Testing in public places


Reflections on Week 3

This week saw the coming together of the ‘tech’ side of this arts and tech focused residency, with functional prototypes developed, a database created and the finishing touches of the bootstrap required programming taking place. The ‘bootstrap’ is a functional (but minimal) prototype that we can begin testing with people, and is what I am focusing on going into the fourth and final week of this residency, that (time permitting) will also include addressing the aesthetics of the beacons. (Although functional, they are clunky and intimidating.)

In speaking about this project to people who know nothing or very little about it, I find that contextualizing it as a location-based game at first provides an immediate entrypoint to understand and to begin thinking about the different possibilities to take place within it, and allows for people to start shaping their own objectives for game, or what they would do if they had a beacon.

I am excited and anxious for the first testing to start in public space and to begin to receive both anecdotal feedback from participants and data to start playing with. I anticipate that there will be some unexpected results, that may have huge impacts on how the next phases of this project unveil themselves.

At the same time, I am starting to become more and more interested in what patterns will emerge in participants experiences: retelling and the data, and the philosophical concept of the rhizome as outlined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and provides a model from which to understand the movement of knowledge and development of culture in which such patterns and repetition are embedded:

“Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo”.

This, in tandem with the tactic of dérive, which is a walk that has an alternate motive than fulfilling everyday routine, but rather, it is determined by chance decisions and personal inclination and proposes that ways of being in physical space (particularly in the cities) are political acts. For instance, although there are various architectural, geographical and economic factors at play in urban space, value and meaning are attributed by individuals based on their personal experiences and perspectives.

“Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive” Theory of the Dérive (1958)

Reflections on Week 2

The pendulum swung from the arts, to looking at the business of this project, and in an erratic directions of inquiry this week. The perspectives and ideas gathered through progress made in the development of the prototypes, meetings with mentors and pitching the project in efforts to secure a future for this project provided lots to consider. I felt much like a sponge: taking in everything and later expelling the excess to be left with only that which is useful.

While the beacons, outfitted with working GPS and Wifi, are set for lights to be added, and programming with the server and the database to begin, the question of data, and what will happen with the valuable residual trail and archive of movements of participants and their beacons is no longer a peripheral detail of the project, but rather, has begun to play a prominent role in planning and decision making process.

And as such, I had a couple of breakthroughs…..

One: Participants/Collaborators

At the beginning of the week, I struggled with what to do with the data and how to make use of it without compromising the original intent of the project and isolating one audiences interested in the art and community building intentions – for those who would like to use the data for their own purposes.

Where I originally saw these two distinct pieces of the project as being in conflict, the realization that community can be build on both sides of the data by making the resulting project data and the code that upholds it free and accessible for anyone to use. By doing this, there is an opportunity to engage collaborators through participation, and for others to use data for their own art and research.

Two: Data/Memory

The primary aspect of memory is repetition. The repetition that is created within the database by people walking the same streets, making the same stops, searching for the same people (or not), the recording of these movements for repurposing – repetitive use of the data by others, and in relation to the memories of others. For instance, the data may say that a two beacons intersected for ten minutes at a set of coordinates at a specific time. The individual(s), when asked would likely describe the happening differently…they may describe a conversation, the person and the experience of that 10 minutes as a whole.

Is one set valuable without the other?

In the Introduction to Memory: Documents of Contemporary Art, Ian Farr states: “A single memory, or experience can only be deciphered, can only be seen, if it is juxtaposed ‘with or against or beside’ another.”

The meaning of the data vis-a-vis the personal memory, and vice-versa, is paramount, and where negotiation of meaning can occur.

Stay tuned.

Reflections on Week 1

[W]e do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be coloured by diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.

— Michel Foucault

My starting goal upon beginning the Convergent.Studios was simple (although the answer not so simple): Have sensors that communicate with each other to establish proximity between them. This goal, in support of my project Invisible Threads are the Strongest Ties  —conceived during graduate studies at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and have had in my back pocket ever since—  was one that was technically nuanced, and required programming and development expertise to achieve the original vision that I had for it, that I have been given through this opportunity.

As such, addressing and taking down the technical barriers was first on my list, and I have made progress made to date with these technical elements, and interactions both through learning directly from my mentors, and indirectly from co-workers and others has already brought forth the realization of new starting points and directions for the work to expand into.

Briefly, the current approach developed during my first week at the residency primarily included using a combination of GPS, Wifi/Cellular, and lights to create wearable beacons to communicate with each other via their own server and database, for which I have mobile prototypes that I have successfully taken for walks and have collected GPS data from.

We have liftoff. I have something tangible now to hold, to carry, to test and to show.

2 Prototypes: USB Battery packs, Particle Photons, Adafruit Flora GPS.
2 Prototypes: USB Battery packs, Particle Photons, Adafruit Flora GPS.

(And now for the tricky part.)

In the words of artist Jan Svenunsson: “The function of the imagination — the function of art — is to not accept words —or facts — as final, but to use them as starting points, or triggers, for speculation into further meaning.”

The necessary movement of this work between the realm of art and business has its fulcrum here.

I’ve reflected on this quote many times in the development of my artistic practice, and particular to this work. Coming into this experience, this work exists as a starting point for further engagement in community and behaviour to seek out meaning triggered by others, and nurturing the collective responsibility (for sensation) extending to responsibility for community.

As such,  paramount consideration for this work is the place (opposed to space) through the forefronting of the startup community context and the development process and co-working environment as an avenue through which this engagement to exist.

Beyond the obvious differences between the art and business —emphasis on product, evaluation and local economy— that comes with the startup community and emphasis on collaboration is the nuances of language and meaning attached to it. How I speak to people about this work adapts:

Art object/Product
Affect/The Kano Model

Starting points. New words, new meaning, new ways for this work to exist. I’m curious and excited by the possibilities. (Stay tuned.)

Invisible threads are the strongest ties