Blogging as reflective practice

You are reading a blog that started off about art practice-based research charting
the journey of doing a phd. It explores alternative ways of using hand held devices
to create print-based interactive artworks using graphical tagging such as QR-codes.
Art, design, technology and craft were the main themes in writing. But life gets in the
way, and over this journey the story takes unexpected happy twists along the paths
of having a baby, going on a UK Digital Economy Sandpit, meeting fanstastic people,
and subsequent group success in funding for a large multidisciplinary research
project called TOTeM.

Done and Dusted 

I’ve finally submitted my PhD!!! What a feeling of joy! It is just such a relief to get it out of my hair – I was planning on celebrating, but of course, being me, no such luck! I’ve come down with a terrible ear infection. I guess its all that adrenaline going out of my body and now I need a good long rest!

Posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 07:18PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan | CommentsPost a Comment

Using tagging technologies to preserve indigenous cultures

As I mentioned in my last blog post, for TOTeM we’re collecting some stories from some First Nation people in Canada. At Dundee, we’ve been collecting the first stories of objects, and mostly at the moment art objects. This has lead us to collaborate with another research group at who have been working at establishing a print studio in the North West Territories of Canada for the community to use. In this way there is a means of preserving traditions, capturing stories and enabling the community to create works for sale to provide an income stream that would further enable financial sustainability. And of course, printmaking is fun and brings people together.

I have been working through two great guys, Scott and Paul, who have been going out to Canada and setting up the Sambaa K'e print studio. The artworks coming out of the studio are really amazing and I’ve learnt so much about the Dene culture through the stories. Because we weren’t sure if the community would be interested in working with the TOTeM project, Scott did a workshop with the children of the community to tell the stories of the favourite thing or place. It went so well that now more people are becoming involved and we’re tagging artworks with stories. In October this year, they’ll be part of an exhibition at the Anstruther Scottish Fisheries Museum, and I'm quite excited about seeing it all come together.  What I like about what we’re doing is that the community we’re working with is of an oral tradition, and with the use of audio, we are able to preserve that too. The lovely aspect of hearing someone tell a story, I hope will bring people closer together.

We’ll have an opportunity through tagging artworks, to let others know about a culture and traditions that may not otherwise have access to, and in doing so provide a platform for sustaining and preserving what is important to a community. What’s great about it all, is that through tagging and mobile technologies, the audience becomes wider and more global, raising awareness of cultures that may otherwise be lost. Interestingly another group in Chile is also going down the path of tagging to preserve indigenous culture with the project Coded Stories. Artist Guillermo Bert has been working with Maupache weavers in Chile to create QR code weavings that link to poetry and stories from writers, artisans, healers and village elders. The Maupache are Chile’s largest indigenous population, who have fought to protect their identity for over 300 years. Recently they have begun to reassert their cultural and political rights within the framework of modern Chilean society. But their way of life continues to be threatened, and their language and stories have started to disappear. Bert has worked with the community to try and reverse this, through the creation of woven, encoded textiles and a film, which will be shown at the Pasedena Museum of California Art, also in October:

Los Angeles-based artist Guillermo Bert's exhibition Encoded Textiles is inspired by the latest generation of bar codes (QR codes), their capacity to hold 200 times more information than traditional bar codes, and the graphic similarities between the bar codes and the textiles of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. With the use of high-tech software and industrial processes, Bert transcribes the stories, poems, and narratives of six influential leaders of indigenous communities into QR codes, which are then re-created into tapestries by indigenous weavers. Bert's project, an exploration of technology, language, and cultural heritage, seeks to open a dialogue about the effects of globalization on the worlds indigenous population.”

The 11th hour

The 2nd draft of my PhD is in, all 75,000 odd words of it! Its been in for a few weeks now, and I’m just waiting on feedback to do the final touches then submit. But there are more delays – one of my supervisors had to be changed at the 11th hour just before things were quite complete. Had I not been sick, the timing would have maybe worked and there wouldn't have been so much time with one supervisor… but we agreed it would be better to take a bit longer and get things right than try to rush things and then have to do a resit. But, oh how frustrating it is!

 I was given the choice of having my new supervisor do speed read of my 2nd draft and then hope for the best to fit in with my original timeline, but we talked about it, and I didn’t really want to put that kind of pressure on him, when he needs time to get up to speed with where things are at.  So that’s all taking a bit of time and things have been pushed back another month. Its like the sword of Damoccles hanging over my head – I’m ready to move on, and I can’t until this is all done, and done well!

 Not to mention, things are getting busy with TOTeM again, so my head space in that area as well. I’m trying to carve out time to write papers, while being involved with organising 2 exhibitions that are taking place at the end of October, supervising some Product Design MSc students on reinventing the plinth, and co-ordinating the collection of stories from some really interesting First Nation people in Canada.

Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 06:33AM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Getting there!

I've been in the throes of writing up my phd thesis, hence no blog posts for a while. Also I've had a nasty virus for 3 months that had me in hospital twice, going through 5 courses of antibiotics & inspiring my other half  to often sneak into the sick room and poke me when I was asleep to make sure I hadn't died. Despite the illness, I still managed to keep the ball rolling and in total only lost a month in my schedule. So since I had planned to hand in 3 months early, I'm still doing well. I'm hoping to hand in the whole thesis over the summer and we've even submitted the official forms to registry with a viva date late in September - no turning back now!

Positioning my Phd Research

Have been writing the 1st draft of my thesis and am at 50,000 words so doing quite well (as long as they’re not rubbish), considering an art practice PhD is usually a minimum of 25 – 30,000 words. Still to go is tidying up my contextual review chapters; actually working out what it is that I am saying is my new contribution to knowledge is – getting this right is hard!!! ; and writing up clearly exactly what my findings, conclusion & future work are. I’ve just lost 2 weeks due to a horror ear infection, so am in the process of clawing them back. In that process, I’ve mapped out the context of my Phd research in terms of areas, and thought it might be good to post it up here.

Each of the rings in the illustration shows themes and how important they are to my PhD with the outer ring of less importance than the inner. The outer knowledge areas, not contained in the rings are boundary areas where my Phd research crosses over into, but are not actually areas central to its aims and objectives. They are, however areas, which other research projects in which I am involved in, are more central to.

Nice to know : )

Just stumbled upon the Internet of Things, Top 100 Thinkers on the Postscapes Internet of Things website, and have just discovered that they rate the TOTeM team at number 68 in the Top 100 thinkers. Nice to know that people like us. I was surprised to see Rhizome at 89, who I have always had huge respect for, but maybe that's because it is more art and less specifically aimed at IoT.

Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 04:13PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

TOTeM and Oxfam's Shelflife

Today the TOTeM team and Oxfam launched their collaboration Shelflife. It will be rolled out in 10 Oxfam shops around Manchester. Oxfam's press release:

Ever wished an object could tell its story? That’s the idea behind Oxfam’s unique pilot scheme, Oxfam Shelflife, launching on 27 February in 10 Oxfam shops across Manchester. The Oxfam Shelflife app uses QR codes to enable the public to discover the stories behind Oxfam’s donated, ethical and Unwrapped products, and even share their own stories for the items they donate.

The project is the latest innovation from Oxfam which promotes sustainability by encouraging people to look beyond disposable consumerism. The stories behind vintage and second-hand items are all part of their desirability. At the moment these stories can be lost when an item is acquired by a new owner but Oxfam Shelflife enables the stories to stay with the items in a more long-lasting way.

Oxfam’s Sarah Farquhar, Head of Retail Brand said: “Every item has a story to tell and Oxfam Shelflife enables people to share these stories. We’ve found that items with an interesting story behind them are instantly more appealing to our customers so we hope Oxfam Shelflife will encourage people to love items for longer. This commitment to sustainability is an important part of what Oxfam shops bring to the high street.”

The scheme allows donors to ‘tag’ a QR code to their donated object, using the free Oxfam Shelflife app on their iPhone and share the story behind the item for the next owner to discover. Shoppers who visit the participating Oxfam stores can then scan the QR code on the item, via the app, which will take them to the unique story behind the object. Usually QR codes direct users to a website or URL but the Oxfam Shelflife app enables users to engage and interact with the technology, taking QR codes on to a new level.

The concept behind Oxfam Shelflife is based on an original idea developed by the Tales of Things initiative (TOTeM: Tales of Things and Electronic Memory), a collaboration between five British universities: University College London, The University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh College of Art, Brunel University, the University of Dundee and the University of Salford. The TOTeM initiative was funded by a £1.4m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Chris Speed from the Edinburgh College of Art and part of the TOTeM team said: “Oxfam Shelflife has the potential to transform shops from places of consumption into places of stories and reflection. Shopping is no longer about buying things from unknown people in unknown places, instead the Oxfam Shelflife app will allow people to ‘write’ their stories on to products and help prevent them heading for the landfill.”

To find out more about the Oxfam Shelflife project and find a participating shop visit

Its been a long time in the making and Chris Speed tells the tale  of how it all came about on his blog.

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 10:00PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment


Opps! Tis already February and I’ve not even written a new year’s post! Well no time for that now! Things have been busy, busy, busy, hence not writing. From last September till the middle of January this year, I have basically been travelling (Turkey, Australia and America) with a total of 6 weeks at home in the UK during that time.  That on top of the phd, TOTeM  (& trying to toilet train a 2 y.o.)  has meant there has been very little time for writing blog posts – too busy living life to write about it.

Highlights since my last post have been spending a good amount of time in La Jolla, San Diego in a house owned by an artist and being inspired by her paintings and fantastic book collection (thanks to a friends’ house-sitting job, while said artist was in Paris for Christmas). It was also great being THERE, so close to La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego where we saw the Spencer Finch installation. We also went to the downtown location where I really got an understanding for what American artists of the 1960’s were talking about with the quality of light in the exhibition Phenomenal: California, Art, Light, Space, Surface. I was also mighty impressed with Jennifer Steinkamp’s Marie Curie – it was fantastic being in that space with the installation all around!

Another highlight has been on this side of the Atlantic. I was chosen to be part of EPSRC’s Communities  and culture Network plus. Forty of us met up for a workshop at (yet another!) De Vere’s Country house to nut out some of the important issues around culture and communities in the context of the Digital Economy. It was a really interesting day and I met some really inspiring people, and I’ll be looking forward to more events as part of the network. 

Aside from that I’ve mainly had my nose to the grindstone juggling the needs of my phd with the interesting stuff which I’ve been doing for TOTeM, and raising a toddler in the process. I’m in the write-up stage of my phd and desperately trying to get a first draft done by the end of March, but I have my doubts. Our house has turned into a rather dusty pigsty, my toddler has gone back to nappies and my other half is trying his best to keep us all going, but it is hard to watch him struggling to do everything. I just keep plugging on at it, knowing that soon it will come to an end. Even though this bit is hard and I there are days when I would rather not write, there is a part of me that is enjoying, though it is tricky, the post-rationalising, untangling of what I have done to get the results I now have.

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 03:28PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment