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 qr codes (8)
We got nominated for and won the "internet of things" section of the B2Awards. Great to know that Tales of Things (our web based platform for collecting tales and memories for TOTeM) is starting to gain momentum! We're very proud of the fab tech that the talented team at UCL have spent many long hours building. They really have done a fanstastic job in such a short time, but we also can't forget that the project would not have come about without the collaboration and dedication of the people at all 5 insitutions which make up the TOTeM team.
Brunel are investigating the social aspects of the internet of things in terms of memory and materiality; Salford are heading up the business side of things in adopting new digital technologies; at ECA they're investigating a better understanding of the socio-spatial dynamics that inform the representation of artefact, people and space; and at Dundee we're focusing on design and making aspects of the project as well as establishing new platforms for provenance (not to mention the project's use of QR-codes started with research documented here in this blog).
So the project actually has richer content and farther reaching research than just cool tech, which we think is very exciting, but so are all aspects of the project : )
At the moment I’m working through ideas based on some audio I recorded during the first dark months that my baby was born. I guess I am giving a physical form to the digitalized audio at the moment, but it is all work in progress and more of an exploration of ideas. The work is based on my own experiences, and in reaction to the feelings of helplessness and frustration not being able to communicate with or soothe my son who groaned in pain for 6 hours a night for the first 6 months of his life (when we we found out what the matter was after months of being turned away by doctors convinced we were just over anxious new parents).
As a new mother who attended the NHS and NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal classes, all her midwife appointments, and read the compulsory free Scottish NHS “Ready Steady Baby” book, there is so much pressure to do the “right thing” yet the information is so conflicting you no longer become sure of what is right. My doctor, the troop of health visitors that came through our flat, the midwives, the NCT and parenting “gurus” like Gina Ford, Tracy Hogg and Mirian Stoppard all have their views of things and each say the other is wrong and you will be damaging your child beyond repair if you don’t follow their advice. The only consistent between the lot of them is “breast is best” and I had so many physical problems actually even achieving this, that I felt I was a total failure because I can only feed from one side and have to top up with formula.
I don’t want to go down the path of feminist art because I feel that that can be too confrontational, and this is more about trying to share something else – the darkness, the isolation, the confusion, the exhaustion? The words aren’t here yet – that’s why I work in the studio – that’s how I find the words. I don’t feel the need to get on a hobby horse and be an activist in my art – I think my approach is more introspective and thoughtful. At the same time I also feel a bit shy of working in a subject area that is a reflection on the fact that I am female. I have spent most of my working life being in such male dominated areas, that I am fearful of wiping out half a potential audience to my work just because it deals with a subject area that I (hopefully wrongly) suspect makes men yawn and run away in boredom. Yet how awful for me, if I decided not to make work because I am scared men won’t like it. I can’t believe I even have such thoughts, but I do! I guess it comes from working as a designer and always trying to please the largest group of users, regardless of their gender.
Working with the tactility of print and augmenting it with audio (and perhaps other digital forms) is a good platform for the ideas I am trying to convey. I know I could have a series of prints in a gallery with audio being boomed around the space, but that does not convey the intimacy, closeness and capsule-like feeling of night after night after night of feeding a little helpless thing every 2 – 3 hrs. Until now I really understood “Life is Art, and Art is Life” but suddenly it all makes a whole lot more sense.
I’ve been so busy working in the studio, I’ve not really had any time to write. Making things, for me, is a much faster way of thinking through ideas – I’m not slowed down by words. My research has been so verbal lately that it has been a real respite to just work and think in a visual way. The work is an exploration of my research questions looking at the ways in which graphically tagged artworks can augment relationships between physical and digital worls and how this can facilitate investigation of de/remateriality in contemporary digital art practices.
Already I’m realizing that my questions need more to do with making. It is the making of the works that for me facilitiates investigation of materiality. In my work graphical tagging (probably I’ll settle on qr-codes) is a bridge between the physical and the digital. My supervisor sees it as a window or a door. Either way it is a portal from one space (physical) into another (digital) and I like this.
I’m doing a lot of fast image making with cyanotypes in the darkroom that allows me to think through things, and then I pin them up on my pin board where I can ponder how things are shaping up and it helps me look at things from an aesthetic point of view and work out how to push an idea or my skills in that area to articulate visually what I am trying to say. The final body of works is unlikely to be cyanotypes but they allow me a way to capture ideas and explore remediation into other media very well.
I’ve been re-reading through my transfer document to get my head back into my phd . Its been a good place to start and has helped clarify the direction I want my phd research to go in. Before I went on maternity leave my thinking was that the outcomes of this research were art based, but that the processes I use are more design oriented.
Now that I am working part time on the TOTeM project, I am very clear that my phd is very much about art and not design. The things that I have wanted to explore design-wise are areas that I can cover through the TOTeM project freeing my phd up to be much more art based.
Given that both projects do incorporate graphical tagging I think it is important to ring fence off each area, otherwise things could get messy in terms of my “original contribution to knowledge”. I am placing my phd very much within an art context and concentrating on materiality or the art object, the making of artworks and exploring what people think/ see/ imagine/ feel when they view an artwork, be it a painting or an interactive piece augmented by a qr-code. This then very much keeps my phd work separate from TOTeM, which is more contextualised more by the “internet of things’ and research into memory, even though both utilise similar technologies and both deal with digitally augmenting physical objects.
Working on TOTeM has also made me realise that sometimes design is just too rigid a discipline to explore some ideas, and to explore conceptual ideas my thinking needs to have a bit more freedom. This is not to say that I am abandoning all rigour in my research, only that I want to make the most of this precious time I have to enjoy the creative processes of making works and let them take me in directions that I may not go if I stick rigidly to a set of design outcomes.
Today I’m back on my phd after a 9 month hiatus to have a baby and getting established on the TOTeM project. When I went on leave I was worried that the time off would be wasted – in terms of my research, (definitely not in terms of Life itself!) – but it hasn’t been. In fact it was quite serendipitous.
In the time that I have been busy dealing with scream-filled colicky nights, overwhelming sleep deprivation, nappies, and activities like baby rhyme time, technology has moved on and many of the problems that I had at the beginning of my phd have been resolved, or they have morphed into other things.
One of the issues that concerned me when I started my phd was the challenge faced by artists when working with QR codes (or any other graphical tags) in a gallery space. The confusion with data charges, mobile internet access, download times and costs to the gallery visitor made exhibition such works in a gallery a logistical headache. Now, with so many devices being wifi enabled, and particularly the iphone and android handsets, much of this can be resolved by making the gallery space a dedicated wifi hotspot.
For the TOTeM project, the tech guys in London have been working on an iphone app as well as creating an RFID reader for our artwork RememberMe which will be up and running at the end of this week for Future Everything. So I’ve had much more exposure to the iphones than previously, and I am very surprised at myself – I’m actually very underwhelmed by them.
Iphones are great in that I don’t have to fire up my laptop as often to read my email or to check facebook or to throw away my pennies on Amazon, but something is lacking…. I don’t know what… have to think about it more. I did wonder if it was because I have had a baby, have my priorities changed? But no, its something else… I still feel cut off from the world when I zone into my iphone screen. There’s something about graphical tagging that has the potential to keep us in the real world, whilst augmenting it with digital content and that is slightly different to being absorbed totally by whatever is on the screen (no matter how small and portable it is).
TOTeM team members have been working on an artwork, lead by Chris Speed (Edinburgh College of Art) for FutureEverything, (previously Futuresonic) and here is some info on the work:
The RememberMe artwork is a collaborative project with the Oxfam shop, near Contact Theatre. Leading up to FutureEverything, a research assistant will be based in the shop and recording brief stories about the donated objects into a microphone: where they acquired it, the memories attached and any associated stories. This audio clip will be linked to an RFID tag and QR code.
During FutureEverything all tagged items will then join the shop’s stock. Customers, including conference delegates, will be invited to use our bespoke RFID readers, or their own smart phone to browse artifacts, displayed amongst the many thousands of other objects.
Once triggered, RememberMe labelled objects, will replay the story through speakers located in the shop, evoking ghosts of the past. Tagged objects will be in the public domain for purchase by other members of the community. Our iPhone and Android apps will allow them to access the story for years to come. FutureEverything delegates are encouraged to bring something to the conference to donate to Oxfam, and to record a story with it.
The TOTeM project that I have been working on has been developing a website called tales of things where people can attach memories (in the form of video, audio, photos, tweets or any other social media) to objects using QR codes.
The beta launch will be towards the end of this month, and already we’ve got an article in New Scientist so really happy about that. Though I must confess after doing all the graphic design & branding, right now I need a wee break from goldfish (its a memory thing).
Well, that's what this bib says! Would it be wrong to send this to my brother who has an 11 month old baby daughter? or perhaps ! bypass him and send it straight to my niece the for her very first birthday...
The QR code momentum does seem to be gathering and people are starting to cash in. The bib in question comes from the QR- Store sporting the tagline - "turning ink into bits" (personally I like "turning your bits into bytes".... just don't visualise).
The stuff for sale at the QR-store reminds me of when those hypercolour t-shirts first came out, but oh how emebarrasing they were when people realised just exactly what got hot, and when....and then in the early 90's people wandered around with text like http://weosldkghslkhl@guspdjgslkj. com and thought they were really cool and trendy cos they had an "URL" on their front, when in fact it was just a pile of gobbledy-gook that made them look like wannabe geeks. That said , the baby bib is rather amuisng... yes it'll date but it is for a baby and its made for dribblling muck on anyway, unlike the rest of the selection at the QR-store which is disturbingly cheesy.
Other QR sites of the day are:
and a posted to me by a good friend