Tag Archives: digital

A failed job application

the tweeture

The Tweeture - twitter made huggable and slightly sociopathic. Creature by Slingshot. Picture by CultureHackDay on Flickr

So below is a job application I put in a while back. They didn’t want these ideas, but I thought someone might. Open source job applications? Heh. It just felt a bit like staking my territory on this stuff, anyway. And I wanted to share it. I’m cutting out stuff that refers directly to the organisation and their job description, though, as it’s not a dig at them at all. Just some crystallising of thinking I wanted to put in public if not practice. 

[stripped-out intro] I want to talk to you about ‘digital’.

What is digital in the arts? The easiest thing is to tell you what it’s not; it’s not live streaming, it’s not Twitter, and mostly, it is not marketing. It won’t sell stuff.

The act of selling is based on a broadcast ‘push’ model of communication that is increasingly irrelevant in a world of filter, of ‘pull’. We don’t live in the information age. We live in a noisy data-ridden one. Noise is data without context. Information is data with it. Our lives are noisier and noisier, and only through tools like personalisation are we able to filter it back into information. Personalisation – things like subscribing to people you like through social media, and getting your information via word of mouth and recommendation. Getting people to care, not see, is the key thing.

So I just want to set this out. For me, digital isn’t marketing, and it isn’t broadcasting. It doesn’t mean it can’t serve a similar purpose. But also I believe those words aren’t useful while they are so tied to an old communications-space.

Digital a different space, and space is important; we shape it but it also shapes us. McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ should still be ringing in all of our ears: it doesn’t matter what you say as much as how you say it. What one train carried wasn’t half so important as the way the infrastructure changed our society. The digital age is changing our behaviour – how we communicate, and how we expect to interact. Audiences for the most part are now better considered participants. You can determine the level of interaction you want to employ, but know that it has to be a conscious and considered choice. It is my rule of thumb that you think ‘why’, always. Not ‘let’s make a digital thing and see if they interact’ but begin with the questions: ‘why interact?’ ‘Why should they care?’ This has implications. The greater the input invited, the less the direct authorial control, the role of author might become more like curator, or the task might even become massively authorial. The important point is that the relationship between audience and creator is no longer typically one thing. Who they both are, the story being told, and the platform it’s being told on all need to shape the techniques used. I propose that a creative digital producer should start by thinking about the space they design, the experience – not just the content or delivery method.

As one example, I’ve been an ‘active evaluator’ working alongside Hoipolloi to develop this online space that allows people to explore the online version of Hugh Hughes’ childhood, the same thing the live show of Stories From an Invisible Town explores. I’ve been working alongside them on the interaction design, and I’ve developed the following mantra:

  • Why interact
  • Why continue to interact?
  • Why come back?

(You could ask similarly of your content; why care? Why continue to care? Why pass it on?). The work is a standalone online experience where you wander through the muddled memories of the central character – you build your own collection by tracing your own path through things past. It operative associatively – like memory does – and delivers a variety of content. It is of the universe from which the live show draws, but a completely different experience. I use this here as a key example of formal – rather than content-driven – innovation. Formally inventive; that’s what I propose to bring to [x organisation].

And indeed, in terms of relating the live experience as well as the flavour of a piece of work (what we might without the baggage of previous context call ‘broadcast’) – the live documentation involved in my work with Third Angel doesn’t create a standalone version of the show, but rather weaves the content-delivery mechanism into the show itself; taking the documenter into full view and performing as bridge between online audience and ‘real life’ one. This wouldn’t always be appropriate, but it shows possible a formally inventive approach to the brief ‘document’ or ‘broadcast’ which I would likewise be eager to implement.

And then, with regards to the [organisation] in particular, it’s incredibly important to pick up on the ‘festival’ model on which it lays strong emphasis, and the drive in the artistic programme towards learning and participation. I propose that the digital output should lean towards a game-studio approach – one which starts by asking the ‘why’ questions, and it doing so investigates the approaches and influences of ARGs, pervasive gaming, flash mobs and other carnivalesque models, all of which drive people into conjunction with one another. Because digital is not ‘the web’. What all these digitally triggered forms have in common is that they bring people together in a live, unusual and (metaphorically speaking) electric context. Digital is fundamentally a way of processing information, but socio-politically it is a new way of being that is changing how we communicate. The basic unit of the digital revolution is the human being. As such I believe all experiences, where possible should have real-life residues, because what social media in particular represents is the urge to reach out; connect to one another.

New community arts models that would draw new audiences, and connect in new ways to old, can be derived from digital and games-inspired practices. I have personally been involved in large-scale community-storytelling-led digital works such as the Umbrella Project, which translated the stories of a city (York) into three discreet interactive sound experiences, and more recently Northern Big Board – which collected the stories of the users and staff at a communal pool just outside of Leeds, and produced 7 digital installation pieces as part of a weekend-long festival and gala celebrating the place of the pool in its community. Such community-driven models represent an approach to diversity and participation that isn’t ‘representative’ but generative. So too I propose open culture (in terms of permissions, sharing, remixing) from process to product to enable ongoing online and physical participation and co-creation.

(by-the-by, this site-reactive [not specific] approach is also a fascinating model for new touring practices, developing along the ‘hyperlocalism’ trend in the digital world, but in a manner that isn’t flippant or exploitative).

My approach to setting up a games-studio approach would also involve looking to invite close work with leading innovative technology partners, such as BERG, and the Pervasive Media Studio; Caper’s Culture Hacks, Hide and Seek’s carefully crafted playful experiences; Coney’s anarchic and generous live play. But learning, too, from the cultural sphere of indie gaming; work such as Sword and Sworcery (Capybara games) and Bientot l’ete (Tale of Tales) as well as large revolutionary studios such as Thatgamecompany and Team ICO, and other art forms flourishing at the end of the age of broadcast; DIY musicians, board game designers, zine-makers, parkour artists, youtube film makers, bloggers.

The learning and participation potential of game and interaction forms is well documented (from Homo Ludens, on), but their forms as culture in their own right should not be dismissed. As such I propose the [organisation] might also open itself as a community hackspace. A hub for local creatives and digital-folk interested in interaction design and digital storytelling, a space for R&D driven by the [organisation], but also a space for outside ideas; a place for their coming together. I would not come with a fully formed programme of action, but a series of starting points, and the intention to build the [organisation] as a crucible for digital innovation.

This, of course, would go alongside producing content for mobile, web, and more traditional ‘broadcast’ forms. But as a leading thread I propose that the [digital position to which I applied] should investigate these convivial, space-interested and large-scale playful and interactive possibilities of the word ‘digital’.

And then there was a final paragraph about how I was well situated to lead it. But which I sort of agree probably didn’t include the profile and experience they were looking for/needed. I’m still quite ‘early career’, after all.


Northern Big Board – What I did part 3

Hurrah! The final instalment on the 7 installations and things that I made as part of Northern Big Board. You can find part one here, and part two over here. Today, a little about Cuppa. Trust Me, and the BONUS CONTENT. Let’s get straight into it…


Cuppa was made in response to the importance of the cafe to the pool building – to making it a place people stay, rather than justa place people go. As part of the cuts and restructures the pool was undergoing the cafe had had its hours drastically cut.
Northern Big Board InstallationsThis meant that not only was it not open much of the time, but that people were never certain whether it might be – people stopped wandering up on the off chance. A reasonable amount of the families and older visitors to the pool talked sadly about this, and so I wanted to make a piece that reflected that meeting place. Hence, Cuppa. Cuppa was a piece for two participants, with a part a and part b. It involved a tea set with real (Yorkshire) tea and a single biscuit. It was a synchronous piece of audio that asked two participants to move together – not always in unison, some times differently, thinking on their own, or moving to compliment the other – two sides of the same experience.  It was a requiem to the closing cafe. To those places of accidental crossing, weak tea, and chip butties. You can, if you want to see how the two parts worked together, read the script here. The aim was for it to be quiet and gentle and a small space for two people to come together.


This was the ‘big’ piece for me, I don’t necessarily think it was for the people who experienced the installations, it was focal in that way, but it was really important for me. For several reasons, first that it was the hardest to write, by far, second (and relatedly) it was the one I felt the least prepared to, and most want to do justice to – because it was about diving, and finally, because it was the one (I felt) that linked up most strongly with everything Emma was saying in her play for the project. Throughout the 6 weeks I had been learning to dive with the help of a brilliant coach and diver called Dave Cowen. Bradford Esprit diving had worked with Northern Big Board to set up the ‘big board amnesty’ every Friday – where members of the public could turn up and have a go at diving, maybe even take a leap off the 5m board. That experience of learning to dive was one of the most brilliant and rewarding things I’ve done in recent years. I do quite a bit of sport, but it’d been a while since I learnt something, and I love learning things. I additionally loved learning something physical, of working with (as opposed to despite my tired) body, of pushing myself past fear. Incredibly rewarding, a proper rush, and something really important about learning by doing, and working with, rather than against, failure. With Trust Me, I tried to approach these things. So Trust Me is a piece about facing your fears. About how fear is natural  failure useful, and the most important things being willing to try again. It’s also a piece about diving. It emerged out of a conversation I recorded with Dave. The love in his voice as he spoke about the sport was unmistakable. He said after the interview that Shipley Pool was his first pool, “It’s like your first love, you never forget it”. That’s what this piece was about. Trust, failure, the love of being better. The piece itself took place in a dark enclosed space with a semi-transparent curtain/screen directly infront of you. A video projected water onto the floor. Participants entered to find a bench, and are throughout the piece invited to come towards a platform (obscured) in the centre of the room, urged to take steps towards giving up their fears, to find the best of themselves. There’s a slideshow of pictures below. And because I’m feeling generous, an embed of the audio.

The final piece I made was a bonus track of sorts. To encourage people to explore as much as possible I introduced a simple little collection mechanic – after each installation you could collect a token, and with 3 or more exchange it for a URL of a download, or if you didn’t have access to the internet, the piece on a CD. It was a simple little audio montage of all the voices I’d gathered from the pool, just under three minute. I also made this available to all the staff, who shared it with everyone they could. I was really proud to begin to represent the story of their place to them.

This whole project was very hard, but the majority of that burden was right for me to feel. It was a privilege. A real privilege, to listen to and attempt to tell the stories of these people.