Three years ago, not long after Mandy Tang started at Proboscis, we came up with an idea to use the StoryCubes and bookleteer to inspire people to play and invent their own games. We were inspired ourselves by the Love Outdoor Play campaign, which aims to encourage children, and their parents, to play outside more. Over about six months Mandy developed Outside The Box as a side-project within the studio, devising the three games with help from the team and illustrating all the resulting cubes. We frequently got together to test out the game ideas, as well as with friends and eventually with a group of children on a YMCA play scheme. But as the studio got stuck into several large projects, we didn’t get round to completing the whole package until recently.
The result is Outside The Box – a “game engine for your imagination” – designed to inspire you to improvise and play your own games on your own or with others, indoors or outside. It’s made up of 27 cubes, 3 layers of 9 cubes, each layer being a distinct game : Animal Match, Mission Improbable and StoryMaker. Outside The Box has no rules, nothing to win or lose, the cubes simply provide a framework for you to imagine and make up your own games. You can browse through the whole OTB collection of cubes and books on bookleteer, to download and make up at home.
However, 27 large PlayCubes and 7 books is a lot to make yourself, so we’re now planning to manufacture a “first edition” to get them into people’s hands to find out what they do with them. To achieve this we’re running a kickstarter campaign to raise funds – support the project to get your own set in time for Christmas or choose other rewards.
Animal Match starts out as a puzzle – match up the animal halves to complete the pattern. From there you can make it much more fun : mix the cubes up to invent strange creatures; what would you call them? What would they sound like? How might they move?
Mission Improbable is for role-playing. There are 6 characters: Adventurer, Detective, Scientist, Spy, Storyteller and Superhero, each with 9 tasks. Use them to invent your own games, record your successes in the mission log books or take it to another level by designing your own costumes and props.
StoryMaker incites the telling of fantastical tales : Roll the 3 control cubes to decide how to tell your story, what kind it should be and where to set it. Then use the word cubes as your cue to invent a story on the spot.
Tomorrow I start my journey to Papua New Guinea where I’m taking part in the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium on Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK), hosted by the University of Goroka (Eastern Highlands Province) and supported by the Christensen Fund. The title and abstract of my talk at the symposium is:
Digital and Physical : simple solutions for documenting and sharing community knowledge
My work is about engaging with people to identify things which they value – for instance knowledge, experiences, skills – and how they can share them with others in ways that are safe, appropriate and inspiring. As an artist and designer I have helped devise simple tools and techniques that can be adopted and adapted by people on their own terms – such as uses of everyday paper, cameras and printers alongside digital technologies such as the internet, archives and databases. I will demonstrate some examples of how these simple physical and digital tools can be used to share community knowledge in freely and easily accessible ways, so that they can also be re-worked and circulated in both paper and digital formats. I hope to offer some examples of how TEK in PNG might be widely documented and circulated as part of commonly available resources.
I wrote a piece about my initial thoughts on what I’ll be presenting and doing whilst I’m there on the bookleteer blog last month. My invitation to this event has been through James Leach, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen who will be there presenting his collaborative publication, Reite Plants, with Porer Nombo in whose village James has been doing fieldwork for 20 years. I first met Porer three years ago when he visited the UK to assist the British Museum’s Melanesia Project in identifying artefacts from the region where he lives in the Ethnographic Collection. At the time James had asked me to help him devise some new ways to document this kind of Traditional Knowledge Exchange that would capture something of the experience of all sharing knowledge that more institutional methods might miss. Consequently we used some Diffusion eNotebooks to capture and record our interactions as much as the stories and information that Porer and Pinbin shared about the artefacts. Alice and I also had the privilege of spending time with Porer and his fellow villager, Pinbin Sisau, inviting them to our home for an evening with James and his family and sharing with them some of the simple delights of central London life that people who don’t live here wouldn’t experience.
After the symposium James, Porer and myself will travel back to Porer’s village of Reite on the Rai Coast in Madang Province where we’ll stay for a week or so. There we’ll attempt to put some of our ideas into practice – I’ve designed some simple notebooks for us to use out in the bush, some printed on waterproof paper, others printed on standard papers. I’m very excited to have this unique opportunity to test out ideas I’ve had for using the Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer in the field for over 10 years now – harking back to conversations I had with anthropologist Genevieve Bell of Intel in 2003. I’m also very excited to have the privilege of visiting Porer and Pinbin in their home and meeting their families and community – joining the loop of one smaller circle of friendship and exchange and hopefully spiralling out into some larger ones that will continue into the future.
Ive been doing a bit of searching around for sea shanties and fishermen’s songs that might be local to Lyme Bay and Bridport and I came across “the Wreck of the Napoli” by Bob Garrett and Bill Pring which reflects on the ship that ran aground in Lyme Bay in 2007. Apart from the controversy that followed over what happened to the cargo which washed up in Devon, a great many oil covered birds were washed up on Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock.
This searching for local music has also taken me, via my reading and rummaging around in Real West Dorset, to their article about the British Library folk song map to the Library’s online sound archive of traditional music, language, accents, and soundscapes called Sounds. It features a series of maps and archival collections. There seems to be a lot of material from West Dorset in the Traditional Music in England Collection and I’ve really enjoyed listening to the local accents and dialects of the time. I particularly liked George Hirst, cowman and ex-serviceman of Burton Bradstock talking in 1944 about Louis Brown of Burton Bradstock who used to sing ‘A Nutting We Will Go’ and ‘The Cobblers Song’, ‘Sweet Nightingale’ on the accordion, and finally this song, Barbara Allen recorded in the 1950s and sung by Charlie Wills.
I’d like to hear more about local music and shanties especially any that come directly from Burton Bradstock area.
As part of our work on the VOME project with researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London’s Information Security Group we are working with Pallion Action Group in Pallion in Sunderland on a community engagement project to co-design a process with the local community in Pallion, Sunderland to create a knowledge network around money, spend and budgets. We are collaborating with PAG to identify the areas and issues challenging people around household economies. The project feeds into VOME’s aim of “exploring how people engage with concepts of information privacy and consent in online interactions”.
We’ve have been co-designing designing a set of huge posters with people at PAG to help gather knowledge and find the right language to use. We took a first set up recently for the first exploration session, and based on peoples’ comments revised and changed them and will be heading off to do a two day series of activities with local people to dig deeper into peoples concerns about costs, spend, what we can rely on and what is unreliable. I think the project is going to involve some very interesting cycles of creating, discussing, revising, changing and re-producing materials until we can collaboratively come up with the right materials.
Mapping is not only about exploring and depicting a portion of territory but it can also entail travelling into, investigating and representing some unfamiliar trails inside people’s mind: setting the boundaries and drawing the many trajectories collective consciousness can cover. “The human landscape can be read as a landscape of exclusion”, starts David Sibley in Geographies of Exclusion, and the same organization and orchestration of space follows the construction and position of the self related to the category of the other and the wider context of society. If we look at our surroundings as the phenomenal embodiment of our shared imagination, then we will decipher not only the imprint of power in its many forms but also the scattered marks left by individual imageries. Alternative, subaltern stories, all those visions that are thought not to fit in, because they belong to the other side of the fence, where all that is not pure enough, according to a set of ready-made prerequisites, is dropped off.
A Critical Text by Frederik Lesage
A recurring theme underpinning Proboscis’ work is storytelling. Their preoccupation with it is not only reflected in the stories they have told – through works such as Topographies and Tales and Snout – but also in their efforts to explore the practices and forms that enable people to tell stories. For a group of artists to embark on this latter kind of exploration may at first seem counterintuitive; the artist as a teller of stories is a familiar role, the artist as one who helps us tell our own is less so. It is beyond the scope of this paper to convince the reader of the value of such a role. Rather, I will set out to investigate how a specific tool developed by members Proboscis helped to shape one particular collaborative exchange with Warren Craghead in a work titled A Sort of Autobiography. By doing this, I hope to demonstrate how collaborative processes for storytelling like the ones that Proboscis are developing require new frameworks for understanding the kinds of work taking place.
What in the world is a StoryCube?
I often hear this perplexed question when talking to people about my research into Proboscis’ work. Most often, my answer is similar to the one that Proboscis themselves give on their diffusion.org.uk website:
StoryCubes are a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives. Each face of the cube can illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action, placed together it is possible to build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way. StoryCubes can be folded in two different ways, giving each cube twelve possible faces – and thus two different ways of telling a story, two musings around an idea. Like books turned inside out and upside down they are read by turning and twisting in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.”
This answer, for the most part, tells my interlocutor what one can do with a StoryCube – it encompasses a number of actions as part of a process wherein one makes and uses this particular type of object. The StoryCube represents a way to print images and text onto a different kind of paper surface in order to share these images and texts with others in a particular way. But I often find that this answer does not suffice. In this paper I will argue that this problem arises because, although a process description of what one can do with a StoryCube does provide part of the answer for what in the world it is, a more complete answer would require more worlds in which it has been used.
To clarify this obtuse little wordplay, I turn to two different authors who provide two very different models for understanding how culture is made and how it is interpreted: Howard Becker’s art worlds and Henry Jenkin’s story worlds.
Disciplines such as the sociology of art have gone out of their way to show how artists are not alone in creating cultural objects. It has arguably become a cliché to state this fact. But one must not forget its implication. Howard Becker’s Art Worlds (1982), for example, demonstrates to what degree artistic practices from painting to rock music constitute complex sets of relationships among a number of individuals who accomplish different tasks – the people who make, buy, talk about, pack and un-pack works of art are connected through what he refers to as art worlds. These worlds are populated by different roles including artists, editors, and support personnel. By artists, he means the people who are credited with producing the work. By editors, he means the people who modify the artwork in some way before it reaches its audience. By support personnel, he means the people who help ensure that the artwork is completed and circulated between people but who aren’t credited with producing the artwork itself. This might include a variety of different people including framers, movers and audience members. If one were to apply Becker’s art world model to the world of book publishing and printing, for example, we might say that the artists are the authors, that publishers are editors and that the book printers are part of the support personnel: they reproduce and maintain a set of conventions for the production and distribution of an author’s work.
Part of Becker’s point is that even if we credit authors as the source of a book’s story, significant parts of the book’s final shape will be defined by choices that are the purview of support personnel like printers rather than by the authors: what kind of ink will be used to print the text, the weight and dimensions of the book pages, etc. These decisions, be they based on aesthetic, economic, or other considerations, can often be made without consulting authors and have a significant impact on what readers will hold and read when they get their hands on the finished product. Nevertheless, there are arguably varying degrees of importance attributed these different choices. After all, few of us read books because of the kind of ink it was printed with.
But one should also remember that the distribution of these roles within an art world is not necessarily fixed. In Books in the Digital Age, John B. Thompson writes that it was only in the past two centuries that there has been a distinction in the Western world between what a book publisher does and what a book printer does. Prior to this differentiation, the person who published a book and the person who printed it were one and the same. Just as the distribution of printing and publishing roles can change over time, the significance attributed to these roles might also change.
Becker’s art world model is useful for the answer to my initial question stated at the beginning of this paper because it is a social world model. Placing the StoryCubes into an art world allows me to populate the process answer provided above with a number of different roles:
Proboscis are the designers of the StoryCube who created it as “a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives”. They invite all sorts of different people from different disciplines to play an artist’s role by using the StoryCube to “illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action” and to “build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way”. The results of all of these different peoples’ work are then made available in various ways to anyone interested in these relationships and narratives. These audience members are invited to “read [the StoryCube] by turning and twisting [it] in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.” In some cases, these same audience members take-on additional support personnel roles such as “printers” when they download the StoryCube online and print and assemble it themselves.”
This newly revised version of my answer now has artists and audiences who are working with Proboscis and StoryCubes. But it still seems quite vague. What are these “relationships and narratives” that seem to be the point of making StoryCubes in the first place?
The second world I turn to for putting my answer together is what I refer to as Henry Jenkins’ “story world” model. In his book Convergence Culture, Jenkins argues that a convergence is taking place between different media that is not simply due to technological changes brought about by digitisation. He believes that in order to understand the changes taking place in media, one needs to include other factors including economic pressures and audience tastes. One of the ways in which he demonstrates this is by analysing how storytellers like the Wachowski brothers developed The Matrix franchise. Jenkins argues that the brothers were not only engaged in the process of making films but that they were in fact engaged in an “art of world building” (116) in which the “artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium” (ibid). The Matrix was not only available as a movie trilogy but was also explored and developed in short films, comics and novels by a number of different contributing artists. In other words, today’s creative people – be they individual artists or media conglomerate business executives – need to start to think about a ‘story world’ that is manifested in multiple, interdependent media.
I would argue that one should not interpret Jenkins’ model as suggesting that story worlds exist independently of any specific medium. Rather, the model suggests that other people, not just the author credited with originating the story world, can contribute to the development of a story world. Audience members and other authors can actively reinterpret aspects of story worlds not only through an active interpretation of the text but also by authoring their own parallel contributions. This is significant because it suggests there are contingent relations of power involved in the negotiation of the overall representation and interpretation of those same story worlds. The simplest example is how laws for copyright are employed to ensure that authors and their publishers maintain certain kinds of control over the development of story worlds.
For me to explain how Jenkins’ story world model is useful for answering my initial question will take a bit more effort. In order to fully clarify why I have gone through the trouble of bringing these two very different worlds from two very different research traditions, I will need to demonstrate how they can be combined and applied to a specific example which follows bellow. For now, however, suffice it to say that the story world model deals with meaning and how the narratives and relationships that stem from the process of making and reading StoryCubes do not appear in isolation from other related meaningful artefacts. How one interprets the meaning of a particular StoryCube is embedded within a particular set of intertextual relationships that I refer to as a story world.
We now have two different ‘world’ models for explaining what are StoryCubes:
- the art world model as a way to understand how a particular artwork is produced, distributed and appreciated through a set of interdependent roles enacted by people and
- the story world model as a way to understand how meaning can be conceived as part of a number of different texts produced by a number of different people.
A sort of printing experiment – The case of Warren Craghead
I will now examine Warren Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography and how some critics interpreted his work as a way of illustrating how both models presented above enable me to better answer what in the world is a StoryCube. A Sort of Autobiography is a series of ten StoryCubes whose outer faces are covered by drawings of Craghead’s own making. Taken together, the ten cubes are intended to be interpreted as his “possible” autobiography – hence the title of the work. Here is a description of the work posted by Matthew J. Brady on his “Warren Peace” blog as part of a longer review of the project:
With the onset of digital comics, an infinite number of possible ways to use the medium has erupted, and even the weirdest experiments are now visible for any number of people to experience. This is great for comics fans, who can now experience the sort of odd idea that creators might not have shared with the world otherwise. Warren Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography is a fascinating example, using the tools provided by the site Diffusion.org.uk to create a series of three-dimensional comic strips, with each in a series of ten cubes representing a moment in his life, separated by decades. Some of them seem to simply place an image on each side of the cube (with one side of each working as a “title page”), while others wrap images around the surface, and several working to make faces representing Craghead at that cube’s age. It’s a neat way to use the medium, if you can call it that.”
If we attempted to place A Sort of Autobiography in the art world model presented earlier, it would be fairly easy to follow Brady’s lead and look to comic strips as a guiding template. One could say that Craghead is the artist-author who created the work. Determining who plays this role is fairly easy because Craghead has authored a number of comic strips using a similar visual style. Things get a bit more complicated when we try to determine who is the editor-publisher. Based on the information I’ve been able to gather, there doesn’t seem to be anyone other than Craghead who makes editorial choices about the content of the final artwork – the style of drawing, the way in which the story unfolds, etc. There may be some “invisible”, un-credited co-editors who help Craghead with his drawing and choice of subject matter but they are not formally acknowledged and I have not tried to enquire whether or not this is the case. What is clear, however, is that Proboscis also do take-on aspects of the editor-publisher role: Proboscis commissioned the project as part of their Transformations series, the works are made available through Proboscis’ Diffusion website and, of course, Proboscis designed what Brady refers to as the “tools” used to publish the project.
It is this last aspect that seems particularly problematic for Brady. If we focus (rather narrowly) on some of the comments Brady makes in passing about the StoryCubes as a support for the work in his review, it is clear that they make it more difficult for him to pin down the project. Much of Brady’s review seems to implicitly be asking “Is this a comic?”. In describing the work, he uses the language of comic books to help him describe it. For example:
“Some of [the cubes] seem to simply place an image on each side of the cube (with one side of each working as a “title page”) […]”
Here Brady suggests that Craghead employs a particular convention of comics – the title page – as part of how he constructs some of his cubes. But though one of the panels located at the same place on each of the ten cubes does have writing that indicates the year and how old Craghead is at the time (ex. 1970, I am zero years old; 1980, I am ten years old; etc.), there is little to suggest that this choice is necessarily drawn from comics. This might explain why Brady puts “title page” in quotation marks. Brady seems pleased with the overall results of the project but also refrains from categorizing the result outright as a comic. Recall how he ends the paragraph I cite above with:
“It’s a neat way to use the medium, if you can call it that.”
Further along in his review of the project, Brady still seems hesitant:
“Does the whole thing work as a comic? Sure, if you want to put the work into interpreting it, not to mention the assembly time, which can make for a fun little craft project.”
One could argue that Brady may be pushing the comics category a bit: Craghead’s own website doesn’t seem to put so much emphasis on whether or not this, or any of his other projects for that matter, should be interpreted as comics. But Brady is not the only one who approaches A Sort of Autobiography in this way. Inspired by Brady’s reading, Scott McCloud – an authority on the comics medium if there ever was one – characterizes Craghead’s work as an “experimental comic”. Brady and McCloud’s categorisations of A Sort of Autobiography as a comic matter in part because it strengthens a number of associations with the comics art world. For example, if one reads A Sort of Autobiography as a reader of comics, then it does involve some additional assembly time. But what if one categorised it as part of an origami art world? Then this assembly time would be taken for granted (but Craghead’s drawings on the cubes might be interpreted as an oddity).
But Brady and McCloud are able to make this kind of association in part because they are familiar with the author’s previous work. Craghead is an established comics artist for both Brady and McCloud. It is therefore possible to compare A Sort of Autobiography to his other works. This is where I need to bring in the second world model presented above – the story world. As stated previously, the definition of story worlds based on Jenkins’ work depends on a set of possible meanings within “environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium”. One could argue, that Craghead creates a similar kind of story world based on a particular style of illustration and subject matter that is consistent with other works he has created. So rather than working with comparisons to other comics, Brady’s reading can simply refer to Craghead’s established story world.
But instead of placing Craghead’s biography as the foundation of our story world, why couldn’t we instead use the StoryCube’s story as our starting point? That is, rather than assuming that authors are the only ones who create meaning by telling stories, what if we assumed that Proboscis had designed a compelling story environment “that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work” and that Craghead’s A Sort of Autobiography was only one of the many parallel contributions to the meaning of this medium?
This kind of inversion is problematic because our contemporary culture, for the most part, depends on consistent formal conventions to be able to make comparisons and value judgments. That isn’t simply at the level of individual artists, but as a whole. Jenkins’ story world model does allow for all sorts of different media, but most of the media he discusses are based in familiar art worlds – comics, books, television programmes, videogames, and movies – art worlds whose implicit formal conventions allow authors to tell their stories in relatively unproblematic ways. But if we don’t know what a StoryCube is, how are we supposed to know what these conventions are? How can we know if this is a “good” or “bad” StoryCube since most of us don’t know how a StoryCube is supposed to work
I would therefore argue that Craghead, Brady and McCloud are telling us their stories of the StoryCube that involves mixing together art world and story world. They are using the more or less familiar narrative of how one makes and reads comics to tell us how to make and read a StoryCube. Craghead is relating to us the tale of how an illustrator can assume the artist’s role in the process of making a StoryCube by making different kind of drawings on it. Brady and McCloud are producing accounts of how to be readers of StoryCubes. Just as with any other kind of story world, these contributions provide only partial insights into the whole story environment and how one might participate in its creation and extension.
The example of A Sort of Autobiography suggests why Proboscis’ initial definition, the one presented at the beginning of this text, was left under-developed: their objective is to develop a meaningful world in which people can tell stories – one that invites people to populate it with their own art worlds and story worlds. In order for there to be enough room for others to create and sustain this kind of world, Proboscis may have to allow the StoryCubes to remain an insufficient process and an incomplete story. But they must also continue the delicate work of articulating how this incompleteness can itself be a meaningful and fertile ground for others to complete. The bookleteer platform is arguably one step in this direction in that it is an attempt to generate an online community of people who use StoryCubes and other “Diffusion Shareables”.
In the end, the true challenge may not be whether any of the answers about “What in the world is a StoryCube?” are sufficiently clear or exhaustive, but whether or not one of them can entice you into telling your own story of the StoryCube.
Frederik Lesage, March 2011
Hi all! We had our first play test for Outside The Box yesterday with the children who were taking part in the play scheme with the YMCA of Central London. We went with them to Lambourne End Centre for Outdoor Learning, where the children will get to take part in various activities including a chance to have a go with the play sets.
Upon arrival I was engulfed by the surrounding greenery, the centre was huge! 54 acres of land; open fields with animals grazing on the grass and various adventure activities built and scattered across the vast fields.
As we walked through the reception area to catch up with the children who were currently having lunch. My attention was immediately swept away from a beautiful blond haired horse which trotted passed; a small carriage trailing behind it with children gleefully cheering as they enjoyed the ride, “I want to go on that” was all I could think of after that.
After lunch the children were split into two groups and thus it was time to set the cubes free onto the grass and just see what happens.
The curious children watched and questioned as Giles placed the play set on the grass, they began picking them up and marvelled at the different drawings and asked who drew them – I felt proud and happy that they really liked them. They’ve ask me how did I draw the images to which I explained very briefly the process.
Then the blank cubes had become like gold, they all became immersed in the idea of making their own cubes and swarmed around trying to overcome the challenge of assembling a cube and immediately attacking the art box soon after. Frantically scooping PVA glue over the grass and dribbling it across each other, they busied away crafting their masterpiece.
There was one girl however, who was more determined to solve the animal set. At first when she couldn’t work it out she claimed the cubes were wrong, so I nudged and gave a clue to which she immediately thought “Ah! so it can also go this way!” she shuffled the cubes and tried again. Eventually she solved the puzzle and huffed “that was hard”.
Then the groups switched over, a trio sprinted across the field and sat down to make a cube. They then began playing with the storytelling set. At first they only picked one word from each face of the cube – which made their stories one sentence long, but after suggesting that they can use all the words from each face, their stories became longer.
One of the girls used the words in order shown, another used the genre cube – but instead of rolling it she preferred to choose the face that she liked and did the same with the word cubes. They competed with each other to tell the best story and started shouting to drown out each other’s story!
(If you would like to listen to some of their funny stories, click on the links below)
Finally the groups reunited to go see the farm animals, indicating the end of the first play testing session. Overall it was a great opportunity to be able to play test with children in a outdoor setting, it gave me an idea of what needs changing and how to set up the next play test. It would have been better to be able to get more children to play with them and to also get some of the boys to give it a go for a fair play test, instead of taking one look at it and tossing it aside for football. I thank the Central YMCA for this opportunity and look forward to more visits in hope that children will like Outside The Box. As for the golden horse that kept trotting passed me numerous times and swaying it’s golden mane as if taunting me…one day..one day..*shakes fists*.
This Thursday 31st March 2011 we’re hosting an evening at our studio in Clerkenwell to launch our first limited edition slipcase set of books published and printed using bookleteer‘s Short Run Printing Service. The set in question contains the 10 books commissioned and produced as part of last Autumn’s City As Material series of urban explorations and collaborative bookmaking.
If you’d like to come please email us info at proboscis.org.uk – we’ll have drinks as well as offering a 20% discount off all publications. Or sign up on the Facebook event page.
Wow, it’s already time for me to write about my second impressions huh? If you’re wondering, it’s Mandy here! I started in July as a Creative Assistant for Proboscis, it’s been five months already!! Where did all the time go?! (laughs)
It’s been pretty busy during these five months, Giles and Alice have been cracking the whip to keep me busy working (T_T). Just kidding haha. They’ve been great fun, and most generous when offering advice and enlightening me with their knowledge, it always leaves me in awe with the amount of things they know.
Also, there has been more placements on board! Christina and Radhika are such lovely people, they both have a great sense of humour, easy to talk to and are always offering to help when it seems like I have too much going on (laughs). Oh and Moin; our programmer, joined just recently too! As for Haz… he’s been picking on me since day one!! that aside, he offers me assistance and I’ve enjoyed his blog posts and look forward to his future posts. Thanks guys for your help and support!
During the past few months I have been working on various projects. The first being Tangled Threads, then my current project Outside The Box and offering assistance here and there with City As Material.
Throughout these projects I sincerely thank Giles and Alice for trusting me with creating work without any pressure and just allowing me to carry out the projects to the best of my ability whilst offering kind encouragements. I tend to get carried away with trying to perfect everything so I thank you both for your patience and apologise for the delays!
If you remember reading my first impressions, I mentioned the many different assets in the studio either tucked away or on display and wondering about the story behind them… well… I’ve joined in with my own clutter! I’ve made so many Story Cubes I can build a fortress! Soon I’ll have enough to make a draw bridge to go with it (laughs).
It’s been really fun so far and I’ve learnt a great deal from Giles and Alice. I’ll do my best to fulfil my role and create work which others will enjoy! Have a great Christmas everyone!
For the past few weeks I’ve been heading up and down from Lancaster working on As It Comes. It was commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts and Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce and is inspired by both the heritage and future of local traders and shopkeepers.
I have been interviewing and drawing with some of Lancaster’s current shopkeepers and traders to understand more about their businesses and talk about; craft and knowledge; communities and friendships; and the relationship with commodities, food, and people that is different from chains and supermarkets.
The project is continuing my work on markets and shops exploring the people and communities they engender. I’ve been continually inspired by the skills, crafts and care of traders I’ve met in Lancaster – whether selling fabric, repairing tools or butchering meat. The As It Comes blog is recording some of the thoughts and conversations as the project continues.
Next week I am hanging some large scale work in New Street that combines traditional embroidery with drawing and digital printing on fabric, inspired by these conversations, the history of trade, development of textile technologies and history of cotton weaving in the area.
On the 4th December I’ll be leading a walk around of Lancaster talking about some of the issues raised by the project and thinking about the future of independent traders and town centers. NEF (New Economics Foundation) have published a follow up to their 2005 Clone Town report, entitled Re-imaging the High Street: Escape From Clone Town Britain which supports the need for independent traders; and the Transition Town movement – among others is gathering pace – so I am wondering what we want the new ecology of the high street to be? If you believe that supermarkets and large chains are unsustainable environmentally and socially, but we need some of what they offer, what new retail ecology might we build in the future?
Tangled Threads consists of a storyboard in the form of a Diffusion eBook, that reflects upon the different projects and aspects to which Proboscis has delved into. You can download a copy of the eBook here: http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=2171
My task was to create a storyboard using only the text Karen had scripted. With her words I had to create a series of fast sketches within a short time frame, jotting down the first visual that came to mind. It was later decided that the finished storyboard was to be presented in the form of an eBook, as a counterpart for a new Proboscis film that will be presented as part of a Leonardo/MIT mobile digital exhibition curated by Jeremy Hight.
This was my first time creating a full scale storyboard, but it was also my first time adjusting it to an eBook format. It encouraged me to use different panels and discard frames which can be reduced to one panel. I am also glad it became an eBook because it would have been a real shame if others could not see the impressive text Karen had written.
The most challenging part of this project was the initial sketches: being asked to do fast speed sketching within a time limit. This method made me stay focused and avoid swaying off into different artistic directions and just sketching the first thing that came to mind, then only further developing that idea. Although this method sounds like rushing, the results were pretty interesting!
Overall, it was a great challenging project which allowed me to experiment with a different technique to spark my imagination and creativity. It gave me a chance to use some of my own knowledge about storyboarding and panelling, and Alice had given me a lot of freedom with the concepts. It was also a great opportunity to practice artistic techniques and being aware of areas that may need more improvements.
Here are a few samples from the eBook and initial sketches, the first stage as I mentioned earlier was creating the quick rough sketches of what popped up in my mind. Then I condensed frames to a set of panels on a single page, with this it is scanned in and cleaned up. The final stage was digitally painting the images and resizing them according to the Bookleteer guidelines.
For a week in early July Proboscis worked on Seven Days in Seven Dials a project by artistsandmakers.com and the West End Cultural Quarter to create an exhibition in one week with 30 young people on the Culture Quarter Programme of placements.
Proboscis currently has a scheme of placements funded by the Future Jobs Fund and the first two in the scheme, Shalene Barnett and Karine Dorset, joined Seven Days in Seven Dials to create download, print and makeup publications using bookleteer.com to accompany the exhibition. Here are their thoughts on the week:
“My role was to put together and produce a publication of the walking tour that took place… First we mapped out the places we were going to go and the route that we were going to take then we set out on the journey. By the end of the day we had taken pictures, collected facts and had most of the content for the eBook. On the Wednesday I spent my time at the shop in Covent Garden, editing photos and text, rearranging the eBook template I had already done and actually start putting in some content.
Friday we were in the studio. I began to finish the book, did some editing and rearranging just to make sure that the eBook was correct., printed off copies and ran them down to the shop in Convent Garden for display for the opening show on the project. It was a great experience and I had great fun working with a big range of different groups of people, I would love to do it again in the near future.” KD
“Seven Days in Seven Dials for me was a lovely experience. I spent seven days in an area called Seven Dials which is located in Covent Garden. I spent the seven days documenting different groups of people as they gathered various information about seven dials….All in all I highly enjoyed my time at Seven Dials. It was nice to meet young people that are on the same FJF scheme as myself and are trying something new and out of the box. I think the Empty Shops project is very creative and I would gladly do it again. At times it was hard work but the hard work most definitely paid off.” SB
You can see images here
and read more on the artistsandmakers website.
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.
Starting in October we will be running regular informal evening workshops for people to literally pitch up and publish using bookleteer.com. Initially these will be held at our Clerkenwell Studio for up to 15 participants – all you need is a laptop and some content (text /photos/ drawings etc) you’d like to create and share as eBooks or StoryCubes (shareables). We will provide free user accounts to bookleteer and guide you through the steps of preparing and generating your shareables to share online, via email or as physical publications. Once created you can publish them on your own website or, if appropriate, we can publish them on Diffusion.
Update: The first workshop will be held on October 15th 2009 between 6.30-9pm at the Proboscis Studio.
To reserve a place please email us at diffusion (at) proboscis.org.uk Participants will be asked to make small donation to cover materials (paper/printing ink etc) and refreshments (beer).
This week we begin teaching a course on the city as material for artistic practice with students from Vassar College‘s International Program in London. We’ve planned it as a co-creative course, intending to act as facilitators and guides to the students in devising and conducting their own investigations of the city and creating their own interventions. The students will be creating a blog to document their activities, as well as publishing eBooks about their individual projects.
The course is fortnightly (from early September to the beginning of December 2009), based in our studio in Clerkenwell, from where we’ll engage in walks, watching, making, drawing, discussing and eating.
The focus for this class will be in considering the role of the city as material for artistic experimentation and creation. Only inadequately understood as “public art,” urban interventions produce public space where it does not exist, foster new modes of urban citizenship and participation, render legible the force of political and financial power shaping the global city, expose the mutability of “public” and “private” entailed by new media transformations of social space, create alliances between varied urban stakeholders, challenge the zero-tolerance policies of the increasingly securitized city, and broaden the repertoire of political resistance and direct action. In addition to contemporary practice the course will consider the rich histories of urban intervention by artists in London and elsewhere.
A film by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments, Topographies and Tales takes a journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their travels in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.
Topographies and Tales is part of Alice’s long term collaboration with Canadian artist Joyce Majiski. They began a collaboration in 2003 which took them to Ivvavik National Park in the Canadian Arctic, Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland, the Klondike Institute for Art and Culture in Dawson City, Canada, Joyce’s Tuktu Studio in Whitehorse and the Proboscis Studio in London.
We are preparing to head off this week to Sutton-in-the-Isle to exhibit our work on Sutton Grapevine at the annual Sutton Feast. There will be a display in St Andrews Church from Wednesday to Sunday and over Friday and Saturday we will be joining various Feast Events to show people the Grapevine and hopefully inspire them to add their own stories. Having spent a week in Sutton in June we have gathered a huge range of stories and audio which are now being edited and podcast on the Grapevine. We’ve gathered stories through interviews and chance encounters, meetings, attending clubs and groups, visiting events, working with the youth group, organising a BBQ, exploring the local area by bike, foot and car, through an exhibit in the Babylon Gallery Ely and through the website.
This week we will be at
Wed 1st – Fri 3rd July, 7pm – 11pm St Andrews Church (during Beer Festival)
Fri 3rd July, 2pm – 5pm St Andrews Church (free)
Sat 4th July, 10am – 12pm Tithe Sale, St Andrews Church (free)
Sat 4th July, 12pm – 3pm FOSS Annual Summer Fete, Sutton Primary School (free)
Sun 5th July, from 7.15pm St Andrews Church (during Last Night of the Proms)
Come and join us for a day in the Fens.
NOW & UPCOMING
New Website & Twitter
Proboscis is pleased to announce that we have a new website where we will be posting much more regular updates on projects as well as our creative process. We will continue sending occasional email newsletters, but in future we recommend bookmarking the news page or subscribing to the RSS feed.
Proboscis has been working this spring and summer in Sutton-in-the-Isle on Sutton Grapevine, a story sharing project which will be shown at Sutton Feast Week from the 1st – 5th July at St Andrews Church and around the village. We’ve been exploring various different on and offline processes around local storytelling. We roved around the village gathering and recording stories – both past, present and future; hanging out at the community shop, visiting local clubs and individuals, hosting a storytelling barbecue and a workshop with young people.
Sensory Threads : demo at Dana Centre 23/06/09 & National Physical Lab 02/07/09
We will be giving the first public demo of our Sensory Threads prototype at the Dana Centre on Tuesday June 23rd. The event, Surface Tension, is free to attend (no booking required). Sensory Threads is a new experiment in mobile participatory sensing and sonification – making imperceptible things in our environments tangible and tactile.
We will also be demoing ST at the National Physical Laboratory on Tuesday July 2nd as part of the Wireless Sensing Showcase 2009:
Artemov, Mobilefest and Arteleku
Proboscis has been invited to participate in several festivals and workshops this year – from Mobilefest in Sao Paolo (Brasil) and at the ‘Your Map is Not My Map’ workshop at Arteleku, San Sebastian (Spain) in September, to the Artemov festival in Belo Horizonte (Brasil) in November.
New Cultural Snapshot: Cultivating Research
Sarah Thelwall’s Troubadour Study for the Creator Research Cluster, “Cultivating Research : articulating value in arts and academic collaborations” is now available to download:
Jump In Workshop, The Rookery, London
Proboscis, Sarah Thelwall and Tim Jon (Solar Associates) hosted a one day workshop with about 20 participants from small arts organisations exploring possible routes to, and reasons for, acquiring Independent Research Organisation status. The workshop was the final activity of the Creator Research Cluster (funded by the EPSRC as part of the Digital Economy programme), of which Proboscis was a founder member
Being in Common : Catalogue of Ideas
Proboscis has published a special artists bookwork to accompany our Being in Common commission for Gunpowder Park. The catalogue, a deck of cards, is a playful exploration of ‘common space’ drawing together fragments and ideas from across the project, to be played with, read individually or assembled into narratives and stories making unexpected connections and perspectives. The catalogue is available to buy for £10 (inc. shipping) from our online shop.
StoryCube prices 25% lower than 2008
StoryCube packs are now an average 25% lower than in 2008 – making them an even more delectable a tool for workshops and storytelling projects:
Diffusion Generator – update on progress
As part of our Technology Strategy Board Feasibility Study, we have completely re-engineered the Diffusion Generator. Thanks to our development team (technical advisor Stefan Kueppers and coders Simon Whiteside & Yasir Assam) the new Generator supports offline content creation; landscape as well as portrait eBooks; both long and short edge version of the Diffusion eBook binding; double and single sided StoryCubes; multiple languages (including many non-Roman alphabets); right-to-left languages (Arabic etc); and can accept CSS-styled XHTML as content. We are building a new website to access it this summer and hope to invite individuals and organisations to test it out as the year progresses. Please contact us for more details.
Paralelo, Sao Paulo, Brasil
Proboscis took part in the Paralelo event hosted by the British Council Brasil, MIS-Museum of Image and Sound and Centro Cultural de Sao Paulo. We helped with the event facilitation, running two social mapping workshops and designing a special Paralelo Diffusion eNotebook for participants to capture and share ideas, reflections and information.
New Diffusion Titles
Dope smuggling, LSD, organised crime & the law in 1960s London by Stewart Home – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1205
The 36 Stratagems by anonymous – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1192
Would be Disciplined by Tony White – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1178
iStreetLab by mongrelStreet – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1148
Dodolab StoryCube by Giles Lane – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1118
Hard Hearted Hannah: Classics from Nowhere by Cartoon de Salvo – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1104
Hard Hearted Hannah: the world of the Strange and Bizarre by Cartoon de Salvo – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1107
On The Death Of Julia Callan-Thompson by Stewart Home – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1083
H2O by Alejandra Canales, Anne Ransquin and Juan F. Salazar – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1070
The Anatomy of the Horse by George Stubbs – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1062
Measure Once, Cut Twice : a case study of Snout by Frederik Lesage – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1054
Bourriaud’s ‘Altermodern’ – an eclectic mix of bullshit and bad taste by Stewart Home – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1049
Tweetomes : some epithets on practices of pithy exchange by Giles Lane – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1025
The minimal compact by Adam Greenfield – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1012
The Tongue Conceals Time by Shae Davidson – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=1000
Click This? MySpace & the Pornography of Corporately Controlled Virtual Life by Stewart Home – http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=993
From 3rd – 9th of June we’ll be roving around the village gathering and recording stories in many ways; from hanging out at the election, the community shop, the pub and the community spaces with a large village map, to visiting local clubs and individuals, to hosting a storytelling dinner with the residents of a street, to running workshops and going for walks. As the village continues to change through growth, movement and migration the initiative aims to let local people explore place and identity.
Alongside this we’ve integrated storytelling and news sharing (by email and with a WordPress blog); sound recordings (via the free podbean and AudioBoo podcasting servicees and the low cost Gabcast telephone-to-MP3 podcasting service); photo sharing (via the Flickr group pool); social connections (via the Facebook Group) and news feeds (via Twitter). We will also be adding in some of our own inventions like StoryCubes and Diffusion eBooks to make tangible things that can be passed around, as well as the digital media.
We will be back during Sutton Feast Week from the 1st – 5th July with an exhibition and audio broadcasts at St Andrews Church and around the village.
See you in Sutton!
We’ve recently submitted a proposal for Arts Council England’s Artists Taking the Lead project for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It builds on an emerging collaboration we have with mongrelStreet (mervin Jarman and Richard Pierre-Davis) as well as ideas around migration and narrative we have been working on for a few years.
Trace Elements: Why are we who we are?
Trace Elements is an interactive and distributed artwork revealing the diversity of the journeys and migrations ordinary people make to live, work and play in London. Through words, images and symbols that convey these stories it will flow like a digital river through London’s public media spaces: generating a storyscape of endlessly changing combinations. It will allow both participants and audiences to form associations and connections between our lived experiences, hopes and aspirations as Londonders: a visual and poetic stream which we can fall in and out of.
Trace Elements combines the creative inspiration and experience of two artist-led groups, Proboscis (Alice Angus, Giles Lane and Orlagh Woods) and mongrelStreet (mervin Jarman and Richard Pierre-Davis). It will be a multi-faceted project that grows leading up to June 2012 and beyond. It will involve creative research with communities across London to elicit their stories of how and why they have come to live here: what they have given up; what they have held onto; what they dream of; what their fears are. This will be used to inspire a narrative ‘periodic table’ of story elements: images and symbols that capture the essence of people’s stories and experiences. The story elements will become a simple interface for engaging people to share their stories in a visual and symbolic way and will also be used to generate automatic poetry for dissemination via social media tools such as twitter and text messaging.
Using mongrelStreet’s iStreet Lab as mobile ‘stations’ for engaging with communities in their own areas, we will ‘recycle streetcorners’ into storytelling and sharing spaces, weaving a tapestry of social and cultural interactions across the city. iStreet Labs will also be sited in places such as airports, rail stations, parks and other public and private spaces to engage visitors, commuters and locals in sharing their stories. Audiences will be able to dive into the Trace Elements storyscape via media screens in tube stations, bus stops, rail stations, as well as via online and mobile media.
With uncertainty and climate change at the forefront of local and universal concerns we want to work with the people of London to create something that crosses barrriers by bringing to light our collective struggles and our shared hopes. Trace Elements will emerge as a magnificent reflection of the creativity, hope and determination of human spirit that has brought so many people here.
Proboscis has recently been invited to join a tender bid to Urban Living and Birmingham City Council for the Sandwell Sense of Place project. The other partners are Rob Annable and Mike Menzies of axis design architects (who are leading the bid); Michael Kohn and Chris of YouCanPlan and Nick Booth of Podnosh. The sense of place project aims to devise a toolkit and archive using a variety of media and techniques for local residents to articulate their sense of place in two areas of Sandwell near Birmingham in the ‘Western Growth Corridor‘. This sense of place and its archive will form a key input into the regeneration masterplanning process.
As part of our interview we created a special Diffusion eBook outlining the team’s approach and illustrating some of our previous work.
Paralelo, Sao Paulo, Brasil
Alice, Giles and Orlagh travelled to Sao Paulo in Brasil to take part in the AHRC and British Council sponsored event, Paralelo, hosted by the British Council Brasil, MIS-Museum of Image and Sound and Centro Cultural de Sao Paulo. We helped with the event facilitation, running two social mapping workshops and designing a special Paralelo Diffusion eNotebook, Travelling Through Layers, for participants to capture and share ideas, reflections and information.
Proboscis is proud to announce the publication of A Case of Perspectives – a limited edition artists bookwork by Alice Angus and Giles Lane, created as part of Social Tapestries. The bookwork contains a series of designed as well as handmade artefacts inspired by and responding to our experiences in the Social Tapestries programme of projects. 63 Tapestry cards are organised into 3 groups – 21 Endless Landscapes, 21 project photos and 21 Urban Tapestries mobile phone interface screenshots – the reverse sides printed with sections from a map of Urban Tapestries threads and pockets. Also enclosed are 2 StoryCubes, 1 containing images upload by UT trial participants and the other representing 6 principles of public authoring. A copy of the Atlas of Enquiry and a handmade eBook presenting an overview of the Social Tapestries research programme complete the box.
Numbers 1-21 will be sold complete with an unframed original watercolour painting of one of the Endless Landscape panels by Alice Angus. Price – £200 + shipping. Please contact us for more details.
Numbers 22-190 are available to buy online price – £40 + shipping.
Alex Murdoch, founder and director of Cartoon de Salvo, one of the UK’s most dynamic improvised theatre company’s, is in residency at Proboscis in Autumn 2008. Alex is creating a series of eBooks inspired by the stories Cartoon de Salvo created during their UK tour of Hard Hearted Hannah in Spring 2008. The show was a ground-breaking long-form inprovisation where, each night, the audience provided the cast with the title of the night’s show which was then improvised. Over 50 shows and stories were created, which are being collated and illustrated by Alex as part of her Diffusion Residency.
Follow Alex’s publications in the Residencies Series.