Whilst researching animation techniques for the Compendium of Public Goods, I came across many innovative and inspirational animations and thought it would be a good idea to share my findings through a series of posts.
Without further ado, I present SNASK; a stop motion animation created by Mike Crozier, an inspiration for my first animation experiment Folding Paper. The SNASK animation consists of clever transitions between different colourful patterned papers and eventually forming a box within a box, which changes into a TV and then ending the animation with the TV sinking into the desk. The whole animation was compiled from a total of 1846 photos!
Coffee Time by Wan-Tzu is an adaptation of Mike’s work, using SNASK as a template to learn and practice stop motion techniques. The video was a recreation of effects used in SNASK but given a storyline that reflected the creators love for coffee. I really liked the smoothness of the coffee machine interface, and the use of wool to represent the coffee, very clever!
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.
Once again we have been collaborating with our esteemed colleagues Andrew Hunter and Lisa Hirmer at DodoLab on a discursive exploration of place and knowledge as part of our ongoing investigations and collaborative publishing project, City As Material. This time we have been undertaking a research expedition with Professor William Starling into the decline of the European Starling in Britain, seeking stories and evidence to explain their rapid disappearance in three towns : Thetford (in Norfolk), London and Oxford. Alongside Proboscis and DodoLab, we were accompanied by expedition members Dr Josie Mills, Curator of the Art Gallery at the University of Lethbridge, Canada and artist Leila Armstrong.
Haz has posted reports for each of the journeys and visitations which we undertook in Thetford, London and Oxford over on our bookleteer blog and we are now collaborating to produce a series of eBooks charting the expedition’s activities and findings – blending together questions, observations, musings, photos, drawings, rubbings and other things collected. As before, we’ll print up a limited edition of the books as well as placing downloadable PDFs in the online Diffusion Library for handmade versions and enabling bookreader versions for reading online.
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.
Agencies of Engagement is a new 4 volume publication created by Proboscis as part of a research collaboration with the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technology and the Crucible Network at the University of Cambridge. The project explored the nature of groups and group behaviours within the context of the university’s communities and the design of software platforms for collaboration.
The books are designed to act as a creative thinking and doing tool – documenting and sharing the processes, tools, methods, insights, observations and recommendations from the project. They are offered as a ‘public good’ for others to learn from, adopt and adapt.
Download, print out and make up the set for yourself on Diffusion or read the online versions.
Four months ago, when I started working as an intern at Proboscis, I wrote how pleasantly surprised and perplexed I was in finding myself in such a stimulating and challenging environment. My disorientation sprang from my own unfamiliarity with workplaces in general, having spent most of my adult life either at University or in the company of books, and from the inherent shifting quality peculiar to Proboscis. This crossdisciplinarity allowed me to try my hand at activities I could hardly have done anywhere else: projects I was more aware of and versed in, and a project I was less skilled at.
The outcome of my months spent here at Proboscis are a series of eBooks extrapolated from the visual essay I composed on Proboscis’ wall, loosely based on their work and enriched by my own series of allusions, suggestions and relations. First it developed as a concise mind map which outlined the fundamental design underpinning Proboscis’ long journey and then evolved in different and unexpected directions, feeding on my past knowledge, fortuitous connections and new sources of inspiration. It was elaborated following different paths and along the way I published several posts about themes I found fascinating and prominent. Unfortunately, the result of the other project I followed, Pic(k)ing out London, was less fortunate and successful in terms of stimulating participation but the reflections that were stirred proved to be neat and helpful for future research. Alongside I had the chance to grow more and more familiar and feel more comfortable with Bookleteer platform (absolutely brilliant!), Flickr and posting on blogs.
I want to deeply thank Giles and Alice and everyone at Proboscis for hosting me these months. I am confident and optimistic that my experience here will mature and take shape and, even retrospectively, will prove to be valuable and irreplaceable.
Last August I started planning and outlining the details of my personal project named Pic(k)ing out London. Alice and Giles helped me adjust and refine my initial blurred design, propelling questions and making objections in order to show me how intricate and elaborate planning even a simple project like this is. At first I was pretty enthusiastic about that as I thought I would have had the chance to test my ideas – how ever scattered and ephemeral they might have appeared – about urban interaction against the merciless reality. My aim was to select people from different backgrounds who have diametrically opposed points of view of London. That meant avoiding close friends or at least I meant to pick only a few and try to differentiate my recipients as much as possible. That again meant that I should run through different channels in order to recruit people who could possibly match my criteria and expectations. At first I sent emails to contacts I was provided by Giles and Alice and although the response was quite poor from the beginning I was at least pretty satisfied with the initial goal achieved: yes I had found six people willing to take part in the project (being six the minimum threshold we had set) and even if among those six there were some acquaintances or some friends of a friend they altogether formed a varied lot!
How ever promising it could be, it was not destined to last long. People disappear, they don’t get in touch or, when they do, they vainly assure me they will eventually do it. People then abandon the project along the way for various reasons and I should say I soon realized I was not in a favourable junction at all as all sort of unfortunate circumstances seemed to come together: computer crashes, camera breakdown, memory card not inserted and many other personal misfortunes.
In order to compensate for this ever weaker inflow of material Alice and Giles advised me to enlarge both the scales of time of the project and the spectrum of potential participants by adopting less-beaten methods to recruit and involve people. We cut the days people had to commit and proposed a 5-days, one-weekend or even a one-day involvement. Besides I tried to broaden my horizons by contacting associations and various community clubs, posting on different websites, boosting the group Facebook and Flickr pages, approaching strangers on the streets and handing out flyers. I should admit that I also went back to those very friends I had at first neglected and begged for help. However, as hard as I tried, it just did not work!
After the inevitable discouragement and frustration, I became aware that a reflection about the reasons why the outcome shattered my anticipation was absolutely indispensable and, all things considered, it was the only thing left to do. Giles and Alice were not of secondary importance in this process, as they always tried to make me understand that a marginal failure is unavoidable and predictable when doing projects that require the involvement of people. As long as you stick to your ‘sacred cows’, you have to be flexible and adapt your ideas to any change of circumstances which may occur.
As the project was initially designed, it was perhaps too demanding, too specific and not so straightforward as I thought it was if you consider working with people from a distance. This implies an autonomous effort from their part and if the tasks are a bit challenging they may easily get lost and lose interest in the project. Then it is mandatory to understand how people have their own concerns and duties to care. Therefore in a situation where the participants feel no obligation whatsoever, apart from being a mere act of helpfulness, and they see no reward in actually accomplishing the task, it is too tricky to trust in their complete commitment. Now I guess that having worked with a closed community would have made a great difference as people might have felt duty bound to carry out the research and might have found mutual help and support.
I have also reflected about my own attitude towards the whole project and in particular the strategies I adopted to convince people not just to say ‘yes, I’ll do it’ but to feel positive and intrigued by the principles and values of the whole plan. I therefore recognize in my own approach some flaws due not so much to a lack of faith in what theoretically underpins what I was doing, but mainly due to my own inexperience in translating some abstract concepts to a more varied audience. I feel that people outside the ‘field’ may find this sort of engagements quite silly or, at least, useless and unfruitful. So the puzzle, still unsolved, is: how to connect with people who may be, initially and on principle, suspicious and uninterested? How to make my aim and desire be understandable to a wider arena?
This enigma and my own unfamiliarity obviously made my conviction in the project be full of ups and downs and inevitably led to a poor and visible self-confidence. And that is not the ideal tack to prompt someone to complete a task! Moreover, the continuous alterations on strategies adopted, in order to make up for the scarce response, did nothing but weaken my ease. To be honest, one should take into consideration other factors to explain why it did not work as expected, such as the time of the year (it started in August when most people are on holiday) and a bare series of misfortunes which had diverted my initial idea. Anyway, I think it is essential to be critical and analytic towards both the context and one’s own faults. What I can say is that I would definitely like to put myself on the line again and test my unresolved issues if the occasion arises in the future and now I am confident that from this disastrous experience I may learn something precious. Most of all, I should learn not to take for granted what I used to and to ask myself those very questions that the project helped to bring to the surface.
Finally, I want to thank those who, despite snags, helped and supported me and those who did contribute to the project by sending me pictures and diary entries.
Over the summer we’ve been beavering away in the background exploring new partnerships and planning project ideas and proposals for our emerging Public Goods programme. Although its too early to reveal the projects and partners we’re engaging with just now, we are excited that our aspirations for the programme are beginning to cohere around some specific topics and themes. As the projects and partnerships take shape over the next few months we’ll be posting more about them as well as the experiments and activities we’re developing alongside them.
We’ve also welcomed two new members into the Proboscis team : Gary Stewart and Stefan Kueppers, both of whom have collaborated with Proboscis in different capacities before. Gary is an artist and researcher, currently an Artist in Residence/Research Associate at Queen Mary University of London; Stefan is a designer and technologist who has most recently been a Design & Collaboration Technology Specialist for the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London.
Meanwhile, since the Spring we have been working on a collaborative research project with the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) and Crucible at the University of Cambridge which is now in its final stage. The public output of the project will be a set of books made with bookleteer that explore the methods we used; an account of the project’s process, the insights and observations that resulted and the outcome of our reflections. We’re hoping to launch these publications at an event in Cambridge in November this year and will post details nearer the time.
This is my third week here at Proboscis, still pleasantly stunned as I found myself catapulted in such a fertile and constructive milieu. My name is Elena and I come from Italy, and although I lived in London before, this new dimension I am going through here has an inspiring as well as touching nuance. A little more than two months ago I eventually got an European Phd in Comparative Literature and Culture from Università Roma Tre including a semester spent at the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck College. My dissertation was about the representation of London in postcolonial and contemporary European Literature and my analysis basically started from the assumption that urban space is not an inactive and semantically univocal dimension, but a text marked by conflict and personal memories which requires different readings, interpretations and models of literary and political
agency. This in part explains how keen I am on Proboscis’ approach on certain issues such as geography and identity, the relationship between private and public spaces and public authoring. And then this Spring I was lucky enough to be awarded a 4 month internship grant under the EU Leonardo da Vinci scheme and, especially, lucky enough to have a positive response by Proboscis. So here I am, reading and taking notes – I feel quite at ease with this kind of task actually – about the astounding story of Proboscis, running through their brilliant projects, trying to compose a coherent idea in my mind of their peculiar work. Before coming here, peeking at their immense website, I was thrilled to find words and concepts, the harsh terminology of academia simplified and brightly expressed in concrete projects. The more I read and the more I observe the activity going on in the studio – something is still shifty for me to tell the truth – the more the ability to combine thoughts and facts, art and society, the beautiful and the functional strikes me. I am particularly interested in their work and reflection about people’s emotional geography and the individual potential of positively and confidently affecting the texture of urban space so that a more equal society could emerge. I tried to outline the fundamental design underpinning Proboscis’ long journey – according to me obviously – in a concise mind map (see picture below).. yes I know there is a childish tone in it, hopefully I will improve. In fact, one thing I am sure I would be invited to do during my time here is to explore other ways – creative, artistic, ‘technological’ – to translate intangible ideas and make them real and touchable (and hence more effective).
For the time being, this is just a kind of vague proposal from my part to read Proboscis’ work along a trajectory that departs from the individual, who belongs to a society which is always and inevitably locally specific and geographically defined, and comes full circle to the very place we inhabit. In between – what I think Proboscis’ aim is mainly about – the subject is warmly invited to expand his/her creative potential in order to develop personal agency, to challenge monolithic received notions of space and time and collectively exert a positive, autonomous influence on culture and society. This basic map is just the core of a so-called work in progress which will be spreading out unexpectedly and, hopefully, entertainingly as well, with multiple suggestions and influences – I’ll keep you posted about any progression!
Finally, I’d love to thank Giles and Alice for giving me the opportunity in the first place to live this challenging experience and I thank as well my fellow colleagues at Proboscis for the warm welcome. The atmosphere here is unique, calm and relaxing with an electrifying vein streaming underneath.
Next week I’m travelling to Sydney to participate, as a ‘provocateur’ in the Hot Science, Global Citizens Symposium, held at the Powerhouse Museum. I’m taking part in a session called Creative Agency and Programming in Museums and Science Centres with Seb Chan, Wayne LaBar, Tara Morelos & Declan Kuch. I’m also hoping to do one or more City As Material/Anarchaeology events whilst I’m there – more on that soon.
My talk is called Oblique Devices :
In Proboscis’ work we rarely address problems like ‘Climate Change’ head-on. As artists we feel empowered to raise questions but cannot claim to have definitive answers or solutions. Our practice is to entice, provoke, humour and challenge, not to preach or claim authority. However, change is a constant feature of history and how humans respond to it reflects our social and cultural adaptability, the dynamism and resilience of our cultures and civilisations. By creating projects that provoke dialogue within and across communities we hope to challenge some of the powerful, and often misleading, nostrums of our age; to pause and reflect before we commit ourselves to unequivocal outcomes. What we offer is critical dissent; what we hope is that people are inspired and empowered to shape their own responses, to weave their own patterns within the changes that surround them.
About the session :
Panelists will address key aspects of creative thinking and creative practices about climate change, discussing their own projects and visions on climate change in response to some of the key themes being addresses by the HSGC ARC Research Linkage Project in order to stimulate debate around climate change. Possible themes may include: climate change and citizen engagement; artist-led projects on creative mitigation and environmental education; creative strategies for audience engagement and civic participation; developing awareness campaigns and critical consciousness on climate change action; the role of interactive and pervasive technologies for collaborative initiatives and local community engagement on climate change, such as sensor technologies, alternate reality games, social media, smart phone apps, GIS mapping, etc. Speakers are invited to present ideas for museums/science centres creative programming design and to offer their views on opportunities of transdisciplinary and collaborative research.
More information about the symposium :
HOT SCIENCE, GLOBAL CITIZENS: the agency of the museum and science centre sector in climate change interventions Symposium,
Sydney, Australia, 5-6 May 2011
Climate change is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon that is reshaping the way we think about ourselves, our societies and humanity’s place on Earth. This symposium presents the research findings of the Australian Research Council international Linkage project, Hot Science, Global Citizens: the agency of the museum sector in climate change interventions along with other leading research to develop new knowledge about what constitutes effective action around climate change, the critical roles that institutions can play and visions for the future of museums and science centres. The second day will feature an ‘unconference’ session to tease out innovative programming ideas and engage participants in discussions.
Professor Mike Hulme School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK
Elaine Heumann Gurian International Museum Consultant
Dr Emlyn Koster CEO Liberty Science Center, USA
Professor David Karoly Climate scientist and public commentator
Dr Saffron O’Neill Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne
Giles Lane Director, Proboscis, London, UK
Dr Dawn Casey Director, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Frank Howarth Director, Australian Museum, Sydney
Professor Graham Durant Director, Questacon, Canberra
Tara Morelos d/Lux/MediaArts
Wayne LaBar Vice President, Exhibitions and Programs, Liberty Science Center, USA
Seb Chan Head of Digital, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Declan Kuch Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition
Project researchers Academic team: Dr Fiona Cameron (Lead Chief Investigator); Professor Robert Hodge; Associate Professor Brett Neilson and Dr Juan Salazar from the Centre for Cultural Research, with Professor Jann Conroy from the Centre for Plant and Food Science and Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne, Dr Ben Dibley, Dr Anne Newstead, Dr Ann Deslandes, Dr Carol Farbotko
Partner organisations and researchers: Museum Victoria, Melbourne; Powerhouse Museum, Sydney; Australian Museum, Sydney; Questacon, Canberra; Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, US with the University of Melbourne, Earth Sciences and the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK.
IN THROUGH A DARK LENS – THE PROBOSCIS EFFECT
A Critical Text about Proboscis By Bronac Ferran
Creativity and innovation proceed in cycles rather than in some remorselessly forward trajectory. It is only over time that we can see the significance and importance of some projects and initiatives and particularly within the arts and cultural world, there are many different lenses and perspectives which we might take on work which we may wish to call contemporary.
In this text I respond to an invitation by the Proboscis Co-Directors, Alice Angus and Giles Lane to consider their work through the lens of collaboration and partnership. I approached this task aware that often the most critical developments happen below surface, in cyclical and indirect fashion. I was intrigued to explore how far one might consider this conceptually as a counterpoint to the increasingly predominant use of short-term quantitative analysis to assess value within the arts and concerned that such an approach is highly inappropriate for research-led practice (and indeed sometimes also for practice-led research) both of which activities may primarily be focussed on exploring new spaces, opening up dialogues and experimentation in form and media whose value can only become visible over time.
I have long been concerned to argue for value (and in particular symbolic value) of not for profit research-led or research-active creative organisations. John Howkins, a guru of ‘Creative Economy’ thinking, who had indirect influence on the new Labour Government‘s policies in this area from 1997, has recently shifted his focus to the term ‘Creative Ecology’ in which he outlines a more holistic approach to this area. In his book Creative Ecologies – Where Thinking is a Proper Job he argues that “attempts to use ecology to illuminate creativity has hardly begun, beyond using it as a fancy word for context”. In this essay I hope to build some layers onto this observation drawing on the work of Proboscis whose engagement with place, space and locality working with variable types of media provides the context for this text.
Proboscis describes itself as a non-profit artist-led studio “focused on creative innovation and research, socially engaged art practices and transdisciplinary, cross-sector collaboration”. Since its formation in 1994 it has made many ‘journeys through layers’ as is more fully described below. One consistent aspect has been that the work has engaged with numerous different agencies and communities, spanning and bridging private and public domain; always integral to their practice has been the development of publishing and storytelling initiatives using print and networked media processes with a primary concern for combination of image, word and text.
Proboscis was first formed by Giles Lane and Damian Jacques as a partnership to develop COIL journal of the moving image which ran through to issues 9 and 10 launched as a joint issue in December 2000. Alice Angus joined the partnership in 1999 and began leading some significant projects including the seminal Topologies initiative which was formative in terms of what was then known as collaborative arts practice and funded through the Collaborative Arts Unit at Arts Council England where I then worked, interfacing successfully and in a ground-breaking way between contemporary art practice and the Museums, Libraries and Archives services in the UK. The breadth of this project which ran between 1999 and 2000 added many layers to Proboscis and as is noted below, was shaped by an ideology and set of aspirations which were fully admirable and still unfolding now, in a considerably harsher climate in terms of arts and other public funding.
Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh rightly wrote that “naming the thing is the love-act and the pledge”. With the choice of their name the organisation certainly pledged itself to a high degree of engagement with environment and context.
As Wikipedia tells us the word Proboscis was:
First attested in English in 1609 from Latin proboscis, the latinisation of the Greek προβοσκίς (proboskis),  which comes from πρό (pro) “forth, forward, before”  + βόσκω (bosko), “to feed, to nourish”.   The correct Greek plural is proboscides, but in English it is more common to simply add -es, forming proboscises.
& ‘In general it is an elongated appendage from the head of an animal’ and ‘the most common usage is to refer to the tubular feeding and sucking organ of certain invertebrates such as insects (e.g., moths and butterflies) worms (including proboscis worms) and gastropod molluscs.
Seeing Proboscis and its life cycle as a kind of organism is curiously appealing. I am not sure if it is predominantly elephant or butterfly – or even mosquito… perhaps all these things. Or maybe it’s the Proboscis monkey, swinging from tree to tree in the wind.
On initial encounter with their work I had felt immediately the extensive and expansive qualities of the imaginative terrain over which Proboscis sought to roam not least because of the multi-partner/multi-agency nature of the Topologies proposal. Giles himself was making a fascinating bridge between research in academia with strong commercial connections (working as he was part-time developing a publishing imprint in Computer Related Design at the Royal College of Art at time when there was an ongoing research partnership with Paul Allen’s Interval Research) as well as growing Proboscis as an independent arts agency. In terms of how and where and why they proceed in certain directions extending their range of enquiry, engagement and investigation, their presence in various contexts seeming partly intentional, partly collaborative and always based on an underlying agenda that has critical intervention at its core.
It is at perhaps at edges of collision and collusion between public and private spheres, policies and desire, that what I wish to name the Proboscis effect has been most active.
In probing Proboscis over the past twelve months looking closely at their core ethos and expression in various permeations I have sought to do more than simply referencing the collaborations and partnerships with which they have been involved as this narrative is already substantially documented on their very useful website.
What I have sought to do is to try to decipher the underlying systems and motivations that drive the process of development behind the course of Proboscis’s work. In setting out to do this I thought I should also confront and re-evaluate my own set of perceptions and assumptions about their work in order to gain some new understanding from the process of dialogue and interaction that this project has deserved. I have therefore been developing a set of informal ‘dialogues or infusions’ with Giles and with Alice to absorb their current preoccupations and conscious that they work (as I tend to do where possible) in collaborative and reflexive ways. So it has become a critical aspect of doing the text to destabilise my own existing conception of what Proboscis is and, in so doing, I have hopefully begun to understand what they might do next.
It has of course been interesting writing this against a backdrop of Arts Council England’s major review of their regularly funded portfolio. In 2004-05 along with then colleague Tony White we had made a strong and in the end successful pitch for regular funding for the Proboscis team as part of a larger series of arguments relating to the shifting nature of cultural practice, the growth and emergence of interdiscipinarity as an innovation layer and the fact that there were arts development and production agencies (in this case, the Arts Catalyst, onedotzero, Forma Ltd) and some artist-research organisations (like Mongrel… and Proboscis) which were as significant to the emerging arts infrastructure as orchestras and ballet companies were to the established performing arts canon or galleries to local authorities and the defined visual arts. I had felt that it was the right time to make this case to help these often small-scale organisations to get funding for their core costs so that they could avoid having to make countless small project applications which drew on time and energy and also we argued successfully for the benefits of providing a core allocation that would enable these essentially innovation focussed organisations to prepare the ground for their next phase of development through periods of research and development, travel and experimentation that would inevitably result in valuable new work over the course of the following few years. Making this argument in terms of policy criteria of excellence and innovation and in the context of building multiple partnerships with arts investment (as often these agencies were being highly entrepreneurial leveraging many new kinds of partnerships with other sectors nationally and internationally, batting well above their weight) was effective and allowed for growth and adaptation over time.
It was then important we felt to consolidate an emerging sector that was in many ways ahead of the curve in terms of arts policy. One can argue for strategic (and perhaps then) symbolic value by citing the significance of arts organisation x as the key agency for xxx (e.g. disability arts or public art) but at the same time when it comes to interdisciplinary research-based practice it can limit an organisation greatly when it becomes too specifically defined by a primary funder as there to deliver something in particular – ie to be the instrumental infrastructural agency to do something that mirrors a policy… this particularly applies for organisations like Proboscis which exist on opening up challenging and redefining the spaces between categories, fields and form and indeed establishing and activating critical and significant tensions or gaps between arts funded agency and the arts funding agency itself. These significant gaps are often where the best interdisciplinary practice lies – not representing anything but heralding stuff to come, shifts that will eventually mainstream over time.
On the Act of Interpretation and Analysis
My overall sense since being invited in early 2010 to write an essay about their work particularly from the viewpoint of the range and complexity of partnerships they have made and held during the past decade and a half of their existence as an arts organisation, has felt like I have been staring at tracks in the snow, looking at something which is already formed and fully crystallised and not that much needing of further explanation. And in addition to this, in seeking to assemble some kind of overview or extract a narrative that condenses and crystallises anything definitive from their ongoing processes of enquiry I have held a burden of doubt about the ‘realness’ of what I have set out to do – a belief perhaps that ultimately the work that has lain within the Proboscis shadow speaks for itself, that the documentation of their processes has been carried out in an exemplary way that can benefit little from tacked on interpretation, exegesis or explanation.
At the same time, and with a sense of an organisation engaged in an ongoing process of ‘adaptive becoming’, I felt it could be useful to move towards a perspective on Proboscis which allows us to see their work as a whole, holistically I suppose – as opposed to a series of distinct projects, which is how often their work is discussed or perceived. I was hoping to define a pathway or journey through their layers – perhaps move further along the path in the snow. In a text they produced for the Paralelo, Unfolding Narratives in Art, Technology and Environment publication in 2009, they cite Katarina Soukip, writing in the Canadian Journal of Communication:
‘the new Inuktitut term for internet, Ikiaqqivij or ‘travelling through layers’ refers to the concept of the shamen travelling across time and space to find answers’.
For the past decade and a half they have had a central place along with other organisations that may be broadly described as working within the media art or trans-disciplinary circuit in the UK and Europe with a primary role in respect of ‘the ecology of learning’ to use Graham Harwood’s term. In another essay which I wrote in 2010 for LCACE I spoke of their unique and pivotal position in terms of art/technology/academic/commercial networks – one of the reasons they were invited by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council to become an Independent Research Organisation in 2004 which has been written about in detail – see Sarah Thelwall’s Cultivating Research – where she accounts for how “Proboscis has built its artistic practice around a research approach and in so doing has collaborated with a number of HEIs over the years including the Royal College of Art, London School of Economics, Birkbeck College, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Child Health“. Thelwall’s text summarises the range and nature of the Proboscis partnerships inside and outside Higher Education and the economic and other factors influencing their success in gaining Independent Research Organisation status from the EPSRC. She also reflects on the processes of layering I have mentioned above:
‘Proboscis have always developed and maintained a very wide and diverse collection of organisations and individuals they collaborate with. They purposefully bring together organisations as diverse as the Ministry of Justice, Science Museum & Ordnance Survey. This network is built around the delivery of projects but is by no means limited to the parameters and timescales of the projects themselves. It is common to see connections made in one project resurface some years later as what might appear to be a tangential connection to a new piece of work’.
This positioning within an ecosystem of connected and interdependent elements which may combine and recombine over time seems an integral aspect of ‘the Proboscis effect’. This is very much a distinguishing element of their work – a specific way of working, in porous and co-operative ways, engaging with locality and often with habitat.
The advent of Arts Council England funding changes now announced, which have swept through the ecosystem of digital media organisations in this country with desperate disregard for preserving and sustaining knowledge within a still developing sector – reminds us to suggest the importance of finding ways to recycle and re-embed these elements into a broader cultural ecology. In this sense Vilem Flusser’s words about waste come very appropriately to mind:
‘Until quite recently, one was of the opinion that the history of humankind is the process whereby the hand gradually transforms nature into culture. This opinion, this ‘belief in progress’ now has to be abandoned. …the human being is not surrounded by two worlds then, but by three: of nature, of culture and of waste. This waste is becoming ever more interesting…’
Somehow this seems appropriate in many ways to Proboscis preoccupations. They have separated themselves from dependency on ACE life rafts for floating media practices and now have set themselves new agendas, new partnerships and new horizons engaging even more closely with critical social challenges from global technological waste to employment of young people from disadvantaged contexts in London.
The Partnership Domain
As noted above many of the projects which Proboscis have generated and fostered have been formative in terms of exploring and building transformative connections between variable and separate fields, particularly between artistic research, academic research, commercial R&D and the public domain. The projects which they have worked on and generated over the seventeen years of the organisation’s existence have had an exciting range reflecting broader shifts within cultural practice. In addition to conceiving and shaping various projects Proboscis as an arts organisation has defined itself during this time as a vital critical space for understanding the emergent nature of collaborative practices, from research through to the public domain and as an agency through which documentation and discourses around these processes has been facilitated and enabled. What it has also most critically done is to provide a space for documentation and critical reflection on these processes – their significance has partly been to find a way to make the temporal or temporary processes of collaboration stable in terms of existing in accessible documentation over time. As their website now rumbles with tag-clouds and twitter-feeds it continues to grow in an organic fashion, as a responsive and collaborative space enabling expression of differences within an open and common domain.
Why does this matter?
In considering patterns of collaborative arts practices in the past fifteen years, often emergent work has been primarily time-based with documentation of the practices secondary to the event of the work itself. Simultaneously when we speak of interdisciplinarity what is commonly implied is the construction of spaces for dialogue and exchange, for things to be ‘in formation’, contingent, open and process-based.
In viewing the work of Proboscis through the lens of interdisciplinarity and collaboration across different arts and other disciplines over many years and recognising the high level of intention with respect to formation of high profile partnerships which have in a sense redefined ‘the public domain’, one recognises a consistent line of enquiry: the probing of interstices, the construction of new interfaces, the drawing of connecting lines, tracing points of relation through dialogue and through process. The process is never mechanical but somehow organic and collaborative – as traces are made, they may also be erased. Or they may be retained held in the act of publishing, drawing or commissioning critical texts. These traces gain longevity and new emphasis also by means of citation (for example the high degree to which Proboscis’s work has formed part of PhD theses and other types of reports) a fact which may carry little weight in relation to arts funding assessments but may in other important ways (particularly if viewed longitudinally) reveal value, especially intellectual or symbolic value as noted above.
In referencing a latency I am also signalling how in the nature of research based arts practice only by looking at developments over time might one truly realise the value. At times something may be in germination stages lying low in order to succeed but hard if not impossible to measure. These stages are in my mind at least the most important stages and ones most deserving of subsidy.
As noted above and looking now in hindsight at how the life cycle of the organisation we know as Proboscis has evolved we see many layers embedded over time. The projects have moved through moving image, film, locative and other mobile media, software, performance, carnival, workshops in making, storytelling and narrative, diy and open access publishing, photography and psychogeography, art and science, art and health, artists books and libraries, archives and community memory, folk-tales and archaeologies of place, open public data, art-industry, art-ecology and design/co-design and many other things. Within all the projects has been a set of disparate connections – sometimes with other artists, sometimes with scientists,sometimes with companies, sometimes with academia – and often with groups working in similar fields, as part of a set of network connections – producing an identity which is both fixed and process-led.
Somehow in these spaces between specificity and hybridity and tracing and erasing the Proboscis effect adheres.
It is vital to also consider the development of the Proboscis effect or practice within the context of recent intensive shifts with respect to how artists and arts organisations work within the spectrum of a broader creativity often, though not exclusively, technologically related. The most compelling work in this terrain has brought about a fusion of different disciplinary approaches and a combination of themes, fields and metiers into common and uncommon forms. This period of development has brought about also a shift within the nature of culture itself not just towards hybridity but towards open and collaborative works that engage directly with audiences or users transforming their position from user to co-producer, collaborator and joint agent within a process or design.
Proboscis’s work in the early 21st Century radically anticipated this layer which is now fully mainstream – of encouraging social innovation based on participatory processes.
In terms of how they approach collaborations and partnerships it is perhaps interesting to also consider the internal relationships which inevitably drive and define this kind of organisation. When one considers the identity of Proboscis, we recognise a pattern similar to the other organisations of similar scale and size. Often these organisations are indelibly connected to the personalities of their original founders. At the same time, when it comes to small-scale organisations the intensity of the human relations (the personality and behaviours within the group) often transfers to become the image of the organisation as a whole. Organisations form around and mirror the values and ideas of the people who form them. When people change the organisations inevitably change. But organisations evolve even when they have the same people involved who helped to develop the initial projects. In the case of Proboscis, its work has shifted and developed radically showing the various inputs and influences of the various people who have become involved over the years at project, administrative and consultancy level – yet it has also retained and maintained a consistency that is highly recognisable though perhaps difficult to define. Over many years they have brought in various skilled people to work on diverse projects which has provided an abundant network within which the organisation is situated and which they have in turn helped to generate and facilitate at various points and in various places. The workplace trainees who have been present in the office over the past year have been carrying and bringing a different, more youthful energy into the studio and as their voices grow louder as they are encouraged to express their views online and this has in turn shifted the pattern of perception of how and what Proboscis does. At the very heart though is the deeply creative core relationship of the two Co-Directors whose differing and complementary sensibilities suffuse all aspects of their work.
Garnering the Spaces Between
When it comes to unique organisations that are built on activating and ‘the space between differences’, in exploring commonalities and uncommonalities, in the energies that combine and force apart processes and practices – in other words, interdisciplinarity – it may well be said that change is the only constant and that inherent within the suggested Proboscis effect is the opening up of new relations from investigation of these tensions. I am suggesting this as it seems to me that implicit within any discussion about collaborations and partnerships is a belief system or set of values that informs and entwines with the nature of these connections and that what has partly distinguishes how Proboscis has been working in these interdisciplinary fields has been a set of principles or operating framework which has insisted on autonomy and independence of status within a broader assemblage or set of networks.
‘… But also, the value of dissent needs to be high enough so that dissent is not dismissed. How do you facilitate dissent so that it’s a strong value? Part of the concern in science collaborations is that there is a huge push towards consensus. So the dissent issue becomes very important’.
- Roger Malina
Achieving Effective Process within Asymmetrical Relations
The strength of the process was demonstrated most visibly in the pioneering Urban Tapestries project which Proboscis initiated and ran between 2002 and 2004 and which probably for the first time ever demonstrated the capacity of a small not for profit organisation to draw together a set of large institutional and commercial partners leveraging plural funding routes and most spectacularly to define the terms of engagement. This project not only prefigured the convergence of ubiquitous mobile computing and social media but also resulted in a series of community based activities between 2004 and 2007 – called Social Tapestries – which took R&D aspects from corporate and academic labs fully into the public domain and in turn revealed the significance of public participation in terms of any effective R&D with respect to social media – a kind of liberation strategy which displays eloquently the value sense underlying the Proboscis operation. Here is an extract about the project:
‘Urban Tapestries investigated how, by combining mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems, people could ‘author’ the environment around them; a kind of Mass Observation for the 21st Century. Like the founders of Mass Observation in the 1930s, we were interested creating opportunities for an “anthropology of ourselves” – adopting and adapting new and emerging technologies for creating and sharing everyday knowledge and experience; building up organic, collective memories that trace and embellish different kinds of relationships across places, time and communities.The Urban Tapestries software platform enabled people to build relationships between places and to associate stories, information, pictures, sounds and videos with them. It provided the basis for a series of engagements with actual communities (in social housing, schools and with users of public spaces) to play with the emerging possibilities of public authoring in real world settings’.
On the Daniel Langlois Foundation website (who provided funding towards the project) the language outlining what happened is different again:
‘What would freedom of expression be without the means to express it ? As fundamental as this concept is, it appears empty and abstract if you don’t complement it with the freedom to choose the means of expression. Today’s wireless communication networks offer novel ways to express ourselves. For the time being, these networks escape government or corporate control, which is why they are being used by many artists and activists to give this concept more concrete meaning’.
No doubt there were different spins to the narrative again on the websites of the different project partners – as clear an illustration as one might wish for of the pluralistic capacity of Proboscis during this 2002-2007 period acting as a broker, connector, and transdisciplinary catalyst. It is interesting that on the current Proboscis website, the ‘history’ section ends at September 2007 and before this that year Alice and Giles had visited Australia, Canada and Japan as well as taking part in numerous UK based events, conferences and discussions – being greatly in demand to un-layer and share tales of the Urban Tapestries and Social Tapestries adventures and outcomes. This work was intensive and significant with respect also to the broader history of collaborative media practices in the early years of this century.
The history of the period between September 2007 and now is also now still waiting to be written – and the turn which is now happening in relation to the direction of their work more explicitly revealed
Between Tactical Extremes
Taking further forward some of the ideological strands initially outlined in the goals for Topologies as well as running through the Urban Tapestries above, Giles writes currently on the Proboscis website about their forward programme for 2011 which will focus around the over-arching theme of Public Goods,
‘In the teeth of a radical onslaught against the tangible public assets we are familiar with (libraries, forests, education etc), Public Goods seeks to celebrate and champion a re-valuation of those public assets which don’t readily fit within the budget lines of an accountant’s spreadsheet’.
Showing this long-term commitment to core ideals, when I first met him in 1998, when commencing their Topologies project, Giles had written:
‘Public libraries are seen by Proboscis to be one of the UK’s most important cultural jewels, long-underfunded and lacking in support from central government. As sites for learning and culture they are unparalleled, offering a unique user-centred experience that is different from the viewer experience of a museum or a gallery’.
It is also ironic now writing this just after one of the biggest public demonstrations that London has known in the context of planned government cuts to the public sector and recalling that whilst the aim Proboscis had thirteen years ago was to add to the experience of visiting libraries by adding artists books into their holdings, the demise of the library system itself is now the battle along with devaluation and depreciation of many aspects of the public domain. Here one has a sense again of the uncannily fore-shadowing nature of many of Proboscis’s themes. Their antennae as sensitive collaborative creatures twitching often too soon?
In exploring the way in which Proboscis set out to work in collaborative ways over many years one notes a serious attuning to context, making events and initiatives which often involve deep localised engagement with those with whom they have chosen to partner whether in public or private sector contexts. Often these partnerships are sustained over many years as for example with DodoLab in Canada with whom they have a long-term relationship that manifests in different ways in different places addressing social, urban and environmental challenges through artworks, performances, interventions, events, educational projects and publishing using social media, the Proboscis bookleteer and StoryCube initiatives and others ways of involving and communicating with people.
Other relationships have been related to specific projects; almost all take place over at least two or three years following a series of research questions or over-arching line of enquiry which requires focussed time and many different manifestations. The techniques which Proboscis bring to the table in terms of collaborations have been well-honed in various scenarios – as are well outlined and documented on their capacious website. Connecting these techniques for group interaction and group authorship with technological and industrial change and a corresponding shift in the cultural and social imaginary has been a prevalent element and thread which has emerged throughout a series of interrelated activities.
Re-drawing the Map
I developed a deeper understanding at first hand of the Proboscis effect when 2009 Alice Angus, Giles Lane and Orlagh Woods from the company were among a group of UK based arts technology and design researchers and practitioners who came to an event held in Sao Paulo called Paralelo with which I was closely involved. The event brought together individuals and groups working in three countries – the Netherlands as well as UK and Brazil – on topics and themes relating to Art, Technology and the Environment. Proboscis brought a beautifully honed process of group Social Mapping to the opening session of the event. This created a way of introducing individuals and everyone to everyone else with the plus factor that it gave form to the latent network connections that lay underneath, beside and across the topology composed on paper laid out on the ground. It was in many ways a characteristic Proboscis intervention inflecting the overall event with a collaborative and open-ended fluidity of approach with participants then returning to the map at the close of the event and in a ritual of consolidated iterative expression redrawing earlier lines, shifting to new points of intensity. This effect relies on an appreciation of ritual, of the act of drawing with the hand on paper, of making marks and leaving something that over time becomes a document of something that has now passed…
‘The development of new forms of expression is not something that is bound to happen, but is a matter of the choice and preference of artists. What is possible is the programmed creation of works. The artist is then creating a process, not individual works. In the pure arts this may seem anathema, but art thrives on contradictions, and it can be yet another way of asking what is art?…’
From first page of EVENT ONE, first edition of PAGE journal of Computer Art Society, 1969.
In their contribution to the book Paralelo: Unfolding Narratives in Art, Technology and Environment which emerged after the workshop in 2009, the Proboscis team also brought a singular simplicity (that held much deeper meaning than what was visible on the surface) to the project. Their text, Travelling through Layers, available also as a Diffusion eBook – holds in a small space a series of interleaving observations, images, quotes and commentary – all of which combine to build a narrative that stands alone or as part of the larger whole in this case the wider texts that make up the publication, a small microcosm of the broader Proboscis effect.
In Conclusion – The Latency of Glass?
As we enter into 2011 and shifts in political and arts funding scenarios, it seems to me that Proboscis are once again on the turn. Adapting to constraints that have emerged from socio-environmental contexts, they are taking a slower course. expressed in the lavishly vulnerable depiction of the disappearing markets in Lancaster which Alice has recently produced and the oft expressed commitment to providing tools and resources at low cost for others to access whilst wishing to do this by way of exchange and experiment – allowing social concerns to dominate technologies and allowing the reinstatement of hand and handi-craft into the Proboscis process.
It seems to me that with the usual fore-shadowing the organisation is now pointing towards a need for deep contemplation and reflection on what is currently in danger of being lost and following the ecological theme, seeking to ensure that we devise ways to recycle material back into the system. In some extent they are going out further to those margins and extremes, wanting to fuse together some new points of tension or heightened concerns. No doubt this will slowly and surely emerge.
And most importantly how does one articulate and measure value within these processes? What kinds of measurement can apply when one is talking about ‘effect’? What distinguishes their work from others who have moved into these spaces between the arts and other sectors? What has made them so effective in these spaces? And having moved in, developed systems of exchange and parallel processes with many other agencies, what has Proboscis gained and lost – what (apart from documentation on their website) might remain? Why do they move on? What do we learn from the textures and edges that their processes effect?
Their capacity to retain an integrity and critical edge whilst being involved in processes of exchange with many different types of partner organisation has been admirable; if as outlined in the 2010 Prix Ars Electronica Hybrid Arts text we might see hybrid arts practices as being fundamentally about an ontological instability or insecurity then in many ways the work of Proboscis throughout sixteen-seventeen years may be situated in this terrain.
Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s so far the best projects (and those which become most memorable) at least in relation to the broad field of collaborative and interdisciplinary arts practice seem to me to be those which tend to fuse together layers of different processes, systems and materials to form a new, highly charged synthesis that carries within it the tensions implicit in making something disparate whole. If broken or contracted, new edges will then emerge that redefine the boundaries of the whole.
Over time what is engendered and revealed are certain qualities manifest at both surface and depth – I describe these forms as having something like the latency of glass.
The Proboscis narrative has many of the properties of glass (fused to a point of stillness, yet with inner motion and capable of breaking to form new edges). If I have managed to identify at least one angle on their work using the perspective of the dark lens it is related to something Giles said in conversation in February 2011 about his interest in “exploring extremes and the points of tension between”. The photographic negative awaiting advent of light in the darkroom is another way of seeing this. Perhaps the phantasm of ‘true collaboration’ lurks in the latency of glass.
Bronac Ferran, April 2011
A Critical Text about Proboscis by Fred Garnett
This is a critical text written to comment on the work of Proboscis in Public Sector Innovation with new technology from a cultural perspective. I was invited by Giles Lane to do this in late 2010 as I have followed the work of Proboscis since 2002 when I first went to a public event of theirs and have since appreciated the qualities of what they have done.
What I have decided to do in my Critical Text, Enabling Consequences, is to look at why Proboscis’s innovations, which from my perspective are capable of widespread adoption, have been insufficiently recognised and acted upon. I think this comes from both how they are conceptualised, through a process related to obliquity and how they might be adopted as a process of generative innovation; that is as a platform innovation that begets further innovations.
Brief History of Proboscis
Proboscis are probably best known for their work, Urban Tapestries, a breakthrough project (undertaken with collaborating partners such as Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories, Orange, France Telecom R&D UK Ltd, Ordnance Survey and the London School of Economics), designed to enable the interactive city to emerge based on the pull of the participative strategies of active citizenship rather than push strategies of advertising.
They appear to set themselves the question “how can you double your intellectual quality every 18 months”. In part this is a response to Moore’s Law that states that the power of computer processing doubles every 18 months, but turned into a cultural question. In practical terms Proboscis ask themselves “how can you innovate at all times in terms of process, documentation and ideas”. They see what they do as pre-competitive research, what Steven Johnson has recently entitled the ‘adjacent platform’ of innovation. That is a process that occurs before any practical innovation actually happens.
Public Sector Innovation
I am particularly interested in Proboscis because I was also previously involved in an innovation project in the Public Sector, Cybrarian, which also failed to be recognised at the time. Cybrarian was a prototype ‘Facebook for Civil Society’, for which we created the high-concept description of it being an ‘Amazon for e-gov’ as the term social network didn’t exist then (2002). Some of us subsequently formed the ‘public technology’ group lastfridaymob, which spent some time trying to analyse why. We concluded that government didn’t have the relevant interpretive criteria to understand that new technology, created to meet public needs, namely creative, interactive and participative, and that these were three factors that government found hard to recognize. I always saw these three qualities in Proboscis’ work.
There is a deeper problem that new technologies are increasingly interactive and smart, demonstrating participative affordances, and the political context into which they are pitched are representative and hierarchical. So to unpick this problem of public sector innovation a little more lets look at how innovation occurs in greater depth.
A typical way of modelling the Innovation process is in what might be called the 4i model; Ideas, Invention, Innovation, Impact. This typically argues that someone, possibly a researcher, has a bright idea which they tinker away at until an invention can be developed. An invention is the first instantiation of a new innovation, it can be a mock-up, a model, a design, a drawing, but it has been produced as a one-off, or prototype, often to demonstrate the potential, or some expected quality. The difference between an invention and an innovation is money. Someone decides that the invention, either because they see the prototype or drawing or a description, is so compelling that it will be worth spending a lot of money setting up a production and distribution system so a version of the invention can be sold as a product on a large scale. This innovation process is also often divided into product push, where the new technology itself is compelling, or market-pull, where demand has been detected. In organisational terms this often reflects a distinction between the research and marketing functions in companies who are concerned with innovation, or a culture, like the USA, which sees social and cultural value in the process of innovation. Successful innovations need to bridge the gap between the qualities of supply-side technology-push, and the interest of demand side market-pull.
When Apple decided to launch the iPod – in technical terms a fairly simple device made on automated production lines in China – they also needed new software to control the iPod – iTunes – and new distribution arrangements with the entire music industry, for the music, songs and albums needed to populate their invention with resources. The music industry were the very people who felt that Napster, an early peer-to-peer forerunner of iTunes, threatened their entire industry, but Apple found powerful arguments for getting them on board, part of which was that Apple weren’t the first to market, so could respond to their needs. So the issue of turning a simple working invention like the iPod itself, into an innovation, is massively complex however compelling the product on display. All products have hinterlands, which can seriously affect the way an invention becomes an innovation and also how it becomes a universally recognised and used product or process, as digital music now is today. However we have been discussing product innovations being brought to market, whereas Public Sector Innovation is more concerned with processes that enable infrastructural development, and this requires a more pervasive model of innovation.
Steven Johnson’s Reef innovation v Market Innovation
Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From (2010) looks at ways in which innovation becomes adopted and contrasts the more typical 4i model discussed above, or market innovation, with what he calls reef innovation, what we might call infrastructural development. Steven Johnson is an American and writes about the US context, which is much more focused on invention overall than the UK and with a history of infrastructural developments coming through private sector activities; for example American utilities are generally private sector; gas, electricity, telephones etc. Whereas in the UK there has been a more mixed tradition of regulated private sector innovation, in the 19th Century, and state-controlled utilities, in the 20th Century. Following the privatisation policies of the 1980s and 1990s there has developed more of a regulated private-sector approach in the UK, returning somewhat to our 19th Century traditions.
Reef innovation is Johnson’s way of describing how a private sector model of development produces new infrastructure for society as a whole. This is a metaphor derived from how coral reefs accrete growth and so stay above sea level, as the volcanic rocks on which they are situated shift, in order to allow coral reef island life to flourish. He is discussing how the enabling utilities, such as communications technologies that lay beneath the functioning of everyday social life, evolve and grow. Johnson argues that society as a whole grows more through reef innovation; the slow accumulation of numerous utilities that form the infrastructure through which society functions, than through market innovation. So we need a more sophisticated view of infrastructural innovation, such as the reef model, to discuss public sector innovation.
However Johnson is writing of the American context where the accidental reef-like growth of market-tested processes of infrastructure accumulation is a useful metaphor, but it is not perhaps fully applicable in all socio-economic contexts. However with the concept of reef innovation Johnson is helpfully looking at systemic Innovation, rather than product innovation as the 4is model tends to do, and systemic innovation is particularly significant in times of systemic change, which we see now as we attempt to move to a Knowledge Economy, or the Information Society as the European Union calls it through its IST programmes for i2015 and i2020. However Systemic Innovation requires a still broader view of the transformational characteristics of systemic change.
Structural Innovation v Disruptive Innovation
Innovation that leads to transformational change is something that the economist Joseph Schumpeter (the so called “Prophet of Innovation”) writes about as he discusses the difference between Structural Innovation and Disruptive Innovation. Structural innovation is where the innovation extends existing uses of a product and should increase the numbers of users, such as lighter mobile phone handsets, whereas a disruptive innovation such as the mobile phone system itself, is one where the innovation changes how things are done, in such a way that challenges existing system processes. So transformational change, arguably a key feature of the coming Knowledge Economy in both the UK policy context and EU-IST programmes, actually requires the promotion of this disruptive innovation. At the governmental level this creates a problematic tension as governments are more interested in providing reliable infrastructure that changes little, but is increasingly used by citizens, rather than enabling systemic change through deploying new technology innovations.
Consequently government prefers to adopt disruptive technology innovations as infrastructure, such as websites, once they have attained widespread use and so can be seen as large-scale structural innovations. Thus a conundrum emerges in that technological innovation which enables often necessary social change comes in a disruptive form that is difficult for governments to deal with. However whilst governments are often interested in systemic change, say to improve social infrastructure during an age of global change and de-regulation, they are more comfortable with structural innovations which might extend their electoral support through greater use, rather than disruptive innovations which can alienate it.
Distinctive Features of the Proboscis Model of Innovation
However I think Proboscis are doing particularly interesting things in terms of innovation which don’t quite fit into any of these innovation models; reef, structural, disruptive. Firstly they are operating outside the boundaries of the 4is model, both in terms of generating ideas at the conceptual end of the process, and also in terms of offering processes of innovation at the take up end. Secondly they are developing innovations that are neither disruptive, nor structural, not least because Schumpeter’s models also emerge from an analysis of American economics. Proboscis are in the business of producing socially enabling participative innovations, which might be better described as enabling innovations, drawing their value from the degree to which they extend the affordances of the public realm.
I now want to look at three distinctive features, two intrinsic and one consequential, that can be identified in the Proboscis approach in order to examine what socially enabling participative innovations might mean in practice;
- a) Applied Heutagogy; namely thinking about projects in fresh ways before they begin, based on a guiding set of values, in terms of ‘moving criteria across contexts’ which might be described as providing an ‘ideas platform’ for thinking about innovation.
- b) Generative Innovations; creating innovative platforms that can then be used generatively to develop further uses by others in the public realm.
- c) Extending the Public Realm through Participation; the consequence of this approach to innovation, which emerges from using their models of thinking and applying their approach to public sector innovation.
I asked Giles if he thought his work fitted into the Blue-Sky model of thinking, which might be characterised as a model of brainstorming about what you do by removing under-pinning values that sustain the original work. It is thinking outside the box of existing limitations that is more likely to destroy the box than think of new uses for it. I suggested that we call Proboscis work ‘Pink-Sky Thinking’, meaning it was fresh but rooted in the original values that they started with. He declined to accept this and suggested that their thinking tended to be oblique. I think this is because they see their work as being of a piece and that Proboscis have extended their original vision by learning from their projects and the ways in which they have been implemented, Social Tapestries emerging out of Urban Tapestries for example.
Giles suggested that their approach was deeply rooted in their values of ‘moving criteria across contexts,’ which is the classic art school strategy of heutagogy. But Proboscis aren’t simply artistic provocateurs, they think deeper than that as their thinking is informed by a profound understanding of the public realm in which their innovations will be situated, so they are also thinking of consequences as well as creative solutions. Steven Johnson also talks of a process of moving criteria across contexts that he calls exaptation, but this is more limited than the applied heutagogy Proboscis use as it is generally the application of one new set of criteria to one new field of practice in search of innovation. Proboscis are more flexible than this, but I think they are engaged in a broader process of multiple exaptations in their thinking. This process of thinking through a multiplicity of strategies derived from a range of contexts I would characterise as an ‘ideas platform.’ This offers a richer conceptual mulch than the ‘adjacent platform’ model described by Johnson, as it is also takes account of the consequential use states and the state changes (Giles’s term) that might be enabled. It could also be described as thinking about where good ideas go to…
Kondratieff talks of long wave economic change coming from what he terms ‘meta technologies’, technologies that are embedded in other technologies like the steam engine and the microprocessor. However long-term social change comes from behavioural adaptations to the affordances of these new technologies, such as the car or the mobile phone. But social change also needs infrastructure that supports the use of the new technologies; for example, time was standardised across Britain in 1840 to meet the needs of the railways. In many ways since 1770 this infrastructure has been in the form of networks of new technologies; canals, railways, telegraph, telephone, roads, electricity, television, the Internet. However these networks have tended to be dedicated to a single mode of use until the Internet came along. Like electricity this enables it to be a multi-use network, but the Internet is also capable of supporting and distributing multiple formats. Thus across this network an almost unpredictable range of uses can be developed; the Internet enables a range of consequential uses, limited only by the design flexibility of the digital formats themselves. The World Wide Web itself is one such multi-modal consequence of the flexibility of the Internet, but it is possible to design with it’s almost endlessly consequential nature in mind and Proboscis seem cognisant of this.
A Generative Innovation might be described as an innovation that enables further innovations, as described above, not as an embedded meta technology but as a platform of possibilities. An interesting development in Proboscis work was the shift from Urban Tapestries to Social Tapestries, from a platform to a user environment and what characterises their user environments is their participative quality.
Arguably the Knowledge Economy and the Information Society are characterised by the participative qualities of the technologies used to build them, this has been particularly clear since the ‘architecture of participation’ that is Web 2.0 became widely available as a possible infrastructure platform. Proboscis’s work has anticipated this participatory quality due to the heutagogic nature of their thinking about creating generative processes. This thinking can be described as an ideas platform, which precedes the adjacent platform model of innovation as described by Johnson. Proboscis were used to playing with form, moving criteria across contexts as they describe it, at a time when new technologies capable of creating social transformation were emerging so, for them, the flexibility of digital technologies, their arguably ‘disruptive’ qualities, were already accounted for at the thinking stage.
Extending the Public Realm through Participation
So the combination of applied heutagogy and generative innovations has the Enabling Consequence of creating the possibility of extending the public realm through participation in this age of digital networks and use affordances. This is because Proboscis are engaged in flexible thinking about future possibilities whilst being aware of how implementation might extend and change the character of the public realm. They design for the participative qualities of digital networks and so capture what makes them so attractive to people in society.
[CAVEAT: I don't want this to read like a testimonial, after all it is a critical text and not all of Proboscis's projects have been unqualified successes, but this has been an attempt to capture both what uniquely characterises their approach and to also try and understand how public sector innovation might be made to work effectively in the UK in an age of digital flexibility.]
Conclusions; Enabling Consequences
Proboscis’ research model
Proboscis have a concern with public sector innovation in a time of digital flexibility, but are capable of absorbing the transformative potential of the evolving digital realm into both their thinking, as social artists comfortable with the heutagogic playing with form, and as visionaries, capable of thinking of how new platforms might enable greater engagement in and with the public realm. They bring this together in an unusually broad and deep way of solving problems, what I call applied heutagogy, addressing multiple perspectives not just the artistic one of playing with form.
The participative affordances of the technology and the heutagogic quality of their thinking, what they call ‘moving criteria across contexts’, combine to offer the possibility of creating generative infrastructure; infrastructure that begets further infrastructure. They work with the grain of digital transformation both conceptually and in terms of its consequences.
Public sector Innovation
Most public sector innovation emerges from a hierarchical policy process that has originated in one part of government and has a clearly defined and departmentally owned problem it wants solving. Public sector innovation typically, for a range of historical, political and cultural reasons, wants structural innovation that extends the relevance and influence of the owner of the policy and so sees innovation concerning ‘state changes’ as disruptive and out of scope.
Ben Hammersley recently highlighted this conceptual problem at the governmental level, what he characterises as the clash between hierarchical and network thinking, in his British Council lecture in Derry on March 25 2010. The problem Hammersley highlights is hierarchical thinking about networked contexts. The public sector wants innovation to be structural in order to count as improving their policy delivery in alignment with the current construction of existing policy responsibilities; it thus ignores the ‘state change’ potential offered by new network possibilities. In terms of innovation the public sector is, at best, involved in post-hoc legitimation but not in the creation of participation platforms designed to work in the emerging network contexts.
Innovation in a Transformative context
So we have an impasse; the opportunity for the development of a digitally flexible public realm capable of supporting a range of interdisciplinary models of innovation working across open networks, and a public policy context which is incapable of recognising networked and other new technology affordances. We can describe this as a clash between possible participative and traditional representative views, both of working processes and of society (and so of policy development); or more simply a clash of values. Proboscis want to ‘establish a discourse around values’ so that we might uncover where value is created, and also what those values might be, as we try to find ways of working with the digitally flexible and transformative characteristics of the emerging of participatory culture.
Hammersley somewhat ghoulishly, suggests that we first need the older generation in power to die off if fresh thinking capable of coping with a networked society is to gain traction in government in 2011. What Proboscis show us, less dramatically, is that with some applied heutagogy, thinking practically about how we might learn from ‘moving criteria across contexts’ at the start of a problem-solving process concerning public-sector innovation, along with some consideration of how we might create a ‘platform’ that could generate further innovative ‘state changes’, constrained by considerations of the nature of the public realm, then we can indeed enable public sector thinking that is in tune with the evolving networked society we live in at the start of the 21st Century.
Fred Garnett, April 2011
The wall of visual interpretations have expanded! Soon I will invade another side of the wall with my sketches.
In my previous post, I mentioned a major part of my work is creating visual interpretations as research for Public Goods, Proboscis’ new programme of projects exploring the intangible things we value most about the people, places and communities we live in. So far I’ve been creating sketches using images found online combined with my own knowledge. We decided that it would help to gather inspiration from the ‘real’ world in both drawings and photographs, to be surrounded by people and absorb the atmosphere of everyday life.
Usually shying away behind the PC, I agreed to take on the challenge and chose the Science Museum as my first destination. Upon entry there were many objects on display, from steam engines to planes to the evolution of technology. All these objects were traces of what used to be; evidence that reflected on the lifestyle of those that once lived. The objects were categorised in a time-line, indicating the different notable era’s in society such as mass production and the industrial revolution, it demonstrated the changes and evolution stages of specific objects and introduced new theories and materials that were readily available of that time and also the trends that influenced them. As I made my way through the different displays, I was overwhelmed by the thought that all these inventions were the stepping stone to today’s technology. If it wasn’t for these people, our world of convenience wouldn’t have advanced so much.
The next exhibition was the exploration of outer space, whilst looking at the different satellite and shuttle parts on display it hit me that curiosity is a big part of our human nature. Creating theories and exploring methods to prove them and making new discoveries. But it is science that makes it all happen, by making the intangible into tangible with the use of devices and tools; such as light or the ability to fly.
Going upstairs, leaving the historical part of science behind me, I came to the “Who am I?” exhibition. It delved into our biological make up with displays about how our brain is wired and exploration of dreams. The next few displays were about aspects that make us unique individuals such as our exposure to cultures and the environment we grew up in and how such aspects affect us psychologically. I really enjoyed my visit here, and appreciated objects which were the greatest inventions of their time. Although behind glass and never to be used again, just imagining the stories that accompanied it makes each object that more valuable.
During my time at the Science Museum I focused on photographing of objects so for the next outing, I headed to Westfield Shopping Center to create first hand observations of people in a public space.
From being used to sketching still life or just from imagination it was challenging to draw people that wouldn’t stay still! The aim for such an exercise is to capture the moment, through speed sketching; with enough detail to illustrate the subject’s form. As an artist who loves details, I struggled at first to sketch simplified drawings of people but because there was a chance that the person would suddenly move, I was forced to note down their action quickly.
I managed to spend some time just watching how people behaved, the gestures they made when with others and the body language they displayed. But one thing I noticed whilst in the center was; there was no concept of time – with no visible clock anywhere it made the experience feel so timeless and surreal with very little natural lighting. People would often check their mobiles or they too would stop and observe others from the upper levels of the center, whilst waiting for their companion. I’ll be doing more observational sketches later on but at places where people might not move around as often as they would in a shopping center!!
This year we will begin a major new programme of projects exploring the intangible things we value most about the people, places and communities we live in : Public Goods. Through a series of projects over a 5 year period we’ll be making artworks, films, events, exhibitions and publications in places across the nation (and hopefully abroad too) working in collaboration with both other creative practitioners and local people.
In this first year we’re planning a series of smaller research projects to help us meet and engage with collaborators, identify places and communities, themes and activities. We’ll be using our City As Material format for collaborative urban exploration and zine-making as a method of investigating new places with local people, and also focused projects, like Alice’s As It Comes, in both urban and rural settings exploring other knowledges and experiences that are often overlooked or are being swept away by the fast pace of social change. We also plan to continue our research collaborations into new technologies for public authoring, play and sensing the world around us (such as Urban Tapestries, bookleteer and Sensory Threads).
Our aim is to build up an archive, or archives, of the intangible goods that people most value and want to share – transmitting hope and belief through artistic practice to others in the present and for the future. In the teeth of a radical onslaught against the tangible public assets we are familiar with (libraries, forests, education etc), Public Goods seeks to celebrate and champion a re-valuation of those public assets which don’t readily fit within the budget lines of an accountant’s spreadsheet.
We’d love to hear from communities, practitioners or organisations who’d like us to work with them around this theme – do get in touch.
At the beginning this year I started planning how we could begin to introduce bookleteer into education and learning contexts and programmes – not just in formal settings such as schools, colleges and universities, but also in other spaces and places where learning takes place : museums, community centres, libraries, archives and grassroots groups.
We began this journey with a Pitch Up & Publish workshop in February co-hosted by former teacher, writer and digital evangelist at TeachersTV, Kati Rynne which was aimed at teachers and creative people who work in education settings. Among the participants who took part was Ruth from Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination who have ended up creating around a dozen eBooks for workshops and projects they’ve been running with people of all age groups. Others have also used bookleteer in their own projects and for creating teaching and learning outcomes – workbooks, notebooks, documentation and course materials – and not just in English, but Hindi and Arabic so far too.
Our own City As Material event series has also outlined a simple model to bring a group of people together to explore an idea, place or theme and then collaboratively produce eBooks (you can follow the development of the series over at diffusion.org.uk). In these events we’ve shared lots of local knowledge and experience within the group of participants, and found creative ways to share and explore themes of common interest with other people. Its very much in the informal/non-formal learning space (one of the participants was Fred Garnett, a former policy advisor at Becta who’s written on and worked extensively in this area) and I think it suggests exciting ways in which hyper-local groups can come together to explore or pool knowledge and experience, capture and share it in a rapid and very easy way not only among themselves but with wider communities too.
More recently we’ve been joined by Education Assistant, Christina Wanambwa, on a 6-month placement whose role is to help extend and focus our efforts on working both in formal and informal learning. We’ve begun a collaboration with Soho Parish Primary School, where she’ll be spending 1 day a week from January til Easter – helping both teachers and students use bookleteer to create tangible outcomes from curriculum based projects. We’re also using this project to understand more about the specific needs of schools in using online platforms like bookleteer; potentially to build a separate schools version that suits the context of authoring and sharing by children and the need for oversight by staff around issues such as child protection.
Christina’s also begun a research and outreach project visiting other kinds of learning environments to see how bookleteer could be weaved into their existing education programmes to add value and fun. She’ll be publishing an eBook of ideas relating to each place she visits over the coming months, as well as posting about her research on the bookleteer blog. Her first post discusses a recent visit to the Museum of Childhood (download the eBook).
bookleteer is about helping people make and share beautiful publications of their own – whether they handmake the results or choose the PPOD professional printing service. We want to help people find new and dynamic ways to record and share the ideas, stories, knowledge and experiences they have – learning and exchanging things of value as they go. bookleteer has enormous potential to enable people to make and share things of their own, books and storycubes; things which they can share with people all around the world, without the problem of shipping physical objects. Hand-written eBooks can be scanned in and made available online in the same way as ‘born digital’ ones and can also be turned into professionally printed books too.
We’d love to hear from other people in education and learning contexts who see the potential of using bookleteer in their own work and play, want to try it out and share their ideas, experiences and templates with others. We’d like to see bookleteer evolve into more than just a tool – into a community of practitioners creating and sharing across many languages, geographies, interests and outcomes. In the new year we’ll be launching new functionality which will open it up even further. Watch this space.
Last week, I got a chance to help out the Graffito crew with their installation at the Vintage at Goodwood festival, in Chichester. This was the festivals first year, set up by Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway, along with other curators, to celebrate five decades of British music and culture. The Graffito installation was in the 80s Warehouse area, a mock abandoned industrial Warehouse; an ode to the 80s rave and acid house scene. A huge digital LED screen was linked to a handful of iPhones with the Graffito app installed, (the app was also available to download for free from the Apple apps store, the first taker being a very persistent and enthusiastic kid) which we handed out to various people to try out, their collaborative doodles instantly appearing on the screen.
The effect was amazing, and it took me a while to actually surrender the iPhones in my care to eager festival goers. When night beckoned, and the music from the amazing sound-system became more intense, the screen became trance inducing, and people got really involved. After capturing some of the more interesting screen shots, we compiled them in a blank eBook sketchbook, handily designed and provided by Giles, to chronicle the event. We also made StoryCubes with the Graffito logo and instructions on how to download the app, and left them around the arena. The Graffito crew are looking to do similar events in the future, so keep an eye out – hopefully I’ll be there hogging the iPhones once again.
Gallery: (click to enlarge)
Inspired by the underground 80s hip hop scene, Graffito pays homage to guerilla street art and turns it into a celebration of pop culture on a massive scale. Graffito hands over the VJs canvas to the hips, fingers, hands and creative minds of the audience.
Graffito is an experiment in massive crowd-made graffiti. Anyone in a festival crowd can join in to paint on a giant canvas with digital paint using their iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Crowds of people can paint at the same time, on the same canvas by using their screen like a spraycan.
Graffito is a collaborative effort between several UK partners who are experimenting with next gen digital live art. Graffito is supported by Horizon Digital Economy Research (Research Councils UK grant EP/G065802/1).
The first live test of the system as a collaborative drawing/ VJ tool will be in the Warehouse Tent at the Vintage at Goodwood Festival, August 13-15 2010.
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.
Neighbourhood radio is a project aimed at opening lines of communication amongst neighbours and form community connections by breaking down social distance and barriers.
New digital media and online culture is now widely accepted as the norm however it is still restricted by on age and price. Analogue radio use spans generations and affluence, making it the perfect medium to bridge these gaps. In this digital age, radio is fast becoming old media. Considering the changes that have happened to broadcasting over the recent years, such as digital and satellite communications, it’s important to look at the way we use older technologies and re-evaluate their purposes.
The every expanding digital presence has also heralded the way for new communication ideologies. Open source and hacktivist culture was born out of a global information gift economy, made possible through internet connection. This has given power to the people, creating a social need to make, repurpose and share technology.
This project seeks to repurpose current technologies to make them more socially relevant and to do so through an open source, easy to use model.
Radio is also a highly regulated system and to challenge this would deservingly called into question broadcast laws opening the way for new creative thinking and activity within the medium.
I undertook research into how Proboscis might create an online/off line ‘radio’ station as part of professional development commission. The commission was a way of me working with Proboscis in a professional manner to enable me to develop my individual artistic practice and freelance work as a recent graduate.
This project has helped me understand the depth of research required before undertaking artistic interaction design projects as a part of a functioning arts company. It has led me to develop my freelance work and helped me understand project management in the arts world. I have also been able to advance my understanding of technology, leading me to courses in programming to help me further my understanding of this subject area.
I hope to develop the project into a working prototype with the help of the Proboscis team and technology partners as I believe the project would be of great social benefit to community projects.
Download the Project Report PDF 3.3Mb
There are no fences here … when you go out of town there are no fences, but I wouldn’t call this a wilderness because peoples homes are here, people live here.
This week I’ve been packing up a set of drawings to send out to the Canadian arctic town of Inuvik for the first leg of a touring show during the the 25 year anniversary of Ivvavik National Park in Canada which was created by a historic Aboriginal land claim settlement The Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed in 1984. In it the Inuvialuit agreed to give up exclusive use of their ancestral lands in exchange for guaranteed rights from the Government of Canada. The rights came in three forms: land, wildlife management and money. (read more on the Inuvaliuit Regional Corporation). As a result Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit co-operatively manage Ivvavik National Park with the Inuvaluit Wisdom that the “The land will protect the people who support the protect the land“. Parks Canada has organised a touring exhibition of work from their Artist in The Park programme which I was invited to be part of by artist Joyce Majiski, in 2003 with whom Ive been working with since them on projects such as Topographies and Tales.
Middle of Nowhere?
Bordered on the north by the Beaufort Sea and Alaska on the West, Ivvavik sits at the north western tip of Canada. A highly biodiverse region of the Western Arctic, its Inuvaluktun name ‘Ivvavik’ means nursery or place of giving birth. It is a portion of the calving grounds and migration route of the Porcupine caribou herd and forms a part of the Beringia Refugium; an area untouched by the last glaciation where an ice-free bridge allowed humans and animals to migrate from Asia into North America over twenty thousand years ago.
In summer 2003 I met up with artists Joyce Majiski Ron Felix, Audrea Wulf and James Ruben, guide Mervyn Joe and elder Sarah Dillon and flew out of Inuvik, across the Mackenzie Delta towards Sheep Creek. From the air (and in the imaginations of the temperate zone) the arctic taiga and tundra, is a frozen desert. But landing at the junction of Sheep Creek and the Firth River we saw tussocks of wild flowers, embroidered cushions with succulent jewel like plants, luminescent mosses and ferns; miniature gardens of Babylon. Out on the land there were larger traces of life and stories of trappers, miners, hunters and travelers. The language of the north I grew up with paints an image of bleakness, but there the myths of desolation fell away.
“Have good time miles from nowhere!” someone had said before I set off. In the world’s ‘wildernesses’ like Ivvavik it is easy for a visitor to be lost in such a reverie of wonder at landscape that you miss the lives and culture that are part of it. There is a disjuncture between the notion of wilderness as barren, by definition disconnected from the social, and the view of land as homeland, a social place of culture, food and everyday life. To many outside the north the Arctic is still shrouded in an aura of romanticism portrayed, as it has been through the history of polar exploration, as a landscape of sublime desolation. To some, I expect, it’s not a place but an imaginary landscape far away from their everyday lives. I wonder what is the global consequence of this enduring vision of the land?
One day we see five caribou. Pregnant cows lead the herd from Ivvavik into the calving grounds in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); an area rich in oil reserves. So important are the grounds the Gwitchin people refer to them as the “sacred place where life begins”. If the ANWR is opened for drilling many people believe it will result in untold damage to the herd and the people whose lives and traditions depend on it.
Over the past few months we have been developing new wearables and improvements to the Rumbler for Sensory Threads, which we successfully tested working together last week. The new wearables are based on Arduino and use XBee for communication, and the Rumbler now has multiple map selection, replay and printing (on the Rumbler’s attached micro-printer) of specific expeditions.
In the coming months we are planning to conduct a series of experimental expeditions through London to test the platform and build up a repertoire of expeditions for the Rumbler to replay. We will also be exploring building more portable versions of the Rumbler to make it easier to present at conferences and festivals.
Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to spend a few days drawing Granville Arcade/Brixton Village, on the first leg of artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour to six towns across England, created by artist Dan Thompson.
I joined Dan, Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford and podcaster Richard Vobes, for lively discussion and to create new work on site for an all day event on the Saturday, you can hear Richard Vobes podcasts of about the project here.
Its been a while since I had the chance to stay in one place for a few days drawing, talking to stallholders and getting to scratch a little below the surface, seeing the flows of life. This year we’ve (Proboscis) been involved in several projects that have looked at the issue of common space and how its changing alongside the implications of huge shopping malls, department stores and the privatisation of public space. It was a real pleasure to be in a place where the character of it is created by the people using it to trade and to socialise. There was an almost constant sound of conversation, laughter and music and the smells of all the food being cooked or sold.
Exploring empty shops is about celebrating local distinctiveness and the project will also show local communities how to use empty shops for meanwhile projects. Each project will last less than a week from start to finish and Dan makes a very open space for artists to follow their interests. Each week will involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects.
The tour has been organised by the Empty Shops Network, with the first event happening just a week after the project was conceived at a meeting of organisations involved in bringing empty shops and spaces into meanwhile use.
The tour is supported by the Meanwhile Project, and the Brixton event is using a space provided by the Space Makers Agency. After Brixton, the Empty Shops Network project will visit five further towns, with dates in Shoreham by Sea, Coventry, Cumbria and Durham to be confirmed in coming weeks. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from the Brixton week here.
Jan, Dan and Steve.
Steve and Terry – the butcher – in front of the pictures Steve and Jan took during the week.
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.
NOW & UPCOMING
Our new web app for creating Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes was deployed at the end of September and is now in an ‘alpha’ testing phase. A number of people have been invited to help us test the fledgling service and put it through its paces in preparation for a wider public ‘beta’ test next year. Follow our progress on twitter and on the bookleteer blog, or alternatively take part in one of our ‘Pitch Up & Publish’ sessions where you’ll get a free bookleteer test account and help to learn how to make eBooks and StoryCubes.
http://bookleteer.com | http://bookleteer.com/blog | http://twitter.com/bookleteer
bookleter alpha club
Proboscis has launched a supporters’ club offering advance access during the ‘alpha’ phase (up to 5 user accounts, access to APIs, pitch up & publish workshops & a Proboscis artists’ bookwork). Funds raised will go towards development of the bookleteer public beta which we hope to launch in Spring 2010. Alpha Club members will be honoured on the site as founder sponsors, and membership will be exclusive to those who join during the alpha phase. We’re excited that our first two members are DodoLab and Architecture Centre Network.
http://bookleteer.com/blog/2009/10/alpha-club/ | http://bookleteer.com/blog/alpha-club/
arte.mov and Mobilefest, Brazil
Proboscis will be showing a new installation piece as part of the Mobilefest Festival, in Sao Paulo at MIC November 11-17.
Giles Lane will be presenting at the arte.mov festival symposium in Belo Horizonte on November 13th as well as devising a creative project about the city during his stay.
Giles will also be participating in arte.mov’s symposium in Salvador de Bahia on the 17-19th November.
With Our Ears To The Ground
Proboscis has been commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community. The project focuses on four very different types of community in order to get a broad range of opinions across the county: in Watford, Stevenage, rural North Hertfordshire and the commuter areas of Broxbourne. It focuses on finding out the reasons why people get on with each other and feel part of the community and is about developing a better understanding of our communities in order to help Hertfordshire County Council and its partners to plan their work supporting communities over the next few years.
http://withourearstotheground.wordpress.com | http://twitter.com/ears2theground
City As Material Course
Giles Lane is leading a course for students from Vassar College, New York State, USA who are on an international study program in London. It is a co-creative course for students to explore the city, investigate how other artists and creative people have used it as an artistic medium, and devise their own personal creative interventions.
lift @ home’s Hands on Barcelona’s Informational Membrane
Giles was an invited speaker at the Citilab workshop in Barcelona, Spain, October 24:
At the Water’s Edge: Grand River Sketches
Alice Angus’ large format work of drawings and video was installed in Render’s main exhibition space in Waterloo, Canada September 23rd to October 30th. It was accompanied by screenings of Alice’s film Topographies & Tales, made with Joyce Majiski.
Arteleku’s My Map Is Not Your Map
Giles was an invited speaker at the workshop in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain, September 23-25:
DodoLab PEI, Charlottetown, Canada
Proboscis took part in another DodoLab in August, this time in the province of Prince Edward Island, in Canada’a Atlantic Maritimes. There we helped create and distribute seedbombs at the local Farmer’s Market, design eBooks for questionnaires, research into the Experimental Farm Station and worked on some large-scale drawings.
New Diffusion Titles
The Postcard Places Project by Lisa Hirmer with Laura Knap http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1602>
In the Shadow of Senate House by Hatherley, McNeile, Downing & Leslie http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1575
The Rustification of Henry Thomas Brown by Andrew Thomas Hunter http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1562
DodoLab Wants to Know: What Are The Signs of a Creative City? http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1352
DodoLab Wants to Know: About Green Space by Lisa Hirmer http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1347
An A-Z of The Ting: Theatre of Mistakes by Marie-Anne Mancio http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1327
Ethnographic Notebooks, British Museum Melanesia Project http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1301
Dodolab Wants To Know http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1295
The Lunar House ‘Re-enactment’ by Tony White http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1292
Estado de presencia por Cristina Luna http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1281
The Octuplet: Story of Our Lives by Babette Wagenvoort http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1245
Le Corbeau / The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe tr. Stéphane Mallarmé http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1238
More Diffusion Shareable Notebooks http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1227
Blakewalking by Tim Wright http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1223
Sutton Grapevine: Youth Group Storyboard by Alice Angus & Orlagh Woods http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1217