Kat Jungnickel

Dewey Organ – a junk hacking machine making workshop

Dewey Organ, Enquiry Machines

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We held a junk hacking machine making workshop at Makerversity on Friday 17th July as part of our project -The Dewey Organ – in the larger AHRC Protopublics programme. It was an intensive half day event involving the research  team – Duncan, Alex and myself – and 16 researchers and practitioners including designers, event organisers, sociologists, architects, sew-ers, coders and more. The aim was two-fold: to discuss social issues that the project might draw upon and to materially think through what kinds of machines might be possible.

We talked about how we are interested in social problems and publics and more specifically, about the problem of problems and publics.

How do problems come into being?

Who makes/defines them?

How do they emerge? What do they do?

So often we are told what is considered a problem in our area? We are then told about policies that are designed to solve these problems. But we don’t always know who had these problems in the first place? Who said they were problems? Did they arise from a series of issues? Whose? And whose problems didn’t make the cut? Which ones weren’t considered problematic enough?

We are interested in asking these kinds of questions about problems. We are querying not only where problems come from but also the mechanisms of how they are made. Also, so often problems look neat and smooth – as if we are all in total agreement, when the reality and actual experience is usually a lot messier,  conflicted and controversial. We are interested in the systems through which things are turned into problems because they are rarely transparent or easily trace-able processes

We are curious in what kinds of analytics are already built into problem-making methods. What this means is that we are interested in thinking differently about problems – moving away from more accepted conventional top-down authoritative methods of problem-making and consider instead more messy, mundane, boring, smaller, less triumphal issues that emerge in everyday life from the ground up
So we are asking – what might happen when we collect issues together and visualize them in new ways.

Might we make new problems?

Might we craft new ways of thinking about problems?

Might we produce different forms of evidence?

Might these in turn lead to new solutions?

Might they produce or reveal different kinds of publics?

And then, what might be possible to do with these new problems and publics?

Fundamentally, we are interested in how problems and publics ‘might be different’.

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Why make a machine?

  • Problems require work

Problems don’t just emerge – they come from issues, they often require physical or social labour, often both. We want to render visible the interactivity of problem making – the labour involved

  • Problems are inherently social, embodied/participatory – you can’t do it alone.

We are interested in what kinds of groups and publics arise from different kinds of problems or how they themselves produce problems?

  • Problems can feel abstract and distant to everyday life

In materialising them, inviting people into a closer engagement with them, we think it might open up new ways of thinking about, interacting with and talking about problems and the infrastructures behind them

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Inspiring projects

Some examples of projects that render issues visible in unique, experimental and interactive ways:

tinguely machineJean Tinguely, a swiss sculptor and artist, is renown for his large scale kinetic machines.
Many of them critiqued industrialised society and some self destructed in their over production of productivity.

robot dogNatalie Jerimijenko’s Feral robot dog is an open source robotics project that enables anyone to ‘upgrade’ off the shelf toys, giving them chemical sensing equipment to collect environmental data and co-ordinated with other units. The upgraded dogs sniff out environmental toxins which opens up discussion around contaminants in local environments and the value of citizen science.
phys bar chartLucy Kimbell’s Physical Bar Charts consist of coloured badges with everyday political statements about everyday civic action or inaction – I got by, I voted, I broke the law, I helped someone. Viewers choose badges that represent their recent actions. The plastic tube dispensers adjust according to popularity of certain statements and result in producing 3D bar charts of what the local community sees as important, and how they engage and participate in local matters.

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‘The Dewey Organ’

The machine we intend to build is called “The Dewey Organ”.

The term comes from John Dewey’s (1927) ‘The Public and its Problems’ which critically examines civic participation and the relationships between citizens and experts. He was interested in the mechanisms of public problem making and problem solving. He argues that publics develop when people come together around an issue. And that they can make wise decisions about serious issues provided they have access to unbiased information as well as knowledge infrastructures. He says the creative potential of a democratic public comes from its ability to revise and contest its own institutional structures. It shouldn’t be reduced to primary systems such as voting but rather be about richer, more engaged and collaborative processes.

The ‘organ’ is a term with multiple meanings:

  • The ‘Organ’ is a device for making sound, harmony, chords and disharmonies. Musical devices also bring people together
  • It also speaks of the material body politic, an anatomy of publics

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Issues

The first part of the workshop was structured around issues. Participants were asked to talk about issues that were important to them. We were surprised and inspired by the intimacy and diversity of issues raised.

issues

Just some of the rich and varied responses:

– ethics and personal responsibility of consumption – at what point when you learn about environmental/ social/ political impacts of ‘fashionable’ ‘superfoods’ do you change your practices – ie. when to stop eating quinoa/ soya products /eggs / coconut?

– reconfiguring public space – gardening spaces not car space

– online abuse and trolling – technology is changing the polis – who do you turn to when infrastructural powers are also flummoxed?

– econometric measuring of the value of our lives

– neo-liberalist exploitation of passionate work

– London property economics – buyers not a renters market

– who to get angry with when the increasingly fragmented health service means your foot hurts for months. A small-ish issue but not being treated starts to impact larger parts of life/well-being. Front line services doing their best in a bad system

– counselling services under strain – reduced funding

– how to live a simple, low-impact life and yet operate a new business which produces things that you need people to want to buy

– helping family members in other countries with money

– ageing parents

– student graduation  – many international students cannot attend their own graduations due to immigration restrictions

 

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Larger Discussion

Where/what are the thresholds for agency? At what point do we change our behaviour/s? How does something get our attention/ gain enough traction in a community to catalyse action? Agency is simultaneously enabling and disabling.

Opacity of systems – blackboxing of infrastructures. How do we get inside to see, or change things? How do we trace their process through the system?

Scalability – How do we critique the scalability of issues? Are bigger issues always more important than smaller ones? Why? How might this be unsettled?

Evidence – What counts as evidence and what doesn’t?

Voice – being invited to voice issues is therapeutic, the confessional aspect of it is compelling. We’ll explore the potential for the Organ to ‘give voice’ to small or lesser known personal issues

 

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Lunch

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Junk Hacking

The afternoon session was about making. We asked participants to materially think about what a problem making machine might look or sound like/ do / make . Everyone brought stuff they were happy to donate so there was an eclectic range of things to work with

postcards

messmaking4making5making6makingmaking3

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Presenting/ performing machines

– Group 1

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Some people focused on modular components of the machine – such as how issues would be ‘inputted’ into the device. Here, Nikki performs a variation on the tincan-telephone concept, but on a larger scale.

presenting machines

She envisioned how people could come together on a similar issue via this analogue comms device

presenting machines2

machine4

Duncan performed a device for seeing issues with an attached input device in the form of a long rubber tube, almost like a diving mask. Discussion in the group generated the idea of the machine providing the means of equipping users to dive deeper into issues

machine

The machine also featured a series of dials to adjust the volume of  issues. What may for instance seem like a small issue could be adjusted using these dials. We talked about how musical organs have a range of buttons and knobs that adjust not only the sound but the tone and mood and introduce the potential for interference which has interesting resonances with the project which we will explore in detail.

For eg. following is more on the concept of ‘tonewheel leakage’ from wikipedia:

Tonewheel leakage occurs in the Hammond organ and in similar situations, where the large number of tonewheels causes pickups to overhear tonewheels other than their own. This causes the organ to add chromatics to played notes. In some kinds of music this is undesirable, but in others it has become an important part of the Hammond sound. On some digital simulations of Hammond organs tonewheel leakage is a user-set parameter.

Gears_animation

EDIT: since the event I’ve been thinking about gearing. Gears on a bike or in a car operate to produce a mechanical advantage and also alter the cadence of an action. This might be useful in thinking about how issues take shape or are mobilised in different contexts and conditions

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A possible outcome or output of this device could be a ‘Personal problem alarm’. This might alert the initial user to the presence of others who share similar issues/concerns 

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– Group 2

presenting machines3

The second group approached the machine through a specific issue – that of invasions into data privacy and online identity. This involved a game-like design through which balls of data moved through a system of complex infrastructures which were not completely controllable (or desirable) by the user. There were a number of really interesting features of this machine: Firstly, it had sound. The balls dropped into bowls and around the unit. They indicated when things were going according to plan and also when they were not. The sonic qualities sparked the attention of the group watching.  Secondly, the machine rendered the process visible. It opened up the blackbox of the internet.

making7

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– Group 3

presenting machines4

The final group took another approach to the machine – they materialised the process of how issues turn into problems. Again it had a modular design that was deliberately precariously balanced and dynamic. Things were layered –  media was wrapped around an issue, fed with education and ideologies. Tin-can telephones appeared as input and as output devices. A core feature was the idea of loops – information, ideas, interferences looped around the device. It was not a neat, linear system but rather brought to life a messy, carefully balanced (or unbalanced) system that required constant negotiation, feeding and work.

presenting machines5

presenting machines6

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Overall, we were really pleased with the event. It generated lots of interesting findings, insights and questions. I am especially interested in how productive the morning session on rendering visible of social issues worked. Key ideas in this session and the pre-lunch discussion included – agency, voice, thresholds, interference, opacity, transparency, volume, tone/mood, gearing. The hacking session also brought to life very different perspectives on the machines – modular, infrastructural and process oriented systems.

Many thanks to Makerversity for letting us hold the event in one of their maker spaces – it worked really well and was much appreciated. Thanks to Cassie Robinson for helping to set the event up. And of course huge thanks to everyone who attended for their energy, creativity and personal stories.

The next step is to build it on a larger scale…….

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Critical Wearables Research Lab – Junk hacking workshop

Critical Wearables Lab, Enquiry Machines

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After weeks for emails and group skypes (which are challenging at the best of times with 2 people, let alone 6-8 people) the Wearables Collective kicked off its first critical research lab on 29th June 2015 at UAL’s central London campus.

We asked participants to bring some materials they were happy to donate to the hacking part of the day and they responded very enthusiastically. The tables soon filled with eclectic materials as people arrived.

stuff

The event started with a welcome by Lynne Murray (Director Digital Anthropology Institute LCF) and intro to the day by Dan McQuillan (Computing, Goldsmiths).

Five Firestarter speakers helped to set the scene for the day.
These consisted of short, sharp, provocative pieces by key people in the field of wearables.

Maneesh Juneja – Digital Health Futurist
Steve Legg – IBM
Camille Baker – Media Artist/ Researcher and Curator
Richard Tynan – Privacy International
Samantha Clark – Happiness Consultant

firestarters

I then introduced the methodology for the afternoon hacking session making enquiry machines.
I didn’t get a picture of me so I’ve borrowed Marina’s tweet.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 18.20.37

People quickly self organised into groups and started to talk….

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…and think materially straight away

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It was pretty exciting to see such a big group of people enthusiastically get into the project

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The infrastructure of the room was not safe from the hackers

making2Things were developing so quickly that we started to drop into each of the groups to film some of the interactions and iterations

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making6 handwork

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For 2 and a bit hours the groups worked together, over lunch, to make a machine, articulate a presentation/perfomrance and complete an Enquiry Machine postcard. They had to give the machine a name and outline some of the concepts or issues that it was enquiring into.

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GROUP: The Data Huggers

ENQUIRY MACHINE – The Long Huglong hug presentation-sm

posctard3

This group thought about the compelling attraction of various tech devices and services – the digital carrot – and also about the less attractive disadvantages of these services such as the loss of control over data privacy – ie. the stick in the scenario. They started to think about this by building a machine that represented this seductive contradiction. They then started to think about it in terms of a social mundane situation – the hug. The hug is nice but when it lingers for longer than is expected or comfortable it transforms into something else.

The Long Hug became a really interesting metaphor for thinking about this socio-technical relationship. At what point does this symbiotic relationship start to make us uneasy?

long hug

data huggers

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GROUP: The Tracker Hackers

ENQUIRY MACHINE – Serious Data Bounce

postcard2

This group took a gaming approach to data privacy. It started with the question – where does our data go? The materialised the subsequent discussion via a pin-ball game. Players had to work with others to manoeuvre the ball through the course, negotiating dead ends, traps and blockages. It also raised the question of how we might work together to manage our data.

data bounce4


data bouncers

data bounce3

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GROUP: Janet, Marina, Katja, Giulio and Maddy

ENQUIRY MACHINE – Otherwear

postcard4

This group performed a series of scenarios for a new business venture – a start-up that provided ways to avoid being tracked. They pitched two ideas to the audience – ‘Digital  doppelgänger’ and ‘Empathy Machine’. The former emerged in recognition that it is increasingly hard to avoid being tracked in everyday urban life. It proposes a unique response in the form of the doppelgänger. The user of the service/device temporarily sends out someone else in their place, with their identity. This enables the user to do whatever they would like without being tracked. You would ‘hand over your movements’.

This project catalysed the second one – If you could temporarily take on someone else’s identity might this provide a way of developing empathy for others? The ‘Empathy Machine’ is therefore a way of very practically offering people a chance to ‘spend a day in someone else’s shoes’.

 otherwearotherwear2

 

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GROUP: Nanda, Pollie, Becky, Astrid, Sandy, Mouhaumad, Liz, Katrin

ENQUIRY MACHINE – Collaboration machine


postcardnetwork

This device emerged from discussions about the networks of data we are all embedded within. When we become aware of the problems of social media platforms we might wish to remove ourselves from these systems but our social network often keeps us there. They draw us back in, much like the elastic nature of the rubber bands the group used to connect each person together. The notion of having an impact and influence on each other was also central to the machine. The group played with this idea in a number of ways – they discussed through doing the connections they felt from holding onto different edges of the device, how they had to work together to undertake tasks – such as walk together, negotiate obstacles and also to keep a ball in the system.

network2network3

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GROUP: Digital Weavers

ENQUIRY MACHINE – Consent by Design

 “Our machine was designed as a [very] primitive loom, with each warp a different coloured wire representing the data flow from a single person’s  wearable devices. The various weft threads and strips represented the  extraction of data by organisations orthogonally to the flow of the  individuals’ lives. Some weft threads placed significant tension on the  individual warps, and some caused groups of  the warp threads to bunch  together in an emergent grouping  before separating later along their  timeline. We read this as the data from the wearables creating  opportunities for emergent social cohesion. Trying to tame the dozens of  warp wires and get them to cooperate in the weaving process while  maintaining their individual identities was a pretty good allegory for the  collaborative process of building the loom…”

loom

weavers weavwers2
loom2


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Digital Cultures research Lab – Enquiry Machines workshop

Conferences, Enquiry Machines

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I’m looking forward to running a junk-hacking workshop at the Digital Cultures Research Lab event, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, on July 8th.

DCRL Unstable infrastructures poster

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LIVE Transmissions – Critical conversations about crafting, performing and making

Conferences, Transmissions & Entanglements

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The third series of events under the larger project – Transmissions & Entanglements – was held across a week in June, 11-14th.

It featured a Bloomer Making Workshop, public talk by Jackie Orr, full day symposium, exhibition launch and performance and symposium brunch. The full program is here.

Following is an overview of the symposium.

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The full day LIVE Transmissions: Critical conversations in crafting, performing and making symposium was held in 310NX Road as per the sewing workshop the day before. It was an invite-only event that brought together 32 people from last year’s symposium along with some new faces. Everyone was there because they are engaged in exciting, challenging, material and often collaborative work in a range of media that pushes at the edges of conventional knowledge production and exchange across disciplines located in and outside academia. (A full list of participants is here).

As per usual the range and quality of work was exciting and eclectic – we watched films on dance, weaving and the many forms of craftivism. People recited poetry and fiction and unrolled storytelling graphs, while others demonstrated environment sensing devices,  birdcams and even specially made trousers to enable women to pee standing up. We heard about the use of drones as a sociological method to fly above Polish villages, of hands-sewn letters as a form of political networking, of failed 3D printed objects in London Hacker Spaces and mobile phone repair practices in Kampala. And so much more……

What is really exciting and productive about this event for me (and I’ve heard similar from others) is the opportunity it enables to talk about shared issues, concerns and ideas across a whole range of disciplinary backgrounds and experience. In no particular order, we had artists, filmmakers, sociologists, anthropologists, craftivists, technologists, poets, writers, computer scientists, curators and many who were multi-disciplinary.

People travelled from Madrid, Copenhagen, Malmö, Vienna, California, New York, Brussels, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Oxford, Cambridge and of course from all bits of London. Thankyou to everyone for their travel, time, attention and ongoing commitment to the project. It was an amazing day!

listeners2

The day long sympoisum was held in a small but interesting space for a group of people to get together to talk, present and perform ideas. Although the structure of the day was largely comprised of site specific multi-media knowledge transfer in the form of talk, performance, film, sound and objects, the nature of 310NX Road (the shop structure and its location on a very busy road) meant that the urban context was an active participant as well.

310 New cross rd

The event was divided into three main sections.

I *tried* to reduce the number of speakers from last year so to create more space for networking and discussion. There were two themed sessions of talks  I. POLITICS of MAKING and II. PRACTICES of ENTANGLEMENT.Each was made up of two speakers and a chair. The afternoon session III. MA Visual Sociology featured short presentations from Goldsmiths students who showcased their cutting-edge practice.

Throughout the day, in between sessions, there were short LIVE Transmissions sessions IIIIII. Everyone was invited to bring an example of ‘live transmission’ in their work, to briefly speak about it (<5min) and curate it with other things to create a growing mini-exhibition through the day. This was an important means through which a wide variety of voices could be heard and projects discussed. By the end of the day this meant that we heard about the work and practice of 26 people : )

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 09.30.46

transmissions tableAs per past events we focused on having good food for lunch as well as lots of snacks available throughout the day and the sunny garden provided a nice space to relax and chat between sessions.

The following overview/write-up is an attempt to capture just some of the many ideas shared, generated and discussed during the day while remaining mindful of the ‘liveness’ of the event which cannot be fully captured. As a result I do not attempt to present a coherent polished or finished documentation. Nevertheless it is quite textured for the purpose of enriching our developing network and also keeping with the idea of rendering visible the labour processes through which knowledge is created, the messy material mechanisms of production and modes of circulation.

Feedback, ideas, suggestions, criticisms or thoughts about potential collaborative experiments welcome!

 

LIVE TRANSMISSIONS  I

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Laura Watts | Associate Professor, ITU 

Transmissions - laura - booksLaura kicked off the session by talking about the art books that she makes as part of her research practice. She is an a feminist STS ethnographer and poet. She brought in two books: ‘Data Stories’ is written in collaboration with Dawn Nafus, an anthropologist at Intel, for the purpose to finding new ways of engaging with software engineers at Intel. It is an inventive format that folds out, with a poster and can be played with.  ‘Orkney Futures’ documents a remote Scottish island that is also a world centre for wave and tide power – so you have a space age industry  developing in a place where there are 20,000 farmers.

Laura has been working in Orkney for seven years doing ethnographic research. Throughout this time she has been searching for a voice for the hard work locals are doing to make futures, because there are many futures. The book is a co-produced collection of the future of Orkney by many different people – artists, school children, locals, farmers etc. It was curated as a poem and Laura finished by reciting the one of the pieces in the book – ‘If’.

IMG_8257

 

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Alex Taylor | Researcher, Microsoft Cambridge 

transmissions - alex objectsAlex showed us an arduino node from a network that senses air quality. It is part of a set of technical network that is distributed along a street in Cambridge called Tennison Road. There are eight of them in location sensing the air quality in the street. It is part of a network for displaying data  – pie charts and graphs on the street will represent the data. There is also a thermal tracker will measure the flow of traffic, number and density of traffic. It is a technical infrastructure but it is motivated by the concerns of street residents. It is evocative of what and how data comes to matter to people and how a group imagines its future.

In many ways this is a technical network that is embedded in a street which tells very little about the street but it is is entirely motivated community have motivated by what concerns that street and like Laura tells us what data might come to matter in a street and how a street might come to image its future. These are some of the people who live on the street. They are a community who have motivated all of these networks and there are many of them – layers upon layers, intertwined and entailed – to the point where it is no longer a technical network. It is a network of people, of things, of senses, of devices and companies… and I work on this street, so I’m not going anywhere. I am part of this network. We are embedded in networks of imagining the future… we might start with simple crude senses that we have all seen before but these are entangled in transmissions of imagining new futures where data might come to matter in different ways.

transmissions - alex

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Anna Hickey-Moody | Senior Lecturer, Arts Practice and Learning, Goldsmiths

Anna talked about her work on disability, the body and performance. Her work is sourced from dancers experiences and their movement phrases are responses to their lives, lived experiences, and embodied particularities.

The idea is that by making these physical statements are ways of transmitting quite intimate lived experiences of having a disability that stand alongside other tropes of disability that might constitute public discourses especially around disabled bodies. This produces dance text that tell stories about disabilities yet they ‘refuse dominant discourses that offer different style or a particular type of social entanglement that run contrary to other forms of relationships that are invited by public culture.

Anna shared with us a video excerpt of a dance performance to demonstrate these ideas of transmission and entanglement.

transmissions - moody

Session I
THE POLITICS OF MAKING

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Julia Bryan-Wilson | Associate Professor, Modern and Contemporary Art, History of Art, Berkeley

Julia started her talk with a video clip of Gabriel Craig performing ‘The Gospel according to Craft’ in which he stands on a soap box on a street corner asking the public is they have ‘accepted craft as a road to personal road to salvation’. Julia discussed how the ideals of craft to deliver us from the evils of capitalism and consumption practices and intersects this with a fervour of the growth of DIY ethos and craft which has brought together artists, makers and activists – forging  craft and activism into craftivism. She provided fascinating examples of craftivism and also ways in which craft is big business.

Independent online retailer Etsy which sell mostly handmade items was predicted to bring in $50million in revenue in 2014. Etsy’s tagline is ‘Shopping for Meaning’ – a slogan that brings together consumerism and craft as it implies a search for cultural significance through the creation and acquisition of objects.

 Julia asked how people are negotiating the promise of salvation, meaning making, anti-capitalist resistance, consumerism and entrepreneurialism? How the repurposing of craft objects such as the rainbow flag and pottery objects become interwoven with cultural, historical, political and gendered themes. She talked about affective labour in craft with its  strong connections to the domestic context, the politics of bodies and skill.

How do bodies, most critically hands, which in discussions of craft mnemonically stand in for bodies, shape craft?  Crafters often describe the pleasure in engaging directly with their materials, whether wood or scrapbooking supplies. Crafting becomes almost an erotic or sensual encounter with matters as mediated by the hand. A tactile delight in the touches, textures and the sensations that also change the very nature of how we think and process information…. For many converts to the so called church of craft these terms describe the immersive corporeal process of bodily making. But within the context of contemporary culture there is a spectrum of crafting bodies to consider – ones marked by race, region, gender, sexuality, age and class. And not all of them revel in the procedures of making by hand. These bodies have vastly unequal levels of access to capital, to privilege and to power. So that the women hand sewing uniforms onto GI Joe dolls in the Pearl River Region of China on a 16 hour a day work shift might have a very different understanding of the intersection of bodies, production and craft.

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Janis Jefferies | Artist, writer and curator | Professor of Visual Arts in the Department of Computing, Goldsmiths

Janis discussed and presented a range of emergent forms of knowledge practice with the aim to take up some of the challenges and opportunities offered  by knowledge production. A core question: How is contemporary art practice being rethought, remade, redone within certain theoretical and practical discourses?  Janis drew on Richard Serra’s ‘Verb List Compilation Actions to Relate to Oneself’, Grant Kester’s 2004 ‘Conversation pieces’,  Jacques Ranciere’s 2007 ‘Emancipation of the spectator’ and Anne Wilson’s 2012 ‘Walking the Warp’ amongst others.

Janis shared a project she was involved in called ‘How to do things with academia‘ which was part of a doctoral training seminar that had been running for several years with people from Goldsmiths, University of Copenhagen and Berlin. Rather than a series of conventional papers it provided a practice based intervention in the form of an occasion to practically create new practices, new types of knowledge production that were eventually verbalised and performed in the form of a manual… By utilising the format of the manual as a production drive the outcome of the symposium was a reflection of a process of learning the so called step-by-step that is demanded by the manual and the relationship between the thorny issue of what is practice and what is theory.

The workshop was created from the Richard Serra’s verb list. While the verbal list enabled Sierra to explore freely before committing to what he was going to make, before the thing was made, the premise of the academic project was to explore entwined movement, text, thought, action and practice that could be transferred within and beyond academia.

Janis also provided another powerful example of Anne’s Wilson’s weaving work – Walking the Warp. In Manchester Wilson performed weaving without the textiles – no technology, no thread – using only a gestured vocabulary of weaving in space. The performers wind invisible bobbins and walk an invisible warp, increasing speed and intensity over the course of the performance with references to the speed to industrial production. Through these movements the act of weaving is performed but without any material evidence of the act of weaving. In Wilson’s performance the body enacts the very absence of the textiles and by extension the textile industry. 

talk - julia

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Session I
QUESTION/ COMMENTS 

Julia, Janis and Nina assembled chairs at the front of the room to discuss the first session which raised a plethora of craft themes related to politics, art, institutions, memory of making, histories, practice, the body, labour gender race and more.

– The labour of making knowledge. How do we hold on the making process as method, output and transmission. Is it possible? Should we?

The transparency of transmitting the process – ie. performances and workshops – are a form of holding onto it. It is also somewhat impossible as it writes itself out in the nature of the materiality itself.  Craft is always getting forgotten and rediscovered. It is perpetual. We should also hold onto the pain and the drudgery. It is not just a story of pure bliss. It is also a story of craft wounds, pin scratches and achey backs. These points are often overlooked  – as if the handmade is some kind of refuge from immaterial labour. The story is more complex than that.

Making memories is an important is part of what we are doing.

– How do we engage with the idea of accumulating knowledge?

Conversations are an important part of the labour of making. These moments don’t translate into funding applications or policy documents. How do we acknowledge the methods that may not stay but matter a lot. There is a strong heritage of commitment to things not staying.

– What are the strengths and weakness of craftivism?

Like anything, craft is process like any other. One of its strengths lies in its unruliness. It is not necessarily a force for good. It is a way of making things. Like all forms of making things it can be used and interpreted for many reasons. One of the reasons people ant craft to be this way is as a response to the commercial marketplace.

– There are multiple tensions of craft narrative, not necessarily something intrinsically good for bad.  How do you knit yourself back into your work? How do you want to re-make your work?

Julia responded saying she struggles with this, as she wants to be a great skeptic about craftivism and is also very moved by many of the practices aligned with craftivism. One way that she avoids general sweeping statements is to stay with the material and lead with examples. It is about specificity. This is more detailed and rigorous. She also draws on queer and feminist theory which helps with positionality and specificity.

– What happens if the boundary that is drawn around craft includes digital craft? The academic talk is a craft – it is crafted with our hands – what is the specificity of what is being called craft? How do we place craft in these different realms?

Janis thinks of craft as a verb – to craft – then its always on the move. It is about re-enactments, re-stagings. You can think about crafting in all kinds of disciplinary contexts. There are also many different tools of production that deploy different ways of using the hand to release different kinds of ways of making. An example is the current cult of 3D printing.

Julia argued that one to think of craft not as a refuge but a motor. The online craft world is a means through which people are learning to craft, to knit to do all sorts of things. They are not separate but co-exist, entangle. The sharing of on and off line knowledge is not in opposition.

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LUNCH

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We spilled into the very urban garden for lunch and relaxed chat.

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LIVE TRANSMISSION  II

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Åsa Ståhl and Kristina Lindström | School of Arts & Communication, Malmö University

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Åsa and Kristina presented a project called ‘X Front’. It started with a question – How do grown up women learn to stand up and pee? – and experimented with the kinds of clothes one might need as a woman to stand up to do this. They ran workshops and re-purposed existing clothing – such as t-shirts and jumpers – and also made garments from scratch.

Åsa and Kristina thought about the difference in making and wearing and the trousers. They talked about different types of transmissions of knowledge produced from these making practices such as when you wear different versions of these garments you perform different kinds of work and catalyse different responses – people were asking what is happening here? They added two pairs of pissing pants to as well as series of photos of women wearing an using these garments to the table.

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Lara Houston | Sociology, University of Lancaster

Tranmissions - lara object Lara presented a live transmission on her work about mobile phone repair in Kampala. She brought a ‘Chinese Phone’ with a universal battery and talked us through the process of making this battery fit different phones. She did this via the use of a series of printed photos from her fieldwork and a version of the phone. She talked about how she felt there were many  ways of transmitting and entangling in her work and is interested in how a study of repair focuses on the possibility of live transmissions and how in embodied work like this can become part of my sociological practice. 

She is interested in acts of repair like this in comparison to other places that are popping up such as the Repair Cafe which are more community group based. These are very different transmissions of repair just as there are multiple versions and ideas of craft. Lara is interested in drawing out the complexities and entangled notions of repair in her work.

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Bernd Kräftner | Principal Investigator, Shared Inc | Senior Lecturer, University of Applied Arts Department of Science and Art, Vienna

transmissions - barnd objectBernd told the group a story about the hare and the hedgehog. He met the hare at home for people in a vegetative state or unresponsive wakefulness syndrome state where he is doing fieldwork. The hare was visiting his friend the hedgehog – and their relationship is  not about a race at all but about a relationship – they loved each other –  but sadly the hedgehog had been involved in a  server accident and he had a brain injury and was in a vegetative state.

The hare visited him daily and would do things to cheer him up and try to help him to recover. But he was concerned that his emotional welbeing might affect the hedgehog. He questioned why the hedgehog’s wellbeing was constantly monitored by the doctors – and asked if perhaps it might have something to do with visitors’s wellbeing too. So he turned it around and he devised a protocol for measuring his mood – to diagnose himself.

The hare measured his emotional and physical wellbeing via a specially designed technical glove device which gathered this data throughout the day. Bernd unrolled a huge complex diagram that documented the hare’s mood throughout one day. Bernd told us that he is exploring the relations between the hare and the hedgehog with the aim of taking all these kinds of things and working on a family album to try to enrich understandings of states and relationships.

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Sarah Corbett | Founder of Craftivist Collective 

Sarah has a background in campaigning and learnt to craft from youtube. She is interested in how craft connects to global issues and can help to create networks and relationships between people, can be a lovely way of getting people excited and thinking it is possible to change the world. She brought a replica of a hand stitched handkerchief which she gave to a local politician whom she said would not communicate with her over key issues that she felt passionate about. Craft helped Sarah connect with this politician in a positive respectful way.

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Session II
THE PRACTICE OF ENTANGLEMENT

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Zoe López Mediero, Azucena Klett and Arroyo | Curator and Researcher, Intermediae  | and Olga Fernandez Lopez | History & Theory of Art Department, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Talk - intermediaeZoe, Azucena and Olga collectively presented their transdisciplinary collaborative research work from backgrounds in fine art, philosophy and the history of art in the contexts of social media, activism, urban context and policy in Madrid. They are dually interested in testing how they might present their work in an academic context and the field of humanities and also how academia might be affected by different kinds of collaborative practices.

We have chosen the neologism de-cast (or de-casting) to suggest an institutional “unmolding”, that is to say to think about the possibility, the one hundred or more methodologies, that can be tested to break the mold that bounds cultural institutions. We would also like to evoke the idea of a theatrical casting taking place in the institutions that could reverse the pre-assigned roles of the agents usually involved in them. From independent agents to a networks of agents – Zoe,

Azucena and Olga presented a range of independent initiatives and networked organisations who have changed their practice to work in and on collective participatory projects in public space. Social-artistic movements: a redefinition of what is a public space.

There has been a redistribution of responsibilities, knowledge and ownership of public space in Madrid with many self organising networks drawing on open source models to begin to experimentally ‘run’ urban sites.

Egs of projects:

Hacenderas  – of a citizen “parliament” that once a month discuss concrete neighbourhood difficulties, that we address through committees.
City kitchen – monthly “co-working tables” in which citizens, professionals and civil servants shared strategies and models of activation of public space.

Intermedia is a city council funded collective chosen to test different institutional hypothesis, enabling what we like to call an open code working dynamics, oriented to a more democratic, horizontal and public production of culture. They way they do this is by aiming to become-others through a process of contact and listening. Instead of an institution that curates, produces or makes, it is an institution that is curated, is produced or is made, enabling the redistribution of agencies and the sharing of responsibilities in the construction of a cultural space.

Core questions:
Are we in a threshold of overcoming certain “modern” ways of understanding cultural institutions, citizen participation and the autonomy of art? What type of citizen parliaments are being tested in these projects? Is this kind of distributed network being operative? What would be the modes in which to include a radical heterogeneity of political subjects and objects? What new forms of governance are being tested? What could be the meaning and function of a public experimental art centre within a model of distributed network?

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Jennifer Gabrys and Nerea Calvillo | Sociology, Goldsmiths

Citizen Sensing is an ERC project at Goldsmiths run by Jennifer that looks at how environmental senses are increasingly appearing in environments as ways of looking at environmental change but also being scaled up to citizen engaged activities who were using easily available technologies to better understand what was happening in their environments.

Practice is a way of researching new technologies, to analyse as well as create new technologies. They set out to ask a lot of questions – what are these environmental sensing engagements in terms of the imaginaries of environmental citizenship? What does it mean to have this technologically led engagement? What are the trajectories of these initiatives in that they imagine may lead to actions? How might having data somehow change the air quality? How do they articulate an environmental relationality? What does it mean to see sites in terms of data gathering?

Part of the project is about looking at existing environmental monitoring practices as well as new technologies. They are also looking at how these technologies are moving into urban settings – imaginaries and implemented sensing networks in situ (ie. London underground senses). A further part of the method involves building kits and holding workshops, trying out the devices and asking – what does it mean to DIY? What kinds of skills, capacities and labour is involved and what kinds of communities do you entangle with as a result of using these devices? Jennifer and her research team are testing claims of these off-the-shelf technologies. In many cases the claims do not match the practical realities.

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Nerea presented one particular sensing device and the linked phone app which she had been using to record the air, sound and heat quality in walks undertaken around local area. She told us how it often captured unintended data – an interesting entanglement – such as when it overheated internally or captured the noise of leaves as higher than local traffic. The design of the kits are also interesting in that sometimes they operate to overheat the device and there are limited nature of instructions available to troubleshoot these issues.

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Session II
QUESTIONS/ COMMENTS 

Alex Taylor joined the speakers at the front of the room to chair the discussion on the practice of entanglements. He talked about being inspired by both projects because they were actively doing many of the entangled things that STS often talks and grapples with.

– A lot of materials today have been urban centric and very particular views related to particular places. This is a question about local expertise – different levels as it relates to tech in each project – and also about how it relates to places and people? What do some projects come to life in certain places?

Jennifer responded by saying that they try not to work to closely in categories of amateur and professional. Different people work with different levels of kit. Many people fumble around and respond to demands being made on them in different contexts. Other forms of expertise come from people moving into different fields -such as public health – and develop different responses of data and publics and discourse. Its about relationships between kinds of expertise – not a singular response but about taking on different capacities when needed. A shifting landscape of entanglements.

– How do you think about citizen science? And (thinking about how a sociologist might walk with a device) how is data an atmosphere?

The term is problematic, provocative and deliberately chosen as the title of project and this particular practice. It is a project therefore that reviews, analyses, critiques, participates and observes. Part of the investigation is to push at the idea of the narrowly drawn contour of what constitutes a citizen and the practices involved in this. How do technologies become enrolled in this? What are the limitations? How is this potentially problematic?

– How do you think about these devices after their use? – ie. the loop constructed by purchasing a device that senses how badly the world is polluted that will itself become part of the problem.

This  issue relates to Jennifer’s first book ‘Digital Rubbish: a natural history of electronics. For this new project they have been scavenging waste to build their sensing devices and working with recycled materials. They are very aware that everything they build has an environmental footprint, a labour footprint, draws on energy, its past manufacturing history and its future life. She said that they haven’t drawn on much material yet but it is something they will have to grapple more on as the project develops. One response has been a move to more analogue devices as the new digital ones as as problematic as they are empowering. They cause us to rethink what it means to use monitoring as a practice of engaging with environmental change.

– A question of expectation. What is the expectation if people offer this labour? If there is a frustration of things not changing, what is the impact on people? How do they manage expectations – of devices, practices and imaginings?

It is a major issue with fracking for example. There is a double bind – people feel they brought it on themselves, from selling the rights to frack their land, and there is an expectation that the data might have an impact. Communities work with health experts to address key agendas and policy makers but there is also a lot of bad data out there or data that doesn’t have the impact that people would like it to have. It is about the expectations of data. Many people have tried everything and have discovered that personal accounts are not work much so many hope that data will somehow mean more. We want to challenge the capacity of the data to provide ‘real evidence’.

– Does the focus on data somehow delegitimise the value of personal accounts? Does it reinforce the idea that personal experience is worthless? Is it possible to turn personal experiences into data rather than saying that data is outside of bodies?

No. Jennifer has written on this about how these issues of experience can brought into ideas of what matters or counts as data and this might then have a different relationship to what data is if as a citizen you go into court that instigates different actions. There are no singular ways of thinking about and doing data. This is also a community that is fed up with doing diaries. They want to do something. It is interesting having these conversations. They are also working with health experts and medical doctors and are interested in other ways of mobilising their concerns.

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AFTERNOON TEA

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Again we moved into the back room and outside for coffee, tea, biscuits and fresh air.

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Throughout the day Rachel, Britt and I were busy finishing garments for the exhibition opening the next day. The entailed a lot of handsewing of hems, attached buttons and the somewhat curious making of leggings ‘festooned’ with ribbons for one of the patented garments. To be sewing and crafting during critical conversations about crafting, making and performing data added another layer to the day. (And some people like Sarah joined in with their own sewing!)

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LIVE TRANSMISSION III

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Li Jönsson | Interaction Design, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts  School of Architecture, Conservation and Design

 Transmissions objectLi brought along a device from her design experiments in her nearly finished PhD called Urban Animals and Us which explores relationships between animals -in this case birds – and the senior citizens in a local residential home. There are a number of different devices – such as a Bird Flute that enabled people to call out to birds in the environment around the home. In this way they became more bird like themselves.

They also designed a BirdCam – an interface for birds to photograph the practices of the people inside the home. This is the device that Li brought today and it is made from off the shelf components. It has a spy camera that films and you add food. The birds pick up the Birdcam and provide a completely different perspective on urban life – a bird view of the city   transmissions - li2

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Jen Southern | Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts

Jen’s practice combines sociology and fine arts. The object she brought is a speculative app. We thought it would be interesting to GPS map you and your social network at the same time. It was made prior to apps like Four Square etc. Jen and her team were interested to see what people would use it for and gave it to different groups to monitor how they were experiencing different parts of the city.

One group wanted to map noise pollution and GPS mapped each other walking from a central point until they could not longer hear the noise. When they came back together they then speculated on why and where people had stopped at different distances. It triggered conversations about what each meant and experienced as sound pollution. They would project the data onto a wall and people would annotate what they had experienced at different times. This was a form of collaborative analysis.

The app was also available on the app store so people downloaded it all over the world. Jen and her team contacted many of these users to find out what they were using it for and created data portraits.

We think of it as a way of making GPS as a technology that people can play with in an app that is slightly more visible than it is in our everyday life.

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Phil Thomas |  PhD Visual Sociology, Goldsmiths

Phil isa first year Visual Sociology PhD student and her work is on the politics of the claim to realism and discourses about crime and focusing on UK and US realist criminology. She also writes fiction and she is developing participatory writing exchange project. She recently prepared a piece for Goldsmiths event –  The Future of Art is Urban. Today she performed it live – ‘Grand Design’.

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Session III
MA VISUAL SOCIOLOGY STUDENT PRESENTATIONS

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Beckie Coleman, the course convenor and lecturer on the MA Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths, introduced the third and final session of the day. The course is in its first year, designed to explore visual methods and ways of engaging with the social world but also to push what we might mean by the visual into thinking about things like atmosphere, how sociology might be performed and performative.

Following on the style Speed Methods talks at the last conference and the Live Transmissions sessions this time, we invited MA Visual Sociology students to show and tell their current work-in-progress and invited comments and feedback from the group. The students who presented had been awarded small bursaries from the Transmissions & Entanglements project to help with their final dissertations and final show and more broadly to further support and encourage experimental and provocative forms of sociology.

Roz Mortimer | MA Visual Sociology 

Roz is developing work she has been doing in Southern Poland for a few years. Focusing on areas of mass graves, she is working with people who either witnessed the massacres or who live with memory of  trauma and memory. In particular she has been interested in one particular local story of a woman who refused to die. She has written more about this project here. She plans on exploring haunting through film and has been experimenting with how to represent and translate  trauma and collapse time. She has used pin hole cameras and digital cameras, but her frustration has been that the cameras have always been from a human perspective. So she has been thinking about how to visualise a more spectral presence. She is purchasing, with help from the bursary, a drone camera to fly above specific sites.

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Marina Silva | MA Visual Sociology

Marina has also been thinking about this project for a while and using the MA to explore it in depth. She is from São Paulo and has a design background. In 2007 a law was passed in the city to remove all ‘visual pollution from the urban landscape’. This meant that it was illegal to advertise in the city. It raises fascinating questions: What is beauty? What is the role of the city? What is and isn’t pollution? Where has the ‘visual pollution’ gone as a result of being ‘cleaned’ from the street’? Marina showed pictures from a local photographer who has documented the structures left from the advertising industry – empty frames, signs etc . She talked about the comments linked to his images that debate the nature of advertising versus communication and express a spectrum of responses from joy at the cleaner, more beautiful city to disgust at the heavy handed nature of state control.

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Katie Knapp | MA Visual Sociology 

Katie is from advertising and communications and comes from a background in agriculture and farming cultures. Her project is about how society visualises farming. She is struck by the overlaps, complexity and entanglement with how the media, lobby groups, consumers and farmers often use the same images to represent the production of food and yet put forward conflicting messages. She is interested in how people curate a visual of farming – different scenarios – and curate this into an object as a final piece of work.

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Ali Eisa | MA Visual Sociology 

Ali talked about the end of year MA Visual Sociology show in September which provides an opportunity for students to showcase the work they have been doing to the public, prospective students and also in relation to each other – the bursary is helping to support this event. This is a critically important event because although the course requires students to hand in a written text, the process by which they have made and expressed their work in other forms has greatly informed their processes, methods and understandings of Visual Sociology. It also deepens and enriches their exhibition and curation skills for ways of making their work open to a range of publics. Ali also talked about his own work which ethnographically explores hacker space culture and in particular things that don’t work. He passed around a 3D object that its maker considered a failure and yet talked about how other discussions with people revealed that it could be so many other things – ie. a part for a space ship!

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Session III QUESTIONS/ COMMENTS 

– What exactly is Visual Sociology? How are you imagining the visual in sociology – is it creative, or pertaining to optics?

All the students are from backgrounds – design, communications, advertising, film –  that have the visual deeply embedded within it. Having visual added to sociology is something they have debated throughout the year. The course equips students to interrogate the visual and and how they situate what they are already engaged in a sociological contexts.

It is more about inventive approach. It doesn’t have to be visual.

– Why do the visual histories of the future look the same? – ie. The fixity of the kinds of shapes in Thingyverse. Why do we imagine the future in specific ways – the similarities and lack of flexibility?

Ali talked about the homogeneity of 3D printed objects and is curious within his study to expl0re the themes that emerge. He is also interested in craft, consumption and technology and especially ideas of customisation which is a dominant theme in 3D printing – what is customisation?

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To The Pub!

HUGE thankyou’s to everyone for making Live Transmissions a terrifically stimulating and fun event.

Till next time…… : )

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ESRC Knowledge Exchange Grant – ‘Bikes & Bloomers’ launch event

Collaborations, Transmissions & Entanglements

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The exhibition launch of the ‘Freedom of Movement: the bike, bloomer and female cyclist in late C19th Britain’ (or Bikes & Bloomers for short) was held at Look Mum No Hands, a popular bike cafe, bar and workshop in a fantastically central London location on Friday 13th June, starting at 7pm.

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We had set up the main parts of the exhibition the night before. This included the automaton and display boards, vintage sewing machine and sewn banner. On the day we added to the display with ceiling hung spools of colourful thread, smaller versions of the digitally printed silk linings by Alice and extra costume pieces for the automaton.

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The automaton was specifically designed to ensure the clothing was on display on a mobile female body. It was imperative, given the project was about the freedom of movement, that the garments did not just simply hang motionless on a headless ‘mannequin’.

This is because from a Science & Technology Studies (STS) perspective I view clothing as a technology. Clothing is a means through which bodies are made to fit with new technologies and become mobile. Mobility technologies are symbols of modernity. They are also the means through which bodies are made modern. Yet some bodies are more easily made mobile (and modern) than others! Looking at cycle wear as a technology offers a way of seeing how it both enables and also inhibits movement – physical, as as well as ideological. And looking at women’s cycle wear presents new ways of thinking about gendered mobility and citizenship.

So I worked with a architect, model maker/carpenter and two engineers to build a full sized interactive cycling womanequin whose legs were powered by a turn of a hand crank. In addition, the team built a series of display boards and extra semi-automated features such as flying birds.

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Things started to get busy in the afternoon of the launch – with the arrival of the screen printers who were preparing to live screen print a series of cycling suffragette images onto t-shirts for people throughout the night. This was another way of involving bodies in the research – of literally getting the project onto bodies. (I’ve been doing this throughout the year with bloomer making workshops!)

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The live screen printed shirts proved very popular – apparently the printing people didn’t stop all night. We chose and/or made images that reflected social and cultural ideas about what a woman should be like on a bike, the changing body shapes of women as they shifted into more ‘Rational Dress’ (away from corsets) and other similar period imagery.

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Meanwhile the research team and collaborators were busy preparing for the performance, tinkering on the exhibition or doing some very last minute adjustments. We were picking threads off each other all night  – the garments were hot off the machine!

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All the garments – 24 fully lined hand made pieces not counting accessories in the form of hat bands and scarves  – were on the rail ready to wear.

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We dressed at 7pm, had final rehearsals and mingled with the growing crowd.

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It was amazing to see the costumes had finally come together after months of vary hard work. There were five in total (from left to right): Annette was wearing a patented costume by Madame Julia Gill, I was in Alice Louisa Bygrave’s convertible skirt, Rachel was wearing Frances Henrietta Muller’s design and Lan-Lan was in the Pease sisters skirt/cape. The fifth ensemble, Mary Ward’s ‘Hyde Park Safety Skirt’ was worn by the automaton in the window. It was fantastic that all the women wearing the costumes were cyclists and involved in the development of the project in some way.

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Food was served.

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Full house!

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The terrific thing about LMNH’s location is how the event brought together not only lots of cycling, sewing and sociologists but also people who just happened to be there on the night or who walked past and thought we looked interesting.

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I talked about changing ideas of women’s mobile bodies in public space at the turn of the last century – about dress reform, suffrage activities, advent of the ‘safety’ bike and the shifting social and cultural conditions that created the conditions for the invention of convertible cycle wear.

I explained a little about why we drew on cycle wear patents lodged by women for women in the 1890s and why we considered them to be  fascinating design objects – ie. they define the problem they then attempt to solve, all the while providing a glimpse into the social/cultural context and step by step instructions for how to re-make the artefacts.

I introduced the five convertible cycle wear garments we had chosen to make from 120 year old patents – garments that represented a particular flashpoint in history when women were carving out new forms of gendered mobile citizenship via an intersection of design, technology, bodies, public space and political activism. Convertible cycle wear gave the appearance of ‘ordinary’ dress off the bike, yet could be converted into safer, more comfortable form when on the bike.

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I was wearing a ‘Bygrave convertible skirt’. Alice Louisa Bygrave lodged the patent in the UK on 1st November 1895 and it was accepted on 6th December 1895. (Yes – quick turn around!). What’s fascinating about Alice is that she lodged the same patent in Canada and Switzerland. It is an unusual story in that we were able to trace her invention from the patent office to a commercial context. In 1896 her invention was picked up and distributed by Jaeger, the British fashion house, under her name – the Bygrave ‘Convertible’ Skirt  – and was advertised in popular periodicals such as ‘The Lady Cyclist’ and ‘The Queen’.

“My invention relates to improvements in ladies’ cycling skirts and the object is to provide a skirt as proper for wear when the wearer is on her cycle as when she has dismounted.”

The patented skirt features a interconnected series of stitched channels, clips, cords, rings, weights and a hidden pulley system enable the wearer to change the skirt height according to need.

I also talked about how in researching Alice’s life we discovered that she came from a family of watch and clock makers, professional cyclists and dressmakers. It is therefore not hard to see why her patent features well considered deliberately concealed technologies that enable it to operate.

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We handed out specially printed series of cards – one for each of the cycling costumes. Each told stories about the inventors, unique characteristics of their patented garment and the influences/contents of its design. They featured a die cut of a woman’s body and the audience was encouraged to hold up the cards and place each of our colourful live dressed bodies into a black and white contextual Victorian photo. There was much jostling and smiling as everyone got into the spirit of the piece!

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Instead of just talking about the patents and the inventors, the performance adopted an interview structure. Drawing on our genealogical and archival research from the past year, we sought to bring to life each of these characters and enable them to speak in their own words, to put real bodies back into patent archives and history.

I started by interviewing Annette in the character of Madame Julia Gill who invented a ‘Cycling Costume for Ladies’ in 1895. Annette/Julia told us about her life as a Court dressmaker, her middle and upper class clientele, what fashionable high society lady cyclists were wearing on their bikes and where they were cycling and also the range of influences (new media, new materials, new technologies etc) that she was drawing on to produce her designs.

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“The skirt is made with an underlayer of the same material or other kind which when turned up is drawn in at the waist with a cord run through, rings, tapes or eyelet holes &c. which then forms a semi-skirt, the under piece forming a frill and giving the appearance of a jacket bodies. When the wearer gets off the cycle the skirt drops into place as n ordinary walking skirt.”

“My invention has for its object to provide a suitable combination costume for lady cyclists, so that they have a safe riding garment combined with an ordinary walking costume for use when dismounted.”

Annette/Julia asked if we wanted to see the inventive qualities of her cycling skirt patent. With an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ from the audience, she demonstrated how the lower skirt flounce cleverly concealed a ribbon threaded through a row of  rings. Gathering the ribbon and lower skirt up and around her waist  formed a double peplum with the jacket and which removed the danger of the skirts being caught in the bicycle wheels.  This action also revealed Alice’s beautiful linings which again told stories of Madame Julia Gill’s life and her patent.

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The patent by Frances Henrietta Müller of Meads, Maidenhead was next. Rachel, in character as Frances, told us how she registered a patent for ‘Improvements in Ladies’ Garments for Cycling and other Purposes’ on 30th May 1896. She was 50 years old. Frances Henrietta Müller was a passionate and prominent women’s rights activist and suffragette. She devoted her life to the advancement of women’s freedom of movement in all spheres; such as agitating for equal pay for equal work in 1883 and promoting contraception to free women from continual child-bearing in 1884. She is also renown for founding and editing ‘The Women’s Penny Paper’ 1888-1893.

“These improvements consist in the form and combination of three separately constructed articles of ladies’ costume, so made as to afford special faculty and convenience when cycling.”

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Although well known as a British suffragette, Frances’s history of patenting convertible cycle wear has not, until now, been linked to her other considerable achievements.

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Lan-Lan took to the stage as Mary Elizabeth Pease, telling us that her older sister Sarah Ann was out cycling. They are gentlewomen living with their family in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Their patent consisted of a full wrap around skirt that could be converted into a cycling cape. This is the most radical design out of the collection in that the skirt completely comes away from the body. It transforms into a cape with the waistband converting into a high ruché collar. It could also be attached to the bicycle.

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“The rational dress now greatly adopted by lady cyclists has one or two objections inasmuch that when the lady is dismounted her lower garments and figure are too much exposed.”

“This invention thus far is of importance to lady cyclists. It is preferable to make it of light waterproof or rainproof material of reverse colours, say a check and a plain to suit or approach the usual colour of garments generally work, so that on dismounting if the article be in wear as a cape its removal and securing round the waist would be in a few moments convert[ed] it into skirt without making the wearer unlike others in the vicinity”.

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I finished the talk/performance with many thanks to:

Rachel Pimm – Research Assistant

Nadia Constantinou – Pattern Cutter
Alice Angus – Artist – aliceangus.net 
Nikki Pugh – Researcher – npugh.co.uk
Annette-Carina van der Zaag – Researcher and Sewing Assistance
Brit Hatzius – Filmmaker  – brithatzius.co.uk
Charlotte Barnes – Photographer  – charlottebarnes.com
James Fraser – Automaton Display  – Architect, MORA – moraworkshop.com
Rupert Fisher – Automaton Display – Allies and Morrison Architects  – alliesandmorrison.com
Edwin Knight and John Gray – Automaton Display

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The research, exhibition and opening was supported by Goldsmiths, Intel and the Economic and Social Research Council.

It was a brilliant evening and wonderful way to end a project and the four day ‘Live Transmissions‘ event.

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Dagstuhl’s DiY Networking seminar – Making a Failure Machine

Conferences, Enquiry Machines

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It’s been a busy start to the year so I’m only just catching up on some event documentation. Late January I was very pleased to be invited to attend a DiY Networking seminar: An interdisciplinary approach organised by Panayotis Antoniadis (ETH Zürich, CH), Jörg Ott (Aalto University, FI) and Andrea Passarella (CNR – Pisa, IT). The event was hosted at the Leibniz Centre for Informatics at Schloss Dagstuhl.

DiY networking group

Usually the preserve of an international community of computer scientists, this event was unique in that the organisers worked hard to bring together a range of academics and practitioners dealing with a similar topic – DiY Networking. As a result, in addition to computer scientists there were researchers with backgrounds in engineering, activism, art, sociology, anthropology and HCI. Due to the shared nature of the topic, the event provided a valued opportunity to catch up with old colleagues as well as meet new ones from many parts of the globe (Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany,Greece, Italy, Sweden, UK and US). In terms of gender, as you can see from the group photo, things were less diverse with 6 women out of 32. But, this was viewed as unusually high and we were made very welcome.

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For three and half days we stayed in a castle, yes a castle! – in a remote forest located a 30min cab ride, 2.5 hour train journey and a flight from London. Despite good internet access, there was definitely a collective (and valued) sense of getting away from other work and pressures. The castle was incredibly well equipped for this kind of event with comfortable lodgings, character filled working rooms (some in turrets), games and musical equipment (including piano, cello and violins) and a handy wine cellar. There were bikes to borrow and printed running maps for nearby trails. You could say it was a unique experience.

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Although discussions were expansive and interesting for the first day and a half, and the walk-shop around the local village and forest was great, the event became really productive for me when groups shrunk in size and conversations shifted to more specific topics. I joined group of computer and social scientists who focused on failure – Christian Becker, (Universität Mannheim, DE), John Cowcroft (Communication Systems, Cambridge), Paul Dourish (Informatics, UCI), Kevin Fall (Software Engineering, Carnegie Mellon), Alison Powell (Media & Comms, LSE), and Irina Shklovski (ITU, Copenhagen),

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Failure is rich topic for discussion as it holds multiple shifting meanings, is culturally shaped and manifest in diverse assemblies of practice. We shared very different experiences from our fieldwork and practice, talking about how failure some contexts was the key to success and the start of innovative journey; failure in the form of disaster sometimes operates as a catalyst for invention (but things need to be available before); success as an exception.

We asked:
What is failure?
How is it avoided?
Who is allowed to fail? Who isn’t?
How is failure understood, subverted and explored?
How is it represented? How has this changed over time/ in different places?
In what ways/contexts/articulations is failure reviled? Cleaned up? Ignored? Celebrated?

Drawing on previous experiences of building Enquiry Machines I suggested we build these ideas into a ‘Failure Machine’. Enquiry Machines are a series of performed artefacts made in collaboration with others that explore ideas or methods. The point is less about materializing answers or prototyping ideas and more about formulating new critical approaches and literally seeing and touching methods in new ways. EMs are not meant to be finished or polished objects that speak for themselves. In fact, most fail in some way. They remind us that mistakes and tangents are just as important to our insights as the things that ‘work’.

It seemed a good idea in this context as it would help to ground the discussion and unite our wide-ranging discussion into something physical. Also, the delightful thing about working on failure is that anything we made or failed to make would be productive. Plus Enquiry Machines are fun to make.

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These are pics from a Sociology Hack Day I ran with Dan Macquillan where computing, sociology and anthro students made machines which generated discussions on privacy, data snooping, location sensing, future selves and citizenship, electronic freedoms and more. As I said….. weird yet productive.

Also, it seemed to fit, albeit with a stretch, the broader aims of the Dagstuhl event:

– To enable the productive interactions in such a diverse community it will take for sure a significant amount of time and effort. We hope that this seminar will set the basis and make three concrete steps toward this direction

– The sharing of objectives, values, methodologies, and challenges those different fields of research and practice face today

– The definition of a research framework that will allow today disconnected disciplines to exchange knowledge and interact toward the design of successful do-it-yourself networking applications; and

– The definition of next steps toward a shared experimentation platform (e.g., code for mobile devices) and the setting up of a venue for sharing artistic, experimental, and research results.

We started by simply talking more, writing down ideas, quotes and drawing things that popped up in conversation. Then we coded these bits of paper according to themes, creating more consolidated taxonomies.

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This working session moved into the evening and was accompanied by some nice local wine, in fine company and to the background of acoustic guitar played by John and Kevin. It’d be nice to work like this more often.

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Bits of paper, pens and the whiteboard were the tools of choice. Magazines, coloured paper, tape, string and scissors were soon recruited.

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Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 02.31.53During the session I talked a bit about my recent obsession with châtelaine. Châtelaines were practical and decorative devices worn on the belt and hung with a series of short chains at the end of which were objects related to the task at hand. I’ve been thinking a lot about Châtelaines, after being introduced to these fascinating technologies by Genevieve Bell. They were worn by women from the 16th to 19th Centuries, from lower socio-economic workers to aristocracy. Nurses wore châtelaines with clocks, thermometers, bandages and scissors. Seamstresses had bobbins of thread, thimble cases and needles on the end of their châtelaine chains. Society ladies’ châtelaines featured highly decorative perfume bottles, purses, fans and even dance cards.

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Genevieve has talked about them in her work as early examples of wearable technology.

Here’s a pic of one I have since found in the British Museum. It is a simple châtelaine made for the purpose of holding an early example of a seconds dial silver and tortoiseshell watch by Charles Gretton, London in 1670. It also features the key for winding the watch.

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We decided to make our ‘Machine of Enquiry’ into a digital châtelaine.

We called it ‘The Battery Operated Wind-Up Merchant‘, playing on the ideas about technological lineage, pointing to larger dependent ecologies of use and using humour as a deliberate device to bring to life multiple ideas about failure and also the slightly ridiculous method.

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There was a lot of DiY hands-on material adaptation going on. We scoured the castle for string and in its absence made use of tape, scissors, some raffia and a plastic bag.

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The châtelaine featured a series of filters or apps hanging from each chain that reflected some of the critical themes and ideas generated in our discussions.

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We talked about the apps having both independent and potential interrupting characteristics, so they might overlap, tangle and otherwise interfere with one another causing even more noise in the system/process.

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The apps included ‘Dial of serendipity’, ‘Dial of missed opportunities’, ‘Lens of temporality’, ‘Latency creator’, ‘(Un)Archiver’, ‘Moral concern unburdener’ and many more.

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The process and presentation of the machine to the larger group was productive and enjoyable. Although making ideas material constituted a different method for some in our group, everyone was buoyed by the experience of collectively approaching the multiplicity and messiness of failure via gendered, historic, cultural and social actors as well as the technical ones. There was even talk of potentially furthering this as an interdisciplinary project and making the Failure Machine again in different, more developed materials.

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Enquiry Machines: Sociology hack day

Enquiry Machines, Workshop

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Tuesday 16th July
NAB 314
12.30-16.00
Eventbrite listing

Late last year Dan McQuillian and I applied for and were awarded a Goldsmiths Learning Enhancement Fellowship to run an experimental workshop that brought together sociology, computing and hacking/ making practices.

Dan had read about my previous work on Enquiry Machines and suggested we explore this in the context of a classroom based teaching environment. The project was a pilot at using ‘hacking’ as a Higher Education learning method; ‘hacking’ can be understood as a playful engagement with pre-existing tools and materials, exploring and extending their limitations, with an innovative and clever outcome.

Aims:

– to illustrate and/or explore a particular area of enquiry
– to enable a critical engagement with materials and making
– to support critical and conceptual thinking
– to bring to life a constellation of concepts and methods
– to offer students a chance to critically engage with ideas and processes in new dynamic forms

The event was  designed to provide students with the chance to make research ideas and problems into a series of material objects or ‘Enquiry Machines’. The idea was not so much to model or prototype a solution or answer but rather to materialise the problem in a new way – to produce new ways to enquire into the issue. It was a bit like a hackday, but with ideas, string, paper, cardboard boxes, cable ties, duct tape and any other junk that people happened to bring (or find during the day).

What is an Enquiry Machine?

What is an Enquiry Machine?

We aimed to push students out of their comfort zones, inspire them to think about research as a tangible intervention and in the process develop new critical and methodological skills. The session was designed to strengthen students critical abilities on three accounts: articulating core issues/questions, working with others, and opening up rather than closing down methods for thinking through and about complex things. Although initially designed to push students on the MA/MSc in Creating Social Media to experiment and innovate, in an accessible and fun way, work together as a group. The event was open however to a range of students  including other MA and PhD students.

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Background

A central theme of social computing at undergraduate and postgraduate level is that the affordances of social technology are a material for innovation (e.g. the new MA/MSc in Creating Social Media http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/ma-creating-social-media convened by Dan McQuillan). This means that we encourage students to think broadly and reflexively about the material, technical and socio-cultural contexts of social media in order to critically locate themselves, their interactions and ideas.

This however presents a pedagogic challenge; students with a computing background are unfamiliar with this approach to technology and students from other backgrounds are inhibited by the technical specifics. The proposed project seeks to address this issue by experimentally adapting Kat’s ‘Enquiry Machines’ (EM) project in the context of social computing. The EM project sets out to render visible critical processes of knowledge making and interaction. It is an experimental methodology that is based on Kat’s sociology training and interest in messy and innovative methods.

In this context, the EM project will provide an experiential exercise that is fun, accessible and underpinned by learning practices that suit the subject (ie. critical pedagogy, rapid prototyping).

'Enquiry Machine' event poster

‘Enquiry Machine’ event poster

Students will build their enquiries into three-dimensional artefacts. They will transform their processes, concepts or methodological problems into material objects and use these objects to show, share and debate key ideas about social computing. Building ideas out of a range of everyday materials bypasses disciplinary boundaries (as there are no right or wrong answers in rapid prototyping and hacking culture) and opens up new ways of thinking about challenging ideas. The discussions generated  while creating  machines, and with others while the machine is in operation, are considered as important as the object itself.

The proposal built on Dan McQuillan’s direct experience of co-founding a hack-based social innovation movement (http://sicamp.org/), where it is clear that hacking / hackathons are an emerging form of innovation across business, society and academia itself (e.g. King’s College London organises first Humanities Hack http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/eventrecords/kclhumshack.aspx).

The event aimed to create an interdisciplinary bridge to hacking as innovation in a way that adapts Sen & Nussbaum’s capabilites approach to a learning environment. It will be shared as a ‘how to’ handbook and college resource via learn.gold and Mahara as a way to develop a college-wide community of practice around hack-based learning.

 

 

The session was structured in three parts:

1. Introduction/framing presentation – Kat started the day by introducing the concept of Enquiry Machines and outlining the tasks for the day.

2. Exploring/ problem development – Students were encouraged to articulate core enquiries (questions/issues/methods) in small groups. They were sent on a brief outside excursion to  walk/think through issues and collect extra materials

2. Making – Over lunch students worked together to materialise their enquiries in the form of material objects.

3. Performing – In performing the objects to peers, each group critically articulated coherencies / interventions and discussed how and why specific choices are made, what metaphors were produced and how ideas were generated in assembling these machines.

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Transmissions & Entanglements: Inventive enactments of the social

Conferences, Goldsmiths, Transmissions & Entanglements

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‘Inventive Enactments of the Social’, the second event in the project ‘Transmissions and Entanglements’, was held in London 13-15th June. It built on the half-day symposium/ workshop held at ISTC in April on ‘Uses of Inventive Methods’ that was concerned with the many issues and challenges surrounding making, representing and distributing knowledge. A core group of faculty and students from ISTC and Goldsmiths participated in both events – the aim being to develop a network of interdisciplinary scholars exploring this critical area of enquiry.

The London event was spread over three days, starting with a public lecture of two invited keynotes and a respondent at Goldsmiths, followed by drinks and a group dinner. The next day featured a full day symposium/ workshop. A brunch the following day at a local cafe provided a more relaxed opportunity to talk about the event and discuss future collaborations and projects.

In total, the London event featured 28 participants of which 21 were presenters from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and institutions – sociology, computer science, library and information science, medieval studies, anthropology, film, art and design. Presenters delighted the audience with a range of multi-media knowledge in the form of talk, performance, film, sound and objects. The event was supported by Intel, ISTC and studio INCITE (Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography) at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The following overview/write-up is an attempt to capture some of the many ideas shared, generated and discussed during the day while remaining mindful of ‘staying with the trouble’ (a key theme of the event) by not presenting polished/finished documentation. It is also quite detailed in keeping with the idea of rendering visible the processes by which knowledge is created, the mechanisms of production and modes of circulation.

Feedback, ideas, suggestions, criticisms or thoughts about potential collaborative experiments welcome!

 

Inventive Enactments of the Social
Friday  14th June 2013

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The full day Inventive Enactments of the Social symposium/workshop was held at the aptly named Centre For Creative Collaboration (C4CC) in Kings Cross. The C4CC is an initiative of the University of London, working in collaboration with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Royal Holloway, University of London. It provided a central London flexible space for a group of people to get together to talk, present and perform ideas. Although the structure of the day was largely comprised of site specific multi-media knowledge transfer in the form of talk, performance, film, sound and objects, the nature of the space (the centre is built directly over the tube) meant that the urban context was an active participant as well.

The day was divided in four sections. There were three key themes sessions of talks  I. Entanglements with Knowledge,  II. Atmospheres and  III. Learning by Doing. Each was made up of three speakers: two talks and a response. This was followed by a speed ‘Knowledge Transmission’ session comprised of seven x eight minute presentations qhich provided a dynamic end to the day. In total, the symposium/workshop featured 17 speakers and 28 participants.

Listeners

Session 1
ENTANGLEMENTS WITH KNOWLEDGE

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James Leach – Professor of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen
– ‘What is a body? Digital technologies, choreographic thinking, and the knowledge economy’

In the first talk James presented in-progress research about the body, technology and methodological practices in relation to a interdisciplinary collaborative HRC funded research project – Enhancing Choreographic Objects (EChO). He started by critiquing the idea of ‘knowledge producers’ and how this shapes and is shaped by ideas of economic value. Then, from an anthropological perspective he described (and visually illustrated via a dynamic website) an interest in the body in the context of choreographed dance.

He asked the audience to consider the richness of the body in the production and transfer of knowledge – What is a body? What is body intelligence? What is bodily responsiveness? How is our body always thinking, solving problems for us? What judgements and calculations are being made by bodies in the same space all the time? How can we not think with and through the body?

James agued that we can never catch all this richness, yet art can come closer to this task. One tool is the Choreographic Language Agent (CLA), which is software used by Wayne McGregor and his dancers as a creative tool in the studio to generate and investigate movement ideas in the studio. James discussed the challenges of bringing to life the emotional and kinaesthetic response of the body in dance, which goes beyond what is on the screen and the larger aim to ‘make something beautiful, to make something compelling to be with’.

In addition to critique, the project involves an exhibition of choreographic objects at the Welcome Trust, which aims to reveal to a broader audience some of the ‘thinking involved in dance making’. The aim is not an ‘instrumental outcome’ but rather one that is ‘relational and processual’ and that ‘informs and draws people into the process of knowing in this way’ and ‘shares something of our practice’. More here.

James

 

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Mel Gregg – Principal Investigator & Researcher in Residence, ISTC, UCI
– ‘Finding Composure’

Mel presented a self reflective piece that started with the interweaving of a discussion about a new skillset required for her new position as  Researcher in Residence at Intel’s ISTC and previous training in literary studies. She raised the issues of ‘sharing terms in common’ and  ‘an understanding of what we want language to do’ in the organisation and in broader research. There are tensions to overcome not only in these contexts but also in relation to her training in sociology and cultural studies. She talked about the first ‘Transmissions and Entanglements’ event at UCI in April and how a conversation with Nina and I shaped her talk today. She revealed how she wants to be ‘entangled in the moment’ of research but that it feels necessary to be ‘free of the entanglement in order to transmit, to say what I did, to make the research palatable, consumable or understandable’. She also wants to learn ‘new ways to talk to different audiences’. This is the tension – usually we think we should be clear of entanglement in order to transmit knowledge. Yet, from the last event she learned that ‘the point it to transmit in the process of being entangled’. In response, she has tried to do ‘things differently. She gives ‘a paper that is not a paper’. She shows ‘things that are in progress’ and reveals the ‘way that I do research’.

Mel drew on two works-in-progress: her blog Home Cooked Theory, which she explained is an important part of how she ‘practices her research publicly’ and her current research around time management. She talked about a ‘split self’ – the desire to show and tell but also to keep it ‘to myself until it is ready’. She discussed how these methodological approaches ‘impact on the forms of scholarship available in public and also the kinds of scholarship I think we should be fostering and allowing people to experiment with’. Mel then drew on her project ‘Counterproductive: A short history of time management’ which focuses on time management manuals post the 70s and the repeating patterns of recommendations – such as the ‘critical apparatus’ of the list. She also revealed her own time management list of notes confessing that she is a ‘failed subject of my own research’ which she argues ‘is the point because you have to reform yourself’. Ultimately she argues that she is ‘trying to enact what the earlier conversation taught me about the messiness of the research’ and also the ‘point of the research’. Rather than staying in the ‘realm of pure critique’ she instead drew on what Meaghan Morris has called ‘the practice of sympathetic criticism’ where ‘you try in the moment of the encounter with the object to see it as criticism of your automatic presumptions’.

Mel: “In adopting the principles of this project about transmissions and entanglements what I am trying to do is take on the moment of the encounter as a serious way of confronting my own prejudices and ideological position.”

So what has changed? Mel argued that the critic and the reader are not in a ‘hierarchical situation’. This is what she calls ‘lateral research’ which is more about participation and less about observation.

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Michael Guggenheim – Senior Lecturer, Sociology Department, Goldsmiths
– Response

Michael took the floor tasked with responding to the first two talks in the session: Entanglements with Knowledge. He told the audience that he ‘prepared a list to keep his composure’ and proceeded to entangle insights, quotes and references from both talks – namely ideas about choreography, the body and dance with time management, lists and academic knowledge exchange.

The ‘list’ numbered 1 though to 33 and Michael performed each task – a response that involved not only a piece of paper, but also his body, voice, right shoe, sock, pen, a volunteer, a collaborator, phone… and of course the avid attention of the audience. Much to our delight, his response inventively performed, enacted, adressed and commented on both talks.

A sample of the points on the list:

Point #1. Do a list
Point #2. Manage the list
Point #3. Manage the list later
Point #4. Do violence to the list
Point #5. Re-organise the list, now
Point #6. Switch on the choreography tool and engage in real change
…………….
Point #26. Step outside of academia (which involved a choreographed bodily move) – ‘Balance on your right and relax. Balance on your right and relax.
Point #27. Was point #26 an enactment of sociology?  If so, why not? Discuss and not: If not, why not.
Point #28. Disseminate the insights on point #26 and #27. How?
…………..

Point #32. Cook your theory!
Point #33. Never talk longer than your allocated time slot.

(Apparently Michael gave Mel the actual list – I hope to post up a pic of the artefact).

michael collage

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Session I
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS

James, Mel and Michael took chairs at the front of the room to answer questions and comments about the session.

Q. How do we keep the multiples alive? How do we stay with the trouble? Knowledge travels, how do you keep it embodied and flesh like and yet accept that at time that it has to be travel and it is productive to travel?

James talked about the opportunity to distribute knowledge brings potential benefit but can also obscure what we value and do. Acknowledging that means finding ways to find value through objects that might be abstracted but the idea is to provide a critique of that process.

Q. Where is your body in the study of the body? How do you think about your own body in your research?

James talked about how he has become aware of bodies/physical presence in a new way. He drew on his research in Papua New Guinea where people ‘explicitly put bodies together’ and ‘make them appear’. In the new dance project, he said that he thought he was going to learn about new digital technologies by spending time with expertly skilled digital artists and choreographers but ‘what they taught me was about the body’.

Mel talked about productivity app developers who interact on her blog and asked:
– ‘What would be the appropriate response if I was going to take their practice to learn from too? Make an app? Keep blogging to attract more app designers and talk to them? Create a public event?
– Should all research about making, make something as a way of understanding the communities they are talking about?’
– What is the researcher’s responsibility? How do we create opportunities for people to have critical literacy when they are not naturally distributed evenly?

Q. What kinds of knowledge work did Michael’s performance enable/produce?

Nina commented on the theoretical act of ‘just in timeness’ of the academic response. She noted how in James’ talk about dance we didn’t see any dancers; we saw inscriptions of dance  in software. Michael used his body to interpret ideas and Nina talked about how her imagination operated in a way to see what was absent in the software – the richness, the viscerality of the body.

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Session II
ATMOSPHERES

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Craig Martin  – Senior Lecturer, Design Context, University of Edinburgh
– ‘Between the Digital and the Elemental: Placing Atmospheric Immersion’

Craig outlined his general interest in atmospheres in terms of the relationship between vernacular design and elemental forces and in particular, architectural forces in the outer Hebrides and the role of weathering on traditional Black Houses (as well as other ruins). Today, however, he focused on cultural atmospherics and relation to the digital and made two key points: ‘the spatiality of atmospheres critiques the geometries of separation’ (see Sloterdijk’s work) and how the ‘oncoming power of weather based atmospheric phenomena is akin to the immersive power of the digital’.

Craig: “This paper addresses the potential relationships between digital space and atmospheric phenomena, specifically the ‘weather world’. It does so by firstly articulating the role of atmospheres in conceptualising new forms of spatial awareness, notably in relation to forms of immersion and entanglement. It then directly addresses the affect of elemental experiences, including the constant presence of weather conditions, be this a stilled moment or tumultuous force.”

The aim of the paper was to ‘try to utilize the notion of the atmospheric as an intermediary for understanding the complexity of contemporary digital spatialities’. Craig considered atmosphere as a ‘form of feeling’, ‘sense of place’, ‘environment and built space’ and ‘feeling of sensational experience’. He talked about the use of the intermediary as an important methodological tool to navigate through contemporary spatialities (see Michel Serres).

 

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Nina Wakeford – Reader in Sociology, Goldsmiths
-‘Here Comes Experience! Making atmosphere out of sociology’s ‘raw’ materials’

Nina began by blocking the projector lens with a book and telling the audience about the structure of the piece. Like the film Momento, where the story is told in reverse, Nina started with a 9min audio piece featuring a woman speaking in English and Cantonese and finished with a story about how/where the project began. She framed her talk about arguments of ‘certainty and knowledge’, starting with how sociological texts in the 60s ‘exuded an air of confidence about the validity of concepts and methods’ and the ‘degree to which sociology could adequately analyse and explain social phenomena’. Drawing on Savage (2010), this could be seen as ‘the moment of sociology’. A shift in sociology is marked from a focus on subject (deviance) to methods (objective). Nina argued that while the 60s were about epistemic optimism’, the 80s in contrast where marked by a ‘profound scepticism’ which still exists today. Now, the ‘moment of sociology’ is being considered the ‘moment of digital sociology’ and draws attention to how attitudes towards the production of knowledge by sociologists ‘are highly variable’.

Nina: “There are broad changes in sociological moods over time. If we can work out how certain we want to be our ideas about sociology having this level of certainty we can perhaps get a better grasp on how open, ongoing and even ambiguous our sociological enterprises might be (which starts to gesture towards the inventive agenda that I have been working with).”

Nina talked about the sound piece as an ongoing investigation in terms of ‘luring’ (see Fraser 2009) and an ‘affective contagious form of transmission between worlds’ (see Sloterdijk’s ideas of foam – a multiplicity of spheres and their relationships to each other). She also drew on Kathleen Stewart’s (2009) ‘atmospheric attunements’.

Nina: “I want to suggest that sociology might think more about the kinds of ambiguity and openness which such an output embeds which transforms what I will call tactically but controversially its raw material. I want to argue for a reconceptualisation of sociology’s materials in line with work done by colleague Michael Guggenheim (and his sock!). In particular the need to think about how the discipline might better understand and how it constructs the rawness of materials that are generated in the course of research….. what might this rawness have the capacity to enact.”

Nina’s sound piece fits with what is termed a ‘non-traditional output’ in sociology. It was produced using materials from interviews, ethnography and secondary research.

Nina: “For me, for sociology to be inventive it must be more materially innovative. That is for all the concern with performativity, enactment and entanglement there is actually very little on how we pay attention to the affordances to treating our data as raw material that they may be inventively transformed.”

Nina

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Goetz Bachmann – Senior Lecturer, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths
– Response

Goetz responded to the session by drawing on Nina’s reversed presentation style, starting with an immediate personal story and ending with his prepared response to the papers. His story comprised a personal narrative about his response to Nina’s audio piece, raising memories of past emotional entanglements. The atmosphere generated for Goetz from the session was such that he felt his body commenting as much as his mind.

Goetz highlighted key ideas emerging in the session – the idea of rawness and of developing a methodology around digital atmospheres – and how both have strong yet opposite narratives around atmospheres. He identified four layers of thinking around digital and atmospheres:

1. How do we research atmospheres? (while avoiding the flaneur)
2. Using atmospheres to understand other things (a way into other things)
3. Using atmospheres as a means of encountering something more than comms… something affective
4. Putting atmospheric conditions in all of this (framing atmosphere)

Goetz talked about these might appear simple steps but complexity emerges when combined and entangled.

He then showed his original notes in his notebook  (drawing inspiration from Mel) and talked through extra references and ideas (Sloterdijk, Schmidts, Bollnow, Bermer(?)).

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Session II
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS

Craig, Nina and Goetz took chairs at the front of the room to answer questions and respond to comments. Many thanks to Mel for chairing this session, as I had to check on lunch!

Q. What does it mean to insert power, oppression, access and reach into the vocabulary about atmosphere? Does it matter if we lose some of those words, or the meaning of those words? (Mel talks about how affect is often used in a way that avoids discussions about power, structure and oppression).

Craig agrees that this absence is part of the weakness of affect and why Kathleen Stewart’s book is so useful because it addresses everyday affect. Drawing on Lovink’s work, the ‘cultural familiarity of weather’ is always there and always oncoming – another reason why it needs investigating. This is the ‘centrality of affect’.

Mel pointed out that the digital is not omnipresent for everyone (re: Stewart’s communities that had not access to digital tech). ‘How much does the language of omnipotence buys into the same imperialism?’ ‘Is it reaching over everyone, touching everyone?’ ‘Do we need to resist that?’

Goetz suggests the need to ‘spell out these questions a little more’ and ask ‘what actually does change?’  He thinks we need to ‘shift out ideas about atmosphere’ and tells us about the Japanese translation of a similar concept –  雰囲気 Fun’iki – as being ‘possibly closer to the digital atmosphere’ and ‘a richer semantic level’, ‘what should happen next at the moment’, ‘you constantly negotiate’ and ‘that which is between us that tells us what to do next’. It always changes. Although debated at length in Japan and elsewhere, it provides access to new ways of thinking about atmospheres that are more ‘temporal’ and ‘semantic’.

Q. In transdisciplinary research you become aware of all the potholes in method  – how do you not turn back to certainty?

Nina responded with a story about a large pothole in her street that the local council refuses to mend. When it rains, the residents put rubber ducks in it and it has become an installation. So, ‘sometimes you do not have to fill in the holes with tarmac’.

Session2 questionsb

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LUNCH

A gourmet vegetarian buffet, featuring locally sourced produce, was provided by Leon Lewis.

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Session III
LEARNING BY DOING

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Matt Ratto – Assistant Professor and Director of the Critical Making lab in the
Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto
– ‘Critique and the Textual Doppelgänger: Critical making and the academic enterprise’

Matt could not join us in London, so he did the next best thing – he and his team produced an impressive single-take video featuring a tour of the Critical Making Lab, introductions to the aims and objectives of the group, theoretical framings and current projects. The structure of the talk – what matt called it’s ‘seamfulness’ – was highly appreciated by the group for its material critique of knowledge exchange. ie. Powerpoint ‘slides’ of key quotes and titles were stickytaped around the Lab. The video also added another multi-media dimension to the palette of representational modes throughout the day.

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Matt talked about how the group were ‘engaged in making as part of a scholarly practice of critique where the making is there to serve as a resource for unpacking and understanding concepts and not as a creating of objects for exhibition or for display, so it is a very process oriented type of thing’.

The lab includes space for four postdocs, faculty offices, computer equipment, critical gaming and critical making lab. Critical making provides a way of ‘geting past some of the determinisms that are associated with technological work’ and realised he ‘need to get closer to the technologies themselves’ and started to see ‘the role of making as an under utilised part of critical reflection on technology and society’.

He and colleagues talked about ‘geting back to the moment of making’. This is not about making things critical, ie for exhibition and making objects to speak for themselves but rather is about ‘thinking through critical making’ and ‘using material properties to support that work’.

Drawing on Schon (1987), Matt made reference to institutional structures that enable and limit different kinds of methodological approaches. Ie. the separation of linguistic and making work that is built into different academic enterprise. He talked about the challenges of getting others to recognise and legitimise the work of making as part of the humanities and social sciences and for resources to reflect and support this practice.

 

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Bernd Kräftner – Principal Investigator Shared Inc. &
Senior Lecturer University of Applied Arts, Dept. Science & Art / Vienna

– ‘Best regards from the Syndrome Archipelago: Excerpts from a family album’

Bernd talked about research into the syndrome ‘Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome’ (a state of prolonged coma that calls for 24 care attendance) – a project that brings into focus a range of larger socio-technical entanglements in the Austrian health care system. He described Shared Inc’s ‘long-term ethnographic and artistic research that investigates the question of how to contribute unusual and experimental practices of care’.

Bernd tells us that he attempts to ‘depowerpointificate’ his presentation which involves subverting the linear slide system and layering pages instead. He introduces the ‘Muragga’ as a means of explaining this approach. The Muragga is a persian word for ‘a patched garment traditionally work by sufi’s that consists of a patchwork of imagery.

Bernd: “During the years we gathered many materials and fragments of knowledge. We are currently attempting to stitch together our version of the syndrome.”

Bernd discussed how this ‘stitching as a practice could enact alternative versions of what it means to be a “family”‘. The ‘family album’ interweaves the family of participants (patient, family, nurses, doctors, researchers), the family of methods (observing, representing and intervening) and the material form of research (drawings, collage, photos, maps, fables, objects such as the ‘Squirrel Pillow’).

Bernd: “A collection of heterogeneous materials form various times and places representing and intervening. We currently try to make from those nine years of collecting materials with different methods to put together a kind of a Muragga. We don’t know yet if this is a book or something which is electronic or more dispersed.”

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Beckie Coleman – Sociology lecturer, Lancaster University
– Response

Beckie started by telling the group that although she would respond to Matt’s and Bernd’s presentations, her response would also touch on key themes emerging throughout the day:

– a process of getting closer to the object, technology and how we do that through making
– the creation of objects not for an exhibition but as a means of process
– the complexity of finding out and mess
– how objects gets entangled with ways of knowing and ways of doing
– what is this relationship through thinking and making
– idea of immediacy, ‘or what Craig or Nina might call ‘immersion with experience’. The idea of process is about being in the midst of something

So how do we think about this? How is this a method? How does this allow us to think about relations and inter-relations in new ways? For example in Bernd’s work, Beckie asked about what this meant for the family. She saw it as an opening up of the family, not just traditional kinship networks but of the researcher and others involved in daily care as part of the family

Beckie raised the question of ‘how the idea of getting close to something is a move away from the discourse to the making’ and if this was a ‘shift from writing to making’ which opens up productive ideas about the differences between ‘discourse and matter’. How much can we think about writing as making? Is it the same as making physical objects? This has links to how interdisciplinary projects happen.

– How might these be considered to be getting closer to a research question in a way that writing perhaps isn’t?
– How might writing be considered a distancing from a research problem?
– What is the distinction between materials and materiality?
– How do we think about are things that are in the making?
– Critique, critical making, critical thinking – what does this mean in different contexts/disciplines
– How does critique get the researcher closer to something, not distancing them, but emerging in the process?
– Do we need to rethink critique?
– What are the institutional challenges/difficulties? How is making valued in different places?

Beckie and group

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Session III
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS

After placing the laptop open to Skype on a chair between the speakers, I invited Bernd and Matt to respond to Beckie’s questions. Bernd started by talking about the ‘family’ in the research, how it involved a family of syndromes,  ‘living’ with a group of people and making a range of materials. He discussed the challenge of avoiding instrumentalising others as well as themselves in the process – to put it back into an art system and to ‘leave it like it is’. He talked about a reluctance to go back into ‘big institutions and get eaten up with how these things are processed’.

James said he thought there was something ‘quite honorable and admirable’ about the two pieces of work. Referencing a conversation with Nina in the break, he said they had discussed how she was:

James: “…attempting to hold open the space where knowledge does not become one thing or another, that does not easily slip into either being artistic expression of something or scientific instrumentalised version of it. And to hold open that space requires effort, a conscious effort and I think I am getting out of this day are examples, different as they are, of what Matt and you are doing is that you are putting the effort into holding that space open and its difficult and therefore its honorable. You are both fulfilling some sense of obligation….and not allowing that to collapse into something that is instrumental or an expression of something and that is a way of honouring it.”

Matt responded by saying he appreciated that comment. To him, holding open is the move he is trying to with his work, even more so than getting closer to it. He talked about a deliberate discursive move in his work to ‘distance it from art and design’. He does that because of the easy way it closes down the significance… the role of it, the position of it in society’. He said that he thought the initial issue in this kind of work was going to be how ‘making very easily gets situation in values of technology, the instrumental technical rationality or what Bill gaver talks about management of work, optimisation rhetoric’ but he has also found the ‘aestheticization of it, from an artistic ad design perspective to be equally problematic . To respond he ‘pushes back on overly structural ways that doesn’t do credit to art of technical work but is an attempt o hold open a  space to operate’.

Q. How easy/ hard is it to get funding re: institutional structures? Does this contradict the very spaces you are attempting to critique? What does it mean in terms of your daily work?

Matt says that the difficulty is less about funding and more about what work it does, ensuring that it doesn’t reproduce the standard rhetoric around making. By this he means pushing on the idea that making is a universalising force for transforming everyone into a maker. He articulates the challenge that lies in communicating how making is legitimate not because it creates new makers but because it ‘helps people resolve a deep anxiety of having to do with an out of control feel they have’. He positions it in terms of developing ‘critical socio-technical literacy’:

Matt: “In the same ways we needed media literacy in regards to the highly constructed images and soundscapes and so forth of a previous generation and we needed textual literacy to deal with issues of bias in printed works, we now need a socio-technical literacy to deal with the ways in which code and technology impacts on us, not just in terms of the ways in which we experience and understand the world but like architecture structures out everyday lives. I position this work and critical making more generally as having an outcome of socio-technical literacy that is seen as necessary for the functioning of democratic society. And that seems to resonate.”

Session 3 panel

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SPEED METHODS
– ‘A knowledge transmission proposal, process or problem’

The brief for each presenter of this session was to speak for 8 minutes only on a research topic and methodological challenge in relation to the mode of knowledge transmission of their work (actual or anticipated). They focused on a current problem/impasse they are tackling, with regards, for example, to data collection/analysis, connecting with respondents, sharing, communicating, making, presenting or circulating results. Given the theme of the workshop, speakers were encouraged to explore the possibilities of re-imagining ‘inventive’ modes of transmitting knowledge.

 

1. Lara Houston, PhD Candidate, Sociology Department, Lancaster 
– Ethnographic study of mobile phone repair practices in Kampala, Uganda

Lara set up her talk by asking how her work could join conversations about repair. She started with a short repair story, pointing out the tools and materials of a repairer’s work space, then moved to an analysis of the discourse about making and repair, remixing manifestos of this movement and finally outlined her concern with ‘the things that get lost in the telling of repair stories’ and how they might be explored in knowledge exchange.

Lara: “I want to think about how we can produce an outcome, a text (such as a PhD), that invites repair. What might that mean when my examiners are sitting down with my thesis? Can I ask them to use a toothbrush and some petrol to sweep across the page to reveal the text? Could I ask them to take two wires and plug them into a battery as the technicians do to boot up my thesis? What kinds of other material ways of interacting with this textual objects might be generative and interesting? What might it mean to obscure and invite the reader to reveal?”

Lara

 

2. Nerea Calvillo, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths 
– ‘ In the air’

Nerea offered the audience two options for her presentation. She started by showing images and video and asked “So, what is it about?” A participant suggested the images were of ‘carbon monoxide pollution’. Nerea said, “Ok, great Number 2” and started her presentation. The performance of choice signalled alternate ways of presenting knowledge. She then talked about an international interdisciplinary project that set out to ‘test in what ways we could visualise the air’ and ‘what are the specificities of the mediums that allow us to say different things’. She talks about the development of visual tools to represent data and the contrasting responses when they took it to various stakeholders such as policy makers, scientists, artists, citizens and activists etc. She questions why it did not find purchase – is it an aesthetic problem? Is it transmission? Entanglement? Disciplinarity? Nerea concludes by asking:

How does one account for the affordances of the device to make a difference in the world?
How can we account for the atmospheric attunements that the object produces?
Do we have to?
Are we responsible?

Nerea

 

3. Alexandra Lippman, PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology, UCI 
– ‘ Entanglement with Collaboration: Sound ethnography project’

Alexandra talked about her research about funk carioca from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. She showed how maps of the area often ‘silence’ this soundscape – favelas are often erased from the city to look like a hill or park. This ‘visual erasure’ however does not stop favelas, where mobile sound systems and thousands of people combine to creates an ‘acoustic  community’. She played music and talked about her sound ethnography project whereby she publishes pieces of her own sound project and also invites people to submit contributions to her website – www.soundethnography.com

Alexandra: “What kinds of new results, theories, methods can be generated when anthropologists listen and also incorporate sound recordings into their work that is different from the typical use of sounds recordings. ie.interview, field recordings and write about it?”

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4. Silvia Lindtner, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Intel’s Science and Technology Centre for Social Computing
– ‘Making with China’

Silvia talked about collaborations in her fieldsites in China (across six cities) in the area of DiY, hacker and making communities. In particular she is interested in how ‘making goes together with manufacturing’. Partnerships initiated by DiY makers include collaborations with local Governments, local manufacturers and foreign and Chinese venture capitalists. She talked about how makers publish their work in similar spaces to researchers such as conferences, public lecturers and journals, are funded by similar institutions and frame their approaches and arguments with similar theoretical framings. Silvia drew on what Mel talked about earlier in the day –  ‘the lateral move’ of working alongisde fieldsites and subjects and how she responds by organising workshops as method, being part of a collective of scholars and makers and producing an art exhibition.

Silvia

 

5. Felipe Palma Irarrazaval,  PhD Candidate, Visual Sociology
– ‘ Magnitude’

Felipe makes a single point about the ‘problem of translation in the social sciences’ – magnitude – in the context of his research into the copper mining industry. Using images of mines and how the industry visualises the future through the scale of the infrastructure, he asks, ‘How can you understand the size of it?’. He argues that a way of dealing with the complexity of magnitude is to ‘use other kinds of supports’. He shows a short film. The wall fills with a golden visual of the sun setting through the web of steel of mining architecture  The lens pans up and down the structures, zooming in and out to reveal the scale of humans in this socio-technical assemblage. He explains that his hand-made  film is attempts to ‘explain the scale of these processes’.

Felipe: “To express, configurate or translate a complex phenomenon it is useful to use several mediums, to over lap them and see how they recreate a configuration of the scale you are working with.”

 

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7. Youngsuk Lee,  ISTC Researcher and Research Assistant,
School of Informatics and Computing, IU, Bloomington
– The ‘Suicidal Object’ and the ‘Hatching Scarf’

Youngsuk is an artist and Human Computer Interaction designer researcher and presents some of her recent work in these interdisciplinary fields. She presents short videos of her work –  abstract, kinetic sculptures that combine interactive and digital art: The ‘Suicidal Object’ and also the ‘Hatching Scarf’.  Her aim is to create everyday computational objects and explore art and design as a medium to communicate ideas between artists, designers and viewers.

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7. Bonnie Mac,  Assistance Professor, Medieval Studies, University of Illinois
– ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’

Bonnie started by positioning herself as an interdisciplinary scholar in an interdisciplinary program (Medieval Studies, School of Library and Information Science). She works with a collaborator, Julia Pollack, to explore ‘what a humanities publication might look like if it is not embodied in the conventional form of prose?’ For the past year they have been experimenting with ‘communicating a scholarly argument’ in new ways. Challenges emerge not only in relation to this task but also how this kind of work is ‘shared, peer reviewed and indexed’. The project she focuses on is ‘A Cabinet of Curiosity: The Library’s Dead Time‘.

Bonnie: “For this exhibition we made a series of sculptures that explored how the materiality of information affects the transmission of knowledge.”

Further to explaining this fascinating project, Bonnie focused on the mundane practical mobility of the artefact, asking: ‘How were we to circulate it and share it with others in the same way that a journal article or a book might be shared and circulated?’

Bonnie and Julia built a portable version in the form of a box (the size dictated by ‘carry on luggage’),  and it was filled with miniaturised objects – a translation of their argument on a different scale. However, there were various ‘banal, real world’ issues; it was heavy and awkward to carry, it was made of wood so it wasn’t allowed on some planes, it required taxis and postal services etc. Bonnie also interwove experience of writing about the box in the talk, describing how excised arguments and words from the peer-review process feature in the newest instantiation of the box.

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Paul Dourish, Professor Informatics, Information and Computer Science, UCI
 End of day response

Paul was landed with the unenviable task of responding to/ synthesising the event in some way and he did it with his typical aplomb and trademarked ‘productive grumpiness’ which was expansive, generous and much appreciated.

– What is the studio? What is the laboratory?

– What happens when we recognise the romance of the studio and the romance of design when we engage in trying to do other things?

– What is produced and for whom?

– The problem of scalability? Cultural differences? The challenges of producing more than one-off objects is harder in some places than in others (see Silvia’s talk – here the notion of ‘scaling up’ looks radically different).

– Circulation? The notion that we sometimes fall into is that design is somehow inherently open and engaged with large audiences unlike traditional outputs. Yet, some kinds of design only touch one person. Sometimes academic design papers reach more people about design than the designs themselves.

– What can engagement with design practices be? Also objects, where do they go? Looking beyond the romance of studio. What happens to the stuff afterwards? How does it touch people?

– What is it that we are doing through a variety of mechanisms available for us in communicating our experiences, our insights?

– As academics we make things (see Bonnie’s talk). While we celebrate art and making practices, it is important not to erase the making that we do, the making of arguments, papers, publications, the crafting of analysis alongside other kinds of making that we are bringing into the frame.

– Responsibilities? We often hear talk of the responsibility a designer/artist has to their materials. We also have a responsibility, a particular and heightened responsibility in communicating and critique (See Matt’s video). Here, the design is something you use and engage on the way to something. It’s not the result.

Paul: “The ideas that we have been exploring today, and also other work that comes from other places that has lead to this moment is deeply concerned with instrumentalisation of academic practice with the closing down of broad examination through the traditional languages in which we talk (paywalls etc). It is absolutely important and critical that we find alternatives that both allow for a greater degree of provisionality, that leave open to question their own meaning and significance, so we focus on showing rather than telling, we focus on inviting rather than forcing upon people, we focus on evoking rather than communicating. But at the same time it is important to recognise what we as academics can do, what we have a responsibility to do.”

“What is it in the tremendously interesting and evocative mode that we’ve been talking about through today that opens up opportunities for doing what Laura Nadar calls ‘studying up’? Not just in speaking truth and power but in taking the operation of power as an ethnographic object, an ethnographic site and actually looking at the processes, regulation, control and so forth that doesn’t partner with the subjected in order to show the plight but rather explicitly goes in and examines the systems of status of domination and power as ethnographic objects themselves.”

“This raises questions of participation. We have been very interested in the opportunities for ‘non-traditional ouputs’ to potentially invite people to participate in new kinds of ways, in an open inclusive gathering. It is important to recognise that a lot of this starts from a position of scepticism and should do. It might be interesting to ask what it might be to consider non-traditional forms of engagement in work that not only does, but must, come from a position of scepticism and sceptical enquiry.”

“To try to open up some questions about how the kinds of inventive methods we’ve been discussing live alongside concern with the sort of critique and politics of critique within the academy. We’ve seen many compelling examples of ways in which inventive methods can open up new areas for discussion and can provide people with alternative ways of thinking about them and create new kinds of conversations. But I what to try to think about how we do that not only incorporates what is inherently designerly about design practice, or inherently artistic about art practice, but retains what is inherently academic about academic practice.”

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THE PUB !
– Thank you to everyone for making the event

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Nocturne 2013

Cycling, Films

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In my spare time I race penny farthings.

 

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Experiments in (and out of) the studio: Art and design methods for science and technology studies.

Collaborations, Enquiry Machines, Workshop

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Written by Julien McHardy and Kat Jungnickel

Every four years the US based Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) host a joint conference. The 2012 edition of the discipline’s largest conference took place in October at the Copenhagen Business School under the theme of ‘Design and Displacement: Social studies of science and technology’. Science and technology (STS) scholars, particularly in the Scandinavian tradition, have long been interested in design as an explicit intersection of technological and social construction. In science and technology, ‘design’ implies the re-arrangement of materials and ideas for innovative purposes. When newly designed scientific and technical objects enter the world, however, their initial purposes are often displaced. For decades, STS researchers have been following the practical and political dimensions of science and technology. By focusing on concepts and practices of scientific and technological design at their sites of construction and on their multiple displacements the 2012 conference continues this tradition. By bringing together ‘design’ and ‘displacement’ we want to highlight how scientific and technological design engages with existing socio-technical arrangements in both planned and unplanned ways, facilitating both collaborations and contestations, and generating both order and disorder. (For more see: http://easst.net)

Drawing on the conference theme and a long standing interest in the intersection of design, art and science and technology studies (STS), Nina Wakeford from Studio Incite at Goldsmith University and Alex Taylor from Microsoft Research Cambridge invited proposals for an experimental pre-conference workshop. Whereas STS scholar’s traditionally have taken design practices as their subject the proposed workshop aimed to explore how STS could not only study design practices but learn from the ways in which designers and artist do research. Confronting design and art practices with those of STS research is still a novel approach but the implication that research can be understood as an explicit intervention resonates with work in the feminist tradition that often emphasises that research always interferes with its subject. (Those who are interested in this field might find it worth to check out the new MA in Visual Sociology at Goldsmith University).

Intrigued by the opportunity to explore how methods that are traditionally associated with art and design practices can contribute to the study of science and technology Kat Jungnickel (Sociology, Goldsmith University), Laura Forlano (Design, Illinois Institute of Tech) and Julien McHardy (Lancaster University) applied. They where shortlisted alongside Dehlia Hannah (Philosophy, Columbia University) and Hannah Star Rogers’ (STS, University of Virginia) proposal and asked to organize a joint interdisciplinary one-day event.

Putting together an event with people that you don’t know and who are spread out across two continents and a range of disciplines was certainly challenging. A flood of emails send across three time zones later, and only two weeks prior to the event the call for participants went out. We invited participation in an interdisciplinary one day hands-on workshop on emerging methods of critical practice in science and technology studies, in particular methods that engage with art and design as well as performance and exhibition. We aimed to refine our understanding and also intervene in the way that objects can stimulate and embody critique in STS. Despite the tight timing we were quickly oversubscribed with a diverse range of international applicants from art, design, architecture, sociology, anthropology, engineering and philosophy. Now is the time to thank all those folk that joint us for the workshop, the funders and the team for making it such a delightful day.

The following is an overview of the day.

Early on the 16th of October a colourful group of participants found their way through the aptly coliseum themed atrium of the Copenhagen Business School’s Solbjerg Plads campus to one of the new, bare concrete and glass lecture theatres. After a good round of traditionally bad conference coffee Nina Wakeford, Alex Taylor and the team gave a brief welcome and introduced the plan of the day.

11-12.30 – Session 1: Creative Epistemologies

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13.30-14.30: Session 2 – Urban Explorations

14.30-16.30: Session 3 – Enquiry Machines

16.30-17.00: Group presentations

17.00-17.30: Wrap up

 

Session One: Creative Epistemologies

The morning section of the workshop introduced critical and interpretive practices from history, philosophy, anthropology and interdisciplinary science and technology studies and considered how STS scholars are engaging with art and design. The morning session, led by Dehlia started the day with a talk and participant discussion on ‘Creative Epistemologies’. (Unfortunately Hanna was unwell, so Dehlia presented on her own).

 

Drawing on examples from history, philosophy, anthropology, art and science and technology studies Dehlia discussed the role of artifacts in the production of techno-scientific knowledge.  She presented examples from her’s and Hannah’s research on bio-art, synthetic biology, scientific photography, and artworks that take the form of scientific experiments, and drew the audience into a discussion of how such artworks resonate with the concerns of STS and raised the questions:

–       What kinds of theoretical approaches shall we bring to bear on artworks that inflect our traditional object of study?

–        How do artifacts and performances embody new ways of understanding science?

–       How might science and technology studies benefit from the adoption of practice-based methods that the arts and sciences have in common?

As a preparation for the hands-on activities of the rest of the day, Dehlia then shifted the discussion from the interpretation of artworks to the creation and design of artifacts. This provided an opportunity to consider the distinctions and the dialectical relationships between art and design as well as critical interpretation and critical making.

Dehlia discussed the concept of a “performative experiment” and related her experience stepping out of the philosophical armchair and into the role of the experimental subject as part of the ongoing Xenopus frog Pregnancy Test research project, and also talked about Hannah’s use of electro-conductive paint in teaching engineering students. Workshop participants were invited to share examples of their own methods and work. Together we started to articulate some of the central aims, questions and challenges of art and design-based methodologies in STS.

Part of this session involved a round of introductions, which turned out to be an exciting demonstration of the unusual and interesting range of disciplines the workshop attracted. Most of the participants already bridged several disciplines within their own work. Many agreed later that it was delightful to be in a space where cross and interdisciplinary work of some sort was considered standard practice rather than an exception that requires justification.

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Lunch

Refreshments were provided by the canteen in the Business School and provided a chance to sit and talk with new people.

 

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Session 2: Urban Ethnography

Drawing on Dehlia and Hannah’s more theoretical introduction Laura’s session explored the neighbourhood surrounding the Copenhagen Business School. Participants swarmed out in teams of three people to explore three themes in pictures, sketches and notes:

1. The digitization of the city and digital materiality

– How are digital technologies shaping the everyday lives of people in the neighborhood?
– What kinds of digital technologies are present in the neighborhood i.e. artifacts, interfaces, infrastructures?

2. The values embedded in artifacts, interfaces and infrastructures

What does the relationship between technologies (including objects and the built environment), people and spaces tell you about the values of the city? How are values of privacy/surveillance, transparency/ opacity, individual/community and local/ global activities represented? Is there evidence of other kinds of values such as spontaneity, mystery and romance?

3. The visible and invisible histories of the neighbourhood.

What are the geographic and/or social boundaries of the neighborhood? What was this neighborhood in the past and what might it become in the future (based on signals gathered in urban exploration)?

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Participants were divided into subgroups including one note-taker, one photographer and one navigator as well as one Danish speaker. Laura provided Kato’s ‘Learning with Camera Phones’ for inspiration. They were briefed to take at least 100 photos, draw one sketch, create a map of their urban exploration and bring in one found object from the field. Participants contributed their data sets to the workshop documentation materials.

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This session worked to put into discussion (and practice) some of the ideas generated in the morning session and alleviate the post-lunch slump. Being able to walk around helped us re-energize in preparation for the afternoon session. We were also told that it provided a good opportunity to network with others in the group. The international and interdisciplinary composition of the group offered people a wide range of approaches and lenses to explore. Having a native Danish speaker also proved to be insightful in not only reading signs but also pointing out and explaining cultural nuance and practice that is often overlooked or misunderstood when briefly visiting a city.


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Session 3: Enquiry Machines

In the afternoon session we invited participants to build three dimensional models, or ‘Enquiry Machines’, to explore and present the ethnographic materials that they previously collected. While everyone was undertaking the ethnographic task, we prepared Enquiry Machine Toolkits –comprised of cardboard boxes filled with a plethora of found, borrowed and purchased materials and objects:

–       Recycled bicycle parts (chain, cogs, bell, inner tubes, spokes)

–       Stationery (glue, card, tape, pens, markers)

–       Tools (screwdriver, scissors, glue guns)

–       Objects (Styrofoam balls, twine, fabric, plastic sheets, cable ties)

Participants also returned with an impressive array of materials they had picked up in their travels; material, lamps, plastic and cardboard, old lamp fittings, springs and wire and more.

 

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Once everyone was settled, we introduced the ‘Machines of Enquiry’ research project. Enquiry Machines are a concept they developed to think about material interventions that make abstract ideas tangible and render visible the labour of knowledge. Locating it in STS and material cultural studies, they presented instantiations of the project and provided examples of other similar works to inspire participates to think about experimenting with ways of presenting or performing three dimensional arguments and ideas of research as a tangible intervention.

 

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The subgroups formed during the ethnographic session were invited to construct a machine of enquiry to assist their investigation and representation of a particular theoretical or methodological issue arising from their own research or discussion during the day. These ‘machines of enquiry’ offered a chance to model research insights as well as possible forms of intervention. This part of the session last two hours with participants working together to conceptualise and materialise ideas. There was a lot of productive noise and a lot of mess!


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Finally each subgroup presented, performed and demonstrated their machines to the group. The build objects ranged from reflections on working together, to an investigation of moments of ‘perplexity’ and tools for ethnographic and sensory exploration to a conference-kit that aimed to interfere in the strictly verbal and visual forms of presentation that dominated the following conference. The range of objects (and photos) provide some idea of the spirit of the workshop.


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The following are some of the ‘Machines of Enquiry’ produced by participants:

– Peceptofactors: Sensory enquiry devices – Look-out, Smell-Off and Listen-in

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 – Portable Office and Thinking Aid

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– The Conference Presenter / Audience Reciprocity Kit, including: No Idea Left Behind, The Epiphany Meter, The Boredom Bottle and The Presentation Penis

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Most participants ended the long day in the pub while the resulting machines of enquiry where stored in the porters lounge and exhibited during the opening sessions of the conference on the following day.

 

 Enquiry Machine Exhibition

Enquiry Machines were displayed and demonstrated in a public exhibition during the conference. Some even made their way into talks and panels.

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group 5

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Zine

Read more about the event in the eight page ‘zine. (pdf here)

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zine

page1  page2  page4  page3

 

Many thanks again to everyone involved.

Co-Organisers 

Dehlia Hannah  |  Chemical Heritage Foundation
Hannah Star Rogers  |  STS, University of Virginia
Julien McHardy  |  Sociology, Lancaster University
Kat Jungnickel  |  Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Laura Forlano  |  Insititute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology

Sponsors

Alex Taylor  | Microsoft Research Cambridge
Nina Wakeford  |  INCITE, Sociology, Goldsmiths

Participants 

Amanda Windle  |  London College of Communication
Ana Catharina Marques  | Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
Angelos Balatsas-Lekkas  |  Engineering, Technical University of Denmark
Bonnie Mak  |  Medieval Studies, University of Illinois
Charalampia Kerasidou  |  Sociology, Lancaster University
Ellen Balka  |  Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute
Garance Marechal  |  Management, University of Liverpool
Irene Lapuente  |  La Mandarina de Newton
Lea Schick  |  IT University of Copenhagen
Li Jönsson  |  Design, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Maria Foverskov  |  Design, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Max Liboiron  |  Media, Culture & Comms, New York University
Rasmus Michaëlis  |  The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Rivka Mayer  |  STS, Bar Ilan University Israel
Sarah Davies  |  Media, Cognition & Comms, Unversity of Copenhagen
Sissel Orlander  |  Design, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Tau Lenskjold  |  Design, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Yutaka Yoshinaka  |  Engineering, Technical University of Denmark

Read more