Mis-fitting at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design

This term I’m doing some Visiting Tutor work teaching into a project for the second year BA Art & Design students.

The original idea was ‘Body Architecture’. Here’s what the brief evolved into after my recruitment:

Creative Mis-fitting

Watch the following music video:

We see someone wearing a succession of body sculptures (is it fashion? art? architecture?) as they walk through the city and prompt a variety of responses from the Normal People.

When we work in the bubble of an art school, it’s easy for us to forget the world outside and how our work might be perceived by those who have not encountered similar things before. We’re going to take our work outside.

Starting at the Margaret Street school of art, walk, run, slide, skate or use an alternative mode of locomotion for 3 minutes 50 seconds (the length of the music video). The place where you find yourself at the end of that time period is the place you will locate your work. Make sure you have arrived at your own space and are not within 20 metres of another Mis-fitter’s location.

Your brief is to design, construct and ultimately wear a body sculpture that responds to and in some way fits your location, whilst at the same time misfitting people’s expectations of what they might encounter in that place. Find a niche or other point of leverage at your location for your construction to echo – a bit like how the guy in the video’s costumes echo the things that are thrown at him. You will be wearing your work, so you also need to consider how it relates to your body and how you will move whilst wearing it.

You will document the process of arriving at your location, finding the bit to riff off, constructing your attire and any interactions that arise out of you and your costume inhabiting your location.

The project launched yesterday and I joined them in the afternoon to give a lecture on the-sort-of-stuff-I-do-and-the-things-I-think-are-interesting-about-working-in-public-space. This included: an overview of Dust, leading on to the importance of interfaces; objects as permission-givers; magic vests; triangulation; vibrant social spaces; interactions with/between strangers; Urban Sensation Transformers; silly hats and the implications of different design aesthetics; city as playground; rule-bending and transgression; comfort zones and accumulation of actions.

Following this we went outside into Birmingham city centre (Victoria Square and Chamberlain square for some blindfold work and giving the students a way in to working (and being vulnerable) in front of an incidental audience.

Working with one blindfolded person and one chaperone, they were given the following exercises:

  1. Blindfolded person to describe everything they sense/notice/feel/are aware of as they walk around.
  2. Chaperone curates a series of sense experiences foe the blindfolded person.
  3. Try to facilitate some interactions with stranger by making the first approach – ask people for the time or for directions etc and see if they then come back with questions or conversation.

We’ll be unleashing works in progress and the final pieces onto the streets around the school of art over the next few week, so keep an eye out for any unusual goings on …and don’t be afraid to say “what are you doing?”

Spaces for learning

On Thursday I attended the Open Hardware Summit and listened to presentations that underlined the importance of different frameworks and approaches to allow innovation to happen. Here I also went to the Open Hardware in Education breakout session.

Mitch loves his job

Live Feeds FeedForward Fieldwork 7: Migrations and Immigrations—Mapping Movements and Power by spurse

On Friday I returned to the Guggenheim Lab and joined Spurse and a group of strangers in co-constructing a tour of the local area in an attempt to answer a set of research questions linked to migration/agents of change.

I was in a group of 5 investigating the identity of the honey bee. I learned a lot as we first pooled our knowledge and then presented our contribution to a tour with the other groups.

The tour makes a stop at the Wholefoods Market aisle selling honey and jam.

On Saturday and Sunday I was at the World Maker Faire. Apart from being surrounded by exhibits and hands-on workshops that exemplified the sort of discipline-linking, world-shifting creativity that we’d talked about elsewhere earlier in the week, I also went to several presentations.

Two in particular addressed this common thread of spaces for learning: Hackerspaces: Schools of the Future and DIY U: Designing Self Organized Education.

These, along with your own testimonials, are helping me to put into context what we achieved with fizzPOP (and to some extent BARG too) in terms of making alternative spaces for learning and the importance of that.

Hackerspaces: Schools of the Future

Hacker and Maker spaces provide passion-based education that many of us missed in traditional education systems. The learning which takes place in these spaces is intergenerational, transdisciplinary, and multi-intelligent. A panel of hackerspace founders will ask how these alternative education venues can be recognized as a legitimate route to certification, how they propagate knowledge across the culture, and how they avoid becoming dull and co-opted. With Mitch Altman (TV-B-Gone), Willow Brugh (Space Federation), Jimmie Rodgers (Bucketworks and The School Factory), James Carlson (Schoolfactory.org), and Jon Santiago (NYC Resistor)


The first thing to note was how chair James Carlson positioned his spaces as school factories (as in things that new models of schools would eventually come out of) and as ‘healthclubs for the brain’.

The panel talked in detail about their responses to mainstream education and how hackspaces were providing learning spaces that didn’t silo people according to age or discipline, but instead provided opportunities for people to learn about the things they wanted to learn about and opportunities for people to discover things they didn’t know they wanted to learn about.

We talked about meritocracies, do-ocracies and being able to share the joy of achievement. We talked about how sometimes the best teachers are those that have only just learned, not those that have been competent for 20 years. We talked about the importance of high tables and being able to ping around between different workspaces. We talked about the process of learning being important, not so much the content which is only a small part of the story. We talked about the inspiration that comes from being around other people who are doing. We talked about measuring growth and how we automatically know how we’re doing anyway – no need to add grades on top of that. We talked about how to teach failure. We talked about how many schools are stuck and how hackspaces can provide alternative spaces free from baggages of the roles people have fallen into within their usual learning environments.

DIY U: Designing Self Organized Education

How do we teach, learn, and credential each other outside the logic of traditional educational institutions?

We talked about universities as unyielding structures of education based on the concept of knowledge being scarce. We talked about communities of practice and how legitimate, peripheral participation can lead to being a master of a skill. We talked about how in this system, as soon as you have taken the first step in, you automatically have a responsibility to help those that come behind you. We talked again about content as a framework. We talked about education being the sum of content (what we learn) + socialisation (how we learn) + accreditation (which for many has become the why we learn). We talked about how “how to” searches are amongst the most popular on Google and YouTube – and how people are sharing their knowledge. We talked about tradeschool and investing some of your time and talent to get someone else’s. We talked about the social nature and value of exchange. We talked about how bartering for skills (rather than paying for them with money) also led to forming ongoing relationships with peers. We talked about how people are finding ways to make knowledge gained in the do-ocracy realm count towards credit in the traditional realm. We talked about different macro and micro scales of education. We talked about the risks of network-based learning. We talked about being committed to each other.


As I get more of the bigger picture that accompanies my own small experiences and experiments, I’m increasingly thinking I’d like to see a hackspace – and all that it entails and all that it might entail – being supported by something like the NESTA Digital R&D Fund. These are spaces that get people involved, that make innovation happen and that need to be explored and made sustainable. Can we make that happen?

Testing, testing…

Please ensure the gate is bolted after entry and exit.

I’m test-driving a few ideas and approaches in preparation for a week in residence at New Walk Gallery as part of their Play Ground exhibition programme:

What rules do we follow in galleries? What rules would you most like to break? What new rules would you write?

The Ministry of Rules (MoR) is a fictional organisation that will be based in the Play Ground exhibition. The MoR needs your help to research, observe, explore, enforce and re-write the rules people may or may not be following in the art gallery and museum.

As part of this I want to check having a Flickr account that people can post to. Would you help me out, please?

I’m looking for examples of signs and notices with some sort of imperative about them. The theme is rules, so the sorts of things that tell you to do this, or not do that or that such-and-such is forbidden.

I suspect road signs and other massively mass-produced signage might get a little dull, but there are loads of examples out there that are custom-made or more interesting because of their context. Can you help me hunt them down and then email them to church20arts@photos.flickr.com ?

Just add the photo as an attachment and, if you want, put a title as the email’s subject. The photos will get posted to this photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/therepositoryofrules/

I’ll leave it running for about a week to see how it shapes up. Get noticing!

Things we have learned #1:

You can add descriptions for the photos in the main text of the email. If your email automatically adds a signature with your contact details etc, you may wish to remove it…

Things we have learned #2:

If you don’t add a title via the subject line, Flickr will use the file name of the image.

We are the experts. Who are we?

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I ask for suggestions for the name we will work under. Probably some sort of government ministry, but we don’t know yet. What do you think?


We work closely with professionals from affiliated departments.

We are the experts in how the public behave in cultural institutions. We work with theory, observation and practical experimentation. We work in large groups and small teams. We work alone. We sometimes go undercover. We make the decisions about what is proper behaviour within museums and art galleries. We enforce those decisions.

Who are we?

Please add your suggestions for the name of this group to the comments, or tweet @genzaichi

Getting stuck into The Participatory Museum (part 2)

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I continue reading The Participatory Museum to get a critical foundation in different approaches to… participation in museums.

As before, below are fragments from the book that seem particularly pertinent. I’ve copied and pasted them across to here as a sort of scrap book as I’ve come across them. Sometimes I’ve added notes, sometimes I’ve added italics, sometimes I’ve added nothing. In an attempt at making things easier to find again later, I’ve organised the cuttings under links to the sections of Nina’s book that they came from.



This technique, like all audience-centric initiatives, requires staff members to trust that visitors can and will find the content that is most useful to them. When staff members put their confidence in visitors in this way, it signals that visitors’ preconceptions, interests, and choices are good and valid in the world of the museum. And that makes visitors feel like the owners of their experiences.

Reminds me a little of the saying “the pictures are better on radio”. Leave space for people to make their own meaning etc etc

Cultural institutions are often terrible at this, especially when it comes to visitors. Even at museums where I’m a member, I am rarely welcomed as anything but another body through the gate. This lack of personalization at entry sets an expectation that I am not valued as an individual by the institution. I am just a faceless visitor.

To some extent, ameliorating that facelessness is a simple matter of providing good guest service. Vishnu Ramcharan manages the front-line staff (called “hosts”) at the Ontario Science Centre. He trains hosts with a simple principle: hosts should make every visitor feel wanted. As Ramcharan put it: “The hosts shouldn’t just be excited generally that visitors are there, but that you specifically showed up today. They should make you feel that you are someone they are thrilled to see at the Science Centre.” This may sound trite, but when you see Ramcharan’s smile, you feel as you do in the hands of any accomplished party host—desired, special, and ready to engage.

Magic vest! Can I wear a magic vest?!

The small presentation of self-expression becomes a kind of beacon that links me to others in a loose social network of affinity.

Aspirational stickers :)
Which behaviour do you secretly most harbour a desire to do when faced with a staid gallery setting?

These kinds of profiles are only useful if the institution can deliver an enhanced experience based on them. In Heroes, the enhancement was the opportunity to find and explore hero-specific content threads throughout the exhibition, and to connect with other people about their different identities.

hmmmmm. What enhanced experience? Link aspirations to the exhibits?
Will people chant together at Sculpture for Football Songs if they’re all wearing stickers saying they want to be noisy in galleries?

Rather than focusing on extending single visits with a pre- and post-visit, it can be more valuable to link multiple visits with offsite experiences.

Starting to sound very transmedia!
(I also think I’ve started reading this through the lens of other projects, since a lot of this chapter is way beyond the scope of my 5 days in the corner of a room. Will be good to see what I can apply, though.)

There’s no “delete” button for the postal service


establish an expectation that you might visit multiple times

See you in a day or two for the next chapter!

Getting stuck into The Participatory Museum (part 1)

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I do some research to get a critical foundation in different approaches to participation in museums.


Nina Simon‘s writing on the subject of participation in museums – and the communities that I have been linked to from it – have been a stimulating influence on my work involving games, schools and more for a few years. Now I’m actually responsible for participatory activities in a museum it seems like a very good prod to get on and read her book The Participatory Museum.

Below are fragments from the book that seem particularly pertinent. I’ve copied and pasted them across to here as a sort of scrap book as I’ve come across them. Sometimes I’ve added notes, sometimes I’ve added italics, sometimes I’ve added nothing. In an attempt at making things easier to find again later, I’ve organised the cuttings under links to the sections of Nina’s book that they came from.


I define a participatory cultural institution as a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content. Create means that visitors contribute their own ideas[1], objects, and creative expression to the institution and to each other[2]. Share means that people discuss, take home, remix, and redistribute both what they see and what they make during their visit[3]. Connect[4] means that visitors socialize with other people—staff and visitors—who share their particular interests. Around content means that visitors’ conversations and creations focus on the evidence, objects, and ideas most important to the institution in question.

[1] Another reason to do a signtific brainstorm at the start of the residency? (see previous post). Preferably leave it up for the duration, too, so it can keep evolving.
[2] Make exchanges with spaces! 2 way exchange. (Ref Counsel for the Artist.)
[3] Seeing, making… different modes of engagement – provide different ways in.
[4] Makes me think of the “sense of community when it snows” example (see previous post)


visitor co-produced experiences.

Need to do prep-work and have a few ideas in back-up, but mostly focus on providing the platforms that enable the visitors to be creative.

Like schools work! “It’s not your job to be creative”!

This may sound messy. It may sound tremendously exciting. The key is to harness the mess in support of the excitement.

How much mess can we get away with?

But people who create content represent a narrow slice of the participatory landscape, which also includes people who consume user-generated content, comment on it, organize it, remix it, and redistribute it to other consumers.

creators are a small part of the landscape. You are far more likely to join a social network, watch a video on YouTube, make a collection of things you’d like on a shopping site, or review a book than you are to produce a movie, write a blog, or post photos online.

When designing participatory components to exhibitions, I always ask myself: how can we use this? What can visitors provide that staff can’t? How can they do some meaningful work that supports the institution overall?

What happens to the results? What’s the point? How does this translate to 5 days straight in and straight out? Might be about making it relevant to my practice?

If you focus solely on participation as a “fun activity,” you will do a disservice both to yourself as a professional and to visitors as participants.

As Geoff Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University, commented in a Wall Street Journal article: “To be most satisfying, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills and important relationships.”

Games researcher Jane McGonigal has stated that people need four things to be happy: “satisfying work to do, the experience of being good at something, time spent with people we like, and the chance to be part of something bigger.”

Make them just tricky/taxing enough. How to make the museum activities just taxing enough? (esp for all age ranges!)

to collaborate confidently with strangers, participants need to engage through personal, not social, entry points.

Starting Points

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I unpick the exhibition blurb, looking for a way in.


The Learning Officer for the exhibition is giving me free rein on this project. My brief, such that it is, is to instigate activities that encourage people to work together whilst having a sense of fun. This could be in the form of competing against each other within a game, but the example she’s used a few times is like the feeling of community after it’s snowed.

The expected audience is predominantly families: “some with large quantities of kids, some a mum and a pushchair”. The activities therefore need to be interesting and accessible for potentially very young children getting involved for, say 20 minutes. My games-based work has mostly been with adults though, so I’ll be wanting to provide more challenging things for that sort of audience – say hello, let me know if you’re interested in visiting, so I can cater for you too!

So that’s it then. Blank piece of paper.

I started by dissecting the listings blurb:

At an art gallery we usually have to follow a series of rules. Don’t touch the work, don’t run, don’t shout, don’t play. Don’t, in short, have fun. We thought it would be good to try something else – this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

What follows is a reproduced version of a list from my paper sketchbook, tidied up a bit and with more added as I think about it again now. I’d have preferred to have mind-mapped this stage, but was out and about without a large surface to work across. Oh for a large portable whiteboard!

Trying to capture the thoughts as fast as they pop into my head

A series of rules.

  • What rules do artists have to follow when making work for galleries?
  • Can we make a piece of work that, in being experienced, requires you to break all the rules?
  • Series? The sum of a sequence of rules?
    • To me implies one after the other, in a particular order.
    • How many rules in a row in the sequence?
    • How many rules in a row before you give up?
    • Who writes the rules?
    • Who teaches us the rules?
    • Are the rules the same everywhere?
    • What rules, Nineteen Eighty Four style, would stop you from having fun outside the gallery?
    • Panopticon gallery design to ensure rules are enforced.

Don’t touch the work,

  • Is remote touching an option? How would that work?
  • Can you have a member of gallery staff who is an authorised toucher? They then relate the sensations back to you…
  • What about work we’re allowed to touch, but don’t want to?
    • Electrified work?
    • Sharp work?
    • Fleshy work?
    • Work that smells?
    • Work that stains

don’t run,

  • Can we slob around then?
  • Take a nap?
  • How fast can you go?
  • Is there a lower limit on speed?

don’t shout,

  • Would people notice if there was absolute silence?
  • What would you like to shout?
  • Do we actually do much shouting elsewhere?
  • Gallery Tourettes

don’t play.

  • Is it not already an elaborate type of game?
  • There’s a particular article I’m thinking of, trying to find the reference…

Don’t, in short, have fun.

  • What constitutes fun?
  • Do we go to the gallery looking for fun?
  • If we were offered fun, would we be comfortable accepting it in those surroundings
  • Consensual? Same thing fun for all? Does everyone want to have fun?
  • Can you accommodate fun and not-fun in the space at the same time?
  • Covert fun vs overt fun.

We thought it would be good to try something else

  • I like the empirical approach! What can we get away with?

this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

  • Imagining the artists themselves on display. A rogues gallery or police line up of people who flout the rules!
  • The artists may treat the gallery as a fairground, but what happens when the gallery re-appropriates the work and displays it under its own rules? Still can’t touch etc
  • Fairgrounds: Thrills, entertainment, paying for the ride, going on the ride again and again, sensory overload, eating candy until you are sick…

So, lots of questions – which is a good start for a residency!

I think taking the theme of “rules” would be a good starting point: from here we can link to the exhibition text, rulesets for games and also a lot of my work where I use rules as frameworks for exploration.

I also think it would be good to start off with a brainstorm in the space at the beginning of the residency. I’ll use the signtific approach which is a really nice way of getting away from your initial (predictable?) ideas and into new territory. I wrote about the process when I first came across it, and have used it in schools since then with some nice results. It’s also a nice way to plaster a wall or floor with post-it notes and get away from the scary empty space we start off with!

Limbering up for Play Ground

The City Gallery, Leicester have asked me to lead some activities for the education programme for their upcoming exhibition Play Ground at New Walk Gallery.

At an art gallery we usually have to follow a series of rules. Don’t touch the work, don’t run, don’t shout, don’t play. Don’t, in short, have fun. We thought it would be good to try something else – this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

I’ll be there over half term, (21st – 25th of February) and treating the time as a residency where we’ll be exploring process rather than aiming towards a particular end result.

In the spirit of starting how we mean to go on, I’ll be using this blog as an online sketchbook as I explore some initial ideas. You’re invited to join in with any constructive responses and suggestions – everything is wide open at this stage so this is your chance to influence what happens at New Walk in just over a month’s time.

To get started then, here are some of the things that will be in the exhibition that I’ll be working alongside.

Mungo Thomson – Skyspace Bouncehouse

Skyspace Bouncehouse by Mungo Thomson

Skyspace Bouncehouse is bulbous and luminous as if designed to be a comic book rendition of a log cabin for the Michelin man, and the title refers, in part, to those brightly colored, inflatable structures one might see in an urban front yard, waiting for kids to climb inside and jump until they lose their birthday cake. Thomson first created customized “bouncehouses” for the Frieze Art Fair Sculpture Park in Regent’s Park, London in 2002, where the public could freely enter and bounce. [source]

Fischli/Weiss – The Way things Go

The Way Things Go (German: Der Lauf der Dinge) is a 1987 art film by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It documents a long causal chain assembled of everyday objects, resembling a Rube Goldberg machine.

The machine is in a warehouse, about 100 feet long, and incorporates materials such as tires, trash bags, ladders, soap, oil drums, and gasoline. Fire and pyrotechnics are used as chemical triggers. The film is nearly 29 minutes, 45 seconds long, but some of that is waiting for something to burn, or slowly slide down a ramp.[source]

Bob and Roberta Smith – Will you make it as an artist?
Bob and Roberta Smith. Will you make it (as an artist)

Angela Bulloch – Sculpture for Football Songs (T12307)

Bulloch has made a number of works using Belisha beacons, which are more commonly used to illuminate pedestrian crossings. Here they are linked to a microphone in the gallery space and respond to sound, which initiates a sequence of flashing lights. The colours of the lights reflect the colours of the West Ham football strip, and the work’s title suggests that football anthems are a particularly appropriate trigger to speed up the light display. The unpredictable interactive element of this work is typical of Bulloch’s practice. [source]

That’s a small flavour. There will also be work by Cory Arcangel, Takashi Murata, Chris Marker, Hassan Hajjaj, Erwin Wurm, Marcel Duchamp, Annika Ström and Martin Creed. …And doings by me – we’ll find out more about what they could be over this series of posts.

Watch. Change paradigms.

DIY Arduino

Over at fizzPOP we’re exploring group dynamics and how to strengthen our community at the same time as running compelling events and extending our skills.

We’ve been doing free-style hack sessions for over a year now and we’ve also run a fair number of workshops and events (Such as Howduino and Theremin Day) on specific areas. We’ve been paying attention and, whereas the atmosphere at the events we run is absolutely fantastic, it’s not sustainable for us to run things at this level on more than an occasional basis. We can however incorporate elements of the big events into the little things we do every fortnight.

Right back in the beginning we pondered on the importance of shared goals and working as a group. We’ve recently returned to this with themed sessions – Hack a Toy and Processing Anonymous being two examples.

Starting on Wednesday the 18th of August we’ll be experimenting with themed hacksessions on a more formalised basis. You’re still welcome to come along and work on individual projects if you like, but the steering group and other members of fizzPOP will be taking it in turns to initiate and coordinate clusters of activities around particular themes. It’s really interesting watching theses themes get negotiated online as people discuss what skills they can share and also what skills they would like to acquire.

This Wednesday the theme will be DIY Arduino – home-made versions of the Arduino board that are more minimal, less expensive, or simply do a specific job – and it is I who has been herding the cats. There are a range of different interests and skill levels at fizzPOP (all are welcome!) but several common focal points seem to have emerged in the online discussion:

  • building a barebones arduino board, either on stripboard or breadboard
  • burning the bootloader using ArduinoISP and building daughterboards to make this easier
  • designing and building low power variants
  • and using the barebones board as a case study for learning about PCB design

Since there’s a bunch of us interested in building our own modules, I’ve been able to buy a load of components in for a lower price than compared to smaller quantities. I’ll be selling components for a bare bones Arduino (NB, it really is just the basics!) for £4.50.

This kit of components (plus battery connector) will be available for £4.50

This kit of components (plus battery connector) will be available for £4.50

This is significantly cheaper than the £25 or so you’ll pay for the full-blown board and, as an artist, it’s what makes multiples and building things like the sonar goggles possible in my work.

So, if you’ve dabbled with Arduino before and are looking to take things to the next level, or perhaps you’ve not yet dipped a toe in because you’ve found the cost prohibitively expensive, than this is the session for you. It won’t be a formal, led workshop, but there will be a room full of people applying their brains to related challenges and with assorted relevant kit etc. Think of it as being in a room with 20 mentors.

There is more information on the fizzPOP website:
and a sign-up page on the wiki:

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