Young Rewired Art

I recently spent a week as a mentor/lead artist on the Young Rewired Art programme, a parallel project to Young Rewired State.

YRA took 10 young artists with varying practices (poets, actors, writers and graphic designers) and, over a week with myself and Antonio Roberts introduced them to different ways of working with data. The aim being to support them in exploring ways in which data and digital tools could be integrated into their work.

I led the first day, introducing concepts of physical computing and live datastreams coming from sensors. What better way to do this than with the sonar goggles!

We were based in the BCU section of Millennium Point, but it wasn’t long before the participants rose to the challenge and ventured out into more public space.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Later that day I did a quick introduction to Arduino and we finished off with a few MaKey MaKey boards and a chain of everyone we could find triggering a plum-based piano.

Young Rewired Art

This ice breaker made me think of performing arts lessons in which I have to wonder around blindfolded and tune into my other sense. I thought the glasses would be great for my performing arts practice for when I wanted to work on spatiality.

Other tangible technology Nikki introduced to us were ‘Makey Makeys’, I have to say that this was the highlight of my week; with the aid of the ‘Makey Makeys’ we were able to make a piano out of plums! By doing this we were able to also interact with the Young Rewired State young people by bringing them into our room to see how many humans we could add to our live circuit and still have it working (23 and that’s only because there weren’t more of us). Lexia Tomlinson

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

After Antonio had done similar introductions for data-bending and glitch art, it was time for the participants to get into groups and come up with a prototype project that hybridised their existing practices with some of these new ingredients.

What emerged were a set of glitched Vanley Burke images, a short film exploring digital dependency and twin bears that used proximity sensing to trigger audio contrasting different political viewpoints.

On the final weekend we ventured down from what was now our base in the Custard Factory and displayed our projects guerilla style amongst the amazing chaos of the Young Rewired State Festival of Code.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

We struggled to compete against the lunchtime noise, but finally found a spot for the bears outside and stood back to observe the interactions.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

All my photos and videos are in this Flickr set, keep an eye on the project’s Tumblr for the participants’ final videos which should be published shortly…

Thanks to all who took part – it was an intense and inspiring week!

Young Rewired Art was devised by Amy Martin in partnership with Young Rewired State and Lara Ratnaraja. It is funded by Arts Council England.

Mobile Fun Factory

So we (Garry Bulmer, David Checkley, Rachel Sutton, Kim Wall and I) eventually finished building a Mobile Fun Factory for The Public in West Bromwich.

Designed as a mobile unit that is interactive in its own right as well as providing a method of displaying work made during the summer programme’s activities, the Mobile Fun Factory had quite a brief to fulfil. It also had to fit in the goods lift.

Here’s what we made…

Mobile Fun Factory

It sports:

  • A 42″ screen on the top
  • A smaller touchscreen screen in the Secret Cinema (behind the velvety curtains)
  • Some amazing velvety curtains
  • A camera sending a live feed to a screen on the other side of the unit (pleasingly infra-red)
  • A chimney that glows in a vaguely TARDIS-style manner
  • A scrolling LED matrix
  • Lots of mesh for attaching artworks to
  • A mahoosive blackboard
  • A Control Panel full of big pressy buttons, thunky switches, rainbow LEDs and random noise samples
  • A periscope
  • Glowing circles (really quite pleasing!)
  • And the best boot-up sequence ever (see below)

Mobile Fun Factory boot-up sound from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

And it still fits in the goods lift!

Well, sort of, the periscope and the chimney have to be detached, but we figured out ways of doing this in a reasonably straightforward manner whilst still having them secure once re-attached.

Here are a few photos (more here):

Waiting to receive and disseminate Fun

The gorgeous curtains for the Secret Cinema. What’s inside? Only one way to find out…

Nice kaleidoscope effect when the periscope points at the LED hoop

The LED hoop in all its glory. It also runs Conway’s Game of Life, which is rather nice.

The Control Panel – an easy way to lose track of time as you explore the different sound samples and admire the blinkenlights. All those switches and buttons do something; can you figure them out?

Photos of several of the bits don’t really do them justice, so here’s a quick video to give more of a flavour:

Mobile Fun Factory from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

The Mobile Fun Factory is now parked up in the main entrance atrium to The Public awaiting your interaction pleasure. Go have a play.

Museum Camp: interesting digital stuff that doesn’t involve screens

On Monday I attended Museum Camp. As with MuseumNext in 2009 it was a) rather marvellous and b) a stimulating place to discuss ideas that relate directly and indirectly to my practice. Thanks to all involved!

Hello. We are interested in Museums and we want to think about...

I hadn’t intended to lead a session, but as a spur-of-the-moment decision I offered to instigate a session on ‘interesting digital stuff that doesn’t involve screens’. This was largely from a desire to carry on the conversation that had begun with my recent residency at Coventry Artspace linking in with Heritage Open Days, but also fly the flag for this other face of digital that perhaps institutions aren’t aware of.

I was really happy to see so many people come along to take part in the session. Sitting-on-tables-or-the-floor room only! This post is intended as a reference for those that were in the session and those that weren’t able to join us: pulling out the main areas of discussion and linking to some of the examples mentioned.

I started off by talking a bit about my background and why I was interested in interesting digital stuff that doesn’t involve screens: my journey through gradually more expanded forms of people+place and then influences from pervasive games (I like this definition) and the hackspace/makerspace movement.

I sat on a table and waved my hands a lot as I talked about two recent digital installations that encapsulated a lot of stuff I’m passionate about: making people look up; affecting how people interact with a space; instigating collaboration; making people think and speculate and do experiments to try and find out.

Trapeze Monkey from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Secret Police Disco from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Rebecca Shelley took some comprehensive notes on the conversation that followed as has been kind enough to share them, so here’s where we went from there…

But how much does it cost and is it something we can realistically implement?

Your local hackspace as a resource for know-how and possibly people with skills looking for an interesting project to use them on:
Coventry: Tekwizz
Hackerspaces wiki (includes a listing of active spaces around the world)
Hackspace Foundation has a UK list

Not got a local hackspace? Why not host one?
Museum 2.0 post
At the time of MuseumNext 2009 The Life Science Centre in Newcastle had got a long way towards planning to host one, not sure how far they got with implementing it.

Arduino is the platform I use: a small computer but also a community that shares a massive amount of information. A standard board costs about £25 and a lot of the sensors are available now as things aimed at a hobbyist market. It’s probably people’s time that’ll be the main expense.

Sensors include distance-measurers, motion sensors, noise detectors, humidity sensors… You can link up sensor inputs to a variety of different outputs, with some decision-making in between if the result is this, then do this.


Later on we reminded ourselves that the behaviour or effect we wanted to induce should lead the design, rather than the technology.

Use what you have in terms of resources and the space.

Low-tech is as valid as high tech.

Other technologies you can harness

Magic vests, silly hats and balloons.

Secrets, missions, games, small groups of people who are in-the-know and pantomine (as seen with the Secret Police Disco as people who had found it tried to enable others to make the discovery too).

How do you set/stage the space?

How you describe what’s going on and the process by which people enter that activity (or not).

Do I see it as performance? No – mostly because the idea would terrify me! – but I do see it as performative sometimes, and I’m interested in spectacle and different types of audiences that observe it.

I tend not to emphasise art (it’s scary to a lot of people!)
I tend not to emphasise technology (it’s scary to a lot of people!)

Can you pique people’s curiosity? Reward those that seek out the hidden things?

The Heritage Open Day event that Trapeze Monkey and the Secret Police Disco were a part of had a short paragraph and the end of the heritage-orientated handout that said I’d been in residence and things were ‘available for discovery’.

Question from Nikki: How does this sit with pedagogical aims of institutions? Does it matter if only a small number of people make the discovery?


How do you connect these experiences with the outside?

One participant talked about experience using gamification, linking in to people’s online social networks and harnessing the technology people carried in their pockets.

Another reminded us that not everyone has smart phones and I reminded us this was a session about non-screen-based approaches!

We then talked about the urge to share stories/experiences and possibly also how to close the feedback loop and do something useful with the contributions coming in from social media (or I might be conflating that with later discussions).

Education and fun

I noticed a few undertones that seemed to suggest these two are mutually exclusive…
(I disagree.)

Flows of visitors

Institutions are aware that visitors tend to stay in the areas that are more populated. Can we use interactive installations to draw people into the less well-trodden areas?

We talked about conferring agency, and how this brings people back if they can see their actions are having a direct effect on the space.

Someone talked about the audio piece Shhh… at the Victoria and Albert Museum and how it had enabled things like men transgressing into the ladies loos.

Can I give some examples of exemplary projects?

Um, this threw me a little as I think this is what I’m trying to move towards understanding through getting more of the museums’ points of views. I fell back on describing things I had encountered that had resulted in me having a powerful experience.

Symphony of a Missing Room, Lundahl & Seitl part of the 2011 Fierce Festival Hannah Nicklin’s thoughts and a This is Tomorrow article.

Ran on blindfolds, binaural recordings and the gentlest of touches leading you down the rabbit hole.

We talked again about spectacle, and returning to see what things look like from the outside. Also buying in to an activity and submitting to the experience.

Blast Theory were mentioned as the technology big guns. I’d seen some of their control room for I’d Hide You. It’s a lot of tech!

Reminded me to say that things will go wrong. Embrace it! (And design for it!)

This linked us back to an open approach and fostering a sense of agency and ownership – you can playtest your prototypes and people will appreciate it, it doesn’t matter if it’s not polished and flawless.

Hide&Seek’s Sandpit approach (and use of low tech).

I also mentioned the previous week’s Heritage Sandbox showcase and the Ghosts in the Garden project at the Holburne Museum. Smartphone technology wrapped up in an intriguing interface and an engaging narrative.

I’m totally into this as an approach and have used cardboard and simple electronics to replace touchscreens and turn using what’s basically a satnav into a team activity for 5 people.

Worried about a lack of budget? Cardboard props are great because they flag up that this is something running on imagination-power and you can do anything with that!

A Song for Skatz: using The Anticipator from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Aspirational Clocks

This excerpt from a piece in the One Day in the City: Part I exhibition at University College London caught my eye and my imagination:

Aspirational Clock

1913 – the Post Office was sets up [sic] a cheaper version of its electrical time service, known as ‘synchronisation’. A newspaper article noted that this, “it might be thought, would risk the business of the lady who calls at the Observatory once a week for the right time and then carries it around to her clients. But apparently there is no danger of this . Miss Belville … cuts time down to finer distinction than any synchronized clock can aspire to.”

I love the idea of clocks aspiring to be more and of time being something you can carry. I think there’s some interesting leverage in infusing our technology with dreams and also of giving the intangible mass and physical form.

Miss Belville – Ruth – was one of the Greenwich Time Ladies. Also fascinating and a good reminder that tech can slip.

On making things

I came across this short documentary this morning:

We Make Things. from Ryan Varga on Vimeo.

Here are my resonant points:

  • Technology as the tools we use to communicate with other people.
  • Making technology accessible is: looking at something, knowing it, understanding it, taking it apart, putting it back together, remaking something new.
  • Understanding the technology as having come from somewhere: as having an origin, as being made.
  • I do a lot of work with technology, but I’m not actually interested in technology – I’m interested in people.
  • Technologies of various kinds have the power to change our relationship to the world, to other people.
  • Not having to allocate technology to an expert. Community is the biggest thing that’s motivating. The tools themselves are boring.
  • Development practice in some ways is as meaningful politically as protest and voting.
  • The maker movement is portrayed as something that’s new, but it’s not: it’s a return to knowing how things work.
  • We’ve been through this era where things got kind of abstracted and sealed off, where we weren’t looking at them. [The technology inside things.]
  • It’s very hard for people to connect with a mentor – with a master, if you will – and the information share from generation to generation …we’ve let technology get in between that.
  • The separation of language and action. When we describe something linguistically, it’s very easy for us to form what that thing is and it doesn’t necessarily resist us very much. When we make something, the thing we make doesn’t always do what we want it to do.
  • When we’re doing critical making we’re not doing craft. We use making, not to come up with some kind of object for display, and not to come up with some kind of product to be sold, but as one way of guiding a shared experience. So we make together, and we think together, and we talk together…
  • The MakerBot is something that’s like, even though it’s digital, it’s kind of pulling us back to that to that time before the Industrial Revolution where people truly took time to figure out how things were made and what they were made from.
  • Objects with no traces of their production process are the wrong goal.We need to figure out ways to see the traces.
  • The great revolution: it’s not going to be people actually doing, it’s going to be that people understand what people that do, do

Those ideas around traces of the making process and understanding the origins of technology were in my head as I walked around Eastside this afternoon collecting data for Uncertain Eastside.

Blood. Sweat. Tears. Data.

It’s important to the work, and to me, that the two GPS units are carried around the city by hand, and that I push myself physically to do this (I do two circuits back-to-back, 7 and a bit miles). That those screens of numbers, of data, have an origin in human toil.

broken shoes

Disintegrating shoes (after a day gathering data around Nottingham)

update: And then, as if to prove the point, I processed the data from the day’s walking and got this, so I’ll have to do it again:

:( That's 7.32 miles I'll be walking again next week, then... #badGPSday

hacking at the interstice

The Birmingham hack space mailing list has been going for several weeks now and much of the current discussion is centred on premises, constitution and business plans.

I’ve seen a fair bit of this stuff before when it’s been artists wanting studio space rather than hackers and tinkerers wanting a warehouse with WiFi. Only once have I seen it come close to fruition (I believe progress is still being made) and that was with a group of artists with very established reputations/practices. Fair enough: there are large sums of money concerned (which really need an established group with demonstrable outputs first!) and there’s a particular balance needed for you to be prepared to off-set building management duties against the benefits of having a space.

Wait a minute! I already have a space that can be used for messing around with tech and interfaces!

The decision that I was going to use the lounge in my new flat as a pseudo venue was made a month or so ago (referred to as interstice as a riff off of this post) and, grabbing a small slot of available time, last Thursday night I set up a sign-up page for people wanting to come around and work on whatever projects took their fancy.

That’s it: no agenda was set, just a start and an approximate finish time. I would provide the WiFi and attendees were instructed to bring stuff and some food to share.

The format was part Jelly co-working:

We invite people to work from our home for the day. We provide chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of.

You bring a laptop (or whatever you need to get work done) and a friendly disposition.

and part Kissa Hanare (shared food used as a keystone for producing a social atmosphere, strategies put into place to ensure the regular event is sustainable without impinging too much on the host’s normal activities).

laps and tarts

We had a small group of people, a great atmosphere (assisted by jam tarts!) and an unheard of amount of iguanas. Tinkering included fiddling with tints on Pindec’s Flatpack app; extracting code from Flash games past, in preparation for re-writing them in a newer language; and an infeasibly large amount of time spent trying to get some Python code from a Vista machine working on XP (thanks Ciarán!).

multiple RFID readers and a walrus

I now have 4 RFID readers interfacing between a crowdsourced Officious Walrus and Twitter, so stand by for more gubbins that plays with that!

In the meantime, the discussion continues over on the Birmingham hack space mailing list and I do believe someone else off the list has offered his office space for use, so hopefully things will evolve into a weekly hack session alternating weekly between venues. Come join us and see what happens!

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