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:
interacting with spaces,
the (non)exchange of stories,
non art audiences,
to tweet or not to tweet,
the things you get used to,
secret messages and secret lives and giving the secret things voices,
existing as different things at different times,
connecting with the monkey,
almost hearing the sermons,
doing it again,
steel-capped boots and caring for the building,
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,
slightly blinkered views
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.
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 Laura@coventry-artspace.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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:
My aim with this installation/intervention was to try and turn the large, empty space of the Community Room into a reverse ballroom – not somewhere where the occupants all move in coordination, but one where they synchronise standing still.
We learned that people find it very hard to stand still…
Fair play though: most people got there in the end!
With nothing more than a prompt on the doorway to the room to not startle the monkey, it was largely left to people to a) find the monkey, b) decide how not to startle it and c) hang around long enough to find out if they’d got it right and what would happen as a result.
Perhaps we should add d) on to the end of that list: whether (and how) to teach newcomers.
I popped in and out of the room quite a lot (monkey maintenance), but I don’t remember doing a massive amount of explanation, even though I joined in the standing still quite a lot. On quite a few occasions I saw people jumping around and waving their hands a lot in order to try and entice the monkey down. My favourite experiment however, was the family that spotted the stereo in the corner and started playing music at various volumes to see what startling effect that might have. Since the stereo was in the corner out of range of the monkey’s motion sensor, it turns out to have had the effect of making him come down!
Below are a selection of my photos from across the weekend. The complete set can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikki_pugh/sets/72157631495270018/ and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for images coming from some of the other people who were around and documenting stuff.
There are some technical improvements I would make to this installation if I had the chance to do it again. I also have a hankering to fill the room’s canopy with a whole cartload of monkeys!
I’m very happy with the responses the installation catalysed – and am satisfied with the simple ‘do not startle’ prompt, but one thing I think I would like to explore is better communicating the reason there was a Trapeze Monkey. (There’s a group that uses the room regularly as a space in which to practise circus skills. I had a chat with some of them whilst I was working, and they’ve been coming to Artspace for at least 15 years. I also learned that I’ve forgotten how to juggle clubs…)
Unfortunately the monkey mechanism wasn’t reliable enough to leave running over the next few weeks, but we did talk a few times about what it might be like to have it running whilst the community room was in use by the various pottery, art, acting and circus skills groups that rent it out. Would he just stay in his box the whole time, or would he creep into people’s peripheral vision during a quiet moment?
HIJACK is a commission offering artists and curators the opportunity to make radical architectural/artistic interventions in the Artspace building; responding to its history and location and hijacking its usual purposes to create an unusual find for a public event.extract from ARC: HIJACK project brief
[...] I will research, develop and install a series of small interactive interventions within the Artspace building and immediate surroundings. These contraptions will be responsive to the presence of people in these spaces. Where possible, I’d also like them to resonate with the stories of those that have passed through the various histories of the building.
Using a variety of sensors such as proximity, motion, heat and humidity sensors, mechanisms will move, shake, rattle, roll, reveal, hide, strike, ping, scrape, dangle and waft as people move into their awareness. [...]
Itchy questions I want to scratch at:
- What does it feel like to have a building watching you?
- How does this flip our assumptions for Open Heritage Day if a) the fabric of the building is woven through with technology and, rather than people going to look at the building, the building is looking at the people?
- What playfulness can be instigated and how will this result in people moving their bodies through the spaces of the building?
Extract from my proposal
Constructing indoor, fixed constructions was something of a new context for me since starting to work with sensors and physical computing, although I did find that my starting point was very similar: what spaces do I want to amplify and what movement/behaviour would I like to instigate in the audience? I identified a wishlist of places (non-places) and the sorts of flows and pauses I wanted to try and instigate within them. From these I was able to get 5 devices designed, made and installed ready for the Heritage Open Day weekend:
Tweeting Members’ Room – Automatically logging a selection of activities in the (off-limits) Members’ Room and publishing their occurrence on the internet.
Ghost (Town) Tapper – Making the fabric of the basement resonate with the echoes of the past. Hoping to instigate a bit of a boogie.
Dodge Errol – Animated
decoupage cobboulage. Encouraging people to hang out in the pseudo gallery space in the corridor by the loos.
Trapeze Monkey – Turning the empty space of the Community Room into something of a ballroom. Can groups of visitors coordinate inaction to entice a monkey down from the rafters?
Secret Police Disco – Something that must be hunted out or discovered completely by chance. Marking the threshold to the basement with a reference to a Police social club.
The Artspace building and humans were both a delight to work with and for. So many stories; so many questions; so much enthusiasm. It was also great to be making things for the Heritage Open Day audience and to able to make things that, on the surface at least, were very playful.
As ever, though – and as all research projects should – we unearthed more questions with our experiments and noticings. Save the date of Wednesday the 19th of September for an evening Answer and Question session (different to a Question and Answer session!), where together we shall be looking at what happened, what might have happened, and what we might want to try and make happen next…
In the meantime, I’ll be adding further blog posts here with initial documentation and observations.
One of my installations available for discovery and interaction at Artspace in Coventry.
Free, today and tomorrow, 11-4.
Coventry Artspace, 16 Lower Holyhead Road, Coventry, CV1 3AU [map]
I’m around for chatting, asking “what if” and coming up with crazy ideas – would be lovely to see you.
Problem: the monkey is too heavy for the stepper motor to lift.