Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mended spiderwebs

Artist Nina Katchadourian lists The Mended Spiderweb series as an uninvited collaboration with nature, and I don't know what is more impressive: that she tried to repair broken webs, or that the spiders rejected her mends and properly repaired them.

"The Mended Spiderweb series came about during a six-week period in June and July in 1998 which I spent on Pörtö. In the forest and around the house where I was living, I searched for broken spiderwebs which I repaired using red sewing thread. All of the patches were made by inserting segments one at a time directly into the web. Sometimes the thread was starched, which made it stiffer and easier to work with. The short threads were held in place by the stickiness of the spider web itself; longer threads were reinforced by dipping the tips into white glue. I fixed the holes in the web until it was fully repaired, or until it could no longer bear the weight of the thread. In the process, I often caused further damage when the tweezers got tangled in the web or when my hands brushed up against it by accident.

The morning after the first patch job, I discovered a pile of red threads lying on the ground below the web. At first I assumed the wind had blown them out; on closer inspection it became clear that the spider had repaired the web to perfect condition using its own methods, throwing the threads out in the process. My repairs were always rejected by the spider and discarded, usually during the course of the night, even in webs which looked abandoned. The larger, more complicated patches where the threads were held together with glue often retained their form after being thrown out, although in a somewhat 'wilted' condition without the rest of the web to suspend and stretch them. Each 'Rejected Patch' is shown next to the photograph showing the web with the patch as it looked on site."


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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

August is for writing

After a couple of weeks of weather in the mid 30s (celsius) I'm mostly used to it, but the humidity here is killing me. It makes everything more difficult to move through. Plus, I'm having one of those slightly shocking mornings when I realise that I've way more work to do than I anticipated.

I'd like to write a short essay about my single greatest challenge during the BNMI residency: understanding how "research" is differently defined and practiced by social scientists and artists. I think this has interesting implications for collaborative work, and for how we approach creative interventions and technological innovations.

In other news, I'm teaching a new 2nd year undergrad course this year: "Power & Everyday Life." I'm currently working on the syllabus and deciding whether or not to assign textbooks or compile a reader myself. And it runs full-year so I have to plan twice as many lectures and seminars and workshops and assignments as I have in the past.

I've got two journal papers due by end of August: one for a special issue on software and space and the other for a special issue on wireless technologies and mobile practices. That's 14000-18000 words currently unorganised and/or unwritten and/or lost in dissertation.

Which reminds me I've also got a dissertation to submit. Because as we all know: "A good thesis is a thesis that is done."

So all things considered, I'm really glad that I'll be home for awhile. I want to make it back to Oslo and London in the fall, and there's the 4S Meeting in Montréal in October, but that's all the travelling I've got planned and it's quite enough. I'm also hoping to have friends (you know who you are!) come visit.

But thankfully summer's not over yet. There are still flowers to smell, dinners to cook, cats to take naps with, novels to read, walks and bike rides to take, and garlic festivals to attend! You know what they say about all work and no play...

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Collaborative work is hard, and other thoughts on research residencies

When I was invited to be a peer advisor or mentor for a new kind of research residency at the BNMI I was absolutely thrilled at the possibility of exploring research outside of a university setting. At the end of the first week I can definitely say that I'm still excited, but it's also much more difficult than I anticipated.

On a personal level, I find myself wondering if it was an unforgivable kind of arrogance that allowed me to believe that the past ten years of research and five years of teaching hundreds of students from over a dozen different disciplines in the arts and sciences would serve as some sort of preparation. On an institutional level, I find myself wondering if the university really is the only place where people have the desire and opportunity to explore interests that are contrary or irrelevant to their own. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that a research residency modelled on artist residencies is fundamentally different than university or classroom-based research, and probably should not be evaluated by the same criteria.

Unlike my regular working and learning environment, we are here for a short and intense period of time to work specifically on our own projects. We come from incredibly different places and perspectives, and there is no expectation of shared concerns except for at a most general level. We find ourselves in unfamiliar settings, at different stages of research inquiry, and we're often unsure of what we're doing. While I do believe that this is an exceptional collaborative programme and environment, I think it might be more appropriate to say that we are actually working beside each other, rather than with each other.

Of course, I want to be clear that I think the BNMI staff are amazing and the residents are an extremely talented and interesting bunch. It's not other people making it so challenging for me, but rather me struggling to understand my own role here. If these kinds of collaborative research opportunities are to become more common, and still be productive, then I suspect we need to start better preparing ourselves and our students for the challenges we may face outside of our traditional domains.

From what I understand, lots of artists don't want to be researchers, or more precisely, don't want to have to be identified as researchers in order to get respect--and that seems completely reasonable to me. But it is also very difficult to exchange perspectives and skills under these circumstances. How long can an academic speak before they are accused of lecturing? What's the difference between a discussion and a conversation? When does an offer to share become an imposition? At what point does autonomy become offensive, or authority become oppressive? Are inter-personal or cross-cultural differences at play?

To be honest I don't have any answers. Hell, I don't even know if these are good questions. But I am really looking forward to the next three weeks--even if if they end up being some of the most challenging I've experienced.

UPDATE 02.07.07

When it comes to how sociologists understand artistic practice and how artists understand sociological practice, Nina recommends reading:

Howard Becker, Art Worlds (more)
Gary Fine, Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art & the Culture of Authenticity
Alex Coles (ed.), Site-Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn

I've also made a note to check out Alex Coles & Alexia Defert's The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity and Becker's New Directions in the Sociology of Art & Studying New Media

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Next stop: Banff

On Saturday I leave for my month or so at the Banff New Media Institute, where I'll be working with Sarat Maharaj, Andreas Broeckmann and a great bunch of resident artists and reseachers for the Reference Check co-production lab.

Each week I'll be facilitating a three-hour workshop on research methods and theories:

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will be encouraged to critically explore the values and interests of different research cultures, as well as tackle questions about research collaborations and broader social and cultural ethics.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will be introduced to a range of concerns and issues in critical cultural studies, as well as a variety of related qualitative research methodologies.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will continue to engage select issues in new media and cultural studies research, as well as how different methods of qualitative inquiry can intervene in these matters.

Through a set of individual and group activities and discussions, participants will critically evaluate select approaches to research documentation, as well as both historical and emerging forms of individual and collaborative research dissemination.

And each week I'll lead (optional & weather-permitting) fieldtrips around the local area:

Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk down to the Old Banff Cemetery. Walking around this historical burial ground offers the opportunity to ask questions about spatial history, identity, embodiment, memory and materiality--as well as ways of knowing. We will have lunch at the Main Dining Room at the Banff Centre, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

Inspired by Wrights & SitesMis-Guides series of guide-books, we will playfully explore what happens in-between a host of downtown landmarks. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk downtown. We will take a lunch break at Wild Flour: Banff's Artisan Bakery Café in the Bison Courtyard, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

This time we will explore the mobilities at play in the gondola ride up the mountain, on the observation deck on the summit, and along the boardwalk to Sanson's Peak and its historical weather observatory. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am for van transportation to the Banff Gondola. We will have lunch in the Summit Restaurant on Sulphur Mountain, and can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

On our final fieldtrip, we will temporarily immerse ourselves in the dreamscape of tourist window-shopping. Meet in front of The Kiln at 9:00am, and we will walk downtown. We will visit the Banff Book & Art Den in the morning and take a lunch break in the park. We can resume our walk and discussion in the afternoon.

I'll be documenting both the workshops and fieldtrips online, and next week I'll be posting information about all the amazing projects people are working on.

Now, maybe I should start thinking about packing...

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Social Technologies Summit

Back in my home-sweet-home and madly preparing for my third cross-Atlantic trip in as many weeks, I'm really pleased to announce my upcoming role as Mistress of Ceremonies for the Social Technologies Summit at Futuresonic 2007 next week in Manchester.

This is the first time I'll be taking on more of a curatorial role, and am very excited about the stellar line-up we've organised. Check it out:

Friday 11 May 2007, 10am-6pm

Leading figures from around the world are converging on Manchester for Use Your Imagination, a unique one-day event presented by Imagination@Lancaster, Lancaster University's new interdisciplinary research institute, as a part of the Social Technologies Summit and Futuresonic 2007 Urban Festival of Art, Music and Ideas.

The event sets out to :
  • Inspire people with the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Introduce artists, designers, social researchers, activists, engineers and computer scientists to what excites each other
  • Enable people to meet in structured and informal ways
  • Seed new collaborations.
10.30am - 12.30pm, Contact Theatre
Steve Dietz (YProductions)
Giles Lane (Proboscis)
Linda Doyle (Trinity College Dublin)
Charlie Gere (Lancaster University) - Chair
Kristina Andersen (STEIM) - Discussant

2pm - 4pm, Contact Theatre
Paul Domenet (Saatchi & Saatchi)
Nina Wakeford (INCITE, Goldmsith's)
Alan Dix (Lancaster University)
Eric Paulos (Intel Research) - Chair
Laura Watts (Lancaster University) - Discussant

4pm - 6pm, Contact Theatre
Facilitated by Anne Galloway, please come meet the participants and other practitioners - and find your new collaborative partners!

6pm - 8pm, Council Chambers, Steve Biko Buidling
An open session for people doing strange things with electricity.

Saturday 12 May 2007, 10am-12:45pm

Working in partnership with the Manchester-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Creative Concern, Futuresonic and FutureEverything are launching a 3 year project addressing the sustainability of future arts and culture. The project will seek to minimise the environmental impact of the Futuresonic festival (including travel to and from the event!) and also to explore broader issues connecting Futuresonic's interest in mobile and social technologies with the new urgency surrounding climate change.

Today's digital culture promotes an always-on internet that can be accessed anywhere, while on the move. How can free and open source hardware help minimise the environmental burden of the technology we use, and how can thinking about new technologies be harnessed to improve our stewardship of the environment?

10.30am - 12.45pm, Contact Theatre
Eric Paulos (Intel Research)
Stef van Dongen (Enviu)
Shaun Fensom (Independent)
Steve Connor (Creative Concern) - Chair
Anne Galloway (Carleton University) - Discussant

Although I'll basically step aside after this session, I highly recommend sticking around for the remaining Free Studio / Estúdio Livre tactical media and cultural hot spots discussions & events:

Saturday 12 May 2007, 2pm - 9pm

There is today a grass roots open source movement that is sweeping across Brazil like wild fire and captivating the world's imagination. Futuresonic 2007 invites leading figures from Brazil and around the world to participate in a high profile conference session on this movement.

2pm - 4pm, Contact Theatre
Cristiano Scabello (Estúdio Livre)
James Wallbank (Access Space)
Matthew Edmondson (Open IT Up)
Dave Carter (Manchester Digital Development Agency) - Chair

4pm - 6pm, Council Chambers, Steve Biko Building
Free Studio Presentations Pt. 1

8pm - 9pm, Contact Theatre
Claudio Prado (Brazilian Ministry of Culture)

Sunday 13 May 2007, 12pm - 5pm

Free Studio Presentations Pt. 2
Zion Centre, Hulme

And as if that's not enough, there are tonnes of other fun things to do. I'll definitely be catching the Faust show on Friday night - part of the Music for the Beep Generation line-up - and the Art For Shopping Centres exhibitions.

Hope to see you there!

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Off for (partially) unknown territories

Well, I'm crossing the ocean again this weekend because of a generous invitation to give the opening keynote at the ENTER_Unknown Territories Conference in Cambridge next week. Here's the short abstract for my talk:

"Where I come from, this is how we do things" and other ethics of collaboration.

Anne Galloway prepares the ground for the conference panels by critically assessing the relations between people’s ethics, aesthetics, world-views and expectations – and the challenges and opportunities posed by cultural difference in collaborative practice. How do we make sense of our actions and the worlds in which we live? What happens when we encounter difference or opposition? What would collaboration without consensus involve? Where do we locate accountability, and to whom and what are we responsible? How can we evaluate the ethics of collaborative work and play?

While the entire conference line-up looks great, I'm particularly looking forward to the following sessions: Toolshift / Mindshift and Uncommon Ground-Creative Encounters Across Disciplines and Sectors, which builds on a new book called Uncommon Ground. I wrote a short essay on seams and scars for the collection and the book launch takes place the night before the conference.

BBC journalist Bill Thompson will also be chairing a session called Control Technology: Knowing Me, Knowing You – Ah ha! that I really want to catch because he said in a recent article that he'll "be making some of the people there feel pretty uncomfortable about their attitude to personal privacy ... [because] there is a danger that the art, like other aspects of control technology, will only serve to dull our senses and dampen our indignation, leading us to feel that the unobserved life is not really worth fighting for." Wow.

As if that's not enough, there are some great sounding workshops too, including the Proboscis Public Authoring Zone and Bricolabs, and a cool 'Local/Food' Picnic Performance at the end. If you're there please come say hello - and if you can't make it, you can always keep up on blogspot, flickr and myspace.

I'll also be in London visiting friends and doing a bit of work a few days before and after the conference, so if you'd like to get together or know of something I shouldn't miss, please just drop me a note.

**UPDATE 1.05.07**
I enjoyed the event and met some really good people, but until I get some breathing room to write up my reflections I'd just note that I was particularly impressed by CRUMB's Bliss Out Centre, which I think should be part of every conference, and Mongrel's MediaShed project. Check them out! And with one unforgettable exception, I received much positive interest in my presentation. I focussed on the anthropological concept of ethos, which means I purposely avoided telling people what they should and should not do. I think this is really important, and I'll post some more thoughts on the topic as soon as I can. Thanks again to the organisers and to everyone for coming out.

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