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.

Coded Moments @ Victoria University, Melbourne

Its all up and running fine after so long co-ordinating everything from here in Scotland! It was hard not being at the opening and I am so thankful to one friend on the ground in Melbourne who kept me updated as things happened… never did I think I would be so grateful for my facebook account! She uploaded photos as things were happening and that made the world of difference… still not the same as being there.

We’ve used Android handsets in the Australian exhibition if people don’t have their own tech, but the feedback so far from the curator is that everyone is downloading i-nigma and using it o their phones. They haven’t actually loaned the Android handsets out once – so different from the exhibitions here in Scotland where people prefer to use the ipod touches that we provide in the gallery space. When I’m out there myself and do testing on groups out there, I’ll be able to work out whether it is a cultural thing, a media-exposure thing, or a telecoms thing… or perhaps its that those who pass through the Foyer Gallery of Victoria Uni are just more tech-ed up because the demographic of a capital city is very different to that of a small town generally. All things that need further investigation….

Starting to breathe a sigh of relief

The thing about creating works that are bi-partite, in that they are prints attached to media content, is that you can edit the media content right up to the minute before the exhibition opens. Although the prints on the wall can be ready a long time in advance, the works might not actually be finished, and this is the way things were went I sent my prints off to Australia.

This weird co-presence of me, my works and the prints – for now the physical artworks are in an Australian capital city, yet here I am working on them from my wee village in Scotland. The temptation to edit and change the online media content throughout the exhibition period is so very great as the potential for subversion could provide lots of fun! If it weren’t for the fact that I have to present 3 conference papers, be mother to a 2 year old, & travel back and forth between Scotland, Turkey and Australia during the exhibition, I might well be playing with the media and my audiences minds during the exhibition. As it is, I actually think I need to slow down and do a little bit less if I want to retain my health and sanity.

The logistical realities of creating such works while being split across time, geographical  and online spaces has actually been major stress :  When the works were sent out to Australia I still felt a bit like a fake. It was like some of the works I was sending were empty vessels, knowing that not all of them were complete. This morning I edited the last sound file and uploaded the last bit of html. What a huge weight off my shoulders! Now I feel like I won’t let anyone down. The works are in Melbourne, the online content is up – the last piece of the equation is for my brother (based in Melbourne) to drop of the Android handsets, and for the gallery to connect them to their wifi and away we go! Well hopefully at least, and with days to spare before the exhibition opens.

And, you know, if asked whether I would do to all again, I’d have to answer yes!

Posted on Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:52AM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Looking good!

Kirsten Rann, the curator for my exhibition sent through the invite for my exhibition today. I’m very pleased with the way it looks! It opens next Tuesday the 6th of September in Melbourne.

Two places at once

Finally got my works out of Australian customs for the exhibition, but not after stumping up $250 just for the privilege of releasing them, with absolutely no financial gain to anyone except FedEx. Remind me never to use them again for sending work. I then had to write a letter to FedEx to get part  (less than half!!!) of my money back – the rest I suspect they pocket just because they feel like it. Will resist the temptation to go a rant on the evils of money grabbing courier companies in cahoots with government policies.

Have also been working on a paper and presentation with Chris Speed for ISEA2011 in Istanbul, this September before I go to Australia. I’m looking forward to finally getting to ISEA. Last time I had a paper accepted in 2009, I ended up not being able to go because I had just given birth, and post-natal life didn’t go according to my overly zealous and rather naïve plans. I was very lucky though, in that Chris was very kind and presented for me then, so I didn't totally miss out, just wasn’t there in person. I remember many years ago when I worked for dLux media arts in Sydney, hearing of the “bigwigs” in Australian New Media Art at the time swanning off to ISEA and thinking how fantastic it all was. Now being based in Europe I have a totally different perspective of the whole event, and am much much less in awe of things… probably that also comes from being in 15 odd years older as well.

Going to ISEA does mean, however, that I miss my own exhibition opening of Coded Moments in Australia, which is a real shame, but I can’t be in two places at once…  

Thwarted at the last hurdle

July has been quiet on my blog because I’ve been busy in the studio making works, as well as testing the prototypes in the Small Society Lab exhibition. All in all I ended up with 28 participants, each with video footage of about half an hour, so 14 hours of vide material to analyse. I’m really happy with this because in other literature in the filed using similar testing methods the largest sample size has been 6! With user testing there comes a point when if you have too many you don't learn anything new, and often they do say you only need quite a small amount, like 5 or 6, but each the 28 that I videoed and interviewed has been a valuable user for testing. They’ve given me food for thought whilst developing more works in the studio, and although absolutely exhausting I feel that the whole process has really been worthwhile.

Getting my works done for the exhibition in Melbourne has been pretty hectic especially since the riots down in England meant that I had to bring my posting deadline forward. On the 3rd day of the riots all courier and post services were stuffed up, and courier companies sent emails out to everyone to bring their deadlines forward… it was quite a nightmare, especially since up here in Scotland, everyone was steering well clear of the politics! Its times like this I really resent that everything always ends up going through London when going out to the rest of the world.

So I worked over the weekends and late each day, to the frustration of my 2 year old son. I am sure he never wants to see the print studio again now, the amount of times his Daddy had to bring him across town to collect me working late! But the prints are done, and that is a big thing! Originally I had wanted to turn most of the cyanotypes into etchings but the positive responses I got from the user testing ended up convincing me to just work with a few of the works. Ultimately I like the etchings much better; I have more freedom with colour and tone, but they are expensive to create and very time consuming. When I have more time, like after my phd has been do, I ‘d like to actually apply for funding to make some more as etchings, based on the techniques I’ve been developing in this body of work.

getting the prints ready for shippingLast Friday I sent the prints via FedEx to Melbourne. They arrived yesterday, but I got an email from the gallery saying Australian Customs had whacked a massive GST/ import tax bill on them! Oh the frustration and annoyance! These are works as part of a phd for goodness sake! I’m not planning to sell them, and the values put on them were for insurance purposes only… and I kept them rather low at that because I was trying to avoid just this! After all this to come so far, and now have my works mouldering away in customs is gut wrenching! I can only hope and pray that the curator can talk sense into the people at customs!

Posted on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 09:07AM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

The writing is on the wall... or is it?

One of the aspects I’ve been exploring in my Coded Moments exhibition is the use of a QR code on the wall in place of an artists’ statement. Each user I test on, I ask about how they find reading the artist statement on a device, as opposed to on the wall. I’m testing across users of differing confidence with the tech and across different age groups, and it is amazing how much of a consensus is starting to form. More info about this when testing is over and I've analysised the data to make sure.

Given my previous blog posts, it has just occurred to me that perhaps I should post up what my artist statement says for this exhibition, to contextualise what has been happening in the gallery, so here it is:

“These cyanotypes articulate experiences after the birth of my son. The works take the viewer on a journey through the first sleep deprived months of fog and confusion to the clarity and confidence, which evolve as one comes to terms with their new situation. Ever conscious of those who have warned that I should treasure every moment because the “time goes so quickly” this work is about moments. Not specific moments, which are attached to individual memories and often captured in photography, but rather universal yet intimate moments, identified by many new parents.

The artworks you see here are working prototypes which are being tested and used to develop final works for a solo exhibition in Australia in September. During this exhibition for the small society lab, both the prints and their accompanying digital media content will undergo changes as they are worked on & respond to user feedback. They are part of doctoral research exploring the relationships between mobile tagging, printmaking and gallery spaces.”

More than I bargained for…

As my exhibition of Coded Moments continues in the Small Society Lab, I’ve been using the gallery space to do user testing on the artworks. This type of testing is not that common in art because art is so subjective, but when there are interactive elements to a work, if nothing else one should test that users don’t get frustrated trying to interact with it… unless, of course this is the aim of the work. 

I’ve been using methods that researchers at Beta Space at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney have used where participants are filmed interacting with the work, and then afterwards interviewed while watching the video to talk through with the researcher what they were doing and thinking at the time. There are pros and cons for this method, in that people can get on and enjoy the work (as much as they can whilst being filmed), but then they may not remember what they thought at the time. On the flip side the “talking through method” where a user verbalises everything they do can be distracting and take away from what they are getting out of the work. This would be particularly so with my work, hence opting for the former method.

I’ve also found that the fact that some people forget what they were thinking is actually really telling data in itself. The works in Coded Moments are very personal and aimed at connecting with others, and one work in particular touches on elements of, for some people, what would be considered a taboo subject matter. Initially my aims were to find out things about my works from a fairly practical point of view, in terms of interactivity and also in terms of aesthetics. What I did not expect is how much insight my own artworks are giving me into other people. I worried that there were works that some people might find a little disturbing, what I didn’t realise is that actually hardly anyone does and many people even find them happy. But when one of these works does hit a raw nerve in a participant, the effect is far stronger than I could have conceived. Noone has been traumatised by the works – all participants have assured me they are fine, but I had no idea when I had set up the codes, images, titles and audio that the combination could be quite so powerful for certain people.

I feel a little in an ethical bind: the hard thing is that the images are deliberately ambiguous and the audio evocative. Its what the participants are filling in in their own minds that is causing the responses, not anything I have created per se. I can’t predict  when I ask someone to come and test the work, how they are going to join the dots  - indeed that is why I am testing this work. I went down the path of doing user testing expecting the fairly functional responses one gets when testing design work. The literature I’ve read on it in relation to art seemed to imply that this would be the case. But for my works, which I guess are about an area of life that can be so highly emotionally charged, I am getting far more than I bargained for.

That’s the thing with art research -  the art itself has to have content, even if the research is about art practices rather than the content. In my case the responses to that content, which are really informative are a “by-product” of my research into how graphical tags mediate engagement with art and art-making along the physical -digital continuum. It's great in that my works are eliciting some amazing insights into a particularly interesting subject matter, just a pity that at the moment some of these are way outwith the scope of my phd and I’ll have to put them on ice until I’ve finished. That is the only way I feel can do justice to both my phd and the by-products that are coming out the artworks I am making for it.

Its always alright on the night

The launch of the Small Society Lab and my works Coded Moments went really well. I was really surprised at the amount of positive feedback, and what is up at the moment is a set of prototypes for user testing.

For the Small Society Lab, because I didn't have time to do anything else, I hosted the audio for my works on audioboo, which was great in that I could see how many people scanned the works. It wasn’t so good, though when my works generated so much traffic that for about half an hour we crashed Audioboo! So there was a time when my works weren’t being scanned, but hey, people could still look at the pretty pictures on the wall, so not all was lost… indeed that is an illustration of why the tangible physical parts of my work are so important.

Later I looked at the stats on Audioboo and found out that two works in particular had had over 250 scans in the space of three hours!

Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 12:56PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , | Comments1 Comment