Interdisciplinary Memories

tl;dr - My MSc group made an art installation. Me? Art? Shocking, right. I've formed some new ideas and opinions, and had lots of fun in the meantime. Photos coming soon.

This semester I have been one fifth of the brains behind the ICP Group Project. Our brief was essentially to make something between us by December. There's quite a lot of scope there. The fact that we're working out of the College of Art probably also leant a few assumptions to what the final outcome should be.

When we started this adventure, I was still coming to terms with the notion that not everything needed a distinct purpose to be a valid contribution to society. What I mean is, whilst I understood the concept of art in principle, I still couldn't quite align the idea of art for art's sake with my view of the world. During the seminars, research and discussions of the past few months, things like the value of play; the possibilities opened by beginning research without a clear goal; the emergence of new ideas by unfocussed exploration; have all started to round out an initially biased view of the area in which I am now studying.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still not going to look at an unadorned mirror on a wall, labelled 'Untitled', and nod my head and make thoughtful noises about the meaning of identity. Some 'art' is just plain silly.

But I'm willing to take a little more time to think about the methods and thought processes that went into creating something, and what might be the end result in addition to the physical outcome. It's likely that I'll still be more of a fan of art that was created to raise awareness, to provoke thought, or to explore innovative uses of new media or technology. But art that was created 'just because' will get more of a chance in my books now than it might have done three or four months ago.

Being part of this kind of creative process no doubt influenced my altered perspective. We started the semester as five strangers: Katherine, literature; Tina, video editing and broadcast; Agnese, musical theory and graphic design; Liz, sociology and prettyful artsy things; and myself, that new fangled Interweb nonesense, and writing. We have grown into unit, mish-mashed our skills, learnt a whole lot from each other, and been fed extensively by Liz. It has been noted on a number of occasions how well we all gelled from the start. Thus the 'group' part of the group project produced no problems at all. That just leaves the 'project' part...

So at the start, when notions of an 'installation' or 'performance' were thrown around, I was almost horrified. The open nature of the project left us so much scope, we could pool our skills to do something truly useful or revolutionary. I didn't want to just 'make art'. My head was still in the computing world where the goal is always to make something that people will use, or that will be informative, or influential; that will reach people.

I wasn't completely close-minded, obviously. I went with the flow, as I am wont to do. And in doing so, I learnt much.

It was swiftly decided that 'memory' would be a suitable topic to explore for the group project. We start taking photos of our group meetings in case we could incorporate a super-meta aspect but we forgot quite quickly to keep this up.

Our goal became an installation, which was exhibited at Inspace on the 13th of December. Photos coming soon! This consisted of four boxes, metaphors for memory, and a wall hanging, each intended to explore a different aspect of the elusive theme. We ended up with Woven Memories (Liz's beautiful wall hanging), Spatial Memories (Katherine look at historical memory stores), Digital Memories (guess who), Tidal Memories (Tina's view on the insubstantial nature of memory) and Fluid Memories (Agnese's investigation of social nostalgia). Upon opening each the four boxes, projections trigger onto surrounding walls, enveloping the visitor in the work.

Although I had an idea of wanting to use social media as part of the project, it was Katherine's idea of physical records of memory (memory spaces) that particularly inspired my approach; this prompted me to think of how in the present day a subset of this is virtual memory spaces. An initial idea was to join Katherine on one of her photo taking expeditions around Glasgow and whilst she took photos of physical memory spaces, I would check-in to them using Foursquare, creating a connection between the historical physical and the contemporary virtual. Other commitments meant I was unable to go to Glasgow on the date planned, unfortunately, and this idea wasn't pursued.

Having decided that we would each dedicate something physical to the aspect we had chosen to consider, I sourced a box, RAM and old maps and was pleased to entrust the decoration to Liz who is far more proficient at making things pretty than me. (I absolutely loved the outcome).

Tina and I applied our technical abilities to learning the basics of Max/MSP and how to use Arduino boards. I am particularly pleased about our decision to make the installation interactive; I learnt a lot and a door that I didn't previously know the location of has now been opened to me. The use of Arduino stuff is something I will definitely investigate further in the not-too- distant future.

I knew not to be too prescriptive from the outset, as what I was building would evolve as I discovered things I could and couldn't do. I dropped Foursquare for the final outcome because the output wasn't that interesting, and concentrated instead on Flickr and Twitter. I went through several iterations using different methods to try to get around various limitations of the Google Maps API. Eventually I settled on the jQuery plugin GMap3; although I still hit a few stumbling blocks at the last minute that I had to botch around because of time pressure (using an AppleScript to refresh the page was not the most elegant of solutions, but the JavaScript just wouldn't work. It didn't make sense, I swear. It did, however, introduce me to AppleScript for the first time, and the power that lays behind that...).

The aesthetics of the thing could have done with a bit more work, but the amount of time I had to spend getting the script to technically work meant I was left with much less time and energy to focus on the appearance than I would have liked.

Last minute problems with hardware meant that we had to lose the interactive element of my box (mine was the last one we were due to wire up). This is in part what encouraged the change of location of my projection, however, and I think it was far more effective beamed on the floor than it would have been projected onto a wall. Plus, having it triggered and hidden by the opening and closing of a box seems unnecessary, and perhaps counter intuitive in hindsight, as during the exhibition people would watch the activity on the map for extended periods of time.

I enjoyed working on a project where artistic intention was more important than code quality, and a final outcome was not strictly defined. This gave me flexibility to explore and work outside of the scope of computer science boundaries that I'm used to. Though obviously creative thinking and outside- of-the-box solutions are highly encouraged in software development fields, there is certainly an underlying rigidity or 'way of doing things' that is absent when applying such technology in an artistic context. And if I do end up back in the 'official' computing world, I'm certain that the kinds of experiences I gain during ICP will massively enhance my skillset as a creative developer.

You can check out what I projected here. This has only been tested in Chrome - I cannot be held responsible for irregularities that may occur using other browsers :)

It's worth noting that there are some truly wonderful people who gave up their time, resources, advice and patience to help us out during the project. Couldn't have done it without them!

Et, voila:

Remember When..?

I'll link some more photos asap...

🏷 art edinburgh flickr icp interdisciplinary creative practices mash-up twitter

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