The last 5 months have largely been dominated by my involvement in helping organise the Still Walking festival. All this work recently came to fruition with the various tours and events wending their way across the city.
There are many more words and pictures on the Still Walking blog and Flickr pages, but a few of my photos are gathered here by way of marking these happenings.
A gathering on New Street looks up, causing The DHL Man to stop, linger and say "thank you"
Opportunities to osmose between the inside and outside of tours; to be swept up in the passions contained within, but also to observe them from a distance
Trust and exploration
Taking the road less travelled
Causing people to stop and stare whilst we stopped and listened
Gathering around shared interests
Standing out from the crowd; talking to the individuals within the crowd
City as potential interactions and potential for interactions.
Rules are unwritten …but can be bent.
Interactions with strangers as a mechanism for connecting to place.
Strangers are good for your brain. New people; new ideas.
The importance of interesting things (points for conversation) happening in public places.
The importance of providing spaces for strangers to interact.
How the rules are relaxed in transitional spaces (train stations, elevators etc).
The unexpected works!
The value of conversation.
The value of making interactions where there was none before.
How does it change things if we go about the city knowing we are somebody else’s stranger-in-waiting?
Can we lower the barrier to interesting interactions?
What would a signalling system look like to enable others to see if we were open to new encounters or not. (update 03/10/2011: This question’s been bugging me as being too obvious, so I’d like to use it as a starting point Signtific style to get somewhere else.)
Thinking there’s an empathy barrier analogous to an enthalpy barrier. What novel catalysts can we provide to lower the barrier?
The relationship between activation energy (Ea) and enthalpy of formation (ΔH) with and without a catalyst, plotted against the reaction coordinate. The highest energy position (peak position) represents the transition state. With the catalyst, the energy required to enter transition state decreases, thereby decreasing the energy required to initiate the reaction
After the workshop I stopped to help a man measure a bit of sidewalk that was longer than his tape measure.
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.
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?
Hannah Nicklin speaking eloquently and passionately about remaking the city; ubiquity; not wanting to live in a world where there is such a thing as a girls’ drink; magical realism; putting bodies at the centre; the need for art to use technology as material, rather than as tool; and cabbages.
My practice got nudged onto new tracks and cranked up a notch or five. Now with added locative media and things in the city.
When I got home I co-founded and co-ran the fizzPOP hackspace and the BARG games network, both of which involved running programmes of events and workshops alongside the other participatory stuff of my main practice. All this, bar indirectly via a few commissions, with no further support from public funds.
Hands up please if you've taken part in something I've organised...
Now, three years later, I am in the process of writing another application for Arts Council funding; again to support professional development activities in foreign parts: two weeks in New York City, a couple of visits to Netherlands and… two days in Newcastle…
In case you’re not familiar with the Grants for the Arts application form, there’s a section that asks for me to describe how the public (that’s you) engages with my work. Specifically:
Details about the people the activity will reach (for example, the audiences or people taking part), stating whether these people would not normally engage with the arts (see our information sheet ‘Public engagement’).
One of the four criteria against which my application will be assessed is “How the activity increases opportunities for the public to engage in arts activities.”
I could write this section, but it would carry a lot more weight (and give me valuable feedback on what I’m doing) if you could spare a few sentences to describe in your own words your experiences with the things that I (and various collaborators) have made happen. I really would be very grateful.
Here’s a quick reminder of some of my doings that you may have participated in over the last few years:
Yesterday I went up to Stoke-on-Trent to take part in the Modes of Practice in an Age of Austerity event being run by New Generation Space, where 20 or so artists of different types met and discussed the issues important to them.
I was particularly attracted by the prospect of some interesting brain fodder from artists Emily Speed (‘Getting Paid’) and Rich White (“how a practitioner whose work is not saleable in the traditional sense survives in these difficult times”) as well as a chance to check out The Exchange, which seems to have been popping up on my radar a bit recently. Really though, it’s always good to get the chance to find out about the nuts and bolts of how others function as artists, so it was nice to just be in a room with other people talking about this sort of stuff and galvanising my own practice.
Rich's checklist for deciding what opportunities to pursue
The presentations from Emily and Rich were both very thought-provoking – naturally there were references to money, but there were also strong themes around questions of when we should say no to offered opportunities and assessing different types of value.
The five prompts for discussion
After the presentations we split up into smaller groups and spent some time responding to prompts for sharing our thoughts and experiences:
What impact have the cuts had on your practice or the practice of other artists you know?
What are your main concerns for the coming years?
Have you started to employ any strategies for surviving the cuts, and how could artists help and support each other during these difficult times?
What are the best and worst traits in an artist?
Our fifth prompt was to decide on five rules to ensure good practice. These were then pooled and voted on until we had a mini manifesto of sorts.
Participants vote for the items they think are most important
I didn’t make a copy of the final list per se, although it was interesting to note that the rules all seemed to me to be independent of the current economic climate. The issues of prime concern to us were to keep making work of high quality; to be rewarded (financially or otherwise) fairly for our work; and to be part of wider, mutually and innovatively generous networks.
The blocks we are encountering to these come from perceptions and expectations from society as a whole and we have not always been guilt free of perpetuating them ourselves. If I have one hope for what might result from activism catalysed by the cuts, it is that we may do something towards addressing these attitudes.
If you would like to receive a copy of the manifesto that was produced during this session – or can think of people, institutions, organisations that you think should receive a copy – I suggest you add your request to the comments on the event’s page.
I’ve always struggled with the “hacker” terminology, finding it quite limiting and a hurdle to explaining what hackspaces/hackerspaces are about to the various people I find myself having to explain what hackspaces/hackerspaces are about to. However, I’ve long been a fan of how Noisebridge presents itself. This extract from their wiki:
Noisebridge is a space for sharing, creation, collaboration, research, development, mentoring, and of course, learning. Noisebridge is also more than a physical space, it’s a community with roots extending around the world. [...] We make stuff. So can you.
The definition is in terms of the verbs, not the tools that are used to realise the projects.
I’ve just come across this short introductory video to Noisebridge which I also find presses a lot of my buttons – loving the emphasis on creativity of all sorts: expressed in the space via the craft area, the darkroom, the kitchen, the gas cylinders in the background as Mitch talks, and the massive library! Check out the video below:
Note the importance of community. We always took this as our starting point for fizzPOP, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get a cohesive group together last time. As you can probably tell, I would absolutely love it if Birmingham could support a Noisebridge equivalent, but ultimately it’s down to the community as to what happens.
My main area of enquiry is centred around interactions between people and place: often using tools and strategies from areas such as pervasive games and physical computing to set up frameworks for exploration.
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