In the last few months I’ve been working on Hidden Families, a project with families with someone in prison. The project, run by by Lizzie Coles Kemp of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway University of London, was trying to find out how to improve the way information is made available to families, because people sometimes don’t or can’t engage with support services. The hardships families experience are diverse;- travel, costs of visiting, the huge distances to visit,the stress of uncertain weather and travel conditions that might cause someone to be late and miss their visit, bringing children, access to pension, welfare and benefits advice, sentence planning, prisoner safety and welfare, being stigmatised and outcast, and not expecting help or having the ability to improve the situation.
The project has several facets and I was involved in working with Action for Prisoners Families, NEPACS (who provide support services for families separated by prison), performer Freya Stang and visitors to a visitors’ center in a Category A prison.
Action for Prisoners’ Families (APF),
works for the benefit of prisoners’ and offenders’ families by representing the views of families and those who work with them and by promoting effective work with families…
A prison or community sentence damages family life.
NEPACS builds bridges between prisoners, families and communities that they will return to, they
believe that investment must be made in resettlement and rehabilitation to ensure that there are fewer crime victims in the future, and less prospect of family life being disrupted and possibly destroyed by a prison sentence… After all, the families haven’t committed the crime, but they, especially the children, are greatly affected by the punishment
Lizzie’s approach to working with people differs from typical academic studies. Rather than only surveying or asking questions of a community she collaborates with groups to create projects, workshops and events that are independently of value to that group, rather than just to fulfill research ends, she often works with artists, writers and performers to support partners and participants in articulating ideas.
The project partners and visitors contributed to booklets, postcards, conversations and a wall collage gathering experiences of the practical, technical and emotional issues people face. I brought together the stories, experiences and sketches, with a series of sketches I made, into a digitally printed textile hanging based on the idea of a patchwork quilt for the NEPACS Visitors’ Centre. Participants expressed a wish to produce a version that could hang in the Chapel and Action For Prisoners Families have versions which they will using for their training, education and work raising awareness of the hidden issues families face.
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.
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.
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.
A snapshot of my cluttered desk, here’s a sneak peek of what I’ve been busying away with; these are props I am creating for an upcoming cut paper animation illustrating how to use Bookleteer.
Traditional beliefs, customs, stories passed down through generations, superstition; you’ve come across some of these at one point in your life or it may still be a part of you to this very day. My next mind map for the Compendium is about Folklore.
Here I explore the different methods to which groups maintain, share and pass on traditions. It also contains quotes from the New York Folklore Society website, where people expressed what folklore meant to them and how it affected their daily lifestyle.
The cultural aspect is a public good, the knowledge or reasoning of why something is the way it is. A method people use to teach others about experiences expressed as stories, songs, performance, legends, myths and rhymes.
It is something communities strive to maintain as folklore symbolise their identity to themselves and others.
Continuing my exploration into public goods for the Compendium I thought about public spaces; parks, the town square, spaces that doesn’t require a fee to access. In these spaces, we often see people walking around, hanging about, waiting for someone, conversing with each other, and so on; and then it hit me – places to meet and hang out can be considered as a public good. These could be conventional spaces such as the park or places that encourage socialising like a cafe, but there are also informal spaces; ones that are not dictated.
An example of an informal space brings me back to my university days; every weekend when I had to go to the main high street to buy food for my deprived fridge, I would have to walk through the town square where flocks of teenagers would hang out, spreading across the flights of stairs and having to dodge the dangerous skater boys practicing stunts from one side to the other. It was the same every weekend without fail.
Branching out from the idea of social transactions; mentioned in a previous post about Stefan’s reunion over the holidays, led me to the topic of communication as a public good. How do we carry out these social transactions? Why is it so important to convey our thoughts and opinions to others and how will this result as a public good?
Communication fits the description of being both non-rival and non-excludable; words used from an economic point of view to define what a public good is. Thanks to conventional methods and modern technology, sharing ideas and thoughts have become widely available. But the point I am trying to make here is how we use these ‘props’ to communicate and share information.
The internet itself is not a public good, rather the communication and information functions it provides is. As a result the internet has given opportunities to create online communities that allow social connectivity of diverse groups, sharing information and knowledge that led to the creation of open source applications.
Taking these thoughts and ideas for the Compendium, I illustrated and brainstormed examples of our methods of communication through traditions; stories of experiences, songs, and visuals. Also thinking about the different outcomes created from the act of communicating such as social groups and communities linked through common interests, open source materials, data and information.
As part of my explorations into the notion of Public Goods for the Compendium, I’ve been creating some sketch maps that explore how to define public goods. What are they? Public goods come in many forms and their meaning and values vary among different groups of people.
Whilst preparing to have lunch with the team, Stefan began telling us a story about his family feast during the holiday season. The social transactions he had during the reunion, the reminiscing of traditional dishes. It sparked the thought that it wasn’t just the act of sharing food that was a public good, but everything that evolved around it. Where and how we get our food; the agricultural skills and knowledge needed to grow our food; the market place in which people come together not just to buy goods but for social interactions and where communities share stories; the history and culture, our traditions and sociology behind food, and ‘Foodways‘ – a term used to describe any piece of food culture which once existed in a time and place that tells a story about who we are.
Recently the Proboscis team have been working with the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) and Crucible at the University of Cambridge on a collaborative research project. As the artist for this project, my responsibility ranged from creating visual notations during discussion and brainstorming sessions to illustrating the outcomes of the teams’ reflections in the form of insights and observations. My work was incorporated into a set of books known as Agencies of Engagement.
Each book required a different approach to create a series of illustrations, to accompany the written narrative.
The very first being, visual notation. I used this in the early stages of the project to capture the different ideas discussed during brainstorming sessions. The challenge here was that the discussion was live, it was vital to listen carefully; picking out words to sketch as fast as possible and trying not to fall behind. The idea to this approach was to allow others to see the dialogue visually, the illustrations represented words, topics and how it connected with each other.
The next series of illustrations was aimed to capture the moment of an activity, it was placed in the book describing the project’s progress (Project Account). The sketches consisted of members taking part in a workshop, it was illustrated by using the photographs taken during the session as the foundation and creating a detailed line drawing on top to accompany the detailed nature of the Project Account book.
The most challenging of them all was for the book, Drawing Insight, this book consisted of the teams’ insights and observations. The illustrations were quite conceptual, and although accompanied with captions the representations of these illustrations needed to be obvious to the reader. Thus being a very iterative process and required a lot of patience, I would often talk to the team to define the meaning behind captions to develop sketches to reflect it and then after a thorough review sketches would be tweaked, polished and re-polished until we felt that they had captured the right feeling.
The illustrations used in the Method Stack book, took on the same principle as the Project Account but with less detail. The aim to this approach was to simply suggest and spark ideas in relation to the thorough explanation to each engagement method, by keeping it as simple line drawings it becomes easier for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own creativity.
Finally, Catalysing Agency had a combination of both visual notations from an audio recording from the Catalyst Reflection Meeting and conceptual illustrations like those used in Drawing Insight.
This was my first research project with Proboscis, it was a very intricate one and no doubt the experience I gained from this will be invaluable. Learning about the different methods of engaging with participants of this project and putting them into practice, and deciphering complex findings into a visual to give an insight to others were the main lessons learnt throughout this project, it emphasised the importance of dialogue and communication.
Agencies of Engagement has enabled me to explore and refine my skills in terms of the different approaches to creative thinking. It wasn’t as simple as sketch what you see; there were multiple layers of things to consider – meanings, perception and how the illustrations were to be perceived. Not only was I able to hone my artistic skills in my comfort zone of conceptual illustrations, I was able to explore new techniques such as visual notations in a live situation and both styles of line art for Project Account and Method Stack.
I’ve received my own copy of the finished publication and am overwhelmed with pride, the team did an amazing job and I look forward to participating in more projects like this.
The new Lancashire based publication Back&Beyond, out this week, have published a feature on As It Comes. The team behind this arts, culture and heritage publication have a long-term goal of creating a regular, high quality arts publication for the area. It combines fiction and non-fiction writing together with profiles of local artists, projects and organisations. The publication is created by a group of artists, designers and writers and this first issue is free, if you would like a copy they can be found around Lancaster or contact Back&Beyond directly.
Hello! It’s been a while since my last post and what have I been up to you ask? Well, I’ve been honing my skills in advanced Pictionary! Or at least that’s one way of looking at it as it takes on the same principle of visual interpretations from words. For the past few weeks Giles and Alice have been throwing words, concepts and phrases at me to create sketches visualising the meanings behind them.
Below are a few examples I have created which illustrate some of the many different projects Proboscis have accomplished over the years and key outcomes from them:
Perception Peterborough – valuing citizens’ voices in city planning & regeneration.
Navigating History – creating new awareness of rich local archives and resources.
Sensory Threads – revealing value creation in cross sector collaborations.
Snout – using play to inspire people and make complex issues more accessible.
With Our Ears to the Ground – connecting council depts to work together for the first time for cohesive community development.
Lattice – providing the catalyst for new creative collaborations.
Having been a part of Proboscis for a fair amount of time now, trying to describe the type of work Proboscis does can be a little tricky. So the best way around it was to look at what Proboscis had accomplished in the past, giving me a new perspective on the kinds of projects and themes Proboscis had undertaken and the different types of people they have worked with.
This part of the project had given me an great opportunity to exercise my conceptual skills, visualising complex activities and abstract ideas and presenting them in the form of a single sketch.
It was challenging creating a sketch that would capture and reflect the sense of a complex project and required a lot of conversation – to which I would carefully listen to pull out keywords that may best describe the process, outcomes and achievements of a project, then further researching to finalise sketches.
Throughout the process I’ve developed the ability to visualise concepts using a single word or string of words and sketching to reflect the meaning behind the words or the ideas conveyed, giving me new confidence as a concept artist to visualise something quickly and to use my imagination to give some of the sketches a touch of humour and a new perspective.
It has been an enjoyable experience, and given me a new insight to the type of work a visual interpreter/ graphic artist does and I look forward to more work like this in the near future.
Last month I went up to Coventry Market to spend the day talking to traders and shoppers about set of works on paper I made last year as part of an ongoing series about markets, food and the informal spaces that draw communities together. The Coventry Market Traders found the works online, contacted me and bought them to hang permanently in the market hall. It was a honour to have the traders buy the work and bring it back home where it was created. You can get a sense of Coventry Market from this film made by the traders. The drawings will be on permanent display later this year but for now you can see images of the 10 works on flickr here. They grew out of a commission from Dan Thompson of the Empty Shops Network to record some of the places the ESN Tour was going to. I was inspired by the vibrancy of Coventry Market and the care traders take over arranging and decorating their stalls as well as the range of produce; from pet food to ribbon, cards to cucumbers, roasting tins to yams, fishing tackle to carpets, cakes and cranberries, you name it, someone will have it. You can find out more on the market website.
I want to say a big thanks to Bill and Sophie for looking after me so well last month and to Brian and all the Coventry Market traders for making me so welcome.
The fabric I designed is back from being digitally printed at Forest Digital. I’ve worked with this kind of printing once before and I like the option to print very short lengths and the fact that there is probably less pollution created due to using ink instead of the chemical materials and water of traditional printing. The fabric is off to fashion designer Mrs Jones this week and we will be showing the final garments as part of Day + Gluckman’s show in Collyer Bristow Gallery Fifties Fashion and Emerging Feminism later this month. The fabric is inspired by stories of the 50s told to me by a group of Lancastrian’s I met earlier this year for As it Comes.
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
(Drum rolls) Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present the finished eBooks!
The eBooks are part of Outside The Box and were created to accompany the play sets, they act as props to help stimulate game play.
I’ve created a total of six eBooks that fit with the role playing set, each eBook corresponds to the six roles available. Once roles have been assigned, players can take their eBooks with them to carry out missions. They can use it to take notes, draw maps, sketch images or even stick things into, they can do whatever they like with these eBooks that will assist their game experience.
But what’s inside you ask? (sniggers). Each book is themed to each role, not just on the cover, but the inside pages too. All pages inside are hand drawn with blank spaces for the player to use, it’s printer friendly and encourages players to freely scribble in them.
The eBooks can also be used for the other play sets too! For example, players can choose an eBook of their choice and use it to play along the story telling game. Or they could use the eBooks to create strange combination animals. (More suggestions available in the Outside The Box Suggestion eBook).
I enjoyed designing and creating the eBooks, it all began with making miniature versions as the initial design. Then making the basic prototype and moving onto finalising details and adding messages to the players. I had a lot of fun making the eBooks, I now hope that players will enjoy the finished product.
(6 Month Placement, Future Jobs Fund July 2010-January 2011)
It’s time to reflect on the past 6 months as the Future Jobs Fund placement has now come to an end, it really went by quickly! Other than the placement being too short, I can only think of the benefits I have gained with Proboscis during my time here.
It has been a great experience to explore more about the creative arts, with plenty of opportunities to utilise my artistic skills in all of the different stages of a creative process and exercising my knowledge with people of different backgrounds and experiences of their own.
I am also really grateful to Giles and Alice for their patience and teaching me many things ranging from local area knowledge to introducing artistic influences and techniques in hope that it would inspire me throughout the creative process of each project. With their kindness and constant guidance, they’ve become more of a mentor to me than simply my employers.
I also thank the New Deal of the Mind, firstly for organising this opportunity and providing scheduled sessions – The Goals Training programme, offering support and providing information about job hunting.
During the past 6 months I have been involved in various projects which include the storyboard eBook for Tangled Threads, then moving onto a project inspired by the Love Outdoor Play campaign with a full play set now known as Outside The Box. Once in a while I have assisted in the City As Material project and my more recent work is creating visual interpretations for Public Goods and designing eBooks to accompany the play sets for Outside The Box.
Outside The Box was a huge learning curve for me, I learnt many valuable lessons during the creative process. Firstly, how to manage my work flow better. The project became so much larger than anticipated that I found myself struggling with managing the workload, as I had tried to do too many things at once. Then there were elements on the actual product that I had learnt more about, such as decision making for a colour palette and how simplicity can convey ideas just as well as detailed illustrations. I believe there will be much more to learn from Outside The Box, as it will be going through the testing stage soon. I am excited and nervous to see what happens and I just hope that children will like and enjoy playing with them.
The biggest achievement whilst working on these projects was adapting. I was able to transfer many of my skills to fit each creative process but it was learning to think from a different perspective and presenting them in a innovative way which was the main challenge. The work flow and thought process also differed from my original training as a concept artist for games, as much of the work would follow a design brief closely, but with Proboscis it was very open and it possessed very little constraints making the possibilities endless.
I believe with all these achievements and lessons learnt, it will influence my work in future projects – the way I may approach ideas, deciding the colour palette, considering other ways to communicate my ideas across to reach a wider audience and to create art work that many can enjoy and appreciate.
This isn’t farewell! As I am very grateful for the opportunity to stay as part of the Proboscis team so I look forward to future projects and learning more about the creative arts, I’ll be posting about my work so make sure to visit!
Whilst taking a break from Outside The Box I’ve been asked to create visual interpretations for a new project! I’ll be keeping a photo diary of my progress and will post up a photo each week for you all to see.
It took a bit longer than planned, but the set of cubes for Outside The Box have reached the first prototype stage! (Applauds) It took a lot of energy to meet the deadline but seeing the finished prototype makes all the hard work worthwhile, I am very pleased with the results and hope you all will grow fond of them too! Thank you Giles and Alice for your patience and advice in teaching me the palette decision making process and guiding me in polishing the sets to a finished prototype. Thanks to Radhika and Haz for taking time out to assist in assembling the cubes together and working on the story telling set!
What happens next? (grin) we play with them! The next stage will be to test them out, not just with the team but with our target audience – kids! We’ll be thinking of additional ways to play with them, making observations to check that children understand the content on the cubes and hope they will enjoy playing with them. Our findings in this stage will be taken into consideration when making decisions on the final product.
Outside The Box is a project inspired by the Love Outdoor Play campaign, which supports the idea of encouraging children to play outdoors. We brainstormed about possible games children could play and creating props to assist their gameplay using Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes made with bookleteer.
The first idea was a visual game using the StoryCubes, which Karen had blogged a sneak peek of a few weeks back. It was a brain teaser type of game, where one image was spread across two squares – so one face of the cube had 4 halves of an image along each edge of the square. The aim was to match up the top and bottom half together. The puzzle only worked if there was nine squares, any less and it wouldn’t have been challenging enough.
The original set had 4 themes, the first being domestic pets, the second insects and bugs, the third sea creatures and the fourth snakes.
After leaving this set out for members of Proboscis to try and solve, they thought it was humorous mismatching the animal halves together. They came up with many wild combinations such as a mer-dog (top half of a dog and lower half of a fish) which struck the idea of another way to play with this set of cubes – make the sound of the animal on the top half and move like the animal on the bottom half. Keeping this idea in mind, I redeveloped the set by adding different animals which make funny noises or move differently and as a result it made the puzzle easier for a younger age group because it resembled the card game Pairs.
The next set consists of a role playing game, encouraging children to use their imagination and interacting with each other if played in groups. With elements of exploration, this set was most fitting for the Love Outdoor Play campaign. There are six characters to choose from, each occupying one face on each cube with a mission. Just like the first set, this game used a total of nine cubes – meaning each character had a total of nine missions to accomplish. Characters for this set included spy, detective, super hero, storyteller, adventurer and scientist.
The last set is a story telling game, the set of cubes acts as a starting point in telling a story leaving children to fill in the gaps with their imagination. One cube decides the genre of the story, another cube decides the time setting and a third cube decides how the story will be told. Keeping the consistency of using nine cubes in one set, the remaining six cubes consists of words to which the player will use in their story.
At the moment these games are in prototype stage, where the final colour palette is to be decided and the finishing touches to be made and polished. Although I had hoped to have finished the prototypes sooner I guess working on 162 faces was a lot more challenging than I thought (laughs). 120 of the faces were illustrated and the remaining 42 contained words, which the Proboscis team kindly assisted with (thanks everyone!) Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the whole process and think that this project has given the opportunity for team work and I still feel that I have much to learn and look forward to learning more about the different methods used in deciding a colour palette for the final product.
Wow, it’s already time for me to write about my second impressions huh? If you’re wondering, it’s Mandy here! I started in July as a Creative Assistant for Proboscis, it’s been five months already!! Where did all the time go?! (laughs)
It’s been pretty busy during these five months, Giles and Alice have been cracking the whip to keep me busy working (T_T). Just kidding haha. They’ve been great fun, and most generous when offering advice and enlightening me with their knowledge, it always leaves me in awe with the amount of things they know.
Also, there has been more placements on board! Christina and Radhika are such lovely people, they both have a great sense of humour, easy to talk to and are always offering to help when it seems like I have too much going on (laughs). Oh and Moin; our programmer, joined just recently too! As for Haz… he’s been picking on me since day one!! that aside, he offers me assistance and I’ve enjoyed his blog posts and look forward to his future posts. Thanks guys for your help and support!
During the past few months I have been working on various projects. The first being Tangled Threads, then my current project Outside The Box and offering assistance here and there with City As Material.
Throughout these projects I sincerely thank Giles and Alice for trusting me with creating work without any pressure and just allowing me to carry out the projects to the best of my ability whilst offering kind encouragements. I tend to get carried away with trying to perfect everything so I thank you both for your patience and apologise for the delays!
If you remember reading my first impressions, I mentioned the many different assets in the studio either tucked away or on display and wondering about the story behind them… well… I’ve joined in with my own clutter! I’ve made so many Story Cubes I can build a fortress! Soon I’ll have enough to make a draw bridge to go with it (laughs).
It’s been really fun so far and I’ve learnt a great deal from Giles and Alice. I’ll do my best to fulfil my role and create work which others will enjoy! Have a great Christmas everyone!
My time in Lancaster on As It Comes is drawing to a close this weekend with our final event this Saturday when we’ll be hosting a stall at the Vintage and Handmade Market at Storey Gallery in Lancaster from 11am until 6pm. Instead of a financial exchange for one of my drawings (with a brew, mince pie and piece of cake), I’ll be asking for your memories about independent shops. So bring me a memory and we will provide a drawing and some tasty refreshments. Directions are here.
At 1pm I’ll also be doing an informal talk about the work and weather permitting we will walk down to the hangings in 18 New Street and talk about Lancaster’s independent traders. You’ll also be able to pick up the set of storycubes and the project publication.
This week we had Caroline Maclennan in the studio using bookleteer to create a download-print and make sketchbook of documentation of As It Comes. We’ve been lucky to have Caroline as a placement on the project and she has also been documenting its progress. You can download her book here:
Tangled Threads consists of a storyboard in the form of a Diffusion eBook, that reflects upon the different projects and aspects to which Proboscis has delved into. You can download a copy of the eBook here: http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=2171
My task was to create a storyboard using only the text Karen had scripted. With her words I had to create a series of fast sketches within a short time frame, jotting down the first visual that came to mind. It was later decided that the finished storyboard was to be presented in the form of an eBook, as a counterpart for a new Proboscis film that will be presented as part of a Leonardo/MIT mobile digital exhibition curated by Jeremy Hight.
This was my first time creating a full scale storyboard, but it was also my first time adjusting it to an eBook format. It encouraged me to use different panels and discard frames which can be reduced to one panel. I am also glad it became an eBook because it would have been a real shame if others could not see the impressive text Karen had written.
The most challenging part of this project was the initial sketches: being asked to do fast speed sketching within a time limit. This method made me stay focused and avoid swaying off into different artistic directions and just sketching the first thing that came to mind, then only further developing that idea. Although this method sounds like rushing, the results were pretty interesting!
Overall, it was a great challenging project which allowed me to experiment with a different technique to spark my imagination and creativity. It gave me a chance to use some of my own knowledge about storyboarding and panelling, and Alice had given me a lot of freedom with the concepts. It was also a great opportunity to practice artistic techniques and being aware of areas that may need more improvements.
Here are a few samples from the eBook and initial sketches, the first stage as I mentioned earlier was creating the quick rough sketches of what popped up in my mind. Then I condensed frames to a set of panels on a single page, with this it is scanned in and cleaned up. The final stage was digitally painting the images and resizing them according to the Bookleteer guidelines.
Some videos from Graffito in use at the Vintage@Goodwood festival
I have just sent off some new works on paper, that are the first part of my project In Good Heart, off to Confederation Centre Gallery in Prince Edward Island, Canda for the show Dig Up My Heart: Artistic Practice in the Field curated by Shauna McCabe which opens on Saturday till September 22. The show; brings together a group of practitioners who start from the same impulse – a visceral connection to the land and to place, and the transformative potential of that attachment in response to issues of landscape change…
In 2009 I was invited by our partners Dodolab to visit the Charlottetown Experimental Farm on Prince Edward island and spend some time researching its history, exploring the site and the island. The Charlottetown farm was one of a network of Experimental Farms created in the 1880’s to research and improve farming methods and production, the network hub was the Central Experimental farm in Ottowa.
The visit to PEI which triggered many questions about farming and the factors that impact on this most ancient of skills. The works bring together several strands of research, conversations, interviews, historical and folklore research to explore the perception of “Farm”, its origins, what it means to people now and the way in which the disappearance of traditional skills and distance from the sources of our food serve to disconnect people from their link with land and nature. It is part of my ongoing series, At The Waters Edge looking at peoples local and personal relationship to land and environment.
There will be a publication with the series of works and stories published in June. You can see the works on flickr.
I am grateful to all at Dodolab, Confederation Centre and the Public Archives and Records Office for helping with my research. A huge thanks to the people who kindly sent me their thoughts on the word “farm” and I would like to thank; Andrew, Angela, Adriana, Barb, Chick, Deborah, Danny, Dan, Frank, Gillian, Joyce, Joe, Kei, Mervin, Niharika, Tarin and Sarah. This work was commissioned by Dodolab who invited me to PEI in 2009 as part of an ongoing partnership with Proboscis.
At the end of March I headed up to draw Coventry indoor Market to spend a few days on the next leg of the artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour created by artist Dan Thompson (and involving Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford Natasha Middleton and podcaster Richard Vobes.) I’ve been commissioned to draw some of the spaces (and their occupants) the tour is visiting and Coventry Market follows from my drawings in Granville Arcade in Brixton.
An ancient city, Coventry’s medieval buildings were almost all destroyed during the second world war blitz that devastated the city. Its rich history is crossed by stories of King Canute and Lady Godiva. Today Coventry now has a maze of traffic free precincts and modern buildings built in the postwar period and it is far from what the medieval city must have been.
These precincts are watched over by many surveillance cameras and again on this project I to the issue of private and public space that has come up so often for Proboscis in the last 2 years as we find ourselves prevented from taking photos in shopping malls and public squares. PD Smith writes about this issue in an interesting blog post about Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-century City, Anna Mintons Book looking at control, fear and the city.
Coventry’s indoor market is a circular space in which you can get lost, dizzy and a bit confused about which door you came in but in the process find everything from a cup of tea to 5 kinds of sweet potato, dog biscuits, birthday cards, fake flowers, fresh rolls, loose cake mix, baking tins and graph paper. Its got a real sense or people mingling from different communities and backgrounds and ages using it to meet, chat and hang out, not just shop. They once celebrated it in a musical.
In many of our recent projects people tell us its less regulated more informal spaces that draw their communities together, Watford Market, Coventry Market, Brixton Market…But these more informal spaces are on the decline it seems and everywhere we see what Paul Kingsnorth wrote in In “Cities for Sale” : From parks to pedestrian streets, squares to market places, public spaces are being bought up and closed down, often with little consultation or publicity. In towns and cities all over England, what was once public is now private. It is effectively owned by corporations, which set the standards of behaviour. These standards are the standards that are most congenial to their aim – getting you to buy things. … There will be no busking, and often there will be no sitting either, except in designated areas. You will eat and drink where you are told to. You will not skateboard or cycle or behave “inappropriately”.
The Empty Shops Network is aiming to celebrate the kind of local distinctiveness that gets lost in these developments and it is working with communities to use empty shops for projects in the spaces and times inbetween other uses. The Network’s projects involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from Coventry here.