets breed strategies to hit targets, so you’ll forgive us for ignoring them. Hitting targets reward organizations not audiences, or artists, or culture.”
Tom Uglow, Google Creative Labs

This leads me to think about consumption and how kickstarter reflects an ideal of a free market economy, a sort of microcosm of how free markets are supposed to work, albeit in a very basic form. As an artist I have spent my whole career trying to evade the normalising effect of being part of such an economy – most likely as a product of growing up in the 1980s during the Thatcher years. My work has always been about exploring what’s beyond the horizon, of trying to anticipate the things that are just out of our reach, that are outwith the contemporary boundaries of society and culture. So much of what we’ve done at Proboscis since around 2000 has also been forward looking, about inventing new futures. The kinds of social and cultural ideas, tools and techniques we’ve created have often been ahead of their time: testing the just-possible and directing attention at where things could go. Is there perhaps a contradiction in using the logic of consumption and popularity to support projects that are precisely not popular because what underlies them is unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable – something that may not become mainstream for years?

“Even more importantly, people generally don’t learn from other people’s mistakes. They’d much rather learn from their *own* mistakes.  Your own mistakes hurt so much more and live with you much longer. It doesn’t matter how often Mummy or Daddy tell you not to put your hand near the fire, you’ll only really remember not to do it *after* you’ve burned your hand, right?”

Despite our kickstarter campaign failing, I feel unrepentant. I’m going to keep getting my hand burnt in this way because I believe that what Proboscis does is genuinely valuable – despite the dearth of pledges we’ve had plenty of positive feedback about the PlayCubes. We find ourselves, like many others, struggling to keep afloat in challenging times, but persistent, dogged in continuing to make work and to make a difference. Like the spider Robert the Bruce famously watched trying to weave a web across a cave entrance, even though it kept falling down, it kept on trying until at last it succeeded – “If at first you don’t succeed, try try and try again.”

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

We’ll keep trying, fail again and again, but fail better.

Lifestreams at Mosaic3DX

October 31, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

IMG_0445

This week we exhibited the Lifecharm shells, datalogger and Lifestreams film at the Mosaic3DX conference, held at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. The exhibition was organised by Karen Jinks of Cambridge Creative Network and also featured Jenny Langley, Gareth Wild of Apropos, Nick Edwards, Jon Heras of Equinox Graphics and Circuit Cambridge.

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Lifecharms at London Design Festival

September 10, 2013 by · 13 Comments 

Header Image with info

A selection of Lifecharms made for our Lifestreams project with Philips Research will be exhibited in a group show, This New Nostalgia, as part of this year’s London Design Festival at the Liberty of Norton Folgate in Bishopsgate, 14th-22nd September. The show is curated by InspireConspireRetire exploring,

“how we transform the physical object world and how this world in-turn, transforms us… The Lifestreams project by Proboscis forms a key feature of this exhibition, opening conversations about the role of the maker in developing objects that embody emotion and hold meaning without a superimposition through forces of branding and advertising. [T]his project engages the design community in questioning our role as makers of meaning and significance whilst keeping up with technologies and harnessing their powers for transformations extremely personal, weaving themselves into the narratives of everyday life.”

A Proboscis Miscellany

July 30, 2013 by · 10 Comments 

Proboscis_Collection_Box

During the long process of sorting through our studio at Turnmill Street in preparation for the recent move, we began to assemble a collection of the print publications, multiples and other ephemera from many of our projects over the past 19 years. It is not an archive of everything we have made or published (it certainly excludes thousands of Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes created with bookleteer.com and its predecessors), but it is a pretty comprehensive collection of material outputs from many of the projects we have undertaken. It includes artefacts made by collaborators and commissioned artists – such as Andrew Hunter, Cathy Haynes & Sally O’Reilly, Neville Gabie, Rob Kesseler and Bob & Roberta Smith – as well as many things created over the years by members of Proboscis.

We have managed to put together five identical versions of this ‘Miscellany’ – one which we will keep as a reference set of our own; the other four we are donating to libraries/archives to make them publicly available to scholars and other artists (or anyone interested). This week the first collection will be delivered to the Special Collections Library at Chelsea College of Art & Design (University of the Arts London). We are also in discussion with the Banff Centre Library in Canada to donate another collection to their Artists Books Collection there. The third and fourth sets are intended to be donated to similar institution (to be confirmed) in Scotland (where Alice is from and where we spend considerable time each year) and Europe – where, as yet, we have not found a suitable home.

Over the summer we are planning to create a companion book (using bookleteer) that describes each of the components of the Miscellany. We will hand make copies of these to give to the libraries we are donating the collections to and make the book available as both downloadable PDF and as an online version to act as a guide.

Sale of works

June 10, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

During our open days  Friday 21st June and Saturday 22nd June  between 12noon and 8pm we will also be selling some work from recent years including framed and unframed works on paper and textiles as well as publications including:

Things-I-found-3..  

Works on paper  from the Storyweir  series Things I Have Found, Learned and Imagined on Burton Beach; the series  In Good Heart ,  Pinning Our Hopes, and the original drawings for 100 Views of Worthing Pier Tall Tales Ghosts and Imaginings and As It Comes as well as other works on paper and textiles. You can see some more of some of the series of the drawings here

1950s memories - Version 2  

 

Open Studio Days & Sale of Work

June 4, 2013 by · 7 Comments 

still_life_1-web

On Friday 21st June and Saturday 22nd June  between 12noon and 8pm Alice and I will host two days of open studios to which we invite people to come and view work made by Proboscis in recent years – to have a chat and enjoy some tea and cake. We will have work on display from projects such as Hidden FamiliesStoryWeir, Pallion Ideas Exchange, Lifestreams, the Periodical, StoryCubes, bookleteer, Perception Peterborough, Snout, Feral Robots, Urban Tapestries, Mapping Perception, Social Tapestries, Fifties Fashion, As It Comes, In Good Heart and others.

Many of the works will be available for purchase (details to come), including paintings and drawings by Alice Angus, a unique Large StoryCube set made for an exhibition about cyberneticist Gordon Pask, as well as many of our publications.

For those interested in signing up to our monthly participatory publishing project, the Periodical, there will be extra special gifts to take away for subscribing on the day. To find out more about subscribing see here.

We will also have lots of freebies to give away to reward those plucky enough to ascend the infamous stairs to our 4th floor garret!

Please email us to let us know you’re planning to come.

Climate Commons, an event with Tony White, Hayley Newman & James Marriot

May 25, 2013 by · 19 Comments 

Climate Commons: literature, climate change and activism
Readings by Tony White, Hayley Newman & James Marriot

Wednesday 19th June 2013 at Proboscis Studio 6pm to 8pm
NB – Proboscis studio is NOT wheelchair accessible
Book a free place on Eventbrite
TW-authors

Tony White’s latest novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South is published as an exclusive free ebook by the Science Museum, with an accompanying exhibition that runs until April 2014. Described by Marina Warner as ‘a bold novel-cum-manifesto, a prophecy, satire, and warning,’ Shackleton’s Man Goes South was inspired by – and explores the implications of – a forgotten science fiction short story warning of climate change that was written in Antarctica in 1911 by atmospheric scientist George Clarke Simpson. Flipping the polarity of the Shackleton myth, White tells a new story about Emily and her daughter Jenny, climate change refugees who are fleeing to Antarctica instead of from it, in a hot world rather than a cold one.

Alice & Giles invited Tony White to curate an informal studio event where some of these ideas could be explored further. White will be joined in Proboscis’s studio by two other authors: the artist and activist James Marriott of Platform, a London-based arts, human rights and environmental justice organisation, and performance artist Hayley Newman, who is committed to working collectively around the current economic and ecological crisis.

James Marriot is co-author with Mika Minio-Paluello of The Oil Road (Verso), an extraordinary book tracing the concealed routes from the oil fields of the Caspian Sea to the refineries and financial centres of Northern Europe. The Oil Road maps this ‘carbon web’, guiding the reader through a previously obscured landscape of energy production and consumption, resistance and profit.

Hayley Newman is the author of a new novella, Common (Copy Press), which chronicles one day of her self-appointed artist’s residency in the City of London. Taking us to crashes in global markets, turbulence in the Euro-zone and riots on hot summer nights, Common opens up the City through richly imaginative stories and empowering political actions.

Readings and discussion will be chaired by curator and interdisciplinary innovator Bronac Ferran.
TW-books

‘Hidden Families’ at Conference on Human Factors in Computing 2013

May 1, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

CHI_poster2

As part of our project Hidden Families with Lizzie Coles-Kemp (from the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University of London).  Alice illustrated, digitally printed and created a handmade quilted textile ‘poster’ about the wider project for the 2013 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing.

CHI_poster3  CHI_poster5 CHI_poster6 CHI_poster7

CHI_poster1

 

 

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 StoryCubes

March 25, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

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“The visitors who told their stories are very proud of the work and the fact that they can see their work put to good use.” Cath Chesterton NEPACS

We were recently asked to create a set of 8 StoryCubes for Hidden Families (part of Royal Holloway University of London’s Families Disconnected by Prison project), to be used by Royal Holloway and partners such as Action for Prisoners Families, NEPACS and in training, talking about and raising awareness of the issues faced by families with a relative in prison.

We selected 48 of the images, originally created for the Hidden Families quilt, around the six key themes that had emerged – family, journey, time, finance, loneliness and support. Using a combination of participants’ photos, words and sketches with my illustrations, we created a block of 8 cubes that brings together some of people’s memories, comments and experiences.

Lizzie Coles-Kemp project lead said;  “The focus of this project was to create a call to action by collecting the voices of families separated by prison and using different techniques to present the collective narrative. StoryCubes help us to develop the call to action by making the collective narrative interactive and providing another means for adding to and developing the story of this particular community. They make interactive and tactile objects from the textile quilt which are even more accessible to families, policy makers, practitioners and academics alike.”

NEPACS and Action for Prisoners Families will be using the cubes at training events and conferences, raising awareness of the impact of prison sentences on families.

View the whole Collection of 8 StoryCubes

HF_Cube_7

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.

Hidden Families publication

February 27, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

We have just finished putting together a new publication for the report on Families Disconnected by Prison, of which the Hidden Families project was one part. The project is led by Lizzie Coles-Kemp from the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University of London and is going to be on show at the AHRC Connected Communities Showcase on the 12 March.

 

New Threads

January 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A delivery of digitally printed fabric arrived this morning with the work for the Hidden Families project and for my mermaids and monsters work. I’ll be spending the next few days sewing up the quilts for Hidden Families partners.

The other fabric that arrived is part of new textile and embroidered work inspired by the traditional knowledge, memories and myths of the sea and water that have come up in Storyweir and Tall Tales Ghosts and Imaginings, In Good Heart and Sutton Grapevine.

Hidden Families

January 16, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

  

In the last few months I’ve been working on Hidden Families, a project with families with someone in prison. The project, run by by Lizzie Coles Kemp of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University of London, was trying to find out how to improve the way information is made available to families, because people sometimes don’t or can’t engage with support services. The hardships families experience are diverse;- travel, costs of visiting, the huge distances to visit,the stress of uncertain weather and travel conditions that might cause someone to be late and miss their visit, bringing children, access to pension, welfare and benefits advice, sentence planning, prisoner safety and welfare, being stigmatised and outcast, and not expecting help or having the ability to improve the situation.

The project has several facets and I was involved in working with Action for Prisoners Families, NEPACS (who provide support services for families separated by prison), performer Freya Stang and visitors to a visitors’ center in a Category A prison. 
Action for Prisoners’ Families (APF),

works for the benefit of prisoners’ and offenders’ families by representing the views of families and those who work with them and by promoting effective work with families…
A prison or community sentence damages family life.

NEPACS builds bridges between prisoners, families and communities that they will return to, they

believe that investment must be made in resettlement and rehabilitation to ensure that there are fewer crime victims in the future, and less prospect of family life being disrupted and possibly destroyed by a prison sentence… After all, the families haven’t committed the crime, but they, especially the children, are greatly affected by the punishment

Lizzie’s approach to working with people differs from typical academic studies. Rather than only surveying or asking questions of a community she collaborates with groups to create projects, workshops and events that are independently of value to that group, rather than just to fulfill research ends, she often works with artists, writers and performers to support partners and participants in articulating ideas.

The project partners and visitors contributed to booklets, postcards, conversations and a wall collage gathering experiences of the practical, technical and emotional issues people face.  I brought together the stories, experiences and sketches, with a series of  sketches I made, into a digitally printed textile hanging based on the idea of a patchwork quilt for the NEPACS Visitors’ Centre. Participants expressed a wish to produce a version that could hang in the Chapel and Action For Prisoners Families have versions which they will using for their training, education and work raising awareness of the hidden issues families face.

   

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.

Health, Bones, Teeth, Shells and biomineralisation

December 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

What I did not yet know – and have been discovering – is just incredible!

Our explorations for Lifestreams initiated further research into bio–mineralisation in animals such as bones and seas-hells. It has opened my eyes – even more widely – into the utter inventiveness of Nature.

I studied architecture and spend several years in design research working on the analysis of morphology and dynamics at urban and architectural scale; e.g. how streets and public spaces and their features are organised and how people move through them – so, naturally, I have an ongoing fascination with patterns large and small, both man made and natural, as inspiration and reference for design ideas.

From this basis and with previous personal explorations into biomimetics many years ago (screen sculpture), I thought that it would be good to connect the idea of lifecharms and our shell concepts with the actual processes of bio–mineralisation as they occur in living systems.

To do this, I would need to have a better understanding of the real thing. Extraordinarily the last 30 years or so can really be seen as a new dawn of human discovery of the nano-scale in nature: Many scientists have been uncovering the most amazing natural phenomena of biological fabrication, self-assembly and material composition at the micro-scale.

Knowledge and research into bio–mineralisation has been of huge area of interest in biophysics, chemistry, medical and biological science. It has opened up new routes in areas such as tissue engineering for bone healing, design and production of prosthetics (i.e. limbs etc) and insights into nano-technologies and materials. For instance, this has helped in identifying bio-ceramics for bone scaffolds that could be used in medical procedures. Research into bio-mineralisation has prompted many innovations and holds a further promise in others fields well beyond medical sciences.

So setting out with virtually no understanding of bio-mineralisation I have come to learn that most living systems – ourselves included – are in fact expert at producing hard mineral deposits by growing them in crystal form. Organisms mix living tissue structures with the creation of a variety of crystalline substructures in very deliberate (and often quite subtly different) ways.

These structures of interlacing soft tissues and crystals of different configurations act as composites which are employed within our bodies to do different things; so you could say that ‘growing’ is more than just about purely organic matter but incorporates and embraces the growing and connecting of crystalline structures in our bodies all the time. We effectively grow our own bio-material composites: we have a variety of patterns in our different tissues that make these crystals assemble in very particular structural ways to – for example – construct bones that act as structural internal support, exoskeletons, teeth, sea-shells, glass-spines, beaks, etc.

Glass Sponge Anchoring Fiber...

The mineral/ crystalline deposits that animals and plants can form vary incredibly and – to my great surprise – have even produced such strange objects such as up to 1 meter long glass rods (spicules)

Venus' Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum)
(capable of transmitting light similar to a glass fiber) in certain species of glass sponges

JeremyShaw1
and even metal–composite teeth in molluscs!

Growth really encompasses quite complex interactions within cellular tissues where deeply integrated biological, chemical and physical processes result in layers of both living tissue and hard mineral deposits.

Human and animal bones, animal teeth and seashells alike are chemical compositions that are produced by cell tissue acting as templates and scaffolds. These provide the structure along which biologically controlled mineral deposits are formed. As well as the effect of many different chemical compositions, the patterning of these varies greatly depending on the functions they fulfil and what stresses they are under.

One extraordinary type of bio-mineral composite can be found in the teeth of chitons, a type of mollusc that even incorporates iron; in particular an iron oxide called magnetite which together with the organic components make them three times harder than human teeth.

So what good is this to our project research? Well, we are now exploring these phenomena to design a sculptural piece that will use aspects of this bio-mineral composite growth approach in nature. Our experiments are on the way so watch this space!

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!

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