Colony presentation at Pecha Kucha Coventry

Here’s a words-and-pictures version of the presentation I did for Pecha Kucha Coventry on the 30th of September…


2010. I’m working with GPS data and walking around Birmingham, on the cusp of starting to try and weave together thoughts about public space, DIY tech, playfulness and the ways in which combining these can change our relationships with the places where we live.

By November I’m starting to get the headpictures – the fleeting images of a half-seen thing that compel you to make the thing so that you can get the rest of the detail.

In my mind’s eye I could see small groups of people carrying creatures that would give them some sort of extended awareness of the built environment around them. I wanted to know how this group would affect – and be affected by – the city as it moved through it.

This project became Colony, And this is a whistlestop tour of what happened next…

I wanted the communication between the person and the creature to mainly be through touch. We’re so used to interacting with things through screens, but I wanted to leave sight free for everything else in the world, not looking down at this thing.

The first prototype had a long contact interface across the person’s body.

Here’s an abridged description from Holly Gramazio:

It has half a dozen different types of vibration (a central shake, for example, and a long ripple that moves from the narrowest end of the bundle to the widest).

It decides when to vibrate – and what sort of vibration to make – entirely at random.

The first thing we noticed was that was that holding the bundle gives you an immense feeling of entitlement.

It’s a cross between a Magic 8 Ball, a personality quiz, a pet, and an emperor.

Out of that first proof of concept we saw how readily people would invest the random vibrations with personality and intent. It also gave us permission to explore the secret corners of Birmingham.

The next iteration had vibrations that were linked to the built-up-ness of the immediate surroundings – this led us into more corners and alleyways.

What we also got from this location-aware version was an excuse not just to go to different places, but to interact with those places in non-usual ways.

We all agreed there was something very nice in the soft, warm, light, secretive cuddliness of the creatures.

So there was really only one direction to go in next!

Big, heavy and cumbersome, I made three of these wooden drums that tapped at different intensities depending on whether you were out in the open or not.

With consumer electronics constantly striving for smaller and sleeker, it was interesting to see the effects of a mobile device you have to work hard at. Really hard at.

The residency those were made through also presented some chewy problems regarding how to exhibit these objects. I usually use galleries as hubs for activity, so exhibiting actual things isn’t something I do a lot of.

When I see the objects as being only half of the constructed assemblage, how do I usefully represent them after the experience and when the person half is not there?

Another residency. This time with a few days to think a bit about the Colony as linked individuals.

I did some experiments with these little radio units and playing around a bit in carparks at night to find out when they stop being able to communicate with each other.

Later, I built on this to make Landscape-reactive sashes. Here the members of the proto-colony are wearing these yellow sashes that have a radio and a vibration motor in them. There’s a central node who is analysing the GPS data and sending out the vibration instructions to all the sashes.

Become separated from the group and your sash goes still.

With Drift, I wanted to find out if it was possible to ‘read’ – to interpret – the vibrations from the sashes.

Given a choice of 3 possible broadcasters – these magnificent creatures – could you deduce which one it was from thinking about the different places where they were stood?

Last year the heavy objects came out again. This is David and Sam from the wonderful If Wet… walking them around rural Worcestershire after I challenged them to use them as musical instruments.

All three of us walked for something like an hour, and I’m fairly sure they saw them more as instruments of torture rather than as a way of sonifying the landscape.

Then I was invited to present a workshop as part of the Global Conference On Mobility Futures at Lancaster University. These are the sashes being walked around a drizzly campus.

Mobilities Studies is a youngish area of research that explores the movement of people, ideas and things, as well as the broader social implications of those movements.

Although the weather was uninspiring I’m getting a lot out of Mobilities Studies as a way of thinking about my work.

This Summer I got an Arts Council grant and finally a chance to dedicate a bigger chunk of time to developing the creatures. Priorities were 1) investigating how to design the bodies so they could communicate the creature’s emotional state, and 2) building in an awareness of the Colony as a whole.

The latter was beyond my skills, so I delegated that to Tarim, who actually knows how to do computer programming. The former started here with bits of string, post-it notes and dissecting pushpuppets for scientific purposes.

The next step was a heartbeat inside cardboard boxes. Even that had the power to make people feel empathy towards the thing and curiosity towards their surroundings.

Over a total of about 35 days we’ve gone from that, to 3 of these.

I spent 9 days working with Sarah Barnes at the laser cutting facility at UWE. Here we built many, many iterations of hearts and spines and brackets and levers.

With physical manifestations to play with, we could figure out the mechanics and also the intricacies of how it all related back to the human body in motion.

We were confident we were onto a winner with this design, and this was confirmed when we put the creatures into the arms of a small group of playtesters.

Humans of course being the part of the system that it’s hardest to design for.

I’m starting to understand about how to manage the getting-to-know-eachother stage where empathy is formed, the Colony is bonded and a shared language is developed.

I was hoping the Colony would provide something of a spectacle, making other people nearby curious about what was going on. I wasn’t prepared for quite how many people came up to us and wanted to touch, wear and talk about the creatures.

I love that these things make a space for stranger: stranger interactions.

And then there was all the unexpected stuff too: one woman spent ages drawing with one of the creatures by dragging it around by one end.

We can also confirm they’re unexpectedly good at skateboarding and that they do not like being dangled over deep water.

I think it’s important for people to have a framework for sitting down and sharing their stories and experiences after walking with these things. I’ve also been working with David Haylock to map the data collected by the creatures, so we have a visual reference for when different things happened and a starting point for thinking about why they happened.


I didn’t really have a snappy closing line, so instead I invited the evening’s organiser, Janet, to come up and meet the critter I’d bought with me

(re)form follows function – presentation at PKN Coventry

If you’ve been anywhere within earshot of me for the last couple of weeks you’ll know that I’m currently on a placement with the Bikes and Bloomers research group at Goldsmiths, and very excited I am about it too.

I’m particularly excited about their emphasis on the use of stuff to understand stuff, and also how we can get messy and inventive in our communication of our new understandings.

It was in this spirit that I gave this presentation for Pecha Kucha Night, Coventry.

Unfortunately their usual videographer was unable to make it to the event, so this is the footage I got from my compact camera propped up on a makeshift tripod made from an empty glass and some mobile devices… Exposure and sound are suboptimal, but I’ve added captions which you can switch on (recommended), by clicking on the [CC] button. Full screen’s probably also a good idea.

(re)form follows function from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

29 Not-Quite-Random Walks Around Tokyo

I’ve been a bit slow in posting this one, but the audio and slides of the talk I did for Pecha Kucha Night Coventry in October has been put on the main PK website:

The explosion during slide 13 is courtesy of the party poppers left behind by an earlier speaker, Laura Elliot!

Follow @PKN_Coventry on Twitter to keep up-to-date with what’s happening with future events.

Coming up: Yamanote Stories at Pecha Kucha Coventry

Tomorrow I’m one of the presenters at Pecha Kucha Night Coventry, this time in turn part of the Japanese Cultural Festival being run by The Tin Music and Arts.

This means entry is free and there’s karaoke afterwards should you so fancy it!

Using an edited map to navigate around Tokyo

I thought the Japanese theme would be a good excuse to look again at a project I did back in 2006: Sites of Potentiality Guidebooks: Yamanote Line. 29 not-quite-random walks in Tokyo looking for Interesting Things.

PKNCov regulars may remember the Invite Boredom presentation Paul Conneally talked about a year or so ago:

Pecha Kucha Coventry | Vol 8 | Paul Coneally from MINDRIOT PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.

This is very much a precursor to the Invigilator project and probably sets the scene for most of my practice since then!

See you at the Coal Vaults at 7pm.

Looking for meaning

I spotted this whilst out and about in Coventry last week: a shop window with no fewer than 6 trapezing monkeys!

I’m desperately hoping that this is because this building is where a large group of people come to practise circus skills…


Recording of the ARC A&Q discussion

Last Wednesday night we held the A&Q discussion session to round off my Artspace Research Commission. Present were representatives of the Coventry Artspace community including artists, studio holders, directors and board members.

Jon Randle bought along recording equipment, so we are able to share this documentation of the 90 minute free-form conversation:

Topics covered include:
multiple histories,
interacting with spaces,
unsuspecting audiences,
looking up,
the (non)exchange of stories,
non art audiences,
online experiences,
audience feedback,
to tweet or not to tweet,
the things you get used to,
secret messages and secret lives and giving the secret things voices,
invisible people,
existing as different things at different times,
connecting with the monkey,
unexplored spaces,
almost hearing the sermons,
doing it again,
engendering happiness,
steel-capped boots and caring for the building,
eradicating smells,
glitter balls,
non visuals,
void spaces,
not realising the basement is derelict,
Specials cotton wool and not being beholden to it,
what could be done with the xxxxx space?,
allowing cultural squatters,
ownership and territories,
heritage graffiti,
slightly blinkered views
and whitewashing.

Thanks to everyone who took part for an interesting conversation and a chance to look at the building, the residency and its various outcomes from various different perspectives.

A&Q session for ARC: Hijack

As I mentioned at the start of my week on the Artspace Research Commission, I suspected that the process would (and should) raise as many questions as it answered.

I made my devices; installed them in selected locations; and we stepped back and watched people discover and interact with them.

But it feels like the job would be unfinished if we left it at that.

What did we notice? What did we learn? What might we try next time?
(Writing this I’m suddenly reminded of the standard structure we used for our lab reports when I was an engineering student!)

This coming Wednesday you are invited to come along to Artspace and interact with the installations with a critical eye before participating in a round table discussion to wrangle with observations, intentions and aspirations. All welcome. It’s free. There will be biscuits.

Answer and Question Night with Nikki Pugh

Wednesday September 19th
6:30pm (7pm start) at Coventry Artspace
16 Lower Holyhead Road, Coventry, CV1 3AU [map]

Nikki, Artspace and the building are inviting you to be part of this conversation in a night of lively discussion where anything might happen.
Refreshments and interactions from 6:30pm
Discussion starts at 7pm
More information or to RSVP

Secret Police Disco

I’m very proud of the monkey and the effects it catalysed, but the Secret Police Disco may have to be declared the most powerful of all the installations. Not bad for something about an inch high!


Hidden away behind the hatch to the basement, only viewable through the gap caused by the hinges, the Secret Police Disco was intended to be a subtle counterpoint to the big obviousness of installations such as the Trapeze Monkey and Ghost (Town) Tapper.

I decided not to tell anyone where it was (although I did succumb to pressure/sympathy and give a few clues!) and wait and see if it got discovered. What was really interesting was watching what happened after that…

On each day of the weekend we had a team of Challengers working with us to facilitate and document the various things going on. I briefed them about the Monkey in the Community Room’s rafters, the tapping things in the basement and the tweeting things in the Members’ Room, but when it came to the police disco (the building was at one point used as a social club for the police force) I merely said that there was one, and, if they were to find it, to please not broadcast its location.

That of course turned it into a massive mission to try and find it. The ‘secret’ bit of the title kind of evolved into use as different knots of people started challenging each other to find it. What was nice though, was that it wasn’t out-and-out competition, but rather the different groups would also work hard to lead people to the point of discovery. [Note to self: read up on naches and vicarious pride.]

Secret Police Disco was a really nice reminder that small can be juicy and also that, amongst all the complicated mechanisms, some of the most powerful technologies for interaction at our disposal are collaboration; collusion; obstruction; pantomime (thanks Martin!); blinky lights; and an understanding that our actions have made something happen.

Dodge Errol

The choice of location for this piece was simply to make people linger in the non-space of the corridor outside the toilets. It’s also practically the only place out of the whole building that looks a leetle like a gallery space, so that suggested making something in a frame…




My commission included the support of a bursary awardee – Reece Kennedy – who gamely dived in to all this new techy stuff. To balance out the shopping runs for fishing wire and batteries, I challenged him to come up with (and produce) the content of the frame.

On learning that there used to be a youth club housed in the building, and that one of their activities was a boxing club, Reece immediately made the association with Coventry-raised boxer Errol Christie.


Reece constructed the frame, ‘cobboulaged’ the image and got the different elements mounted up on foamboard and servo armatures. I provided a bit of demo code and from that he defined the sequence and ranges of movement. All that then remained was for me to link it up to an infra red range finder as a triggering mechanism.

Dodge Errol from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Ghost (Town) Tapper

At first I was unsure about placing interventions in the Artspace basement – this space is already so loaded with story and visual stimulation.

The basement is famously known as the former rehearsal space of The Specials and other 2-Tone bands. ‘The Holyhead Music Workshop’ is still preserved in its original 1970s-80s condition, including original graffiti and signage and is part of Coventry’s cherished 2-Tone Trail.From the Heritage Open Days website

After a bit of pondering, however, (and also some gut feeling during a walk-around) I came up with a couple of designs that I thought might work. Only one of these got realised: Ghost (Town) Tapper.

There are security bars across many of the windows at Artspace and they’d got my attention as early on as the pre-application surgery session, during which I couldn’t resist getting up and pinging the ones in the Members’ Room with my finger.

I particularly liked the ones on the basement windows for their liminal nature. Maybe just on the threshold of the basement would be something I could work with…

Ghost Town seemed an obvious song to reference and, when my ears failed to be able to pick out what was going on, Mister Underwood heroically stepped in with a spreadsheet even I could decode …and then recode as instructions for the solenoids.

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and...

When we played it back we liked it so much we decided to leave it as-is and not worry about matching it to the tempo of the original track.

I wasn’t able to spend much time in the basement over the open weekend, so I didn’t see many of the interactions it instigated. I did see a couple of corkers, though! I do hope a little bit of boogie-ing went on too…

Here are some of my photos:

Copyright and permissions:

General blog contents released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license. Artworks and other projects copyright Nicola Pugh 2003-2024, all rights reserved.
If in doubt, ask.
The theme used on this WordPress-powered site started off life as Modern Clix, by Rodrigo Galindez.

RSS Feed.