Alchemy & invention in the park at the end of the world…
Why Barrow? The English Chicago is at the end-of-the-world. Once an island, now a peninsula– that rhymes with “furnace”. Only one road in; no wonder the vampires come.
The Octopus Collective has divided a cohort of ten artists, technologists and makers into pairs…and a resident chef. For the last week, they’ve been playing, inventing and creating together in a house in the middle of Barrow Park. Big Brother with geeks.
I ran a similar lab with academics and technologists in the Summer. There’s something deeply satisfying about curating this kind of human alchemy. What will I find amongst this entanglement of people and ideas in the park at the end-of-the-world.
Dr. Alex McClean isn’t here. I’m not sure what Live Coding is. I’m thinking it’s like Homer Simpson’s notion of live animators… “No, Homer, very few cartoons go to air live. It’s a tremendous strain on the animator’s wrist”.
It’s revelatory — the code is music, written live into a compiler that drives speakers in each corner of the room, assembling and crafting a performance procedurally and algorithmically. I’m annoyed I didn’t already know this, or that Alex is an academic at the university where I run my own creative lab programme! I’m reminded of Ge Wang’s Code as an Expressive Musical Instrument and his work at Smule, but this isn’t that. Code is prose not poetry?
I know Aaron — my third favourite Canadian after William Shatner and an ex-girlfriend. Yorkshire seems to attract a lot of Canadian technologists. One and a half of whom are here today. There are teams, players, a laser-cut Rube Goldberg aesthetic, and a web UI, but I didn’t quite follow the rules of Aaron’s Fancy Yoyo Experience.
Yes, it’s a web-operated yoyo but I think it’s best described as a sardonic app — it doesn’t understand when you’re winning or what causes you to win… “it’s virtue is its uselessness?” Aaron tells us. But it is useful, as a commentary on app culture in the same vein as Sam Lavigne’s satirical works such as LazyCoin.
I haven’t seen a knitting machine since the 80s. Like a 2D being trying to comprehend a third dimension, my brain’s never been able to comprehend how a sweater is made from a line. But then I look at screens all day… worlds, words and webs woven from flickering, strobing lines.
Lalya Gaye’s knitting pixels from yarn. A two-tone knitting machine, printing scarves with designs specific to politics and social changes. Afropean she says, a cold-weather garment for the diaspora of warm weather origins.
Patterns are encoded into punchcards, twenty-four pixel tiles where stitches are pixels and yarnbombing goes all New Aesthetic with the digital erupting into the physical.
Placeware, Nearables, Smart Cities, it’s all of that and none of that. I knew Barrow Park was the backdrop for this cohort, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it was also a design material.
Emily Briselden-Waters frames the park as a public space where personal things occur, surfacing the stories of those who used it, including residents of an adjacent care home.
Their memories become part of the fabric of the park, through typography, projection and curated night trails triggered by movement. Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme explores models of sustainability and service. Emily knows what the rest of us do, that parks are really our collectively situated stories.
Our digital metaphors are all streams, ecospheres, walled gardens — any surprise that an unfurling Internet Of Plants is a thing? Laura Pullig’s work reminds me of Kati London’s Botanicalls, Disney’s Botanicus Interacticus and my own growing obsession with silicon botany.
Laura is hacking and instrumenting plants, as sensors and performers — a plant that senses the wind velocity could alters the speed of a projected visualization. The premise is to enable plants to become performers and enable part of a chain of events and messages between themselves and I suppose ourselves and machines. Old networks mediated by the new; the Anthropocene installs the Nature app.
Ben Dalton is the half in the one-and-a-half Canadians at the lab. A technologist savant, with his MIT Media Lab education. Ben is thinking about how live events might be digitally archived and the process of capturing a live performance.
Good. For much of the previous year, I’ve been part of a long R&D project on institutional and personal archives, the Pararchive project. Archives are my thing right now.
Ben talks us through the inception of his Wild Man character, a personality that makes the capture of a performance explicit through performance itself. The Wild Man’s staff is an object of narrative and archiving, capturing rich data wherever it is present.
Lo-res anxieties about surveillance culture permeate modern life and there’s a disappointing post-Assange resignation that a democratizing medium has become an infrastructure of tyranny.
So can we be connected and offline? Victoria Bradbury and Neil Winterburn are talking about playful offline communication — grounded in anonymity, misdirection and avoiding the gaze of big data.
Their design fiction, centers on an ACME-like invisibility cloak used by Victoria and Neil to shield themselves from others and allowing them to steal digital messages left in public places.
There’s alchemy here, I’ve struggled to separate one person’s work from another, the projects from the park, the code from the weaving and the poetry from the prose. It doesn’t matter.
What the labs engineer is a vibe and a tone and an attitude. The outcomes are secondary, the relationships and human connectedness that’s formed is the real product.
In a park at the end of the world, I found the blended artefacts of ancient and new cultures — data staffs, knitted pixels, invisibility cloaks, messages suspended in the ether, sardonic software and code as poetry.
An energetic entanglement of ideas and intellect that burned brightly for a week must now give way to entropy.