Field Work and the Periodical

September 26, 2012 by  

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.

Shell drawings

September 25, 2012 by  

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.

I have talked in a previous post on lifecharms to shells about talismanic, engaging and tangible transfigurations of lifestyle and health data in the form of sea shells. I now  needed to explore the real thing. Off I went on another little spree of discovery both on-line and the real world, picking up a variety of ‘snails’ trails if you will.

I had been making some initial sketches of shells whilst looking at some of the mathematical models that have been around for shells (more of this in a later post) and got deeper into the strange and wonderful world of  shell forms to pick p ideas for forms and processes that I could draw on in the making of our own shells.

Aside from producing a large haul of images from various  on-line searches I wanted to make sure I would see a broad variety of the ‘real thing’. So being in London I went on to do take some pictures of ancient and contemporary shells in the wonderful and inspiring  Natural History Museum within its fossil and invertebrate collections.

From these I made a lot of sketches for our life-streams shells so that I could get a deeper taste and sense of the kind of shell shape variations that exist. To me these sketches helped me to gain a clearer more visual understanding of some of the various archetypes and key differences in different shell structures that I came across. It got me to think about routes for the shell modelling process I have been evolving alongside on the computer and the 3d printers.

I had looked at both ancient fossils which had lost any of their external pigmentation as well as contemporary shells that still retained all their wonderful colour and detail. I am continuously amazed at the range and expressiveness of shapes and colours pigmentation of shells that are out there.

 

From lifecharm to shell

September 19, 2012 by  

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.

From its beginning our collaboration with Philips R&D had a focus on lifestyle and health as the two key subject areas so they have formed an integral part of our dialogue and explorations. We’ve spent time in our discussions making and reflecting on the cross-connections between the two; how they intersect and influence each other. As our discussions evolved, we became more interested in some of the challenges for expressing and documenting personal and collective lifestyle choices visibly or invisibly affecting personal health and quality of life.

Stimulating personal motivation for change or reinforcement of positive activities through new means of reflection emerged as goal worth exploring further. Our primary purpose has been driven by thinking of ways and means to make lifestyle choices visible as a means for reflection and possible behaviour change.

We debated what the possible scale and scope of factors affecting our lifestyles were that could be points of reflection; what the nature is of the need for both individuals and groups to see and reflect on the impact of their own and collective choices on health, well-being and quality of life. Our enquiry ranged from evolving ways to make visible and re-enforce positive patterns to  ways of making bigger changes to negative patterns. Our aim is to be able to engage people both through individual and collective reflection and debate.

For instance, what could be vehicles for change that have broad reach spanning young and old without requiring great depth of knowledge to ‘read’ complex information? What could be more emotive, accessible, tangible and shareable? That could indeed inspire a visceral and instinctual form of personal and public reflection? What would form could this take?

Our response to these questions was to take totemic objects as emotive points of reference – iconic and tactile tools for ongoing reflection. We began planning to evolve talismans of self-health, personal pieces that could be carried around on a keyring or as jewelery to remind ourselves of what matters to us. The might be like the charms of old, bracelets embellished with objects, tracing key events and people in our lives but extended to become markers for health and quality of life.

From these ideas of the charm we searched for physical forms that could act as personal objects attached to life, as symbols that are already in the public mind. We arrived at the seashell.

Lifecharm Shells Redux

September 18, 2012 by  

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  

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  

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  

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!

Presenting the Lifecharm shells

August 9, 2012 by  

This morning we are off to Cambridge for our final meeting with our collaboration partners at Philips R&D, where we will be presenting the lifecharm shells we have generated from our health data and talking about where we will be taking the project next.

Of fly-eye domes and public health data sets

August 8, 2012 by  

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.

As part of our quest to explore making health data tangible we began to research means of experiencing larger volumes of collective health data as a complementary experience to the ‘lifecharms‘ illustrating individual data streams. We imagined these different strands operating in tandem to provide micro and macro perspectives on how we can forge new relationships to health and wellbeing.

The question immediately arose of how we could achieve meaningful translations of complex health data. Our initial solution was to turn public health data (derived from Network of Public Health Observatories) into varied surface expressions on a larger installation work, allowing a degree of participation from direct public interaction to inform manipulations of the public data sets. To achieve this we thought about the production of manipulated stacking surfaces that would aggregate into a communal structure.

Our idea for manifesting this health data was to take each data set, determine its dimensions (i.e. which and how many data ranges does it have, what do they represent? e.g. mortality rates, obesity, etc.) and take each of these to be the driving parameters of a set number of ways to cut, punch, emboss or bend thin sheets of material, either paper, card or metal. We would then create one layer of material for each data dimension, apply the parameter controlled action for it (ie, print, cut, punch, bend; where and by how much) and do this for each of the data dimensions.

For each dataset (by ward or time span) we would end up with a stack of screens which together would define a unique surface or mask that would be specific in both tactile and visual effect. These stacked screens would make up the facets to be collated into a larger physical structure that would evolve out of the geometry of the base shape and be assembled by members of the audience to ‘collectively grow’ the public health data installation piece.

We proposed to use Buckminster Fuller‘s fly-eye dome as the base for a slightly larger than human size dome structure which would rest on a tripod-like support structure under which visitors could move to look up and in. The fly-eye dome is a design variation on Bucky’s earlier geodesic dome structures lending itself well as a projection structure. We planned to use it to present transformed public health datasets which become layered and patterned masks to produce alternating light and shadows from within the dome surface. Each facet, or mask, would be representative of a specific grouping of public health data, either by time interval or by geographic proximity.

Buckminster+Fuller+Geodesic+Dome+Fly+Eye

In thinking about how this would work as an installation, we  came up with two different projection approaches creating two types of experiences:

  1. Outward facing masks with switch-able internal illumination creating projections that are cast on the gallery wall interiors and,
  2. Inward facing masks with with external illumination where the audience steps inside the dome structure manipulating an exterior light source (or  ‘sun’) around the dome structure by hand.

A very attractive benefit of collaborating with Philips is their expertise and product range in professional lighting. In particular, Philips has developed a product series and related technologies called LivingColours which we considered to be a good option for the illumination in our fly-eye domes.

Despite developing this concept quite far, we eventually moved away from it as we felt it didn’t encompass enough of a sense of the living and organic processes which we want to engage people in. In many ways we felt it was moving back towards static data visualisations that are too readily ‘readable’ and which soon cease to have the power to engage people in an ongoing and reflective relationship with how public data can be seen as part of the environment in which we exist.

Video clip of Storyweir Performance at Hive Beach

August 8, 2012 by  


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.

3rd generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

August 2, 2012 by  

Our third round of shells fresh out of fabrication is here!

I am excited that we now have shells that are more organic and life-like coming through. To drive this additional complexity I’ve been experimenting with mixing the combinations of data and exploring how these generate more ‘organic’ forms as they are fed into different parameters of the growth grammar.

In my last post I described how I’ve developed a bespoke shell model by programming in JAVA with growth grammars which start out with mathematical principles. These project a spiral onto the surface of a cone in 3D for the primary growth curve. Then I begin to tweak and subvert the surface shape as it grows, adjusting the rhythms and patterning of the data to add a degree of interpretation.

This is very interpretive and not hard science; it is not classic data-visualisation or information graphics. I take sets of health and lifestyle data and make deliberate decisions in how I interpret what kind of ‘expression’ they generate. It is highly designed and crafted process which I am evolving to achieve both an aesthetic outcome, but also one where the data plays a key role that may not be transparent or simply ‘readable’ like a graph, but rather becomes emotive.

This is important and different in that we are trying to produce a sense of meaning that is not read through classic symbols but rather through a tactile and visual experience. The tangible form of the shells embodies rhythm, resonance or dissonance; attraction or repulsion.

What we are attempting is not just a ‘transduction’ of health data into physical form, but a transformation of how we develop relationships with that data and what it means for us. The data is captured and transfigured into the physical form of the shells – producing something which is magical, transformative and which cannot be easily read but is heavy with the potential for meaning. The shells become more like talismans than just static instantiations of data.

This is very different to a technique that just takes data and processes it into a visual or physical form. It is not about numbers but about a model of generating shells that are qualitative, meaning producing and change making. It is about how a person could pick up a shell and begin to read their own meanings into it, knowing that it is generated from their own health data. Knowing that the subtle but strange variations in each shell indicate something to be explored in our lifestyles and behaviours.

This third generation of shells are moving further towards acquiring a ‘life’ of their own, becoming objects of meaning in the world. They are shaped by ‘lived constraints’ in the growth model and are getting expressions that go beyond pure mathematics.

I’m now working on a fourth generation of shells, this time using data posted on the internet using social media.

 

Newsletter July 2012

July 28, 2012 by  

Its been over a year since we sent out our last newsletter – not that we haven’t been busy, in fact we’ve been absorbed in a whole range of projects and activities :

Storyweir at Exlab, Hive Beach, Dorset
We have been commissioned by Exlab to create a new project at Hive Beach, Dorset as part of the Cultural Olympiad. The work opens on Saturday 28th July and will remain on site until 9th September. We have 3 days of free talks and 2 nighttime events (projections with live cello) on Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th August – all welcome.
http://proboscis.org.uk/tag/storyweir/

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This October sees the launch of our new monthly publication – each month we will crowdsource, print and post out an eBook to subscribers created and shared on http://bookleteer.com sharing the most beautiful, experimental, thought-provoking and inspirational eBooks people have created to inspire and provoke others into creating more of their own.
SUBSCRIBE HEREhttp://bookleteer.com/blog/2012/07/introducing-the-periodical/

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We’re also introducing a whole range of new features to http://bookleteer.com this year – public sharing, library pages as well as some exciting new developments later this year. Follow our progress here :
http://bookleteer.com/blog/category/updates-improvements/

We’ve also dropped the minimum print run for our Short Run printing service to just 25 copies per eBook and the prices for printing A6 eBooks have dropped between 30-50%. Check the prices with our estimator tool here:
http://bookleteer.com/blog/ppod/

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Proboscis have been collaborating with Royal Holloway’s Information Security Group (as part of the their EPSRC/ESRC/TSB research project Vome – http://www.vome.org.uk) to work with a local community in Pallion, Sunderland to create a sustainable knowledge and support network for local people to help each other cope and deal with benefit changes. We have developed a set of simple tools and processes to assist this “Ideas Exchange” – co-designed with the local community and are helping them integrate and adopt them into their ways of getting things done.
http://proboscis.org.uk/tag/pallion/

This Autumn we will be releasing a “Neighbourhood Ideas Exchange” package with versions of the tools that any community will be able to adopt and adapt for their own uses. Look out for announcements in September/October.

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Visualise Lifestreams
Proboscis has been commissioned by Futurecity and Arts&Business Cambridge to collaborate with Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise Public Art programme. We are exploring new forms for motivating people to incorporate health monitoring into their lifestyles by linking personal health data to systems that create tangible outputs. Starting with 3D printed ‘shells’ whose growth and shape is determined by data sets collected from ourselves, we plan to move on to feeding data to affect the growth of crystals and eventually towards ‘growing’ a shell organically through tissue engineering.
http://proboscis.org.uk/tag/lifestreams/

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Recent Publications 


Professor Starling’s Thetford-London-Oxford Expedition
by Lisa Hirmer, Andrew Hunter, Josephine Mills, Leila Armstrong, Giles Lane and Hazem Tagiuri
Download Free : http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=2587
Buy a limited edition set :  http://proboscis.org.uk/store.html#profstarling


Material Conditions
by Active Ingredient, Desperate Optimists, Jane Prophet, Janet Owen Driggs & Jules Rochielle, Karla Brunet, London Fieldworks, Ruth Maclennan, Sarah Butler
Download Free : http://diffusion.org.uk/?cat=1043
Buy a limited edition set : http://proboscis.org.uk/store.html#materialconditions


City As Material : London
Contributions by Tim Wright, Simon Pope, Ben Eastop & Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino
Download Free : http://diffusion.org.uk/?cat=976
Buy a limited edition set : http://proboscis.org.uk/store.html#cityasmaterial1

Storyweir at Hive Beach, Dorset

July 25, 2012 by  

2nd generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

July 25, 2012 by  

I have just come back from the Digital Manufacturing Centre 3D printing lab at UCL where we just had our second round of shells made for us.

This time around you can see shells which are beginning to have some life (or data to be exact) put in to them. They are ‘grown’ by using the health data we have previously collected from the body sensors and data logger which we are beginning to use to evolve different types, shapes and sizes of shell.

We captured the initial data over a week back in May which consisted of blood pressure, step counts, length of sleep, body temperature, exposure to air pollution and alcohol intake. These were gathered to provide a range of values we could use  to make the shells change the way they are evolved over time.

These different dimensions of data are used in our growth model as parameters that influence where and how much the shell grows and in which particular way. Each set of data values contribute to determining how much it grows, how smooth or jagged the surfaces are and whether or not there are other outgrowths. All together this results in a very personalised and specific shape that is unique to each data set.

We are planning to fabricate two further sets of shells, one with more extensive data sets informing the shell growth pattern, and the second experimenting with different data sources. More posts to come!

Our growth model as mentioned before is using variants of ‘parametric design’ via L-Systems and Growth Grammars. Here is a very quick explanation of what these do in principle:

Parametric Design
In a parametric design different numerical values – called parameters – are put into a set of related mathematical formulas or rules. These are able to generate variations of shapes or objects based on different input values. It is for example possible to create a parametric definition of a basic chair that  when combining the height and leg length of a person – can generate a chair with proportions that make it comfortable for that person to sit on. So a parametric design in this case captures the idea of a chair that can be made to fit different bodies – i.e. how many legs the chair has, the way the legs are connected to the seat area, the seat sitting area and the height position of the backrest.

L-Systems
These were invented by a man called Aristid Lindenmayer and are type of formal language that uses sequences of letters that define how something grows over several time periods. They can for example express how a tree expands from its trunk into branches and then into leaves or how a flower’s petals are arranged.

Growth Grammars
These are more complicated variations on L-Systems that have a richer set of features that can be used to describe growth models such as plant models. Growth Grammars are used in not just modelling the structure of plants i.e. how it is put together and its parts but also how it functions and its parts interact with each other.

1st generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

July 16, 2012 by  

 

After what has been a broad exploratory research and foraging phase into shell morphology and modelling systems for our Visualise project, I have just picked up the first round of 3d printed shells which we had done at the Digital Manufacturing Centre @  UCL. Thanks to Martin and Richard for their assistance with the 3d printing process!

What you see here is a twist on classic plain formula driven generative shells that you may have seen before. We are experimenting with ways of adapting shell formation of our 3d shells based on data capture we have started in previous experiments in lifestyle and health data monitoring. I have been looking into a variety of generative modelling systems anywhere from those originating in the CAD world to those for plant modelling in the bio and agricultural sciences.

Now I have settled on using a growth grammar platform called XL (it builds on ideas of l-systems but with much more flexibility and dynamic rewriting of growth rules). The XL grammar is interesting as its been developed for plant morphological and systemic modelling, allowing the generative growth rules to be switched based on time variant environmental factors throughout growth cycles.

This offers some exciting possibilities of mimicking real-world feedback patterns of environmental constraints on living entities such as plants or other living systems giving rise to different possible ‘expressions’ based on the ‘quality of life’ over time they experience in their environment (e.g. through droughts, wet seasons, sparse or rich nutrition, pollution factors, over-shading, etc.).

The shells you see here are a variations of an evolving shell model that can be infused with our previous and ongoing environmental and personal data capture data sets (e.g. with readings such as daily step-count, blood pressure, sleep pattern regularity) to determine the evolving form.

Look out for further variations on these shells shortly!

a vision of the sea floor

July 15, 2012 by  

With under 2 weeks to go till the opening of Exlab I’m rushing to finish some parts of our commission and am working on outputting an image of the seafloor of the area by Hive Beach to then lasercut. Ive finally managed to get some workable images from the 2008 Bathymetric surveys (a kind of sonar scanning) of the geology of the seabed available on the Channel Coastal Observatory website and this image shows the Burton Beach area. Its an area swimmers have described as being difficult to swim through – the waves are unpredictable and you get stuck in it. I’m reliably informed by many people who live and work here that his part of the coast is pretty dangerous because the shingle slopes very steeply into the sea causing powerfull undertow under the waves.

We Are All Food Critics – The Reviews

July 6, 2012 by  

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  

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.

Exlab; Art, Science and the Coast pre exhibition and talk

June 25, 2012 by  

I have just packed Things I Have Found, Learned and Imagined on Burton Beach  – the first set in a series of works on paper I am making to try and make sense of the the many narratives and local stories (of life, time, the sea, the land, folklore, history, industry, craft, science and geology) that have crossed our paths on Burton, Hive and Cogden Beaches for our Storyweir project.  They are going to be part of an exhibition of work related to the Exlab commissions at the gallery in Arts University College at Bournemouth opening 9th July – 3rd August. There will be presentations by the 5 commissioned artists on the 12 July at 5pm.

ATLAS: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World

June 20, 2012 by  

Earlier in the spring I received a copy of ATLAS: Geography Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World (edited by Renata Tyszczuk, Joe Smith, Nigel Clark and Melissa Butcher) a new book published by black dog publishing that brings together architects, artists and geographers to look at global and economic change. It is linked to and grew out of the web project  ATLAS: making new maps for an island planet. Many of the contributors to these projects, like me, were part or participated in events or publications arising out of the Interdependence Day (ID) project back in 2006 and the organisers have gone to great lengths to keep those people and ideas together over the years through events, discussions and publications that keep progressing ideas and conversations.

For Atlas I revisited the project In Good Heart; What Is A Farm? (2009) which grew out of the partnership between Dodolab and Proboscis exploring communities, environment and resilience. I has been invited to visit the former Charlottetown Experimental Farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada, by arts organisation Dodolab. The visit, coupled with conversations with people and farmers, historical research into representations of farming, the lore of agriculture, weather, the seasons and the labours of the months, triggered many questions about land, farming and the factors that impact on this most ancient and technologically advanced of trades. The map created for ATLAS was inspired by these questions and the mediaeval illustrations of the Labours of the Months which were some of the first representations of farming and food production. It maps the interconnected stories people told me about what the word farm meant to them; their hopes and fears about food production and the harsh realities for farmers themselves. One of the things that struck me was how many people, who now live in urban places, recalled growing up on farms of visiting their grandparents farms. It impressed on me how swift the move from rural to urban has been for some people. Knowledge about environment has shifted with that move, some knowledge must have been lost and other knowledge is perhaps being created.

Dialogues at the Tideline

June 15, 2012 by  

At the start of our commission Storyweir (part of the art science project Exlab) the brief was to work with earth scientists (as well as local people) but when we heard cultural geographer Dr Ian Cook (Associate Professor of Geography in the College of Life & Environmental Sciences at University of Exeter) speak at the Exlab induction day/symposium we were instantly inspired by his highly collaborative approach to his research work; we wanted to try and collaborate and to bring Cultural Geography into the project. Ian’s project followthethings.com  demonstrates his co-creative approach to social engagement and cross disciplinary working (with academics, students, filmmakers, artists, journalists and others). It felt like a natural link with our work and was very exciting to find at the Exlab event.  I had read an essay Follow the Thing: Papaya way back in 2004 and I remember at the time thinking that I’d like to work with geographers who take this approach but I hadn’t realised until very recently that Ian was the author of that paper.

A windy walk to the end of Bridport Harbour with Ian and artist Gary Stewart who works with us at Proboscis resulted in a Ian offering to introduce us to some of his colleagues Geographies of Creativity and Knowledge Research Group, University of Exeter. Ian introduced us to three colleagues who each brought different strands of thinking to the project; Dr John Wylie (Associate Professor of Cultural Geography and Director of Postgraduate Research in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences) who has opened up our thinking on time and being in the landscape; as well as the ‘intertwining of self and the landscape’ coupled with how we move and walk in the landscape and visualise it through photographs and images; Dr Nicola Thomas (Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences) has brought her exploration of craft and communities and the traces of history and memory bound up in skills, crafts and the evidence of them; and Rose Ferraby (PHD Researcher in the Department of Geography) who has an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology and an MFA in Illustration brought both an archaeologists eye to our reading of the land at Hive Beach and her ideas about how abstract ideas can be communicated visually.

An initial audio skype conversation left us very excited at the blend of academic discussion and rigour with a deeply creative and poetic approach. Following that we all spent a windy early January day outside on Hive, Burton and Cogden beach and a creative media ‘mash up’ day at PVA medialab (in Bridport) which saw us coming together with drawings, audio, video, data and other media. In all these we have found a shared interest in the social and cultural effects of the way the local community engages with its environment and the exploration of human and deep time. Looking at the sediments of Burton Cliffs and their fossil layer we discussed the evanescent nature of time and timelessness and the relationship between deep geological time and human time – particularly how he perspective of time is different depending on the prism through which history is viewed (fossils were once cited as evidence of the Deluge). In that sense history (perhaps also time) is not experienced as single linear narrative but constantly in flux.
 
Finding a lost welly trapped in the shingle mud brought up the notion of the Anthropocene (a unit of geological time that marks the moment when human activity is resulting in a visible impact on the ecosystems and geology).

Walking the beach and then above on the cliffs to the caravan site sparked conversations on the transience of nostalgia and memory, the way the beach (which is such an elemental place) triggers memories and affects our experience of time. The beach reconnects us to patterns and emotions that are long lasting and outside of the pattern of daily life.

This is not a large budget, long term research project so we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Ian, Nicola, John and Rose it is a very exciting process and these interconnected conversations are influencing the questions we ask in public activities and the form, materials and content of the work. Through the dialogues we have focused an initial interest in the relationship between deep time and human time into how it is reflected in the ongoing dynamic processes and transitory human life at play on the geology of the coast. In that ephemeral space of flux between the land and sea the continual cycles of sun, tide and sea affect changes larger than we can imagine but also are felt by humans on a daily basis.

Professor Starling’s Thetford-London-Oxford Expedition

June 1, 2012 by  

We’ve just published our latest entry in the City As Material series: ‘Professor Starling’s Thetford-London-Oxford Expedition’ – three books documenting the investigative excursions of Professor William Starling and his research team (Lisa Hirmer and Andrew Hunter of DodoLab, Josephine Mills of the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Lethbridge artist Leila Armstrong, and Giles Lane and Hazem Tagiuri of Proboscis) during his trip to the United Kingdom in Feburary, where he sought to examine the rapid disappearance of the European Starling in contrast to the continued expansion of its North American cousin.

The first volume, Perquisitions, contains descriptions of the various participants’ thoughts on the expedition and its rationale. Congeries showcases selected items and ideas collected during their travels, and the final volumeSpeculations, offers reflections and fantastical musings on the material gathered and testimonies heard.

Purchase a limited edition copy complete with specially printed ribbon here.

(Read the accounts of ThetfordLondon and Oxford on the blog)

Shells for our Visualise commission

May 30, 2012 by  

shell math

Some math of seashells

In one of our current (and I feel, pretty exciting) commissioned projects that is part of the Visualise Programme, we are looking at new ways of making accessible interpretations and translations of information in a physical series of objects instead of another classic information visualization.

Various Shell Shapes

Although there are many beautiful data visualisation examples out there, the big challenge they often face is that they are very frequently inaccessible to larger audiences. We are really interested in finding ways of creating something very emotive and tactile, giving a more intuitive insightful access to understanding content such as personal health information which really matters to people. We want to overcome it often being hard to decipher with current approaches and tools without being a health expert.

Gobos & Domes

Some interesting ideas are swirling around and en route I could reconnect with some ‘old friends’ that I got to know while still an architecture student many years ago: I have been revisiting D’Arcy Thompson‘s On Growth and Form and his in depth study of shell formation as an inspiration of how we might produce our own little evolving artefacts out of re-interpreted data spaces.

We have just been in the process of carrying out our own personal health data-capture with some off-the shelf kit (e.g. pedometer, blood-pressure, temperature) as well as environmental sensing via a couple of custom build Arduino data-loggers; the results of which we are now using for  sketching out a variety of generative models for our new artefacts.

Watch this space for our first sketches of growing data!

‘We Are All Food Critics’

May 25, 2012 by  

The Soho Food Feast is just around the corner and I am so excited that the bookleteer notebook specially designed for this event will be used by the children of Soho Parish Primary School as they become food critics for the day.
I had a lot of fun illustrating the front cover for this notebook, though browsing through various mouth-watering photographs of dishes to illustrate before lunch wasn’t a good idea.

First version of the cover for the Soho Food Feast Bookleteer notebook.    A healthier cover for the Soho Food Feast Bookleteer notebook.

At first the initial sketch was rather unhealthy. It had more pastry, which seemed appealing to illustrate at the time because of its fancy presentation.But of course healthy eating is very important; especially for children, so the cover design was altered to a healthier version.


Inside the book in a very simple layout are spaces for children to scribble in and the blank pages at the back are for them to get creative and sketch their own feasts.

3 days in Pallion

May 19, 2012 by  

 

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

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