Its been 12 years since we published Performance Notations, the first series of Diffusion eBooks, and launched our unique publishing format on an unsuspecting world. In that time, we have commissioned and facilitated hundreds of original eBooks and StoryCubes by an incredibly diverse range of people from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds. In that time we also began to evolve our own free and online software platform for people without professional design skills to be able to create their own eBooks and StoryCubes. Our first proof of concept prototype was made in the summer of 2003. We then spent a few years building a fully working version – the Diffusion Generator – which was online between 2006 and 2009. In September 2009 we launched bookleteer, a whole new set of ways for making and sharing eBooks and StoryCubes.
A New Place for Future eBooks & StoryCubes
This summer we made a series of technical changes to bookleteer that allow users to share their own publications directly with others via a Public Library. Each user has their own personal profile page listing all their shared publications (for instance, here’s mine) and each publication has its page listing both the downloadable PDFs and the bookreader online version (for example, see Material Conditions: Epilogue). We have further exciting developments in the pipeline too.
To continue our long tradition of commissioning and publishing new work, we have created a new Curated by Proboscis library which will, from now on, be where all new commissions and featured eBooks and StoryCubes will be listed. Our long-serving Diffusion Library website will remain online indefinitely as an archive of more than 12 years of pushing the boundaries of what we think of as publishing and creative practice.
As part of these changes we are also launching a new monthly publication – the Periodical – which will select, print and send out to subscribers some of the most exciting, experimental, imaginative and insipring eBooks created and shared on bookleteer. Anyone can take part – just sign up, make and share something on bookleteer. Each month we’ll pick one eBook to print and send out. We are also devising special projects, like Field Work, that will enable people to participate in other ways. And we are developing partnerships and collaborations to commission new series that will also be distributed as part of the Periodical’s monthly issues.
Subscribe to the Periodical and get bookleteering!
Publishing remains at the heart of Proboscis. We began 18 years ago with COIL journal of the moving image and followed this with many series of Diffusion eBooks. Since 1994, we have commissioned and published works by hundreds of different people in many formats.
Our latest publishing venture, the Periodical, aims to re-imagine publishing as public authoring – a phrase we’ve been using for over 10 years to describe the process by which people actively make and share what they value – knowledge, skills, experiences, observations – those things we characterise as Public Goods. Based on bookleteer, the Periodical is a way for people to participate in publishing as well as reading – in addition to receiving a printed eBook (sometimes more than just one) by post each month subscribers are encouraged to use bookleteer to make and share their own publications, which may then be chosen to be printed and posted out for a future issue.
Our first project being developed as part of this venture is Field Work : subscribers will be sent a custom eNotebook to use as a sketch and note book for a project of their own. Once they’ve filled it in they can return it to us to be digitised and shared on bookleteer. Several times a year we will select and print someone’s Field Work eNotebook to be sent out as part of a monthly issue of the Periodical.
Why are we doing this? We’ve long used the Diffusion eBook format to make custom notebooks for our projects and digitised them as part of our shareables concept. We think that such new possibilities of sharing our creative and research processes with others is a key strength of what these hybrid digital/physical technologies offer. Creating a vehicle, via the Periodical, for others to take part in an emergent and evolving conversation about how and why we do what we do seems like a natural step forward. If you’d like to take part, subscribe here.
Last week we quietly updated bookleteer to give it a fresh look and to introduce the sharing features we announced previously. We’ve been tweaking and bug-fixing over the last week or so and are now very excited to let everyone know about it.
Individual Publication Pages
Each publication that is shared publicly has a unique page created for it which can be linked to and shared via popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook etc). eBooks have an embedded version of the bookreader in the page for previewing as well as download links for the PDFs. StoryCubes also have preview images and download link.
Member Public Profile Page
A new public profile page has been created to list all the shared publications by each member, also displaying a short bio and links to personal blog, website, twitter and facebook pages. These can be added in the member’s account page.
These are just the first in a series of updates and improvements to bookleteer that we’re adding over the next few months – stay tuned for further announcements!
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 volume, Speculations, offers reflections and fantastical musings on the material gathered and testimonies heard.
Purchase a limited edition copy complete with specially printed ribbon here.
Material Conditions is a new series of eBooks created with bookleteer, asking professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.
It aims to explore what it means and takes to be a professional creative practitioner – from the personal to the social and political. How and why do people persist in pursuing such careers? How do they organise their everyday lives to support their practice? What kind of social, political, economic and cultural conditions are necessary to keep being creative? What are the bedrocks of inspiration that enable people to continue piloting their meandering courses through contemporary society and culture?
The first set of 8 commissioned eBooks, in a limited edition run of 50 copies printed via our Short Run Printing Service and bound with handmade wrappers, are as follows:
A Conversation Between Trees by Active Ingredient
The Show by Desperate Optimists
Making Do by Jane Prophet
Something More Than Just Survival by Janet Owen Driggs & Jules Rochielle
Remix Reconvex Reconvexo by Karla Brunet
He Who Sleeps Dines by London Fieldworks
Reflections on the city from a post-flaneur by Ruth Maclennan
Knowing Where You Are by Sarah Butler
Copies are available to order below.
The books are also available online as bookreader versions, as well as downloadable PDFs for readers to assemble into handmade booklets themselves, hosted on our archive of publications Diffusion – view and download the series here.
Material Conditions is part of Proboscis’ Public Goods programme – seeking to create a library of responses to these urgent questions that can inspire others in the process of developing their own everyday practices of creativity; that can guide those seeking meaning for their choices; that can set out positions for action around which people can rally.
On December 15th 2011 we will be launching a new series of Diffusion commissions called Material Conditions. This series asks professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.
The contributors are : Active Ingredient (Rachel Jacobs et al); Karla Brunet; Sarah Butler, Desperate Optimists (Jo Lawlor & Christine Molloy); London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist & Jo Joelson); Ruth Maclennan; Jules Rochielle & Janet Owen Driggs; and Jane Prophet.
The first set of 8 contributions will be published as Diffusion eBooks (made with bookleteer) and available as downloadable PDFs for handmade books, online via bookreader versions and in a limited edition (50) of professionally printed and bound copies which will be available for sale (at £16 per set plus P&P).
Material Conditions is part of Proboscis’ Public Goods programme – seeking to create a library of responses to these urgent questions that can inspire others in the process of developing their own everyday practices of creativity; that can guide those seeking meaning for their choices; that can set out positions for action around which people can rally.
A few days ago we deployed a simple but exciting design change to bookleteer.com, namely we have added QR Codes and Short URL links to every Diffusion eBook’s back page. These link directly to the online bookreader version of the eBook – a web-based version that makes it possible to read the eBooks directly on mobile devices such as smartphones (Android, iPhone, Blackberry etc), tablets (iPad, Galaxy tab etc) or any computer.
What’s so exciting about that you may ask? Well, we have been thinking about ‘tangible souvenirs‘ for a few years now – exploring ways of capturing and sharing aspects of ‘digital experiences’ into physical forms such as the Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes. This might be data visualisations or digital assets such as photos, tweets etc arranged to act as mementoes of ephemeral experiences which are primarily mediated through digital technologies. Conversely we have also been thinking about how to share these ‘tangible souvenirs’ digitally as well as physically. This thinking originated in a small project we helped take place between schoolchildren in a village in rural Nigeria making and sharing eBooks with schoolchildren in Watford, north London. In parts of Africa computers, printers, paper and internet access were (and remain) scarce – yet mobile phones were proliferating fast. If people who had never before had access to low cost publishing technologies through the simple tools we had created (Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer.com) could use these to publish their own knowledge and experiences how then would they share them when the means of production (computers, printers, paper etc) which we take for granted in the industrialised world, were still scarce?
The answer was to find another bridge between the digital and the physical – enabling people to share their Diffusion eBooks not only through the PDF files and printed formats, but also via mobile phones. In 2007 I wrote a post on diffusion.org.uk (our free library of eBooks and StoryCubes) speculating on how we might in future use visual barcodes to make sharing the eBooks simpler. At that time we didn’t have the online bookreader format, so there was still the problem of how someone with a mobile phone could print out and read the book. However, with the implementation of bookreader (a fantastic piece of open source software created by the Internet Archive) we have been able to realise this in a remarkably simple but potentially crucial way. If someone has a printed or handmade copy of a Diffusion eBook then they can share its content with anyone else simply by letting them use their mobile device to scan the QR code (there are multiple free QR readers for most types of phone or tablet device). Or they can take a photo of the back page and email it or send it via MMS to someone who can then scan it in themselves.
By placing the Short URL link alongside the QR code we have also provided a human-readable alternative to the QR code. This way anyone can simply type the URL into a web browser on any internet-connected device to begin reading the eBook. The URLs are also short enough to send via SMS, Twitter or any other social messaging system.
Over the years we have described the concept behind the hybrid digital/physical nature of Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes as being about creating ‘Shareables‘ – things which can float between these states, which can exist in more than one place at a time as both physical and digital objects. We have collaborated with friends, colleagues and partners to explore the affordances of capturing unique handwritten and handmade books and StoryCubes and being able to share them directly with others, almost without restriction. This simple addition linking the physical PDF/printed versions to their online bookreader versions amplifies this rippling effect between the physical and the digital in ways we can only begin to imagine.
We think this could be a step change in the uses and usefulness of bookleteer.com and the Diffusion eBook format – we’d love to hear what other people think too.
It is now a year since we launched the short run printing service for Bookleteer our online self publish and print platform. So now seemed like a good time to start a series of posts reflecting on the diverse uses people have found for it. Fredrick Leasge has been doing a series of case studies and interviews over on the Bookleteer Blog with people who have used it. Ive been interested to read how some historical and ethnographic projects that have used this method of publishing for documentation and communication.
Julie Anderson, the Assistant Keeper of Egyptian and Sudanese Antiquities at the British Museum used Bookleteer to create 1000 books in Arabic and English about a 10 year archaeological excavation in Dangeil, Sudan to share the findings with the local community in Sudan.
Following the distribution of the book, teenagers began coming to our door in the village to ask questions about the site / archaeology / their own Sudanese history… connecting with their history as made possible through the booklet. It was astonishing. More surprising was the reaction people had upon receiving a copy. In virtually every single case, they engaged with the Book immediately and began to read it or look through it….The Book has served not only as an educational tool, but has empowered the local community and created a sense of pride and proprietary ownership of the ruins and their history.
Bookleteer was used in the Melanesia Project to record, Porer and Pinbin, indigenous people from Papua New Guinea discussing objects in the British Museum’s ethnographic collection. Bookleteer was used first to create simple notebooks that were printed out on an office printer and handmade. Anthrolologist James Leach used them to note the discussion in both English and Tok Pisin, next to glued in polaroid images, to produce a record that involved “capturing the moment of what we were doing and what we were seeing”.
Once filled in the notebooks were scanned and professionally printed to share with the local community in Papua New Guinea. (who have a subsistence lifestyle without electricity).
“[…] As something to give people, they’re an extremely nice thing. People are very keen. I also took some to an anthropology conference before I went [to Papua New Guinea] and would show them to people and they’d immediately say “Oh, is that for me?” People kind of like them. They’re nice little objects.”
Researcher and community education worker Gillian Cowell has used the books as part of a community project with Greenhill Historical Society:
“I think, for community work, it’s really important that you engage in much more unique and creative and interesting ways as a way of trying to spur some kind of interest and excitement in community work […] The books are such a lovely way for that to actually fit with that kind of notion.”
If you are interested in finding out about how you could use Bookleteer, come along to one of our day long Pitch Up & Publish Workshops or Get Bookleteering short sessions this summer.
This year’s seen several major milestones achieved in developing our bookleteer platform. At the beginning of the year we launched a User API (Application Programming Interface) allowing people to create and share eBooks and StoryCubes directly from their own projects, applications and websites.
In February we unveiled a new price estimator to help people calculate the costs of printing and shipping (all over the world) eBooks and StoryCubes through our Short Run Printing Service. We combined this with new pricing structures that make both the eBooks and StoryCubes cheaper and easier to order in small quantities (from 50 copies)
This month we’ve launched what we think is our most exciting new feature : an online bookreader allowing users to read and share their eBooks via standard web browsers. We have also re-vamped the user interface for creating and editing eBooks which should make it simpler and more intuitive. Below is an example of an embedded ‘mini reader’ showing an eBook created by Caroline Maclennan as part of Alice’s As It Comes project in Lancaster:
You can also find plenty more (and growing) over on our Diffusion website.
A Critical Text by Frederik Lesage
A recurring theme underpinning Proboscis’ work is storytelling. Their preoccupation with it is not only reflected in the stories they have told – through works such as Topographies and Tales and Snout – but also in their efforts to explore the practices and forms that enable people to tell stories. For a group of artists to embark on this latter kind of exploration may at first seem counterintuitive; the artist as a teller of stories is a familiar role, the artist as one who helps us tell our own is less so. It is beyond the scope of this paper to convince the reader of the value of such a role. Rather, I will set out to investigate how a specific tool developed by members Proboscis helped to shape one particular collaborative exchange with Warren Craghead in a work titled A Sort of Autobiography. By doing this, I hope to demonstrate how collaborative processes for storytelling like the ones that Proboscis are developing require new frameworks for understanding the kinds of work taking place.
What in the world is a StoryCube?
I often hear this perplexed question when talking to people about my research into Proboscis’ work. Most often, my answer is similar to the one that Proboscis themselves give on their diffusion.org.uk website:
StoryCubes are a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives. Each face of the cube can illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action, placed together it is possible to build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way. StoryCubes can be folded in two different ways, giving each cube twelve possible faces – and thus two different ways of telling a story, two musings around an idea. Like books turned inside out and upside down they are read by turning and twisting in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.”
This answer, for the most part, tells my interlocutor what one can do with a StoryCube – it encompasses a number of actions as part of a process wherein one makes and uses this particular type of object. The StoryCube represents a way to print images and text onto a different kind of paper surface in order to share these images and texts with others in a particular way. But I often find that this answer does not suffice. In this paper I will argue that this problem arises because, although a process description of what one can do with a StoryCube does provide part of the answer for what in the world it is, a more complete answer would require more worlds in which it has been used.
To clarify this obtuse little wordplay, I turn to two different authors who provide two very different models for understanding how culture is made and how it is interpreted: Howard Becker’s art worlds and Henry Jenkin’s story worlds.
Disciplines such as the sociology of art have gone out of their way to show how artists are not alone in creating cultural objects. It has arguably become a cliché to state this fact. But one must not forget its implication. Howard Becker’s Art Worlds (1982), for example, demonstrates to what degree artistic practices from painting to rock music constitute complex sets of relationships among a number of individuals who accomplish different tasks – the people who make, buy, talk about, pack and un-pack works of art are connected through what he refers to as art worlds. These worlds are populated by different roles including artists, editors, and support personnel. By artists, he means the people who are credited with producing the work. By editors, he means the people who modify the artwork in some way before it reaches its audience. By support personnel, he means the people who help ensure that the artwork is completed and circulated between people but who aren’t credited with producing the artwork itself. This might include a variety of different people including framers, movers and audience members. If one were to apply Becker’s art world model to the world of book publishing and printing, for example, we might say that the artists are the authors, that publishers are editors and that the book printers are part of the support personnel: they reproduce and maintain a set of conventions for the production and distribution of an author’s work.
Part of Becker’s point is that even if we credit authors as the source of a book’s story, significant parts of the book’s final shape will be defined by choices that are the purview of support personnel like printers rather than by the authors: what kind of ink will be used to print the text, the weight and dimensions of the book pages, etc. These decisions, be they based on aesthetic, economic, or other considerations, can often be made without consulting authors and have a significant impact on what readers will hold and read when they get their hands on the finished product. Nevertheless, there are arguably varying degrees of importance attributed these different choices. After all, few of us read books because of the kind of ink it was printed with.
But one should also remember that the distribution of these roles within an art world is not necessarily fixed. In Books in the Digital Age, John B. Thompson writes that it was only in the past two centuries that there has been a distinction in the Western world between what a book publisher does and what a book printer does. Prior to this differentiation, the person who published a book and the person who printed it were one and the same. Just as the distribution of printing and publishing roles can change over time, the significance attributed to these roles might also change.
Becker’s art world model is useful for the answer to my initial question stated at the beginning of this paper because it is a social world model. Placing the StoryCubes into an art world allows me to populate the process answer provided above with a number of different roles:
Proboscis are the designers of the StoryCube who created it as “a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives”. They invite all sorts of different people from different disciplines to play an artist’s role by using the StoryCube to “illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action” and to “build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way”. The results of all of these different peoples’ work are then made available in various ways to anyone interested in these relationships and narratives. These audience members are invited to “read [the StoryCube] by turning and twisting [it] in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.” In some cases, these same audience members take-on additional support personnel roles such as “printers” when they download the StoryCube online and print and assemble it themselves.”
This newly revised version of my answer now has artists and audiences who are working with Proboscis and StoryCubes. But it still seems quite vague. What are these “relationships and narratives” that seem to be the point of making StoryCubes in the first place?
The second world I turn to for putting my answer together is what I refer to as Henry Jenkins’ “story world” model. In his book Convergence Culture, Jenkins argues that a convergence is taking place between different media that is not simply due to technological changes brought about by digitisation. He believes that in order to understand the changes taking place in media, one needs to include other factors including economic pressures and audience tastes. One of the ways in which he demonstrates this is by analysing how storytellers like the Wachowski brothers developed The Matrix franchise. Jenkins argues that the brothers were not only engaged in the process of making films but that they were in fact engaged in an “art of world building” (116) in which the “artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium” (ibid). The Matrix was not only available as a movie trilogy but was also explored and developed in short films, comics and novels by a number of different contributing artists. In other words, today’s creative people – be they individual artists or media conglomerate business executives – need to start to think about a ‘story world’ that is manifested in multiple, interdependent media.
I would argue that one should not interpret Jenkins’ model as suggesting that story worlds exist independently of any specific medium. Rather, the model suggests that other people, not just the author credited with originating the story world, can contribute to the development of a story world. Audience members and other authors can actively reinterpret aspects of story worlds not only through an active interpretation of the text but also by authoring their own parallel contributions. This is significant because it suggests there are contingent relations of power involved in the negotiation of the overall representation and interpretation of those same story worlds. The simplest example is how laws for copyright are employed to ensure that authors and their publishers maintain certain kinds of control over the development of story worlds.
For me to explain how Jenkins’ story world model is useful for answering my initial question will take a bit more effort. In order to fully clarify why I have gone through the trouble of bringing these two very different worlds from two very different research traditions, I will need to demonstrate how they can be combined and applied to a specific example which follows bellow. For now, however, suffice it to say that the story world model deals with meaning and how the narratives and relationships that stem from the process of making and reading StoryCubes do not appear in isolation from other related meaningful artefacts. How one interprets the meaning of a particular StoryCube is embedded within a particular set of intertextual relationships that I refer to as a story world.
We now have two different ‘world’ models for explaining what are StoryCubes:
- the art world model as a way to understand how a particular artwork is produced, distributed and appreciated through a set of interdependent roles enacted by people and
- the story world model as a way to understand how meaning can be conceived as part of a number of different texts produced by a number of different people.
A sort of printing experiment – The case of Warren Craghead
I will now examine Warren Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography and how some critics interpreted his work as a way of illustrating how both models presented above enable me to better answer what in the world is a StoryCube. A Sort of Autobiography is a series of ten StoryCubes whose outer faces are covered by drawings of Craghead’s own making. Taken together, the ten cubes are intended to be interpreted as his “possible” autobiography – hence the title of the work. Here is a description of the work posted by Matthew J. Brady on his “Warren Peace” blog as part of a longer review of the project:
With the onset of digital comics, an infinite number of possible ways to use the medium has erupted, and even the weirdest experiments are now visible for any number of people to experience. This is great for comics fans, who can now experience the sort of odd idea that creators might not have shared with the world otherwise. Warren Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography is a fascinating example, using the tools provided by the site Diffusion.org.uk to create a series of three-dimensional comic strips, with each in a series of ten cubes representing a moment in his life, separated by decades. Some of them seem to simply place an image on each side of the cube (with one side of each working as a “title page”), while others wrap images around the surface, and several working to make faces representing Craghead at that cube’s age. It’s a neat way to use the medium, if you can call it that.”
If we attempted to place A Sort of Autobiography in the art world model presented earlier, it would be fairly easy to follow Brady’s lead and look to comic strips as a guiding template. One could say that Craghead is the artist-author who created the work. Determining who plays this role is fairly easy because Craghead has authored a number of comic strips using a similar visual style. Things get a bit more complicated when we try to determine who is the editor-publisher. Based on the information I’ve been able to gather, there doesn’t seem to be anyone other than Craghead who makes editorial choices about the content of the final artwork – the style of drawing, the way in which the story unfolds, etc. There may be some “invisible”, un-credited co-editors who help Craghead with his drawing and choice of subject matter but they are not formally acknowledged and I have not tried to enquire whether or not this is the case. What is clear, however, is that Proboscis also do take-on aspects of the editor-publisher role: Proboscis commissioned the project as part of their Transformations series, the works are made available through Proboscis’ Diffusion website and, of course, Proboscis designed what Brady refers to as the “tools” used to publish the project.
It is this last aspect that seems particularly problematic for Brady. If we focus (rather narrowly) on some of the comments Brady makes in passing about the StoryCubes as a support for the work in his review, it is clear that they make it more difficult for him to pin down the project. Much of Brady’s review seems to implicitly be asking “Is this a comic?”. In describing the work, he uses the language of comic books to help him describe it. For example:
“Some of [the cubes] seem to simply place an image on each side of the cube (with one side of each working as a “title page”) […]”
Here Brady suggests that Craghead employs a particular convention of comics – the title page – as part of how he constructs some of his cubes. But though one of the panels located at the same place on each of the ten cubes does have writing that indicates the year and how old Craghead is at the time (ex. 1970, I am zero years old; 1980, I am ten years old; etc.), there is little to suggest that this choice is necessarily drawn from comics. This might explain why Brady puts “title page” in quotation marks. Brady seems pleased with the overall results of the project but also refrains from categorizing the result outright as a comic. Recall how he ends the paragraph I cite above with:
“It’s a neat way to use the medium, if you can call it that.”
Further along in his review of the project, Brady still seems hesitant:
“Does the whole thing work as a comic? Sure, if you want to put the work into interpreting it, not to mention the assembly time, which can make for a fun little craft project.”
One could argue that Brady may be pushing the comics category a bit: Craghead’s own website doesn’t seem to put so much emphasis on whether or not this, or any of his other projects for that matter, should be interpreted as comics. But Brady is not the only one who approaches A Sort of Autobiography in this way. Inspired by Brady’s reading, Scott McCloud – an authority on the comics medium if there ever was one – characterizes Craghead’s work as an “experimental comic”. Brady and McCloud’s categorisations of A Sort of Autobiography as a comic matter in part because it strengthens a number of associations with the comics art world. For example, if one reads A Sort of Autobiography as a reader of comics, then it does involve some additional assembly time. But what if one categorised it as part of an origami art world? Then this assembly time would be taken for granted (but Craghead’s drawings on the cubes might be interpreted as an oddity).
But Brady and McCloud are able to make this kind of association in part because they are familiar with the author’s previous work. Craghead is an established comics artist for both Brady and McCloud. It is therefore possible to compare A Sort of Autobiography to his other works. This is where I need to bring in the second world model presented above – the story world. As stated previously, the definition of story worlds based on Jenkins’ work depends on a set of possible meanings within “environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium”. One could argue, that Craghead creates a similar kind of story world based on a particular style of illustration and subject matter that is consistent with other works he has created. So rather than working with comparisons to other comics, Brady’s reading can simply refer to Craghead’s established story world.
But instead of placing Craghead’s biography as the foundation of our story world, why couldn’t we instead use the StoryCube’s story as our starting point? That is, rather than assuming that authors are the only ones who create meaning by telling stories, what if we assumed that Proboscis had designed a compelling story environment “that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work” and that Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography was only one of the many parallel contributions to the meaning of this medium?
This kind of inversion is problematic because our contemporary culture, for the most part, depends on consistent formal conventions to be able to make comparisons and value judgments. That isn’t simply at the level of individual artists, but as a whole. Jenkins’ story world model does allow for all sorts of different media, but most of the media he discusses are based in familiar art worlds – comics, books, television programmes, videogames, and movies – art worlds whose implicit formal conventions allow authors to tell their stories in relatively unproblematic ways. But if we don’t know what a StoryCube is, how are we supposed to know what these conventions are? How can we know if this is a “good” or “bad” StoryCube since most of us don’t know how a StoryCube is supposed to work
I would therefore argue that Craghead, Brady and McCloud are telling us their stories of the StoryCube that involves mixing together art world and story world. They are using the more or less familiar narrative of how one makes and reads comics to tell us how to make and read a StoryCube. Craghead is relating to us the tale of how an illustrator can assume the artist’s role in the process of making a StoryCube by making different kind of drawings on it. Brady and McCloud are producing accounts of how to be readers of StoryCubes. Just as with any other kind of story world, these contributions provide only partial insights into the whole story environment and how one might participate in its creation and extension.
The example of A Sort of Autobiography suggests why Proboscis’ initial definition, the one presented at the beginning of this text, was left under-developed: their objective is to develop a meaningful world in which people can tell stories – one that invites people to populate it with their own art worlds and story worlds. In order for there to be enough room for others to create and sustain this kind of world, Proboscis may have to allow the StoryCubes to remain an insufficient process and an incomplete story. But they must also continue the delicate work of articulating how this incompleteness can itself be a meaningful and fertile ground for others to complete. The bookleteer platform is arguably one step in this direction in that it is an attempt to generate an online community of people who use StoryCubes and other “Diffusion Shareables”.
In the end, the true challenge may not be whether any of the answers about “What in the world is a StoryCube?” are sufficiently clear or exhaustive, but whether or not one of them can entice you into telling your own story of the StoryCube.
Frederik Lesage, March 2011
Last month saw just two eBooks published on diffusion.org.uk, but great ones nonetheless. John’s book is the latest commission in our Transformations series, and Ben’s is a commission for our City As Material series :
Towards Psychonutrition by John Hartley
River Gap by Ben Eastop
eBooks and StoryCubes published on diffusion.org.uk in December 2010 :
Layered – a collaborative eBook produced by the participants of the City As Material : Underside event
Ancient Lights, City Shadows – a collaborative eBook produced by the participants of the City As Material : Skylines event
City As Material : Sonic Geographies – a collaborative eBook produced by the participants of the City As Material : Sonic Geographies event
A handy list of eBooks and StoryCubes published on diffusion.org.uk in November :
Ebb and Flow – a collaborative eBook produced by the participants of the City As Material : river event
Hello again. Since writing about my initial experiences of working at Proboscis, I’ve been working on various projects, primarily with bookleteer and the blog. Contributing regularly since Karen Martin sadly left us, I’ve been continuing to look at zine culture, and recently highlighting interesting uses of bookleteer in the Diffusion archive. Blogging several times a week has helped me develop a work ethic in regards to writing, something I was struggling with before joining Proboscis.
Giles and I also launched a new platform for collaborative publishing – our Pitch In & Publish: City As Material series of events. The fifth, and final, event “Sonic Geographies” was last Friday, having being held fortnightly since the 15th of October. Developing the format and planning the entire series was an exciting process, and having an integral role in the creation and running of it was a prestige. Being able to trace it’s inspiration from my early work with zines (the idea born from one day zine-making events), to what we plan to accomplish with future Pitch In & Publish series, gives me confidence to be able to create new long term projects.
A definite highlight of my role is having the chance to sit in on creative meetings, listening to established figure’s ideas whilst observing their ways of working, as well as giving input myself. The enthusiasm that results from open-minded thinking and the visualisation of possible concepts, is hard to match.
Several new team members have also joined us – Radhika, Christina and Moin. Their arrival has certainly brought a surge of activity into the studio, enabling us to work together on projects and gain new insights from other backgrounds.
Lastly, I have to thank Giles and Alice for giving me to opportunity to be here (particularly in this turbulent employment climate), as well as New Deal Of The Mind, whose work to find roles for young people in creative industries is invaluable.
Its 10 years since we published the very first series of Diffusion eBooks – how time flies! Over on diffusion.org.uk we’ve written a short recap of what we’ve achieved with this project in the last decade and look ahead to what we’re planning to kick-off the next one. You can also read a more in depth post from 2007 on the history of Diffusion.
We are very excited that bookleteer now offers a service for users to order their eBooks professionally printed and bound as A6 saddle-stitched books on high-quality 100% recycled paper in short runs of 50 copies or more. StoryCubes can also be printed on die-cut card in runs of 200 cubes or more.
We are making more test accounts available for people wanting to create their own eBooks and StoryCubes and try out the PPOD service – email us at email@example.com to receive an invite.
I went to the Birmingham Total Place summit last week with the specially commissioned cubes and illustrations Orlagh and I had made for the Early Intervention Project, in response to conversations with parents, carers and workers. They revealed some of the difficulties faced by children and their families and the often very intense frustrations they have in accessing support or working with local services. Proboscis was commissioned through educator and organisational consultant Lesley Cramman, who was facilitating the strand on Early Intervention and we were all driven, in making these, to bring the everyday voices of families, parents and carers into the event. Total Place is a government initiative to look at how a ‘whole area’ approach to public services can lead to better services at less cost.
The event, hosted by BeBirmingham drew a much more varied crowd than I had expected and most people I spoke to expressed real concern and care about their communities and neighbourhoods. However its hard not to be just a little bit skeptical about the ability of Local Government to open up to new ways of thinking and working, despite the obvious commitment, imagination, skills and passions of many of the people I met who work in it. I had some moving and inspiring conversations with a group discussing how to make meaningful connections between the Local Authority and neighbourhoods and how to improve democratic engagement. I hope that the ideas of these people are present in the decisions that come out of Total Place and that the “better services” can lead before the “reduced costs”. I’d love to see staff being allowed to take risks to effect changes and be supported to have more time to talk with and listen to the people and communities they work with and for.
NOW & UPCOMING
Our new web app for creating Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes was deployed at the end of September and is now in an ‘alpha’ testing phase. A number of people have been invited to help us test the fledgling service and put it through its paces in preparation for a wider public ‘beta’ test next year. Follow our progress on twitter and on the bookleteer blog, or alternatively take part in one of our ‘Pitch Up & Publish’ sessions where you’ll get a free bookleteer test account and help to learn how to make eBooks and StoryCubes.
http://bookleteer.com | http://bookleteer.com/blog | http://twitter.com/bookleteer
bookleter alpha club
Proboscis has launched a supporters’ club offering advance access during the ‘alpha’ phase (up to 5 user accounts, access to APIs, pitch up & publish workshops & a Proboscis artists’ bookwork). Funds raised will go towards development of the bookleteer public beta which we hope to launch in Spring 2010. Alpha Club members will be honoured on the site as founder sponsors, and membership will be exclusive to those who join during the alpha phase. We’re excited that our first two members are DodoLab and Architecture Centre Network.
http://bookleteer.com/blog/2009/10/alpha-club/ | http://bookleteer.com/blog/alpha-club/
arte.mov and Mobilefest, Brazil
Proboscis will be showing a new installation piece as part of the Mobilefest Festival, in Sao Paulo at MIC November 11-17.
Giles Lane will be presenting at the arte.mov festival symposium in Belo Horizonte on November 13th as well as devising a creative project about the city during his stay.
Giles will also be participating in arte.mov’s symposium in Salvador de Bahia on the 17-19th November.
With Our Ears To The Ground
Proboscis has been commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community. The project focuses on four very different types of community in order to get a broad range of opinions across the county: in Watford, Stevenage, rural North Hertfordshire and the commuter areas of Broxbourne. It focuses on finding out the reasons why people get on with each other and feel part of the community and is about developing a better understanding of our communities in order to help Hertfordshire County Council and its partners to plan their work supporting communities over the next few years.
http://withourearstotheground.wordpress.com | http://twitter.com/ears2theground
City As Material Course
Giles Lane is leading a course for students from Vassar College, New York State, USA who are on an international study program in London. It is a co-creative course for students to explore the city, investigate how other artists and creative people have used it as an artistic medium, and devise their own personal creative interventions.
lift @ home’s Hands on Barcelona’s Informational Membrane
Giles was an invited speaker at the Citilab workshop in Barcelona, Spain, October 24:
At the Water’s Edge: Grand River Sketches
Alice Angus’ large format work of drawings and video was installed in Render’s main exhibition space in Waterloo, Canada September 23rd to October 30th. It was accompanied by screenings of Alice’s film Topographies & Tales, made with Joyce Majiski.
Arteleku’s My Map Is Not Your Map
Giles was an invited speaker at the workshop in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain, September 23-25:
DodoLab PEI, Charlottetown, Canada
Proboscis took part in another DodoLab in August, this time in the province of Prince Edward Island, in Canada’a Atlantic Maritimes. There we helped create and distribute seedbombs at the local Farmer’s Market, design eBooks for questionnaires, research into the Experimental Farm Station and worked on some large-scale drawings.
New Diffusion Titles
The Postcard Places Project by Lisa Hirmer with Laura Knap http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1602>
In the Shadow of Senate House by Hatherley, McNeile, Downing & Leslie http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1575
The Rustification of Henry Thomas Brown by Andrew Thomas Hunter http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1562
DodoLab Wants to Know: What Are The Signs of a Creative City? http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1352
DodoLab Wants to Know: About Green Space by Lisa Hirmer http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1347
An A-Z of The Ting: Theatre of Mistakes by Marie-Anne Mancio http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1327
Ethnographic Notebooks, British Museum Melanesia Project http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1301
Dodolab Wants To Know http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1295
The Lunar House ‘Re-enactment’ by Tony White http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1292
Estado de presencia por Cristina Luna http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1281
The Octuplet: Story of Our Lives by Babette Wagenvoort http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1245
Le Corbeau / The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe tr. Stéphane Mallarmé http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1238
More Diffusion Shareable Notebooks http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1227
Blakewalking by Tim Wright http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1223
Sutton Grapevine: Youth Group Storyboard by Alice Angus & Orlagh Woods http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1217
The first event was a fun evening and everyone who attended created at least 1 eBook each, with the exception of Matthew who managed to create two lovely examples. Thanks to everyone who came (Christopher, Fred, Kati, Matthew & Sara), and the team (Karen, John & Stefan).
The next Pitch Up & Publish will be on Thursday 5th November 2009 at our studio in Clerkenwell.
As part of our thinking into new business and revenue models for our own projects and practices, we’ve come up with a different approach for supporting the next stage development of bookleteer to relying on grants.
To progress bookleteer to a public ‘beta’ version in early 2010 – we’re looking for friends and supporters (initially organisations but also individuals) to join bookleteer’s Alpha Club. The club is an alternative support/fundraising concept, aimed at partners, friends, colleagues and sponsors who share in our ethos of ‘public authoring’, providing public access to tools of creation, production and distribution and who, as members of the Alpha Club, would like to be at the core of the emerging bookleteer community. For a modest, one-off contribution we hope Alpha Club members will help us raise our target of around £25k for the next critical phase of bookleteer’s development.
Membership of the Alpha Club will be exclusive to those who join during the ‘alpha’ stage of bookleteer’s development, establishing a founder group of friends, supporters and sponsors.
- Up to 5 bookleteer accounts per member & technical support;
- access to the bookleteer APIs to experiment with;
- a private pitch up & publish style training session at our studio
- a free copy of Proboscis’ bookwork, Social Tapestries: A Case of Perspectives (RRP £40)
- Inclusion (if desired) on the Alpha Club’s ‘Roll of Honour’ webpage
If you’d like to support bookleteer and become an Alpha Club member, please contact us at bookleteer (at) proboscis.org.uk or donate now via Paypal:
Dodolab Wants To Know by Dodolab
The Lunar House ‘Re-enactment’ by Tony White
Estado de presencia por Cristina Luna
The Octuplet: Story of Our Lives by Babette Wagenvoort
Le Corbeau / The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe tr. Stéphane Mallarmé
More Diffusion Shareable Notebooks by Giles Lane
Blakewalking by Tim Wright
Sutton Grapevine: Youth Group Storyboard by Alice Angus & Orlagh Woods