Punk Britannia

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When my 11 year old son recently came home from school with the invitation to ‘dress as royalty’ to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee his initial apathy soon led to a subversive adventure in punk inspired DIY fashion.

Jude has spent the majority of his primary education pushing the boundaries through his creative approach to learning which, much like marmite, his teachers have either loved or hated! The marmite lovers have nurtured, encouraged and celebrated Jude’s creativity whilst those with a sensitive palate have attempted to quash it. Fortunately Jude’s positive experiences have out-weighed the bad and it is with thanks to his time spent with inspirational teachers Sarah Maltby-Smith and Fern Parsons that he has retained the confidence to explore the world with awe, wonder, curiosity and intrigue and defied any attempts by the marmite intolerant to limit his imagination.

As Jude has reached year 6 with his creativity intact, his suggestion to create a Jubilee outfit fit for a Prince of Punk seemed like the most fitting opportunity to celebrate the square peg of a spirit that has refused to be hammered into a round hole. We therefore set ourselves a design brief to create a DIY outfit in red, white and blue with undertones of anarchy and a nod to the punk spirit of ’77.

Keen to make an artistic statement, we gathered together jeans and a couple of plain T-shirts, pillaged my sewing and art supplies for suitable accoutrements and trawled local charity shops for a small  jacket that we could customise with our stash of Poundland Union Jacks.

What followed was a week of frenzied pre and post school making. I took on the task of deconstructing the jacket to add in the Union Jacks and Jude double splattered his jeans, first with bleach and then with red batik dye. We worked on the T-Shirt together using a stencil of the Queen (from Angel Adoree’s Vintage Tea Party book), car spray paint and a ridiculous amount of safety pins.

Once completed, the Prince of Punk tried his outfit on to admiring looks from his fashion conscious sister who was mightily impressed with his DIY/charity shop chic. This initial trying on session did however highlight the need for a suitable hair style to compliment the look for which we looked to John Cooper Clarke for inspiration and invested in a can of super hold hairspray. Topped with dark glasses Jude was good to go, a walking playful statement of creative freedom and self expression!

There are more images from our photo-shoot over on Flickr

Little Howard’s Big Question

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I am a big fan of the ‘Little Howard’s Big Question’ model for empirical research. If you don’t watch CBBC and aren’t a fan of cartoon boys, this approach may have passed you by. In a nutshell Little Howard and his big real world friend (Big Howard) ask questions about anything and everything in the world around them.

My current research focuses on artists’ who develop social-media led projects that encourage participation. This is structured around the requirements of an MA dissertation and consumes the majority of my time. Every so often I allow myself to explore Little Howard’s research technique which is far more open-ended. My last big question was ‘how many days will it take before I am bored of replacing every meal with fish finger sandwiches and individual trifles?’ After gathering quantitative data I concluded that the answer was three!

My most recent big question is weightier than the fish finger/trifle conundrum and is distracting be from my ‘proper’ work. Yesterday I attended a Creativity and Production workshop, the first in the series of workshops exploring digital transformations in the creative relationships between cultural and media organisations and their users, at the University of Westminster. After an excellent presentation from Jim Richardson of Museum Next about the ways in which museums are using digital technology to engage with their audiences an interesting question came from the floor. The essence of it was: ‘is crowd sourced activity exploiting the audience through getting them to do the work of the organisation?’

Having experiences of both being a crowdsourcer and as a crowdsourcee (I think I may have invented those words) I was intrigued and challenged by the suggestion of exploitation. My experiences of crowdsourced activity have been overwhelmingly positive and have had a huge impact on my practice as an artist and I feel the need to reflect on why I think the answer to this big question is ‘NO’!

Last year I responded to a brief from Sally Fort who had been awarded a Connerhouse micro-commission to develop a project called QR-3D. Sally asked for makers (amateur or professional) to create a scannable 3D textiles QR code and upload a photograph of it to the project’s Flickr group. An online selection panel of experts then chose the work from the Flickr pool that they wanted to see exhibited at Cornerhouse.

My motivation for responding to the brief was to develop my practice; could I use my creative skills to execute the technical demands of the piece and as a participatory artist how could I involve other people? The project that followed involved working with 200 participants on and offline to create the 1089 hand rolled black and white felt balls necessary to build a QR code. When scanned the finished piece revealed the story behind its creation. You can read about how the project developed here.

As a crowdsourcer I traded my time teaching felt making skills for the labour to create the content of the piece and by embedding the narrative of the project into the piece the participant’s contribution was visible. As a crowdsourcee I provided content for Cornerhouse’s QR-3D exhibition and having the piece displayed gave me the opportunity to build my reputation as an artist. I don’t think that I exploited anybody in the process of this project and certainly didn’t feel exploited myself. It is my view that this project had characteristics of a ‘gift economy’ and provided reciprocal benefits for all involved.

I have also been pondering offline crowdsourcing in relation to this question, thinking in particular about museums and collections. The Brecknock Museum recently asked for local contributions to a forthcoming exhibition to celebrate 200 years of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Members of the public called into the Museum over the course of 2 days with objects, photographs and stories. All contributions were given freely by people who were keen to share. This type of activity is not uncommon in museums but would probably be described as ‘audience engagement’ rather than ‘crowdsourcing.’ It would be very unlikely that issues would be raised relating to exploitation although providing the content of an exhibition could be seen as ‘work.’

My background is in community arts and for me online platforms are the equivalent to the located project spaces of schools, village halls, community centres and the like. When I take my work online, crowdsourcing is a vital component of my practice and I use it both to bring people together and to build the content of my projects.

Crowdsourcing is elective and relies on people getting involved with a project because they want to. I was overwhelmed by the response of people who wanted to get involved in my online project We Found Art. Not only did participants contribute to a collection of found objects but they posted photographs, poems, songs, stories, and useful links. They commented on photographs and offered their opinions and specialist skills; For me this created a different notion of value within the project.

At this point Little Howard would summarize his thoughts so far in song form (usually including references to monkeys or dinosaurs) but I am going throw this big question open… what do you think? I would be very interested in hearing your comments; which I appear to be crowdsourcing!

Postscript: I have just found Charles Leadbeater’s essay ‘The Art of With’ commissioned by Cornerhouse and thought it would be useful to share his thoughts on this big question:

‘Why do people contribute to open projects, freely reveal their knowledge and ideas to others and why should an arts organisation seek to be open? When an organisation sets up a more open way of engaging with a community are its motives always the same as those of the outside contributors? One answer, the main one thus far in open source style projects is that people are motivated by a non-monetary passion to commit to a project. Open projects are sustained by a voluntary subsidy from user and developers. It all comes down to love for what they are doing, the ProAm ethic. Participation comes from intrinsic motivations and satisfactions, like the satisfaction of solving a puzzle. A slightly different answer is that there is a currency in these communities but it is not money, the currency is recognition and appreciation. People contribute because they like getting a sense of recognition from a community of peers. It’s this external validation and recognition that matters. The motivation is still non-monetary but external. Finally, there are those who argue that money does matter. People need to make a living somehow, even if they are contributing a lot to open projects. They still need to be able to put bread on the table. Some worry that money is a distortion of the purer motives that seem to underpin open projects. Others take a much more pragmatic view that they understand how to mix making money – for example by adapting open source to particular markets and users – and contributing to open source projects. It’s not a matter of principle but a question of tactics.’ (Leadbeater, 2009, p16)

 

Ice Road Trucker

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On Friday 3rd February 2012, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to combine my two great loves Caravans and Ice Road Truckers as I took my Moveable Museum of Found Objects on a very chilly adventure.

The destination was The Myle Cross Centre in Lincoln; the event was ‘Innovate and Inspire,’ the Lincolnshire Art and Design conference for KS1-KS5 Teachers. After waking up to snow, I braced myself for some extreme caravanning. I collected my co-pilot, we hooked up the museum and headed off with nervous anticipation.

My avid viewing of Ice Road Truckers: Worlds Most Deadliest Roads was put to good use once we reached Lincoln where the perils of snow were replaced by steep gradients, badly parked cars and speed bumps. I made the assent to the top of the city in second gear and with nerves of steel and a carefully controlled clutch. The final pre-conference challenge was a car park slalom where I negotiated a series of gates and manoeuvred the museum into place with the help of my ‘spotter.’

Once pitched up I switched into conference mode. During lunch the Moveable Museum was open for tours of We Found Art’s crowd sourced collection and a new photographic exhibition documenting our trip to The Bathing Beauties Festival in Mablethorpe.

After lunch I spoke about my work with Fulbridge School and its Caravan Gallery, the development of We Found Art and how I use social media to support creative learning in the classroom, (which led into a practical workshop using found materials).

The conference was exceptionally well organised and if I hadn’t been there to deliver I would have loved to have been able to participate in the interactive sessions. ‘Pimp your Lesson’ and ‘Up-cycled Fashion Wear,’ filled the conference hall with frenetic energy and an excited buzz, an atmosphere which luckily for me spilled over into the afternoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day and felt privileged to spend it with teachers who are so passionate about creativity. It was also reassuring to know that there are so many Lincolnshire schools that value creativity in the curriculum and clearly support their teachers learning.

Grateful thanks go to my Dad who was my Co-Pilot, Museum Assistant and Photographer for the day.

If you attended the conference I have put together a I Love Caravans Web Links pdf that you might find useful and you can see more photographs from the day here.

5 Projects

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As promised in my previous post, here is a brief overview of each of the five projects that I am currently researching.

We Found Art

You may already be familiar with my project ‘We Found Art’ as I’ve blogged about it along the way. I have chosen to include it in my research as the reason that I set it up was to learn more about how web 2.0 technologies can encourage innovative, creative interactions online and challenge the traditional concept of collaboration, participation and engagement.

We Found Art explores notions of value and beauty in objects that have been lost, forgotten or discarded.  Between March and August 2011 online participants were invited to post small found objects to the We Found Art HQ, along with a note of where they were found and why they were chosen. The objects were catalogued and accessioned as they would were they to be joining a gallery or museum collection.

Participants were also invited to add their thoughts, stories, photographs, sound clips and films relating to the act of collecting to the project blog. All objects submitted were professionally photographed and joined an evolving online gallery and touring (caravan) exhibition; The Moveable Museum of Found Objects.

52 by 52

Photo credit David Gillett

52 by 52 is curated by designer David Gillett.

‘A weekly photo challenge is set by fifty-two accomplished photographers throughout the course of a year. Each week the 52 by 52 members interpret the photographer’s challenge in whichever way they feel appropriate and submit a photo to the Flickr group.

The project aims to stretch its members creatively, encouraging experimentation in terms of approach as well as aesthetics. Community is an important aspect of 52 by 52 and the support of the group will be helpful to spur members on throughout the year. The project started on the 1st of September 2011 and will run for a year, it’ll be possible to join the project at any time during the 52 weeks.’

365 Jars

Photo credit Kirsty Hall

365 Jars is curated by artist Kirsty Hall.

On (almost) every day during 2011, Bristol artist Kirsty Hall made and released an art jar into the wild for people to find and keep. Each jar was left in a publicly accessible place; the 365 Jars’ web address and the number of each jar was written on its lid and it was accompanied by a friendly note telling people that they could take the jar. ‘Jar finders’ were requested to register their jar on the project’s blog.

Throughout the project Kirsty documented each jar on the project’s blog. She described the contents of the jar and photographed it both in the studio and in situ (in the wild). The location of the jar was marked either on a GPS iPhone app or by photographing the nearest street sign. Found jars were logged on the blog with details of where and when they were found and the finder’s motivations for picking them up.

The Big Jar Adventure was another strand to the project and Kirsty encouraged Jar Finders to re-release their jar with the intention of placing one in every UK city and beyond.

#Plateaknit

Photo credit Giles Babbidge Photography

#Plateaknit was developed by Ingrid Murnane, a textiles historian and maker and was led by her through @platea, a global online public art collective.

#Plateaknit combined social networking and knitting by crowd sourcing tweets to create a knitting pattern or recipe during a five day ‘performance.’

Performers took part in #Plateaknit as an instructor, a maker or both. Instructors used the hashtag #plateaknit to give the makers instructions in a tweet. These instructions took the form of

  • traditional knitting abbreviations eg ‘k1, p2, k1, p3, k2, p2, k2, p1, k1, p1, k1, p3, k1, p3, k1, p2, k3, p2, k1, p3, k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p3, k2, p1, k2, p2, k4, p1, k1, p3, k1, p1, k3, p2, k1, p4, k1, p3, k2, p1,k1’
  •  were open to personal interpretation e.g ‘change your colour to reflect what you ate for lunch and knit 2 rows of moss stitch. If you ate too much switch to a larger needle’
  • or related to the maker’s twitter stream e.g ‘wrap & turn, a short row, when anyone in your twitter stream mentions #Blair or the #IraqInquiry’

These instructions were picked up by the makers and incorporated into the piece they were knitting. Makers could choose to follow all of the instructions in the Twitter feed or to dip in and out. Inny created a scarf by following the entire instruction feed of the performance.

What Cannot be Seen

Photo credit Lucy Phillips

What Cannot be Seen is curated by photographer Lucy Phillips

Lucy’s inspiration for the project idea came from experimenting with pinhole photography and an interest in the work of Sophie Calle and her use of photography as a secret recording device.

What cannot be Seen has developed into an ongoing postal photography project. Lucy mails homemade matchbox pinhole cameras loaded with photographic paper to participants, inviting them to photograph ‘what cannot be seen,’ a brief that could be interpreted in various ways. The cameras are then returned to her to be processed, accompanied by an explanation of what the participant has photographed and why.

Photographs are constantly updated in Lucy’s project Flickr set and have been exhibited at the De La War Pavilion’s as part of its ‘A Nod to Cage’ season.

Academia is the New Rock and Roll

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Back in October I condensed months of thinking in to a blog post, the aim being to find a direction for my MA dissertation research. I knew that  I wanted to better understand how web 2.0 is changing the context of participatory arts practice; how projects are being developed and interacted with, and who is involved. I was also really interested in discovering more about the challenges from an artist/curator perspective and where the similarities and differences lie between on and offline practice.

I was thrilled that the post attracted some very helpful comments/emails from well respected academics Mike Press, David Gauntlett and Charlotte Frost. During my teenage years I was a prolific letter writer and trawled the back pages of the NME, sending off for demo tapes and ‘rare’ live recordings of my favourite bands.  If I happened to get a letter back with my tape, it was a moment of great jubilation! I would now proclaim that feedback from academics is the new rock and roll but I do however feel under pressure to write something amazing to repay the interest shown; a home-made badge or postcard just isn’t going to cut it!

In November I met up with David Gauntlett at the V and A to talk craft, lego and everyday creativity and to continue with the rock and roll theme instead of getting him to sign my T-Shirt I asked for his autograph on my copy of Making is Connecting! David was very generous with his time, tolerant of my interrogation of his creative reflective research methods and un-phased by the level of my hyperactivity rising in relation to the amount of fizzy pop I consumed (he has small children). We discussed my hypothesis and choice of case studies (mostly sourced through a Twitter shout out) and I left with a clearer vision of where my research could take me.

My Hypothesis is:

Social media-led projects curated by artists using everyday creativity are challenging traditional modes of participation.

My research questions are:

What are the similarities and differences between traditional and online community participation?

What skills and motivations do artists attribute as being necessary to the development of social media-led projects that use everyday creativity?

What factors influence the future viability of social media-led projects?

I have identified five projects to research (an overview of each is detailed in my next post):

David Gillett’s 52 by 52

Inny Murnane’s #plateaknit

Kirsty Hall’s 365 Jars

Lucy Phillips’ What Cannot be Seen

And my We Found Art

Over the last couple of months I have spent many hours on trains travelling the country to meet with each project’s curator. It has been an absolute delight and a very enjoyable experience. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me by relative strangers. I have been met at train stations, escorted to bus stops, been welcomed into homes and had a never ending supply of coffee!

My research interviews have also had an unexpected element to them. When I met David Gillett in a cafe in Bath we were treated to various interjections from an overly tactile elderly customer who serenaded us with songs from the shows throughout our interview!  In St Leonards, Lucy Phillips suggested an impromptu costal tour with her daughter as tour guide; I was only too happy to accept the offer and particularly enjoyed the ‘piece of cheese house’ and ‘yellow sweet shop.’

I have also been busy collecting data from ‘fans’, ‘followers’, ‘members’, ‘participants’ and the ‘audience’ of the projects selected via a series of online surveys. I hope to build a profile of the type of person who has taken an interest in each. In addition to demographics, I hope to discover more about levels of engagement and motivations, internet and social media habits, offline creative activities and attitudes towards arts and culture.

The next task is to code and interpret the qualitative data that I have collected and I will report back soon.

The Adventures of Dog Charity Shop Boy

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The adventures of ‘Dog Charity Shop Boy’ have been reported over on my Flickr page but I thought they deserved some Thinking Bridge space too!

Back in the autumn, my son Jude and I were thrilled to discover that The Caravan Gallery were putting together a book of other people’s pictures. In the blink of an eye we grabbed Jude’s camera and set off to scour the streets of Boston in Lincolnshire to look for the perfect shot!

Jude found a sign for a Dog Charity Shop and quickly snapped it, eager to visit the establishment itself in the hope that I would let him choose and take home a second hand dog! He was very disappointed to find that the shop in his words ‘was just a load of old lady clothes!’ (Through the eyes of a 39 year old, it’s a treasure trove not of dogs but up-cycled items waiting to be re-homed!)

Undeterred Jude emailed his photo and hoped for the best. On Christmas day, he opened a small flat parcel and was thrilled to discover that it was a copy of ‘The Caravan Gallery Presents Other People’s Pictures’ with his photo printed on page 56!

Armed with his book, Jude decided that an impromptu personal appearance was in order and revisited his sign and the Dog Charity Shop. Bemused customers looked on as he posed for photos with Kevin the shop manager!

I was very excited to have photographs included in the book too, but on this occasion was very happy to be overshadowed by the creative genius of Jude!

 

Christmas Craftivism

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Homemade Christmas Lovliness

OK, so I’m a bit late with this one but it may go some way to explaining my absence from the blogosphere for the last few months!

Back in September I made a brash decision to make the majority of my Christmas gifts for friends and family with the help of my children. I often describe myself as a ‘time poor crafter’ and although there has always been an element of the homemade in my Christmas efforts, last year I decided to push the limits of seasonal crafting.

There were a few reasons for setting myself this ambitious challenge and once I started to unpick them I realised that I was engaging in a spot of craftivism! I do love Christmas but always feel uncomfortable about the materialism that surrounds it. This feeling has been magnified since having children and as they approach their teenage years I don’t want them to develop an excessive desire to possess more ‘stuff’ than they could possibly need or use.

The other contributing factors were waste and cost. I don’t like waste and it makes me really sad to see beautiful (and expensive) wrapping paper and packaging binned and as I have had to cut back on work to complete my MA funds are tight!

Mum and Dad

Mum and Belinda

When I was seven my parents embraced the Good Life. They had grown up in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and after overdosing on Tom and Barbara decided that we should swop hustle and bustle for a simple life. We moved to a small Lincolnshire village and the adventure began; soon we had rabbits, goats and a sprawling garden filled with home grown produce. One of my earliest memories of this new life was being part of a homemade Christmas card production line. I remember it involved lino printing with oil paint and it being very blue and very messy.

With this memory in my mind I called a meeting of the ‘Project Christmas’ steering committee (me, Abigail and Jude). We decided that we would create hampers by making use of our garden produce. I didn’t inherit the self sufficiency gene from my parents but we had a bountiful crop of apples, a very bushy bay leaf bush and Jude’s greenhouse chillies.

An internet search provided recipes for Christmas chutney, chilli jam, bay leaf infused olive oil and Delia’s Christmas cake; a winning combination. I have four male cousins in their twenties, (one a Drum and Bass DJ), so we decided to substitute edibles for graffiti art in their case.

Christmas Chutney

Chilli Jam

The making mission was epic and quite early on I was haunted by a throw away remark I had made years earlier about a mum at my children’s primary school. She had made mini Christmas cakes in spaghetti tins for the complete staff team and I had concluded that she had far too much time on her hands! The making mission ate up every moment of my spare time; it was relentless and required stamina and dedication. As my car had been towed away for scrap it also involved death defying trips back from Tescos on a bike loaded with bottles of cider vinegar! We also broke the electric whisk and I got what felt like second degree burns on my hands from the chillies.

Jude the Graffiti Artist

Abigail and Jude were willing helpers and by the time the cakes had tipped over into double figures they could follow the recipe without adult intervention. Jude spent a lot of time in the garden painting, splattering and spraying canvas, Abigail became our product brand poster girl posing as a Beaton-esque shooting star and I learnt how to ice a cake!

Inspired by Beaton - Abigail the Shooting Star

The 25 Christmas cakes, 18 jars of chutney, 15 jars of chilli jam, 12 bottles of bay leaf infused oil, 6 graffiti canvases and broach for my mum were all packaged using recycled fabric and trimmings and placed in jute shopping bags and distributed. I definitely underestimated the time involved in Project Christmas but it was a hugely satisfying experience. We have had some lovely thank you letters and there have been no reported cases of botulism which is a bonus.

Jude and Abi's Scrummy Christmas Cake

Button and Bead Broach

I am very grateful to Nigel Blackamore for taking the beautiful photographs of our Christmas Craftivsm over on Flickr.

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