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.