Proboscis is running a Bodystorming workshop to map some of the known and visible pollution issues in and around London Fields. We will use this to explore the invisible pollution issues – air quality, historic industrial pollution etc – that may not be obvious. We will demonstrate a ready-made Feral Robot and experimental sensors we are developing with Birkbeck College that can upload sensor traces to the Urban Tapestries public authoring system. The Guardian published a short article on the Feral Robots: Robots with a nose for trouble.
There are 25 places available on the workshop for local residents, workers and users of London Fields. If you live or work in, or use London Fields and would like to participate, please sign up here. We particularly welcome people who are neither artists nor technologists, but who are simply interested or concerned about local pollution and would like to participate in imagining new ways of taking action.
Together with Laura Forlano (NYCWireless), Andrew Patterson (AWARE/MediaLab, UIAH) and Christian Sandvig (University of Illinois Urbana) I participated in the New Media Activism and the Urban Fabric panel at the Re:Activism conference in Budapest last week. Our panel considered some of the issues and concerns with thinking of new media and media arts practices as 'activism', as well as responding to issues raised by the papers presented as part of the panel's theme.
Differences in styles of practice and whether or not the label of activism was appropriate or even necessary was one of the key topics of discussion, as well as the roles played by artists and activists in social processes. The inherent problems we attempted to address included attempting to define 'activism', as it means different things to different people, and the more problematic questions of "for whom it is enacted?" and "by whom?". As a panel we had previously discussed a number of issues, and found common ground in agreeing that the importance of these forms of practice were not always in delivering technical infrastructures but the social structures underpinning projects. Christian initiated a wider discussion on the problems of scale – at what point is it just not enough to continue doing small scale experiments and projects? How can we begin to imagine scaling up to reach/affect much larger communities?
Towards the end of the session, Daniel Tucker from Counter Productive Industries made a significant intervention by summarising some of the key issues at stake. From my notes –
• the interpretation of the efficacies of scale
• visibility of the interventions and impacts
• numbers of people involved or affected
• the pleasure and desire of participation
• the material effect of the activism/project
• risks involved (for participants/actors/communities etc)
• role of stories and education in angaging with communities
The discussion of these then threw up a few other issues:
• internal consistency of the aims of the activism/project – problems of distraction and tangents
• equity – who has ownership and stakes in the processes and outcomes?
The conference brought together a very broad section of people from different sectors and disciplines which made for dynamic conversations and unexpected encounters. Yet I felt a twinge of tiredness in the continuing utopianism applied to new media technologies and the uncritical belief that the Western European and North American agenda for 'openness', 'free access' and 'global solutions' are suitable for everyone irrespective of their culture, beliefs or context. I feel that there are a good deal of unconscious imperialist/colonialist attitudes lurking just beneath the surface of many of these ideals, which a bit more humility and self-reflection might temper.
Proboscis and Birkbeck College Computer Science Dept have been slowly cooking up a collaboration over the past 18 months. Two PhD students have become closely invloved in developing the Urban Tapetries software platform and we are collaborating closely on the final stages of the Feral Robotic Public Authoring project to build some new sensor and location sensing platforms to communicate environmental data back to UT.
Sensory Threads is the title of a project that was shortlisted for a 2005 Wellcome Trust Sciart Award. We are now exploring other funding avenues and partnerships and hope to kick the project off in early 2006. Sensory Threads aims to stimulate and inform a public debate on how personal biosensor data is collected and used in biomedical science. It will combine an artistic with an evidence-based approach, building and testing a prototype body biosensor network that uploads data to Urban Tapestries. This will allow participants to map experiential and emotional annotations to their readings – adding a whole new layer of sentient knowledge to machine data. It is intended to demystify how data is collected, what it produces and how we can correlate it to other factors affecting health such as environmental pollution.
Proboscis received over 70 applications for the position, which means taking longer to asses them all and select a shortlist of candidates for interview. We now anticipate holding interviews in the week beginning October 17th and aim to notify interviewees by the 13th October.
I gave a keynote presentation for Cybersalon & Open Spectrum UK's Future Wireless event at the Dana Centre, London on Tuesday evening. My session also consisted of Peter Cochrane of Concept Labs and Ian Robinson (Head of Emerging Internet Access products for BT).
The text of my presentation notes is here.
I gave a presentation based on the UT Report – Public Authoring, Place & Mobility" – at Stroom Art and Architecture as part of the symposium, The Matching Link. The sympoisum was organised by Jouke Kleerebezem of the Jan van Eyck Akademie, with Stroom to celebrate the exhibition, Welcome to FusedSpace Database.
The speakers were invited to "reflect on and present projects which enhance public space by means of communication media. Examples will show how the flow of information today has merged almost seamlessly with the flow of goods, traffic, people — where computing has become ubiquitous. Arguably our notion of ‘public’ and ‘private’ space is deeply influenced by its everyday mediation. The Matching Link will look into the information media which are at our disposal to ‘author our (own and each other’s) environment’: access and navigate its physical and/or information realities, contribute to them, shape and change their experience, organise ourselves in and through such ‘spaces’, and other issues relevant to everyday information manipulation."
I was very pleased to share the platform with Roland Haring of Ars Electronica Futurelab who presented their work on Digital Graffitti, a project sharing much with Urban Tapestries. It was particularly inspiring to discuss the ideas and prcatices we've been working on in the context of Stroom, whose own take on public art and its relation to broader social and cultural phenomena is wholly original.