Shortly before Christmas Dom Breadmore invited Fellows to meet at Ludic Rooms, Coventry for an introductory workshop using a Teensy, officially defined as ‘a complete USB-based microcontroller development system’. In basic terms a Teensy is a board which can be programmed using Arduino software to generate a set of outputs when fed with inputs. A simple example of this, (which was what we did in the workshop) is that it can be programmed to make an LED light flash in a specific rhythm when provided with a power source. This is just one small example as the potential possibilities are endless.
Each of the Fellows received a bag of equipment to use with the Teensy. Wires, a breadboard which we use with the teensy without the need for soldering, LEDs as well as a Teensy Audio Shield which adds extra functionality to the Teensy allowing sound to be stored and playedwithout the ongoing need for a computer. It felt like Christmas had come early!
I recognise that there is an initial nervousness about learning these new skills.I instantly feel intimidated by my lack of knowledge, but I recognise the need to accept this uncomfortable feeling as this is where I learn and grow. Also, there is a real sense of satisfaction when I am able to carry out a task that I have been taught – everybody was very excited when the rhythm of the blinking LED matched the code we had typed into the Arduino program!
I had previously considered tech to be far away from human experience, and so I was very surprised with the physicality of making / building a circuit. Whilst it seems like a simple thing to do – it is dependant on motor skills. There was a strong sense of making in the process – like craft based work. The making was a very tactile experience – again my perceptions of tech are being challenged, even on the very basic level of building circuits.
At the end of November all fellows attended a residential at Hawkwood College in the Cotswolds where we were introduced to the mentors for the first time. This residential felt like it marked a starting point as this was the first opportunity we had to introduce ourselves and our practices to each other.
Being in a setting away from home and the normalities of daily life meant we were able to really focus on the fellowship; both the ideas that were introduced and the new connections made with the other fellows and mentors, as well as Dom Breadmore and Anne Forgan of Ludic Rooms, Coventry. I really feel that there is so much to gain from spending time with people over an extended period such as the two days and one night we spent at the residential opposed to just meeting for a day of presentations. Whilst it is really interesting hearing everyone speak about their practices, there is something very valuable in those in-between moments. It was during the cake and coffee breaks (there was lots of coffee and even more cake!!) and over the table during meal times where conversation was really valuable. Those are the moments where the nerves of speaking in front of a group dissipate and where through speaking and listening and laughing that connections are made. I found it to be an enriching experience, listening to others speak about the lenses through which they see the world and make their work. As an artist who spends a lot of time sat in a studio at the bottom of my garden on the side of a hill, I really do value those opportunities to speak with and listen to others. I will never get bored of learning about the processes of others; I find that looking outward and hearing about others’ processes enables me to better reflect on my own practice, and prompts me to question why I make the choices I do make in my practice. Surprisingly I found it particularly useful to be around people who have never seen or heard of my practice. It meant that I had to be able to articulate the concepts and projects that I work with in my practice clearly. This served as a valuable experience as I had to carefully choose my words, and through doing that I had to clarify my practice to myself. I find that speaking about your practice can really help with reflection on your practice. I sometimes find that as I am speaking about my practice I have an internal monologue responding to what I say… I sometimes think to myself, ‘why did you say that, that’s not what you think at all!!!’. It’s through this internal questioning and reflection that comes through conversation that a space is made for growth. I think that conversation is the only way to have realisations of this kind – I believe that this is why so much growth and development happens whilst studying; having to articulate your work clearly during tutorials, critiques and presentations prompts you to have this reflective development and self awareness. Outside of studying this is difficult to maintain, especially on the side of a hill with only sheep for neighbours!!
Thinking back to the residential, when thinking about technology and introducing it to our practices, I really valued Dom’s illustration of inputs/outputs. With a human figure drawn out on the floor, we were handed post it notes on which we were told to write inputs or outputs and to place them on the drawn body where we felt appropriate. This exercise really brought to mind the experiential aspect to working with technology. The question, ‘what do you want people to experience?’ really brought to mind how this was very much about human experience, which contradicts my previous thoughts of technology as being a removal of the human. This felt reassuring to me. I am keen to create immersive experiential spaces in my work, and the way that Dom spoke about inputs and outputs aligned with thoughts Ive had in relation to installaction; thinking about how an action then has consequential experience for both artist and viewer. Dom stressed on the importance of the consideration for human experience – this alone has made me feel that technology is much more accessible to me now, just by altering my viewpoint / perspective on it. As I stood looking at the visual of the body with all these varying inputs/outputs I was reminded of the way that I have always associated the body as a system of processes and a point of transformation. I am fascinated that we occupy this corporeal space which is always working and processing, both using matter and generating it. This connection between the body and technology has sparked my thinking, and I am curious to see how this can be explored further.
During the residential, mentors spoke about their practices and the technology that they make use of, and Dom introduced us to varying technologies ranging from the various types of mics and LEDs to touch sensitive technologies, conductive paints and Arduino. Dom’s comment, ‘If you can think of it, it can probably be achieved through these technologies’ was particularly inspiring and I felt slightly dazzled by the endless potential! The more I heard of these different technologies, the more seduced by them I felt – my inner child felt like I had just arrived at a theme park and wanted to have a go on all the rides! I wanted to play with contact mics, conductive paint, live coding, laser cutting, all of the things, all at the same time! Obviously, this is not possible and whilst I want to cast my net out wide and be experimental, I also need to anchor myself and maintain a focus. I need to remind myself that the tech is there to support the concepts and ideas, opposed to just playing with the tech just for the sake of it. I am hoping that my first mentoring session will help me to regain my focus and move forward whilst still being experimental.
I am at the beginning of a Fellowship with Random String, a programme produced by Ludic Rooms, a non-profit postdigital arts organisation based in Coventry. The fellowship runs from November 2018 – March 2019. This blog will be an anchor point over the next 5 months; a place for me to discuss and reflect on discoveries I make and new experiences I encounter.
The Random String Fellowship programme is a unique opportunity for practising artists and creatives from any discipline, including visual arts, music, literature and performing arts, who are interested in embarking on their first technology-focused creative enquiry. The fellowship promises to enable practising artists to play, learn and develop ideas for new work using interactive technology. Fellowships are supported by assigned mentors who will be a point of contact throughout the programme. There will be skill sharing sessions as well as opportunities to go and see exhibitions etc. Fellowships commenced with a day long symposium which provided a plethora of inspiration and contextual information, (which I will speak more about in a later blog post). There are 8 Fellows in total, all of whom get to meet each other as well as mentors and Random String staff during an upcoming 2 day residential at the end of November. It will be interesting to see the diversity of the backgrounds of the other selected Fellows, especially as the Fellowship was open to multi-disciplinary practices. I wonder how we will each impact on each others work, and whether there will be any collaboration.
I should give a brief introduction to my art practice for those who are not familiar with my work / previous blogs, so that my start point is clear whilst illustrating the lens through which I view the world. This should then clearly establish the contextual position from which the direction that my experimentation will take is informed.
Up until this point in time my practice has been driven by perception through bodily experience, concerned with notions of the abject, autonomous body. Through my exploration of the materiality of the body I attempt to connect with the innately performative body in view of it’s visceral, abject qualities. Through the re-presentation of bodily materials (such as hair or skin), that have universal familiarity through subjective experience, I am interested in how the gap between viewer and artwork or artist can be bridged; the viewer becomes hyper-aware of their own body, therefore having an empathetic, perceived physical experience.
Satellite, 2018, Menstrual fluid & resin.
I often use my body within my practice as a way of reclaiming space and time. This reclamation is motivated by my desire to challenge, illuminate and confront the expectations of women to exist within a restrictive framework of socially expected behaviour in a patriarchal society. I am fascinated with the public-private and appropriate-inappropriate dichotomy that surrounds discussions in relation to the body. My questioning is driven by assumed acceptable modes of behaviour in society, specifically when discussing the concept of the female in public space.
As a mother I feel much conflict between the label of mother and how I feel as a mother, artist, feminist, etc. The notion of what qualities society thinks makes a ‘good’ mother is problematic and I wonder how the role is performed on a day to day basis.
Mothers pride, 2017, 9 hour durational performance, Buzzcut Festival, Glasgow. Photo credit: Beth Chalmers.
Through the juxtaposition of the immediacy of the body as battery of memory, as site and material, and domestic, seemingly nostalgic, memory-imbued objects which often carry immersive qualities through scent, (such as bread, milk or soap) I am interested in how time and memory become elastic; and how meaning is an inherently subjective perspective.
My practice is seeded in a fine art background, which extends beyond singular methods of making. I often make objects and images using the body/body matter; over the past 3 years I have been working in an increasingly performative / action-based / durational way, with time being a material of importance in my explorations. With a practice that is predominantly process driven I have been curious as to where both the body and the performance space begins and ends. Previously this has been challenged through installACTION whilst examining the residual traces from performative action, but I am looking to challenge this further.
I have never worked with technology (beyond a digital camera) as a main medium in my practice. I have previously been resistant to technology/digital elements; often attempting to create situations that are rooted in the physical and the here and now opposed to virtual spaces, holding the physicality of the body and the fabric of time as an element of importance. I have previously expressed my unease with technology through the dissertation I wrote during my BA(hons) Fine Art and also through the performance for camera made in 2016 called Made Up. I am aware though that my opinion towards technology may be bias due to my parental fear of losing my children to the screen forever! I now accept that times have changed and that technology is actually a large and valid part of our everyday lives. As we live so much of our lives digitally I am interested in how my practice may evolve if technology were to be introduced. I am curious to explore how technology may be considered to be an extension of the body, how it may not actually be as separate from us as I have previously thought. I need to explore this medium to truly understand it’s capacities. I am aware that there are so many technological tools that I don’t even know exist, and so keeping an open mind as I navigate my way through this fellowship is crucial. I have some initial questions on my mind during this beginning part… How can I explore the body through technology? What data can my body produce? Are our bodies separate from technology or does technology become an extension of both our body and our being? Big questions… but it is this standpoint that I take to commence this period of experimentation, which I hope to keep as open as possible, giving focus to testing and exploring opposed to end outcomes.