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.
Entries in phd (4)
Today I had my PhD viva and I have passed with minor corrections (fix up typos, add a word into my one of my research questions and add a couple of paragraphs in: Its very rare to pass with no corrections) Apparently I can call myself Dr now! so I am Dr S.P.O'C!
All the internal examiners/ staff said that the external examiner made it really hard because in the time when I was supposed to be answering questions, so I could defend my research, he kept telling me what he thought could be improved upon, rather than asking me questions.
There was one point during the viva when I just sat there thinking “Why the hell didn’t I do a science PhD? Art is so subjective, and personal – it would have been so much easier to point to some cold hard figures that had an irrefutable proof of something…. I was also foundmyself wishing that I had done my PhD in Australia where they don't have vivas! That said, everyone, even the tricky external examiner that I defended my work very well. *sigh of relief*
All the examiners also told me about how much they really liked my artworks, how they thought they were witty and magical, and although it was supposed to be under exam conditions, there was quite a bit of laughter, particularly when they recalled some of the works. It was really nice hearing that because all through this process I’ve not really had any feedback from my supervisors on my artworks as works of art in their own right, rather than ancilliaries to my research!
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.
Sometimes I do wonder if, after all this investigation, I am going to come back with a phd that actually does not advocate for the use of QR codes, or other graphical tags, in art. One of the reasons for doing a phd in this area is because it is technically challenging to those who are not technophiles, but are good in other media and want to combine QR codes with their current practice.
The big issue with QR codes are that they are just another form of displaying a link, just this one is made of pixels and is scannable by a camera. So if one’s link changes or dies so does the ability to scan the code. If I were a net.art person who totally subscribed to the ephemerality of the digital medium this would be fine. In this sense a qr code would be a perfect embodiment of the transience of the medium, and that although there are some things that are supposedly around on the net “forever” most things aren’t. In fact as I am writing and thinking about it all, I’m struck by the irony in my thinking - you have people fearful of what goes up on the net because it will never come down, and here am I fearful that at some stage it will come down.
For me to keep my qr code artworks alive, I have to link to an url that will “never” change. If I host on an external server or a free tool out in the public domain, I have no control over what may happen in the future. It may stay around for a long time, simply because if it is a big site like facebook, it has a critical mass that will keep it going, but then again, it may not. If I go the other way, by setting up my own domain and creating all the urls to go through this, then I am obliged for the lifetime of my printed artworks to keep the domain alive. Then there is also the question of hosting the digital content/ website. Both domain name registration and hosting of websites are ongoing costs. Who should pay for these?
When one considers that a print can last hundreds of years, how does one maintain the digital life attached to it? Not only are the costs far too exhaustive for the artist to wear, the tech will change in this time. Originally I hadn’t cared too much if the codes stopped working, but they're not going to stop working any time soon. So for how long can I afford to pay for domain name registration and hosting of the digital works associated with the prints? What would happen if I died? Should I write this into a will? Would anyone even care anyway?
On that last question, unless they were in someone else’s collection, I really doubt they would…. So, if the works were sold or in a museum of gallery, should the ownership of the domain name and server pass to the owners in perpetuity? How could this work when there are multiple prints that have been produced? What an absolute can of worms! I need to think this through rather carefully, take a position on it, and be able to defend it for my phd thesis and viva. I’m thinking along the lines of something that expires online after some date in the future, like when I think I shall have paid enough for domain name and web hosting, and after that digital content is then archivally captured in whatever stable media is appropriate in the future, and is coupled with the print as a complete work. This means, I guess that I may be making editions of, for example a backup tape. This will change the way people in the future interact with the work, unless I come up with another solution. Not to mention, for the body of work that I am creating at the moment to give it a date on which I know the digital content will die seems to be, in some way a bad omen. Particularly so because Coded Moments is about birth and life (freakily as I write this my baby just let out a cry in his sleep!).
Although this problem is an old one and I’ve been aware that over time my digital stuff runs the risk of being lost, I am hit the realisation of this horrible moral burden that actually there is a way to keep it going. As long as I want to keep paying for my domains, the urls will live and the codes will work but I’m not comfortable at the moment with that type of endless commitment. I am sure if I were much much much richer, I probably wouldn't feel quite so trapped by these thoughts, but I’m not, and also this research is supposed to be about making it easier for other artists as well. And most artists do not have bottomless pockets to set up domains in perpetuity.
I've been trying to narrow down my ideas and given that I've spent the last few months reading and collecting information. i somehow need to convey what I know and how it links to others. I started by sorting all the loose papers - journal articles, web info, artist statements - into piles. This then gave me the idea of creating a research matrix. I limited myself to 9 squares jiggling things round a bit. Below is the best way of describing my processes and way of thinking - with images. This proces has really helped me think about what I am doing and articulate myself a bit better