At the start of our commission Storyweir (part of the art science project Exlab) the brief was to work with earth scientists (as well as local people) but when we heard cultural geographer Dr Ian Cook (Associate Professor of Geography in the College of Life & Environmental Sciences at University of Exeter) speak at the Exlab induction day/symposium we were instantly inspired by his highly collaborative approach to his research work; we wanted to try and collaborate and to bring Cultural Geography into the project. Ian’s project followthethings.com demonstrates his co-creative approach to social engagement and cross disciplinary working (with academics, students, filmmakers, artists, journalists and others). It felt like a natural link with our work and was very exciting to find at the Exlab event. I had read an essay Follow the Thing: Papaya way back in 2004 and I remember at the time thinking that I’d like to work with geographers who take this approach but I hadn’t realised until very recently that Ian was the author of that paper.
A windy walk to the end of Bridport Harbour with Ian and artist Gary Stewart who works with us at Proboscis resulted in a Ian offering to introduce us to some of his colleagues Geographies of Creativity and Knowledge Research Group, University of Exeter. Ian introduced us to three colleagues who each brought different strands of thinking to the project; Dr John Wylie (Associate Professor of Cultural Geography and Director of Postgraduate Research in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences) who has opened up our thinking on time and being in the landscape; as well as the ‘intertwining of self and the landscape’ coupled with how we move and walk in the landscape and visualise it through photographs and images; Dr Nicola Thomas (Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences) has brought her exploration of craft and communities and the traces of history and memory bound up in skills, crafts and the evidence of them; and Rose Ferraby (PHD Researcher in the Department of Geography) who has an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology and an MFA in Illustration brought both an archaeologists eye to our reading of the land at Hive Beach and her ideas about how abstract ideas can be communicated visually.
An initial audio skype conversation left us very excited at the blend of academic discussion and rigour with a deeply creative and poetic approach. Following that we all spent a windy early January day outside on Hive, Burton and Cogden beach and a creative media ‘mash up’ day at PVA medialab (in Bridport) which saw us coming together with drawings, audio, video, data and other media. In all these we have found a shared interest in the social and cultural effects of the way the local community engages with its environment and the exploration of human and deep time. Looking at the sediments of Burton Cliffs and their fossil layer we discussed the evanescent nature of time and timelessness and the relationship between deep geological time and human time – particularly how he perspective of time is different depending on the prism through which history is viewed (fossils were once cited as evidence of the Deluge). In that sense history (perhaps also time) is not experienced as single linear narrative but constantly in flux.
Finding a lost welly trapped in the shingle mud brought up the notion of the Anthropocene (a unit of geological time that marks the moment when human activity is resulting in a visible impact on the ecosystems and geology).
Walking the beach and then above on the cliffs to the caravan site sparked conversations on the transience of nostalgia and memory, the way the beach (which is such an elemental place) triggers memories and affects our experience of time. The beach reconnects us to patterns and emotions that are long lasting and outside of the pattern of daily life.
This is not a large budget, long term research project so we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Ian, Nicola, John and Rose it is a very exciting process and these interconnected conversations are influencing the questions we ask in public activities and the form, materials and content of the work. Through the dialogues we have focused an initial interest in the relationship between deep time and human time into how it is reflected in the ongoing dynamic processes and transitory human life at play on the geology of the coast. In that ephemeral space of flux between the land and sea the continual cycles of sun, tide and sea affect changes larger than we can imagine but also are felt by humans on a daily basis.
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.
(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.
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!
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.
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.
We have just received the first bound copy of our publication for With Our Ears to the Ground; a project by Proboscis commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community. The project focused on four very different types of community in order to get a broad range of opinions across the county.
I’m really excited to see the final version and especially happy with the middle tracing paper insert of scenes and people Orlagh and I encountered during the project. The book draws together the multiple layers of ideas and experiences we found across the different communities we met in Watford, Stevenage, North Herts and Broxbourne and it is designed to reflect the many ideas and voices we encountered. It is organised in the six themes of Transport, Movement, Listening, Community, Getting Involved and Perceptions the emerged during the project. The book contains drawings, photographs, quotes and writings. It can be read in any direction and you can interweave the pages of the three sections as you read, to find new perspectives.
The With Our Ears to the Ground book, will go to selected libraries in Hertfordshire. The publication draws together the multiple layers of ideas and experiences we found across different communities and it is designed to reflect those ideas and voices.
We have a small number of copies please contact us if you would like to acquire one.
We have also published the main chapters as Diffusion eBooks – books to download print and make up published using Bookleteer. Booklets to make, carry in your pocket, browse in your own time, rather than read on screen. You can download them here.
A series of drawings as part of our work on a part of the Total Place initiative in Birmingham. In January and Feburary we were asked to undertake a small commission to produce some StoryCubes for the Total Place summit to provoke conversations about issues to do with childrens’ services, support for young people and parents in Birmingham. We were asked to work on the Early Intervention strand so Orlagh and I went to meet some parents and workers to understand a some of the issues facing them in terms of at how various services and networks come together to support families and children under 10. These drawings are based on the conversations. (Total Place is a new government initiative that looks at how a ‘whole area’ approach to public services can lead to better services).
Over the last year we have been involved in several projects where we’ve aimed to intervene creatively in the planning process, opening up avenues for the voices of individuals and communities to be heard. In this project several quotes and conversations will be represented on the cubes which are to be used to provoke conversations at the Be Birmingham summit will be taking place on 3 February where the main focus will be to generate new ways of thinking and collaboration. Anything to do with children can be an emotive, sometimes inspiring and sometimes heart wrenching area and in the short time we worked on this it was so clear that so many lives are affected by the availability of support, whether intervention becomes interference and how if people are not heard or listened to it can have a huge impact on their lives.
In the background to a lot of the work we all do at Proboscis is an underlying interest in the handmade and in particular in drawing. Many people know us for our work with technology but there is a strong undercurrent in our practice of drawing as part of design, illustration or installation.
The interest dates right back to Proboscis first project, Coil Journal of the Moving Image, which included drawing and illustration commissions by artists, film-makers and illustrators. I’ve begun a process of looking back on and gathering together images of work by us and the other artists we have worked with over the years and this is the first of a series of posts exploring the presence of drawing in our work.
Recently, for With Our Ears to the Ground Proboscis were commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community and create an artists book/publication. Orlagh and I spent several days driving around the County to run events and meet people but at the same time the journeys we took were important in our understanding of live in the county. As part of that I’ve been making the sketches that appear on this page and and on our flickr page to investigate the ideas of flow and movement of people in the county. Some of these appear in the final publication but for the most part the process was about gaining another level of understanding beyond the events, interviews and workshops we did.
Orlagh and I are just finishing a short video, inspired by our Snout project, which will have its first outing at the upcoming Mobilefest Festival in Sao Paulo Brazil. A single screen video work – it draws together line animation, visualisation of sensor data and video footage of a live event featuring European carnival characters Mr Punch and The Plague Doctor as they cavort around London in costumes instrumented with environmental sensors. It reminded me that Snout was featured in 2008 in Zona 2; signs in the city, a supplement to the Italian architecture and design magazine Abitaire. So to accompany the video here is the short essay and my drawings from Zona about the project:
A theatre of the everyday
Carnival is a time when everyday life is suspended – a time when the fool becomes king for a day, when social hierarchies are inverted and the pavement becomes the stage, a time when everyone is equal. There is no audience at a carnival, only carnival-goers.
On 10 April 2007 the Snout ‘carnival’ performance and public forum (featuring Mr Punch and The Plague Doctor instrumented with environmental sensors) drew together artists, producers, performers and computer programmers to explore how wearable technologies with environmental sensors can combine with Internet sharing technologies to map the invisible gases in our everyday environment. The project by Proboscis, inIVA and researchers from Birkbeck College also explored how communities can use this evidence to initiate local action.
For Proboscis public space is a focus for convening conversation and dialogue. It gives context to shared issues such as pollution, the environment, and our personal and communal relationships to them. In Snout, we sought to meld the problem of measuring pollution in public space with ways to begin a conversation between local people that can inspire a path to change; not just frighten people with statistics.
Our world is increasingly affected by human behaviour and industry – there is awareness of pollution in public spaces but we rarely have access to actual data. What is the local air quality of our street like? What ground toxins are present? The participatory sensing concept seeks to put the science and technologies of environmental sensing into the hands of local people to gather and visualise evidence about their environment.
We chose Mr Punch as an allegory of Western consumer culture. Punch is the fool, the trickster, an anti-authoritarian figure – challenging social structures, yet never taking responsibility for his actions. In the traditional Punch story – The Tragical Comedy, Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, he defeats authority, but at the same time kills all the people close and dear to him. Ultimately he is left alone. We also chose the Plague Doctor because of his ambiguous relationship to technology. The doctor’s outfit is a kind of seventeenth century HazMat suit, but is he a real doctor or is he a quack hiding behind the cultural and hygienic prophylactic of the costume? With both the characters we are questioning the social and cultural role not only of technologies but also of those who use them, and why.
The data collected by the sensors in the Snout costumes are the ingredients for a feast of conversation; a recipe that includes various ingredients (sensor data, statistics culled from official websites and local knowledge shared by the community) to cook up local feasts of conversation. In addition to the data picked up by the sensors on the Snout costumes (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, noise, solvent vapours etc), other sources were aggregated such as local health statistics, local education and the ‘deprivation’ index.
Consumerism drives a headlong scramble of production, underpinned our concept of individual freedom and choice. Our desire to have technologies which ‘free’ us, enable greater communication and ability to travel are also ones which contribute to accelerating ecological damage. The technologies we manipulate to help us make sense of these issues are also part of the problem. The question then becomes, how do we take responsibility for the impact of our desires upon the environments we live in, and their effects on the environments of others? How can we shift our perceptions of what can happen on the street, in public space, to create the context to begin conversations?
We have been working on Ears to the Ground for around 3 months now and the phase of being out there talking to people and doing activities is almost over with our energy now being focused into how to condense over 200 voices and quotes into a small publication. We’ve been roving around Hertfordshire meeting young and old, talking to them in groups, in their homes, at events. As well as the many people and groups we have met we have; set up a stall in Watford Market to talk to market goers, set up outside Broxbourne Station to speak to commuters, set up a map outside Stevenage Job Centre and annotated it with post it notes of comments from Centre users and ran a drawing workshop with a youth group. We’ve taken our anarchaeology approach of using informal and creative approaches to excavate layers of meaning and understanding. I’ve enjoyed all the people we met who have been so generous, and as I go through the hours of recorded audio two of my favourite quotes so far have been from the Meriden Comunity Centre Community Bar on the Meriden estate in north Watford, and the list of what young people saw around their Neighbourhood in the Chells area of Stevenage.
In the Meriden community bar we asked: How long have you been here?
1962 I moved onto this estate.
I was going to say half past seven.
I’ve been a member of this club for years since it first opened.
I’ve been here so long I’ve worn a hole in the carpet.
You certainly don’t get any trouble in here fighting or all that, its just all mates really I suppose
Like a big extended family
We come down here to insult each other
Don’t know what we’d do without it, we’d sit indoors and watch telly.
We’re all living round here so we don’t need to drive.
The atmosphere, you know, you come in and you know you’re not going to get into any trouble.
And in Chells Manor Community Center we went for a walk with the youth group and after making a large drawing we asked: What did you see and draw?
I saw a fox
I saw the pub, shops, chip shop
I saw, a cat , a man smoking
I saw a tree and a road and an aeroplane
I saw a red flower, a broken glass
I saw myself
I saw a load of people at the youth club
I saw my house
apparently we saw a train going up a tree
I never saw two men shooting each other
I saw darren
I saw houses, dogs,
I saw the green, football, cricket, cycling down fairlands
The book will be published in December.
Proboscis have been commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community and create an artists book/publication. With Our Ears to the Ground will focus 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.
So far we’ve met and worked with local residents to explore what the word ‘community’ means to them, discuss personal experiences and perceptions and discover how best to overcome problems within the community. We have also been travelling in and observing the geography and human activity of the areas, visiting various public spaces and markets, malls, car parks, and countryside. Some of the things we have noticed so far include:
– The impact of transport routes, industrial estates and other architecture- transport defines the community boundaries and defines how people have to travel to get in and out of a community.
– The cultures of sharing in different communities, sharing of resources, goods, ideas, spaces, time.
– The cultures of listening and being able to talk that are so important in helping people feel they belong.
– The impact of working lives and commuting that fragment traditional communities.
– Unsurprisingly friendliness has emerged as a key contributing factor in a strong sense of community
– Questions have emerged about the definition of working class. Working class is no longer as defined as it used to be what does working class mean now?
This week we begin teaching a course on the city as material for artistic practice with students from Vassar College‘s International Program in London. We’ve planned it as a co-creative course, intending to act as facilitators and guides to the students in devising and conducting their own investigations of the city and creating their own interventions. The students will be creating a blog to document their activities, as well as publishing eBooks about their individual projects.
The course is fortnightly (from early September to the beginning of December 2009), based in our studio in Clerkenwell, from where we’ll engage in walks, watching, making, drawing, discussing and eating.
The focus for this class will be in considering the role of the city as material for artistic experimentation and creation. Only inadequately understood as “public art,” urban interventions produce public space where it does not exist, foster new modes of urban citizenship and participation, render legible the force of political and financial power shaping the global city, expose the mutability of “public” and “private” entailed by new media transformations of social space, create alliances between varied urban stakeholders, challenge the zero-tolerance policies of the increasingly securitized city, and broaden the repertoire of political resistance and direct action. In addition to contemporary practice the course will consider the rich histories of urban intervention by artists in London and elsewhere.
From 3rd – 9th of June we’ll be roving around the village gathering and recording stories in many ways; from hanging out at the election, the community shop, the pub and the community spaces with a large village map, to visiting local clubs and individuals, to hosting a storytelling dinner with the residents of a street, to running workshops and going for walks. As the village continues to change through growth, movement and migration the initiative aims to let local people explore place and identity.
Alongside this we’ve integrated storytelling and news sharing (by email and with a WordPress blog); sound recordings (via the free podbean and AudioBoo podcasting servicees and the low cost Gabcast telephone-to-MP3 podcasting service); photo sharing (via the Flickr group pool); social connections (via the Facebook Group) and news feeds (via Twitter). We will also be adding in some of our own inventions like StoryCubes and Diffusion eBooks to make tangible things that can be passed around, as well as the digital media.
We will be back during Sutton Feast Week from the 1st – 5th July with an exhibition and audio broadcasts at St Andrews Church and around the village.
See you in Sutton!
A film for the Perception Peterborough project, documenting the creation of a 3 dimensional ‘map’ of creative visions overlaid over the city. The film was shot during workshops facilitated by Proboscis in Peterborough Museum in September 2008.
A playful exploration of Proboscis and some of its projects, tools and techniques.
Created by Alice Angus, Giles Lane, Orlagh Woods and Karen Martin (April 2008).
Music by Peoplelikeus.