Act Otherwise: A harbourside meeting of ingenious minds
Special thanks to Emilie Giles for summarizing the conference!
About the Forum
Act Otherwise was a two-day open forum which brought together a cross section of the most talented artists, scholars, broadcasters and curators working in interactive narratives, games and location based media. It is part of PARN (Physical and Alternate Reality Narratives), an EU Culture Fund project which explores how our concepts of narrative are changing in a post-digital world. Partners on the project include Blast Theory (UK), Time's Up (Austria), Lighthouse (UK) and FoAM (Belgium)
The goal of Act Otherwise was to share key challenges and concerns together in a relaxed setting and engage in conversation which might be practical or theoretical and which may be concerned with the practicalities of now or the possibilities of the future.
The structure of the forum was constructed loosely, so that it would be possible to respond and adapt accordingly to what came up in discussion. The starting point of the 1st day was a presentation by Blast Theory of A Machine To See With to open up some discussion around issues such as:
* What are the unique design challenges of working in public space? * How can we push the language of interaction design? * What are the ethics and politics of engaging the public in these ways? * How can we reach the multiple audiences for this work: the gamers, the ramblers, the surfers etc.? * What are the new ways of working that we are discovering?
From there the forum led onto presentations by Professor Steve Benford, Time's Up's Tina Auer & Tim Boykett, Andy Field, José Luis de Vicente and Matt Locke as well as a discussion led by Dan Dixon in which he presented the group with some provocations around the issues open for discussion.
The second day followed a structure of 4 sessions, areas of exploration being 'The Field', 'Audience', 'Create' and 'Distribution'. Each of these began with an opening array of thoughts by a delegate and were moderated by a Chair with the sessions being very open in their accessibility for people to dip in and out with ideas and points of reference.
Blast Theory (Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr, Nick Tandavanitj, Julianne Pierce, Dan Lamont, John Hunter, intern Hannah Walton Williams, Hannah Brady)
José Luis de Vicente, curator, Spain
Wayne Ashley, curator, USA
Anne Nigten, cultural activist, The Patching Zone, The Netherlands
Kristina Andersen, a maker and researcher based at STEIM, The Netherlands
Niki Woods, Blast Theory Associate Artist, Salford, UK
Dan Dixon, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Computer Science and Creative Technologies University of the West of England, Bristol, UK
Ben Eaton, artist, Invisible Flock, Leeds, UK
Victoria Pratt, artist, Invisible Flock, Leeds, UK
Andy Field, Forest Fringe, London, Edinburgh, UK
Bronac Ferran, Guest Curator at The Ruskin Gallery Cambridge, London, UK
Ghislaine Boddington, Creative Director at bodydataspace, London, UK
Tim Wright, digital writer/consultant for web, mobile, radio, TV, games, London, UK
Paul Bennun, Somethin’ Else, London, UK
Robin Nelson, Central School of Speech & Drama, London, UK
Matt Locke, director of www.storythings.com, Portslade, UK
Kate Genevieve, artist, Chroma Collective, Brighton, UK
Honor Harger, Director, Lighthouse, Brighton
Jamie Wyld, Programme Curator, Lighthouse, Brighton, UK
Professor Steve Benford, Head of School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, UK
Tim Boykett, Time's Up, Austria
Tina Auer, Time's Up, Austria
Nik Gaffney, FoAM, Brussels
Emilie Giles, Rapporteur/documentation
Day 1 - 22nd March 2012
Presentation 1: Blast Theory
A Machine To See With
The focus of Blast Theory’s presentation was A Machine To See With, a piece of 'locative cinema' commissioned by 01 San José, Banff New Media Institute and Sundance New Frontier. The forum started with this as a focus point to bring in some questions around the issues which are shared by all the people taking part in the discussions, with Matt Adams beginning the presentation.
The work guides participants through the city towards a bank robbery via an automated system of voice calls. The piece plays out in a linear structure with branching points on the journey. It brings up questions around what is a cinematic experience; is it something which has to have moving image in it, or rather can it be more a way of perception? A Machine To See With plays with the idea of cinema which we have in our heads and how you engage with that cinematic imagination. The core starting point was how can you invoke all the cinematic cliches that we all carry around with us through the power of a phone call?
One of the main challenges of the work is that it contains a complete suspension of disbelief. The participant gets highly empowered and adrenalised, to only get pulled straight out of the bank robbery which they've been guided towards resulting in a sense of the cinematic glory being stripped from them.
A Machine To See With takes a lot of its feel from heist movies. China Town and Made in U.S.A were key reference points for the piece as well as the book which the latter was based on, The Jugger . Made in U.S.A does something very interesting in how it takes a film noir fiction and splices it into the critique of the Vietnam war. The film plays with the line of fiction and reality, taking the traditional tropes and motifs from the genre and bringing it together with a political critique. A Machine To See With draws on this quite directly.
The piece explores the ethical line between the real and the fiction and also the ethical line of how artists tread with regards to what they ask their audience to do. The reason that the piece stops the participants when it does is because of the issues around ethics and the risks which the participant is presented with. A Machine To See With also explores our relationship with the financial system and the banks.
Testing and touring
The next discussion around A Machine To See With was lead by Nick Tandavanitj and focused on testing and touring. The two initial issues presented in the context of this subject were:
* How to develop projects that are so dependent on context and the audience? * How to make works that are highly contextual and, at the same time, easily deployable?
At the beginning of making A Machine To See With Blast Theory had a very clear vision of how it would work: 6 participants would be invited to stand on a street corner, receive phone calls at the same time and move though the city whilst perhaps interacting with each other, the ending being all 6 people coming to the same space for a 'closing scene' where they all reveal themselves as having taken part in the piece. However, Blast Theory soon realied that when doing a piece of work like this in a city environment there are so many things which are out of your control. One of the main challenges which face them when producing a piece such as this in an un-controlled environment is finding a nimble way of simulating what these experiences are and how they work. A Machine To See With is an example of how Blast Theory currently approaches these issues. Portslade is used as a test ground for going out and partaking in small exercises an with regards to A Machine To See With this meant doing tasks such as co-coordinating people coming in and out of a public toilet without bumping into each other as well as meeting someone in a car all in the absence of having no technology there to do it for them. The challenge is how do you simulate things well enough so that you're not just testing the act of moving people around a city but also what the emotional and dramatic experiences as well?
The next stage in testing is normally to get participants to test the technology prototype. This is when it becomes apparent that things which are assumed will work become problematic, such as people not being able to find spaces which are part of the piece such as a car park or public toilet. Over the course of making A Machine To See With, Blast Theory moved from having almost a second by second plan of the piece to bringing in something which was able to absorb the unpredictability of people's understanding and interpretation of the work. Unlike traditional theatre, which is a perfectly controlled environment and is based on a single viewpoint, A Machine To See With is hard to test as there are so many different viewpoints within it. Not only are Blast Theory moving it from city to city, but people's perspectives of what the experience is changes each time. There are an incalculable number of situations, perspectives and subjectivities which they are trying to accommodate into something which is authored and composed. They're trying to have some control over it even if they don't have social control over it. The challenge is what are the things which can be nailed down in order to come away from that creative process and say yes we've nailed something which is engaging and rewarding.
When creating a piece like A Machine To See With significant places such as toilets, banks and car parks need to be plotted out. There is a misconception that you don't need to take into account the things in-between. The first process is surveying locations remotely by viewing them on something like Google maps, crossing out potential routes. This leads onto the next stage where Blast Theory invite people on the ground to go and walk the routes and find the best ways round, through alleyways and cut-throughs, trying door handles and back exits in shopping centres. These are all the things which make the experience really tangibly exciting and slightly transgressive because, because you're not meant to go through the back exit of a supermarket incase you set the alarm off. This is an extremely hand-made process. The testing for A Machine To See With was in Banff and the piece premiered in San José so a lot of things within it needed to change. The walk from one location to another when the piece is being held in another city may be longer, meaning that a new bit of content needs to be added in to fill up that time - the piece needs to be localised.
The question is, is there a way to make it less handmade? Localisation is such a hand made process and the rewards are great in that Blast Theory can find the back alley to a carpark, or the back exit of a shopping centre or a toilet where you need to speak to an attendant to get in but is there an alternative methodology, whether it's using open data sources, or using contributory models where you can crowd source that information? The key is that it still needs to allow you to bring that richness into the experience and have the level of details which is so satisfying and engaging.
Ju Row Farr led the next part of the presentation, focused on audiences. Initial questions were:
* What language to use? How to identify an audience and reach it? * How to invite people in without diminishing the mystery of the work?
When describing this kind of work, what language do you use? Blast Theory have gone through various permutations with regards to what A Machine To See With is classed as from journey, participatory, interactive, theatre, game etc. It obviously shifts depending on which direction and who you're talking to.
More importantly, how do you identify who the audience is for that work? Are they people who participate in theatre, games and stories? Is it people who would participate during the weekend to have a laugh, is it dads who come along wanting to find new things to do with their kids? What is that audience, how do we identify them and where do we go to find them? These kind of works cross a lot of different genres and forms and sometimes it can feel like firing off in all directions, there is a sense of not really knowing what it really is, who is taking part and who could potentially participate in the work. Practitioners creating these pieces are obviously not just creating them for themselves; there is a sense of who the work is for but sometimes it can be intangible and hard to grasp. These kinds of work have thresholds for entry and can be scary for some people to take part in even though for those creating them it might not seem like that. There are questions revolving around how to give this sort of work creative value and how to find a language around the work which is right creativity. What does this do for participants who wouldn't go and necessarily engage with a piece of art but who would certainly like the idea of taking part in a heist activity and what does this mean? If it's looked upon as a theatre piece on the street where people are taking on a role, what does this mean for a potential audiences taking part? The language used around the work and how to identify what the work and specific audience is often can feel difficult to grasp.
Ju's thoughts led onto questions that aren't necessarily specific challenges for Blast Theory but more continual concerns which are embedded into the terrain within which they work as well as being much larger social challenges. These are:
* Testing and touring - how to develop projects which are so dependent on content and the audience? * How to make works that are highly contextual and at the same time, easily dependable? * How do you reach out beyond 'the ghetto' and get more people immersed in the world?
Audience or artist responsibility?
The discussion moved onto ethics and ideas around audience or artist responsibility. Blast Theory have had people who have 'lost it' during their work. They have also had people made accusations against them. Andy Field brought in the question of what happens when eventually someone gets killed? Whose responsibility is it? His partner thinks that it is always the responsibility of the audience. The more extreme street games get, the more risky it is. However, as Ben Eaton pointed out, it's not always seen this way. He gave an example of an event called The Big Game where someone paid to participate and got hurt, blaming the game designers resulting them in being sued. Sometimes the artists are the ones who are put in risky situations; Andy told us about an artist at the Edinburgh Fringe festival was doing a street performance where she would do whatever the audience told her to do, resulting in her stepping in front of a car because someone told her to do it. Andy believes that this situation was his responsibility and that they were so excited about the edginess of the piece they hadn't even thought of that. Honor Harger gave the example of how it's not always pervasive gaming pieces but also with other work which has risks attached to it. A recent example is a piece by Marnix De Nijs called Run Motherfucker Run, where an audience ember got injured whilst experiencing the work. It raises the ethical questions of whose responsibility is it; is it the gallery's fault, the audience member who got on the work or the artist? It is something that is quite a perennial question for anyone who is putting on an event which involves the public. Wayne Ashley brought in another example to the discussion, a piece by Kurt Hentschläger, ZEE, which consists of a room filed with fog and has strobe lights shining into it. This work received a certain amount of controversy due to a few participants being hospitalised after suffering from convulsions during the piece. The work gives you a hallucinogenic experience, almost making you lose control of your body. Even though participants were asked to sign a waiver there is always the risk in the US of getting sued. As an artist even if the participant has signed a piece of paper, you are still viewed as being responsible for them. ZEE contains phenomenal tension, through euphoric possibility being underscored by the juridical system. Even though the piece has a controversial side to it, a new version of it was created due to it being so popular.
To conclude, questions which come out of the discussion around audiences were:
* How as an artist do you deal with the audience's unpredictability and absorb that into the work? * How do you widen your audience and ensure that your work isn't ghetto-ised?
Presentation 2: Steve Benford
* What makes pervasive media projects tick? * How do we design them for a wider audience?
He started by looking at the idea of a conceptual framework for extended, hybrid experiences, a set of ideas with go together with the user experience whilst looking at experiences which go beyond the interface. The hybrid refers to a mashup, for example virtual or augmented reality, ubiquitous or mobile, so the kind of things which Blast Theory focus on.
Describing the user experience in terms of trajectories
As an experience, Trajectories can be seen as a kind of coherent journey that you're trying to create and shape, and to look at where people's trajectories might cross one another. There are three kind of trajectories:
* Canonical trajectory - the plan for what we want to happen. * Participant trajectory - what the participants actually do. * Historic trajectory - what we want them to say about it afterwards.
All three of these have to be thought about when creating a experience.
A trajectory is a line, a journey through space and time and interfaces. A canonical trajectory is a just a single line, and in many experiences you have to design several of these. For example in Blast Theory's work, online and street play is mixed you have two canonical trajectories which you have to design and make them work together. They can branch rather than being linear. The canonical trajectory is the plan and it needs to be written down whether it's in the code, a diagram or the script.
The red spot moment is when the first interaction with the technology occurs and you know it works. Within trajectories are sub-trajectories, which are the instances which occur within set scenes of a piece. An example of this are the occurrences which happened within Uncle Roy's office, in Blast Theory’s piece Uncle Roy All Around You.
An example of how things can break down is the access to physical resources. In Uncle Roy All Around You there is only one office and if more than one person turned over at one time there would be a problem and the immersive experience would disappear. Another concern is the technology and what you do when faced with a situation such as the WIFI or GPS breaking.
Participant trajectories and divergence
The interesting thing about participant trajectories is that they can diverge from the canonical trajectory and disappear. This isn't necessarily bad as that is what interactive work is about, otherwise the participant is just following a branch. However, you need to know what can steer them back to the canonical trajectory or onto another one and thus create an orchestration, which is a set of techniques which let people experience the work as it unfolds. So for example in Uncle Roy All Around You, the orchestration is the interaction with actors, or clues which tell participants to turn around. An experience can be self-orchestrating but this does need a set of strategies.
When designing these experiences you also need to think about when you want people to encounter one another and how, when you want to isolate them, and when you want to pace them. In human computer interaction much less attention is paid to the importance of isolating people and how to do it. Keeping people together is difficult especially online and street players.
Historic trajectories support the need of reflection and recounting an experience. Some experiences, for example cinema, are mainly objective, but if engage with something like Uncle Roy All Around You or A Machine To See With your experience will be different from other peoples and so it's important to be able to talk about it. Steve brought in the idea of synthesizing the historic view of what happened through recording the experience, which is what theme parks do when they take pictures of people on rides. He has been working on a project with Alton Towers where they've been exploring how you can make this process more sophisticated by allowing the participant to have an input into it, and put these images into a narrative.
The summing up thought was that how the information you provide as an experience provider gets mixed with the information which people capture themselves, and how this gets mixed together into one resource which is used to tell someone else about the experience.
Presentation 3: Time's Up
Time's Up refer them themselves as a 'Laboratory for the construction of experimental situations’. Tina Auer and Tim Boykett took us through their work and some issues which have occurred around it.
They create worlds and spaces through which people can walk and experience in a very playful way. These spaces are very architecturally rich and the participants go through them not finding a set story but rather finding their own.
From 2007 onwards Time's Up's work has been more character based through the participants being told stories whilst navigating through a space. One example of this is Domestic Bliss in which the audience discovers a story through a room. You first experience it on a screen and then it begins to happen around you. The piece takes place in a flat which they completely kitted out to fit the narrative like a set.
20 Seconds into the Future is another piece by Time's Up which explores physical narratives but rather than a timeline style narrative being present like in Domestic Bliss, the piece is more about browsing the environment, looking through the objects one.
The last piece which Tina discussed was Stored in a Bank Vault, a physical narrative which explores the tools and motivations of bank heists and gives a glimpse into the lair of bank robbers. The piece was shown at Lighthouse last year. Tina told us how it's interesting how participants don't always take the time to engage with a piece like this, they take it for what it is at a glance and then leave. One participant stated ‘It looks like a bank heist’ and walked off, thinking that was all there was to it! Time's Up invite people to get lost in a narrative world which calls for exploration. So for example if the participant had stayed and explored the installation they would have found out about the gold growing seeds that the thieves were planning to steel from the vaults.
The problems with translation
One of the main problems with narrative driven pieces is the translation. When foreign actors record a voice part, you cannot always tell what they sound like to a native speaker due to your unfamiliarity with the language. Matt Adams gave an example of how they had to be told that an actor who was taking part in A Machine To See With, was very boring to listen to, but they would not have necessarily realised it themselves.
As Tina pointed out, another problem is that a lot can get lost in translation. The compartmentalisation of instructions can often get mixed up into one big instruction. Andy made the point that accents can be a problem. You may have a US and a UK accent within a piece but in another language these cannot really be present.
One perspective on this, suggested by Ju, is that perhaps the control needs to be let go of. She doesn't think that everything within a piece must be exactly replicated.
Work often has to change for cultural reasons. Hannah Brady’s example of this was when Blast Theory did Ulrike and Eamon Compliant in Korea. They couldn't conduct the interviews during the last scene of the piece as they normally would as the hosts insisted that they were a peaceful nation and so wouldn’t engage with it. Kristina Andersen brought in the point that couldn't you re-write the content to fit with that culture? This isn’t always possible though. Another consideration is movement and how that translates culturally. Ghislaine Boddington explained how body>data>space work a lot with language experts but also with experts who help to translate movement and advise on what is acceptable in different cultures.
To finish with Tim Boykett made an interesting point that perhaps collaborators are the answer rather than translators.
Presentation 4: Andy Field
Andy's focus for his talk was innovation. This is something which he is wary and weary of. He is interested in not what we're doing which is new, but rather, in the past and how we're re-using old ideas. He referenced street gaming and locative media as an example, as something not new but rather a continuous cycle of urban strategies and ways of operating in the city. Michel De Certeau referred to this as ‘a strategic discourse of the people'. Andy’s interest can be seen as a desire to remake everything that is alive about the past within a present moment.
One of his main focuses has been finding ways to create the past as processes, This focus has involved him looking at New York based artists from the 1960s/1970s and how what they did relates to what we're doing now.
How we can better look back at what's come before?
His focus has been to explore New York in the 1960's/1970's and compare it to the London today. It’s to do with the similarities that all contemporary cities have, and the way we move through them. One thought point connected to this has been what Tony Smiths describes as a cultural landscape without cultural president.
He's been looking at examples from the 60's/70ssuch as:
* Happenings Artists – Kaprow, Oldenburg * Fluxus – George Brecht * Avant-garde dance – Simone Forti, Trisha Brown
How does this work function as a way of re-booting or re-wiring our relationship with the city? What's not important is what they did but how the work was used by its audience and how it became a rhetorical tool. One of Andy’s focuses has been Patricia Brown’s Roof Piece. It's about trying to define a footprint for the way in which the piece transformed the participants and the audiences relationship with urban environment and figuring out what they were doing.
Another example mentioned was Joseph Beuys's How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. When we see images of this piece they're very close-up but what we don't realise is that the audience wouldn't have seen it like this at all. They viewed the piece through a window into the gallery from a New York Street. This is what interests Andy; what was the audience's experience and how did the work transform their experience of the city?
Roof Piece is a game of Chinese whispers through movement across rooftops, with the dancers only seeing the next one along from them. The movement slowly degraded as it traveled further along the chain as the dancers couldn't properly see the other one’s movements. Andy feels like this is an analagy of the experience of being in a city in that you can't comprehend whole piece, just like you can't a city. You can only see the immediate and direct. It leads to the idea that the city is your own experience of it.
Andy took framework from Roof Piece and tried to create a work of his own from it. Anyone who wanted to participate was sent Google maps co-ordinates, which would lead them to a phone box. From this a game of Chinese whispers was played out across phone boxes. As like Roof Piece, it was played out in a sequence which degraded as the chain continued. Like the birds eye view from the rooftops in Roof Piece, the GPS on your phone gives you an artificial and false comprehension of all of city from it being all mapped out.
Questions which came out of this were:
* How can we be better engaged with lineage work we're producing rather than constantly looking forward? * How can we think about how what we're doing has been previously done and repeat it?
Matt Adams asked what if all the technical and social change has already happened and we're now plateauing out of the back of it? What if we're at the point where all the political, social and technological excitement has happened and all those fresh terrains are just put into business models? The question came up:
* As artists are we using these technologies in the most imaginative and radical way?
A challenge which Andy has made to NESTA and the Arts Council is around work being commissioned where no-one has access to the technology. What about commissions being given for people to produce projects which everyone can relate to and engage with rather than giving money to projects which utilise technology which no-one else can access?
Anne Nigten gave the Patching Zone's Digital Art Lab project with CKC Zoetermeer as an example of something which has been engaging with traditional art values whilst merging them with new media. The project works with art teachers from a number of different practices who are learning new digital technology based skills, and helps them think about how these can be used in their own area of specialism. She believes that people need to understand about all cultural expressions in a global networked society.
Looking at histories
Honor thinks that if we want to be radical about practices we need to look at what's gone before but also need to make mistakes and repeat things without knowing it existed. Andy believes it’s always about how understanding how that practice can be applied to future work. This has challenged him to work with ideas that he wouldn't have previously considered.
Wayne likes the idea of conceiving the past, present and future. But, as people write about certain work from the past, from a moment in the present, whilst thinking about the future he thinks the work becomes canonised. He's got a lot of respect of what's come before, but he's aware of how certain types of people and moments get canonised. In New York this is happening with a certain type of avant-garde and museums such as MOMA and the Guggenheim are canonising certain kind of performance art from that period. That has to be looked at in terms of capitalism and consumption. You may be gesturing to the radical in one way but you are also gesturing to a hyper consumption of this kind of work. He is excited in what Andy is doing, but believes that there is a lot of ambiguity which needs to be teased out. Andy finds the way that canonisation functions interesting. Blancho said that an object disappears in its use, but then when it breaks, it is recognised as that object, therefore it becomes a commodity. Part of what Andy's trying to do is counter this idea around canonisation.
Ghislaine made the point of how there is a history of these sorts of performances, not just in New York but also in Butlers Wharf in London, performances which moved into the Netherlands, Finland and Germany. We have a trajectory here. It moved from ballet into contact improvisation, but it did re-institutionalise itself. She’s interested in how Andy is following that trajectory. Andy explained how he is interested in the fleshy histories of things rather than the official histories and trajectories of them. This includes the memories of things embodied in strategies for experiencing the city, which is emended in the audiences as much as the artists and institutions. He’s interested in the strategies we create to survive the brutal experience of the metropolis. Rather than canonisaing these past works it's about trying to explore the memories in flesh and cities as much as it is memories in museums.
Presentation 5: José Luis de Vicente
In his presentation José explored how we link information to physical space, how data is fed to devices, ideas around digital narratives and also augmented space.
He began by discussing a story which had emerged, about a former department store in Maryland being converted into a 300,000 square foot data centre by aiNET. This opens up questions around what towns will be like should this become common place, and what does that mean for the small shops and businesses which previously resided in a place like that.
One point which José wanted to cover were ways of linking information to space and how experiences are being created out of this. He touched briefly on augmented reality and QR codes, but went no further due to their now datedness.
* How can fiction co-exist with important areas of your life? What is the role of narrativity? * Interested in social services activity e.g Facebook and the algorithm of it
José moved onto discussing various examples of projects and apps which link data to the physical and vice versa. The first one was A Ship Adrift a project by James Bridle which is based on Artangel's A Room for London boat which is currently perched on top of the Southbank Centre. A weather station sat next to the boat, and from this an imaginary airship takes readings of where it would blow, dependent on wind directions. Its starting point is the boat, and the airship is piloted by a lost, mad AI bot autopilot whose updates are being transmitted over Twitter. The bot is listening out for geo-tagged tweets, foursquare check-ins, geo-tagged Wikipedia articles and more, trying to 'learn' about its environment and communicating this information using Twitter.
José discussed how this project provides a space to insert narratives and about how fiction is injected into timelines through bots. It brings up notions of pervasive narratives as a self-contained experience and this notion provides a parallel dimension in which for us to enter ourselves into.
This is an app with which you take a photograph of yourself everyday using your iPhone. You get a reminder up so that you don't forget and it creates a timeline of these images. This installs a habit into you and opens a window of opportunity for transforming who you are.
José showed us Timehop, an app which populates your social media accounts with information that you Tweeted, uploaded or updated a year ago to the day. It is a stepping back in time to that moment, one could say a machine to create memories and bring back data from the past.
This is a platform which allows you to manipulate the news read by other people over public WIFI connections. You plug in the Newstweek device to a wall socket and it changes the text on several news sites which anyone might be looking at within the immediate wireless hotspot area.
This is an online PS3 game in which you play a hooded figure alone in the desert navigating your way through the landscape until you reach the end of your travels. As a player, you are essentially alone but at parts are joined by another online player. You cannot however have a dialogue with this player or collaborate with them in any way, they are there more as a witness. José thinks it highlights the idea of a social presence in a system.
Notions of play and pretending
After José's presentation the discussion went towards notions of play. Kristina explained how what we'd been discussing made her think of ‘parallel play’ because of the idea of a co-presence. She also brought up ‘pretend play’ and how kids pretend that an object is something else, and how this can be connected to how we all almost do this with the virtual. We don't need to be 'in' it all the time. José asked an interesting question here: what if your real life doesn't come back to you? Matt Adams brought in how this is like theatrical modes and how people jump in and out of them. Dan Dixon brought in digital considerations with how for kids there is no boundary between the virtual and the physical space, it's very free flowing. Niki Woods gave an example of playing with her son, and how when he asked her to be a monster he became scared as she was too convincing. He therefore asked her not to be a ‘real’ monster, but be a pretend one meaning she had to have distance from this character.
Watching vs. playing
Andy brought in how sport in good at interplay. Football does an elegancy between performance and watching. The act of watching is just as important as is the act of playing. One could say there is no differentiating between them.
Make believe play
We then moved onto a topic brought in by Dan Dixon in how you don't see adults playing in this 'make believe way', but it's not that they've lost that capability; it's just not socially acceptable. Mixed reality pieces provide a catalyst in order to do it. Andy thinks that people are always playing, they're just finding more elegant ways of doing it - Dan offered that they don't make it known though. They might have a light sabre (in their head) but they won't tell anyone like a child would.
Pretending to look 'ordinary'
We then moved onto the idea of pretending to be 'ordinary' when engaged in an activity. Andy described a game he'd made called Checkpoint where you had to smuggle a dismantled living room past other people whilst pretending to be ordinary so that you're not caught out. Kristina offered a real example, how when you go to an airport, you are desperately trying so hard to look normal, you're an innocent person pretending to look innocent and become very self aware.
Slipping between roles
Ju described how when you play a game you slip between modes of taking part and watching. You're in it, out of it, you're the player/participant and the watcher/audience.
This is something which is prone to breakage. Ben's example was that when you're playing a video game, you're in the zone and then a crack appears. You then often feel a sense of how ridiculous it is the effort you've been putting into it, with it all becoming displaced and the sense of immersion being lost. For Kristina, the same feeling of the break of immersion can be felt when you're watching a film and the music comes in which they've implemented as a trigger to make you feel sad. It can do the opposite and get in the way of you really feeling an emotion. Dan Dixon thinks that if something is immersive then it is essentially good. A Machine To See With is immersive and is encouraging you to pretend by putting you in a situation. There is some kind of body-memory function that takes over, which happens naturally when people are immersed. Ju doesn't think that Blast Theory need to tell people how to engage on this level, they do it themselves. This can be linked to what Eric Zimmerman says about 'the immersion fallacy'. Kristina brought in Riven, the PC based puzzle adventure game which was the sequel to Myst and how even though that used old media, Quicktime video, scenes in it would still scare you through its immersion.
Presentation 6: Dan Dixon
Dan wanted to start with putting forward some provocations around what the forum was exploring. Not necessarily his opinions but things to think about:
* Is it all a fad? * Who is our audience? * Is there any experimentation with the stuff we're producing?
He started with exploring the audience question and looking at whether there is an audience that go beyond those who come to see the work again and again? The groups who come are very small and tight, coming in through social networks. They're generally all the digerati in places like New York, Berlin and London and largely come from the experience economy; they're interaction designers, developers or game designers. Dan questioned whether the stuff being created is always digital avant-guarde, or is there more experimentation with it?
He brought up ‘novelty interfaces’ and how people always want to know how the piece works as they're interest in the technology. He asked, are the audience interested in the work itself and appreciating what it is, not just how it is made? An example is a golf game by Gigantic Mechanic which uses GPS. The game unfortunately wasn’t very unsuccessful, and even though there had been initial interest only a few people were actually interested in buying it.
One idea which interests Dan, with regards to pervasive gaming, is the idea of designing out of technology from experiences. You can see how the use of technology has changed over the years with WIFI/GPS being popular in the early 2000s and post 2006 being about smartphones. The idea of designing out from the technology means that the designer would try and figure out how to get the WiFi working but then end up producing a game with no technology at all, but the ideas within the game come from a digital heritage. Examples of people using this methodology are Slingshot in Bristol and Hide & Seek in London.
Examples of games or pervasive experiences which use low tech, or even no tech at all are Slingshot's 2.8 Hours Later (their most successful game) and also Duncan Speakman's subtlemobs. These used to be GPS triggered but then were switched to simply using a downloadable mp3, which the participants download to their device before the event, and then at the set time press play all together. This made the technology not an excluding factor and enabled the work to be more accessible as it could be played on any device.
These are essentially post-digital experiences. There is a digital heritage in that people have played with the technology and know that the restraints are. The focus now is more on the experience, which is being thought about more. But, all this stuff has been done, we're now at the plateauing stage.
These are essentially post-digital experiences. There is a digital heritage in that people have played with the technology and know that the restraints are. The focus now is more on the experience, which is being thought about more. But, all this stuff has been done, we're now at the plateauing stage.
José brought foursquare into the discussion. Rather than a service it is a platform. As a case study it shows how the digital can have an effect on the non-digital and how things are influenced by pervasiveness.
Anne made a generational observation. A lot of us see new media as something 'new' however, most young people never think twice about new media as to them something it's something which has always been there. Dan stepped in to make the point that he wanted to poke at the work which people at the table may have made, not at the rest of society, which Anne responded to by saying that she thinks and hopes that these two things are related She thinks it’s to do with everyone re-thinking their position and as a lot of people in the room are pioneers she's sure they would regret it if they had to go back to the drawing board.
Presentation 7: Matt Locke
Matt’s presentation asked a number of questions with regards to attention:
* What does attention feel like? * What does attention feel like now? * How does attention make us feel now? * How does it change the way we make work? * Do we have a vocabulary of attention?
These questions are connected to his 'obsession' with attention and what it feels like. Attention is the feedback loop which we get from our audience and this feedback loop is how we understand the reception of the work that we make. This has diversified greatly over time and it has also affected big organisations. This feedback loop used to be very closed in that it was much more difficult for people to gage audience reception of their work (Matt showed us a clip of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton talking about when Blackadder was screened and how to work out if people were watching it they spied through their windows).
We then moved onto: What does attention feel like now? Most people in the room are used to gagging the relationship between themselves and an audience as they're experienced in making immersive theatrical experiences where the attention between the artist and audience is intimate. It's the moment when the artist connects with the audience and how this works over a physical and digital way.
Attention which Matt has felt, good and bad:
* During the event he runs, The Story, the silence he's experiencing by 450 people. * Watching Google Analytics in realtime, which there is something visceral about this. * When he worked in TV, the moment when someone jumps out their seat when the overnight viewing numbers come in. * Putting on an event and looking out of the venue's door to see if anyone else is going to come in. * Seeing a batch of tickets which have just gone online sell out in 5 minutes and people complaining afterwards. * Joining a conversation about your project on Twitter and how this makes you feel a real connection with the audience. * Reading complaints first thing in the morning. * Desperately pressing 'reload' in vain hoping that the server hasn't crashed. * Reading a blog post which someone has written three week after your event which they have put a huge amount of thought into. * Looking at the search patterns for you project in Google Insight and what the triggers are for people searching highlight.
Matt also spoke about a project which he'd worked on with the Dutch artist, Jaap de Jonge called Speaker’s Corner, which was a 15 meter long LED screen that showed people's text messages. It was called Speakers Corner and was in Huddersfield. The project had a swear filter built in, which Matt had to monitor frequently, but this didn't cater for messages such as 'Boothy is a ladyboy', which did get up there.
How does attention make us feel now?
Matt discussed how through the work you make you can have a really visceral relationship with the audience, something which creates an emotional legacy and changes peoples lives. From this he's interested in building a vocabulary around the moments that we create. What is the vocabulary of these moments and how we can bring this into our work?
We discussed how within large-scale experiences, for example a Facebook game, you get these micro communities of around 10 people playing together and commenting on each other’s scores. This shows that it's not always about people playing in mass.
With regards to audience response and the feedback loop, Ben talked about Mass Effect 3 and how the ending to the game was changed due so much criticism by the audience. Half Life 2 has also had two different iterations on its ending, and the audience now want a third. This brings in questions around whether the publisher owes them another one or not and shows that the relationship with the consumer has shifted.
Andy feels that attention generates communities. He spoke about a piece called Zero Hour Bus Tours, an audio and performance piece created for night buses which he commissioned. What was interesting was that even though not everyone was listening, they still become part of the audience and this shows how generating attention can build community.
Work and the feedback Loop
Matt Locke brought in the point of how the way in which you feel attention often dictates how you change your work. This is through reviews, Q&As etc; sometimes feedback loops happen and sometimes not. TV is now starting to use online feedback loops to shape future series of a programme. Paul thinks that the data surrounding attention is iterative and that one element of a system will affect another one. Tim Wright made the point about how it's interesting that when people are engaging with a piece of work and participating, they are often performing a task without knowing its significance. Taking part in the piece isn't iconic, but the documentation that remains afterwards is.
Matt Locke is interested in when work connects with the audience and wants to start mapping out when those moments are. What three things did they do which we didn't expect and how you design for that? Julianne Pierce observed that perhaps there are two levels of attention, getting someone’s attention and then keeping the attention. The Blackadder example is interesting in how they didn't realise how successful it was. This is because there was no feedback loop. With live work, there is an instant feedback loop. Ghislaine described how this is when the piece finishes, and you can analyse the success of it by the pause before people start clapping, or the debating going on about it in the foyer afterwards. This is about the idea of feeding back into the system and how systems interact.
Matt Locke brought in the idea of big data and how do you make sense of it? Ultimately he's interested in not how we measure this data but as creatives and practitioners, how do we begin to feel it?
Day 1 Wrap-Up:
By the end of the day there were three areas of focus stuck to the board with many post-its floating around them. They were Audience, Creation and Distribution. It was decided that things could be re-grouped if desired and that Matt Adams and Julianne would have a look over the clusters the next morning before the start of the second day of the forum. There would also be room for delegates to begin sessions with a few points if they wanted to.
Day 2 - 23rd March 2012
The second day of the forum was broken into 4 different topic sessions, led by a chair and including opening remarks by one of the delegates to get the discussion started. During the previous day a number of issues around ‘The Field' itself came up and so this was chosen as the focus point in the first discussion. The next session was about 'Audience' as most issues which came up the day before revolved around this, which then led onto the third session entitled 'Create' thinking about the creative process. A decision was made to lead onto a session about creation from the audience one so as to give a nice perspective into thinking about who is being engaged with through the work. The forth session was about ‘Distribution’. These topics were all taken from issues that arose on the first day, and were used on the second day as a starting point for each discussion.
Session 1: The Field
Chair: Wayne Ashley
Opening: Ghislaine Boddington
Ghislaine started by reading out some questions and thoughts around 'The Field', from the brain dump which had accumulated in the form of post-its on the white board:
* Discourses, style, language * Metaphors, histories, values * How the government and policy concerns, ideas and agendas intervene/shape the questions we ask and the
goals/ideas we think we should be pursuing? * Is innovation an unhelpful and corrosive terms? * Is rhetoric of innovation over-used and redundant? * How best to look back at what has come before? * The rhetoric of computation is memory and remembering. What is the cultural value of forgetting? * Long term perspectives – Responsibilities
The value of not remembering
Wayne is interested in the power of the computer to constantly remember which means people are constantly documenting. There is an obsession with remembering and he thinks there is an important place in cultural production which has to do with forgetting. His question was 'what is the value of not remembering?'.
More questions from the post-its:
* How can we be better engaged with the lineage of practice? * How do we articulate the history of this field of work? * Will we end up in the same space as hypertext? * Art or entertainment - who cares? Only the stake-holding arts sector
Ghislaine thinks that the more we try to stake-hold the sector the more it will disappear into nothing, unless it is allowed to diffuse and open out into a mass public. There is a danger of this happening with the digital arts.
* How can we be better engaged with the lineage of practice? * The idea of taking the digital out
The latter point is something which Dan Dixon touched upon on the first day of the forum about 'taking the digital out'. Ghislaine observed how street theatre and carnival are about participatory performance and we need to look at those things with relation to ourselves. She asked, did we put the digital in before understanding their lineage of practice?
* Is this field of work just a fad? * The experience economy novelty + interface * The problem with agencies like NESTA - driven by gov agendas not creativity
Julianne made the point about NESTA with regards to government agendas, and how to get funding you have to mold your work to what they want. NESTA can be seen as a very top down agency driven by a business model and government agendas and are often not very flexible in how artists or creatives can make their work. Andy also agrees that NESTAs approach is very agenda driven and thinks they seem to take a very reductive and business like view on what constitutes innovation. Matt Locke commented that since Geoff Mulgan has taken over things have changed as he's from a social innovation background rather than an arts one. Perhaps NESTA will become less and less important within this field?
Ghislaine feels that NESTA perhaps see themselves as translators between people working in the field and governmental bodies. There is this feeling that perhaps they think that people in the field cannot talk to ministers and so they have to bridge this.
Honor does not think this is a UK specific issue. The re-framing of artistic practice is driving some of the major reforms across Europe and the US as well. The Netherlands in an example of this where the entire history of technology driven artistic practices has been deleted and replaced by a creative industries discourse. She commented on how if people within the arts are not aware of how to play into this there will be no public money for 'the field' going forward.
José asked: What is the value of new media as a space of practice?
Wayne brought up a current issue in New York of does artistic practice contribute to community well being? This is driving the economics neighborhoods and gentrification used to be critical but now artists are collaborating with real-estate in abandoned spaces. What used to be avant-garde has become corpretised as an incentive to change neighborhoods and raise real estate. The underlining artist discourse is connected to this uplifting of neighborhoods. How does this shape your practice and own internal dialogue? Is it something which we appreciate and welcome, or is there a resistance and is this useful in the context of artistic practice?
How do you define what something is and what makes it that thing?
Robin decided to bring the discussion back to a 'narrow' sense of 'the field' by asking, ‘what it is, this practice?’ With reference to A Machine To See With he questioned whether it is a game or a show, as it's referred to as both these things in the promo video. Why can it be considered a show? It's not theatre in the way in which people go and sit in their seats to watch a show. Perhaps there is a shift in the kind of model of both construction of work and reception of work.
We can see the same when looking at it with regards to cinema. The piece is not cinema, it's also not theatre or gaming so what is it? There is a shift from creating meanings for a passive audience to creating experiences, which is what a lot of contemporary work does rather than offering meanings. It also creates experience for individuals rather than collectives and that's different from how we understand theatre.
The danger of theatre traditionally was that it brought groups of people together who could be revolutionary whereas this individual experience can be linked to a model of consumer - individualism - capitalism - is it complicit of this? Is it experiential, like how theme parks are? What is the difference between a ride that Alton Towers is creating and what Blast Theory are creating? The work is constructing experiences for individuals and this seems to be important in a lot of contemporary practices. It can be seen as a privatisation of experience. Even though digital culture is networked, it's also very private, for example when we're using our mobile phones. There is a tension between being globally connected and most of the experience being privatised. Is it creating an experience and is it primarily doing it for individuals rather than in a traditional theatre sense? Cinema is seen as something we receive and we're passive to, but Vivian Carol Sobchack argues that it is visceral and embodied, and that we don't receive it passively in her book Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture.
Where are we in this consumerist society?
Working in a more commercial environment Ghislaine thought Paul could come in. How does he approach the experience economy? How do we take things we're doing and make a mass market of them? Paul doesn't think we should worry about it but is concerned about ideas being rip off, especially by the advertisers. It is a shame when an idea and the innovation of it is taken and used for a purpose which is less than what it could be. At Somethin' Else they take ideas and use them to make something which can reach everyone. The Emmerdale transmedia storytelling which they've been working on is one example.
Mainstream vs. niche
Anne spoke about Craig Schuftan and a book he wrote called Culture Club which analyses pop music from certain times in reference to its roots in art. She talked about niches and how years later they are accepted as the norm; this can be seen in trance music today. Anne uses this same method in her plea for the experimental arts field. It doesn't make sense for us to leave what we're doing and go down a commercial track, she thinks we should start to claim the importance of our field outside the arts.
Matt Locke thinks that what is mainstream and what is niche has shifted. Because we have so many distribution platforms, the technological and economical barriers have shifted and where in the 70's/80's/90's something was hard to access, it's not the case anymore. There isn't as much an economical barrier to things getting big. People can do what the big guys do and push their content from the niche to the mainstream because of their networks.
Julianne questioned where does the practice we're involved in engage with the mainstream? Where does a company like Blast Theory want to sit with the mainstream? How do they flow into it and do they care about it? Tina asked how do we define what we do, and do the people who are important to us know what we mean? Matt Locke suggested that perhaps it's less about the niche and mainstream and more about the level or scale you in which you want to operate. Ghislaine asked is it ok to see people's ideas disappear into mainstream, niche, etc?
Paul made the point that he doesn't feel that in general the ideas within this field are always original either. Dan observed that at ISEA last year there was digital work which had taken a non digital idea that someone else had done and they had made it digital. This notion of re-doing something echoed what Andy had discussed the day before around using old ideas. His view is that there is something to be cherished around this and as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible it becomes easier for young artists to use these ideas and create things. Ghislaine believes that there are some issues around creating work in that if you're not using the 'now' technology you get looked down on, and also there are the dangers of being ripped of by the advertisers. Dan posed the question 'why are you creating work?' If practitioners want to be constantly exploring then that's fine, but perhaps this isn't as financially rewarding. An alternative is to take on idea and polish it year after year. Artists as well as media production companies do this. Robin brought in the idea of control and how he sees Blast Theory's work as being counter culture. With this he thinks that the work is very controlled and he wondered what the experience would be if it was produced for the mass or was less controlled.
Matt Adams brought in the idea of legacy with regards to digital pioneers and how the technology which once seemed strange is now commonplace; they could see their importance before this happened. When they first started using mobile phones Matt insisted they were cultural things, and at that time they were used only for business. For them there is an anxiety in keeping a 'toe hold' in the history about where these things came from and why they came from them. Blast Theory would like to see Can You See Me Now as an early urban game, but also when people think about where this kind of piece came from, they'd like people to see it as coming from an artist point of view. Craft work can be traced back with its legacy, but with performative work is more difficult to trace and there is a risk that the history won't endure. Honor made a point that it's not just tech innovation which has contributed to this field, it's the ideas and behaviours which have been pioneered and have endured.
Anne brought in survival and how on one hand everyone is complaining that NESTA and the other funding bodies are not financing they're ideas, but on the other they are being used. They’re being modified and used for arts institutes and museums, which is a compliment, but it's annoying as the people originally using the ideas aren't financially benefiting from them. How do people find another channel down which to survive? José thinks that new media art has failed in the mainstream and that for 20 years it hasn't changed much. The space has to become more permeable. Tim Boykett made the point that it's also about surviving psychologically as well; you may not be happy if you try to turn what you're doing into a commercial product. Ben brought in that there is a reason why their skill-sets aren't being used in a commercial manor and it's about looking at what that reason is. For him it's about identifying the goal and win is. Ghislaine questioned is it important to be seen an 'artist' or is it important to go in the direction of using digital tools? Ben thinks the term 'the field' is slippery as there is the danger of slipping into other practices. Tim Wright stated how he fees less like an artist and how he wants to feel more like a crafts person. He had been reading about Barnaby Carder the spoon carver and felt like this relates to why he does what he does. This type of craft holds the same process which digital crafts people go through. Barnaby Carder also teaches people how to make spoons, this also brought into question ideas around ownership and how when you pass something onto another person is it no longer yours as well as the idea of something being turned into a mass produced product. Tim has an array of craft tasks that he does and with each iteration what he makes gets better. This is the same with digital craft, you refine. There is a genuine hope that you're passing on culture.
The conversation around survival neatly moved onto the subject of passion. Julianne posed that when you're passionate about something, you're not always thinking about who you're making it for, you're doing it because you're driven and love making it. This can come back to how Blast Theory don't necessarily have a label for what it is they're doing, they don't think about it they're just compelled to do it and want to do it. Kristina suggested that with this making culture, it's great as you can just go and do something. You can execute something and are moving rather than hesitating. She thinks a lot of this work comes from this. The problem is, if you're doing this for your work and need to get funding, the amount of admin which goes into that is getting larger. It starves the creativity as more energy has to go into this and thus it becomes more tempting just to do it in your backyard.
Ju thinks that passion is an interesting thing. “We make work out of love, but to think it's just because of this is naive as there is more to it. Work is made also of a shared belief; it also comes from a sense of need which you see elsewhere.” Passion doesn't need to just be about your practice though. Ju paints once a week, this is her passion but it's different to her passion which she feels with Blast Theory. The latter is almost a dialogue of passion. It's not just about what's coming from within, it's about externals too, a mirroring and a response to something. This is why she feels the work has to be interactive.
With this session moving to an end, it was time for people to bring in their final points. The discussion moved back towards what these experiences are and how we categorise them with Kate Genevieve discussing how we frame this new style of participatory event. What she likes about Blast Theory's work is that it is shaped and precise which allows for the unexpected meetings or moments which occur in their work and which takes the participant to a place which is only just slightly different from normal life. Is there a paradox with calling it theatre? She doesn't think so as there isn't a fine line between individual and collective experiences. It's not like games deal just with individual experiences and theatre with collective experiences.
Niki thinks it's exciting how the work develops into something else and into a different narrative; it's about the shared history after the experience. This briefly brought us back to the idea of the 'feedback loop' with Ghislaine asking what do you leave in the body of a passive audience anyway? Because of new channels of distribution we can get that feedback instantly. Niki came back to the idea of legacy which was discussed earlier and how we remember it. Concerning the idea of control, it's very much there when you're just in the piece as a runner, and it only starts to loosen when the audience come into it and play. The beauty of the work is it re-invents itself in the moment. Victoria observed how there is an Interesting tension between your passion and what you build in the world around you. With regards to scalability she does worry about these ideas being scaled and commercialised. She has a firm belief that she can only make a certain type of spoon (referring back to Barnaby Carder the spoon carver) and is it digital or art? Also, if a work were to be made into something mass produced it would never be the same; no-one can take A Machine To See With and scale it up, it just wouldn't be the work anymore.
Jamie brought in that discussions happening in this session were reflective of traditions around contemporary art practice in general. The same discussion would have occurred with regards to mediums like painting too. The current time is a very historical moment for this kind of practice.
Nick thinks that there is a polarity in the discussion between individual artists and industrial forms of creativity. He doesn't think that industrial forms aren't necessarily lacking in passion or craft. The spoon is a nice example and you can also find it in things like cinema too.
From the perspective of delivering the work and a practitioner Hannah finds it interesting how the way in which Blast Theory's work is revisited and re-polished each time they work on a piece. It is the same, but never quite the same and you have to re-evaluate what it is. You need to look at why you want to do it and how you ensure the audience get the most out of it. This has a lot to do with collaboration as in order to create the work you need skills from other people. As an artist we often feel that we need to have all these skills to create but this isn’t possible. It is therefore necessarily to work collaboratively to make the experience and passions work together.
Wayne closed with saying how there is a similar discussion going on within other fields. Dancers are wondering if they want to be framed just as being a dancer, the same goes for work in theatres revolving around questions like why can't they do installations? It's connected with the crisis of what a medium is. This is not just specific to digital, it relates to a whole larger crisis about what a specific medium is, where it circulates, etc. There is something larger we should be discussing across these fields and there is a larger crisis happening. Lastly he asked, what constitutes a discipline?
Session 2: Audience
Chair: Ju Row Farr
Opening: Anne Nigten
Anne opened this session with a few points around 'audience'. She started by discussing some of the Patching Zone's projects where they've worked on the training of people, who have become the co-creators of productions. With regards to the audience, she thinks it's an interesting and complication issue involved with this. There is a blur between audience, participants and co-creators; it doesn't work with distinctions anymore. One does not exclude the other as people often have more than one role in different phrases of a project. When working on a project there are issues around the art audience in that you also have the locally involved audience, which is the stakeholders, co-creators and their families. In many ways you feel they don't mix and you find yourself opening up your expertise for a new audience, but then you find it difficult to mix this. The Patching Zone found this in two projects they worked on in Rotterdam and they also came across issues to do with space and licenses with regards to audience figures. The local authorities wouldn't let them have over a certain number of visitors in the venues, but then the funders want high audience numbers. There was a tension as they wanted a good audience number but also wanted to respect their co-creators whose part of the city it was. Is it exploitative to invite a mass of people? The other issue Anne brought in was the PR issue and how they can't push large PR. The projects they work on are quite experimental and so it’s difficult to bring in a PR strategy. The PR people can’t deal with unpredictability and need to know two months before what is happening. The Patching Zone can't really provide this. When working in Zoetermeer, the only obstacle was the PR department, but by the end of the project they were much more involved with the process. Anne called for the delegates opinions on these issues as she believes that similar problems will occur in some projects which The Patching Zone have coming up. She also called to open up the discussion around the issue of people being classed as co-creators, participants and the audience.
How do you promote work to an audience?
Tim Boykett started by relaying this back to the idea of choosing between the niche vs the mass audience and how you can't really aim at these anymore. Matt Locke brought in how when planning at Channel 4 they would have a structured plan and an organic plan to engage people. The latter had specific tactics which would help deal with too much or too little traffic. This is increasingly standard now with regards to releasing culture online.
We moved onto the difficulty of this type of work, and as because it is executed as individual events, how do you get people in? Matt Locke discussed a conversation he's been having with the Manchester International Festival and how they are focusing their strategy on an event which happens every two years. Matt suggested it's about how you tell the story about what's been happening between the events and how you need to build a network before, during and after this.
Wayne thinks you need to produce multiple iterations for what you're putting out. Also, in his experience it doesn't work to email on a huge scale. People see it as spam, so he therefore will email 200 or 300 people in one night individually. People are demanding a more personal connection to the work. It is a balance between the mass sending out and the return to personal relationships.
Kristina thinks that we can learn from the strategies of the 1960s/1970s as they would pick certain journalists and cultivate them because they liked the way they wrote about them, resulting in scenarios where performances wouldn't start until that certain journalist was there. Kristina also doesn't believe in non-personalised emails and thinks that it's better to use your energy on the 20 people who you know will engage rather than doing a mass reach.
Hannah asked the question: How do you work with a venue to get the audience?
Tim Wright brought in an example of a project he worked on called Online Caroline. It's an online story which has personalisation as part of it. You interact with a character called Caroline and depend on how you respond to her you'll receive certain emails.
Steve asked: Is pervasive work different?
Ghislaine suggested that actually the discussion we should have is how do you reach the people you don't know? We need to look at the feedback loop and how to use it.
Jamie explained how he's used certain strategies in the past when touring. He's worked with animators who live in a specific region and work with the venue as well as having local networks and so these connections can be cultivated. He also believes that using a very good PR agency is effective, taking advantage of their media contacts. You can then send them personal letters, send them DVDs and get them to invest in the work.
One issue is how do you convey the experience of a piece to an audience before they arrive? Hannah Brady brought in Blast Theory's experience of working in Seoul and how it was difficult for them to understand about the work being locative and not static. The idea starting at the museum and then having to go out to engage with the piece was quite new to them; in a festival this is much more expected. Honor brought in issues around commissioning and how perhaps because we don't know how to define the work ourselves this impacts on getting commissions outside festivals. Festivals can deal with the blurriness of this which institutions find tricky.
Defining the audience
Ben thinks that the people who come to see locative work are interested in the form of it. However, it is difficult to define that audience. He's had Marketing teams discuss contacting 'gamers' about this type of work, thinking they're the audience when in fact they’re not. Invisible Flock have seen conversations on Twitter where people have asked for recommendations after going to play 2.8 hours Later to then be recommended to look at their work, even though in reality it's very different.
Honor brought in Secret Cinema and asked who are the people who attend these types of events? Julianne questioned how you reach out to this type of audience? Dan suggested that it's treated almost like a club night and that flyers are used. Julianne observed that there seems to be an audience who are very hungry for this type of event based work, it's people who want to go out and have a laugh with their friends. Matt Locke suggested that the reasons that people engage aren’t always what you think they are. It's a good idea to walk backwards from the experience and map out the potential user journey through your piece. Ju pointed out that Blast Theory do this. Matt Adams brought in the idea of personal recommendation culture, how we're finding out what our friends are doing over platforms like Twitter and acting on that rather than from other sources. Paul thinks that marketing and product are often the same think. Dan added how 2.8 Hours Later also has a cinematic feel to it through its trailer, featured on the website. Ju thinks it's interesting how there is an appetite for this work; why do people want these things? What are they actually doing in the work? Is it a solo or collective experience? What do they mean in the work itself?
Matt Adams touched on Paul's point about the product and the marketing being the same thing. It's important to this genre because the role of the public and the participant within the work is so dominant. The politics of who you invite in, how they're invited to speak, how they came to be there, what sort of conversation they have and how it's moderated is all so critical to the work. There needs to be a constant sense that we're not talking about marketing pre-existing objects.
Ghislaine thinks that people are looking more and more for these experiential examples discussed, partly because of things like reality TV. 2.8 hours Later is clever as Slingshot have chosen a topic that is very popular at the moment within other mediums like TV, books and films. With regards to events which are more club based, they don't need marketing so much as people come, however with the arts sector there are problems. She thinks that arts audiences don't get into the work and play with it, like perhaps a more adventurous audience might. However, if we worry about this Honour thinks there is a danger of forgetting we're artists.
Matt Locke gets nervous about ‘art audiences’ as a term. He's one of the advisors for The Space and has been advising on how to get traffic online. At the end of one conversation concerning this, someone said that the arts audience is different. This makes him ask, is there something which an arts audience does that other audiences do not? Within the arts audience itself there are lots of different micro-motivations; it's not just one audience. There is a danger of not looking for these micro-motivations and individuals.
Ju suggested that perhaps the arts attendees are seen as a more serious attendee and that the mass is seen as more 'fluffy'. She doesn't think this is true necessarily, it's just about trying to recognise who might respond to the various forms. Matt Adams thinks that the difference perhaps is that the art audience go to events often for the artist themselves. For example, anything that Jeremy Deller does, he will go to. There is no difference perhaps between this and any other group such as people who like comics for the writer, or a film for the filmmaker.
Andy told of how he asked John McGrath to talk about audiences and he said that the word 'audience' is abused. He thinks that we should only use it in reference to a group of people who are at or were at an event; he doesn't think you can talk about it in a metaphysical concept as it’s too vague. Perhaps customers, guests, or invitees would be better. The word audience leads to generalisations with regards to a certain type or even class of person. If we can talk about audiences as someone who is actually engaged with something and gave it a different word then this might help us to understand our relationship with them better.
Kate thinks that using the term 'audience' is difficult when you think about one on one experiences. She's not sure if it's ok for her to make work which results in a lot of people not getting to experience the work as it's sold out. The practicalities of making a one on one experience is that you can only get a few people through it and she often has conversations surrounding this issue with commissioners with regards to audience numbers, and what is the desired.
Paul thinks it is ok to produce work which only a few people take part in. For example with a lot of Artangel commissions, only 500 people will see them but it’s still incredible and important. He doesn't think this is elitist. Robin brought in how audience sizes changes the nature of the work. People have had to change their approach to funding due to their audiences not being big enough.
Nik Gaffney brought in how FOAM have produced a lot of work with phones that are for small groups of people but rather than worrying about the number of people participating they focus on the experience and its level of intensity.
Ju read through some of the post-its on the board to ensure that areas had been covered including:
* Who is the audience and how do we invite them in? * How to identify the audience? * To what extent does the artist control the experience and how much to let go (Julianne asked is there
more inside the work which hasn't been looked at) * Short concentration span, instant, dynamic experiences * Solo experience vs collective experience * Do we need/ have common content/player management system to support multiple and various projects? * Development systems that can transport to other places & collaborations * The Milgram Experiment * Attention building a community of unlikely people * Audience + ethics - how far can you take an audience * Who is responsible for the safety of participants? * Trust issues * How to create a visceral connection with audience * Translation - culturally, politically, linguistically * Adapting to different locations * Non language based performances * Other people as audience, actor, witness * How much attention is enough?
Ju decided that all the above had been covered off.
Expectations of the work and experience
Ben thinks there is a literacy amongst participants taking part in interactive work that comes from work they've taken part in previously and the expectations bring when they come to interactive work and how they perceive their role as a participant. This can often be bad as they have a sense of expectation which often can't be fulfilled as the work is different. Any thinks this is rather something which they equip themselves with. This is perhaps so that they don't 'mess' the experience up. As a participant you can still get anxious about your own performance. For example he feels like this with Punchdrunk's work. Niki thinks that like the way in which artists get better at what they do, the same can be said perhaps for the audience. They get better as being an audience for these types of events and there is room for people to explore them and can their own agenda into it.
Dan thinks that concerning 2.8 Hours Later, the beginning of the experience is seeing the trailer which also shows you what is expected of you. A Machine To See With is like that to. Up to the part with the car its preparing you. Matt A brings in how they struggle with audience anxiety and have a problem with the way in which people rule themselves out of the work. With a piece like A Machine To See With they don't think that perhaps they're the kind of person who engages with it.
Tina points out that you have people who are interested in the work on different levels. She thinks you can offer something which allows for this differing of experience.
Ghislaine brought up two last points which could feed into the distribution sessions as well. The first was a point about generational differences for example the differences between a 7 year old compared to a 70 year old and secondly co-production methods and mobility and locality when building up your work.
Session 3: Create
Chair: Matt Adams
Opening: Katie Genevieve
Kate began the session by highlighting two questions:
* Why do we create? * Why we go along and be part of an audience?
Kate is currently working with neuroscientists at Sussex University who are researching the feeling of presence, around which she is creating visceral, participatory performances. She commented on how currently there is a strange emerging emphasis across science and art that the visceral is important but that there is a weird assumption that you can invoke presence with just touch alone and that you can feel something without thinking, or without interpreting what touch can mean. She thinks that there is a sense of agency which is essential to this issue around presence.
Kate sees A Machine To See With as a choreography of the audience member's attention, and can relate this to her work where people have to partake in many different actions to engage with it. Through this, it feels like bringing many different disciplines together. From this method Kate feels like there is a craft emerging, and that projects which use these techniques are formalising a process as well as techniques which get re-used. In A Machine To See With she likes how there is a shift between a controlled audience experience and within that, the freedom which they are given. Pieces like this put the audience through an experience where they're taken from the 'real world' and put into a tenuously linked bubble world within a public environment, which at the end of the piece they're taken out of again. Kate shared with us her experience of participating in A Machine To See With, and the end point which featured in an arcade. This was the key moment for her; it was what the piece up to that point had been prepping her for, the part with the car, talking to a stranger, it prepared her for when she had to give money to someone after putting down the phone to a stranger. She handed the money to a boy playing in the arcade, who was completely blind to world around him. When she did he looked at her like she was insane and just asked her ‘Why?’
This got her thinking about why she is creating and about how perhaps it is about getting people to ask the question, 'why?' The moment she shared with the boy was one of those profound ones which shifted both of their assumptions about what is normal communication. This ties into what she is making at the moment, a piece with two-way mirrors within which the audience slowly sees an image behind their reflection. A third face begins to emerge and those participating do not know who is copying who, resulting in an unexpected communication. This came back to the previous discussion about dancers, and their new sense of not wanting to just be tied into the director's experience, how they want own sematic experience to be appreciated. A lot of people have been talking about the problem of creativity, especially around the unleashed creativity on the internet. Kate doesn't think this is a problem, but that it requires new forms to meet it and is interested in how we are doing this.
Matt Adams thinks that there is a something about the line between fiction and non-fiction and how the possibilities of which are different to how they were before. There can now be a sliding between these boundaries. This comes back to thinking about ‘the field’ and about what it might be, from theatre to digital art, to games. This is connected to playing with the magic circle and the fourth wall.
Communicating and language
Kate brought in how scientists are creating experiments that are looking into how we make meaning through communication. The interesting thing about creating art in this environment to test these notions that experiences need to be created which dramatise these subjective communications. However, these experiments are so vast and perhaps out of touch with the fact that this exploration is not a new thing. Matt Adams thought that Steve Benford would have had something to offer around this as the shock which the Mixed Reality Lab got when they started working with Blast Theory, was that they had 20 years experience of making theatre from which the language used was built into the artists. When it came to staging virtual reality environment experiments, they already had a language about how you bring people into that world. Dan Dixon brought in how that trait of knowing how to manage an audience, a very important quality, was obviously very present in the room and that perhaps this was because so many of the delegates were from theatre or dance backgrounds.
This knowing of what to bring to an audience and the best way to explore an experience sits very well in the type of practice which everyone in the room creates. Ben put that they couldn't do it with another type of practice and that its use is a natural extension of creativity. He explained how it's interesting how when he's taught in universities, students are keen to produce something like a game, but they cannot say why they've chosen it as a format; they just want to make a game. However, for Invisible Flock, it feels like using these digital platforms are the most obvious extension of what they want to create.
Kate spoke about trying to wean yourself off using digital technology. She wanted to re-create the 'enfacement illusion' in her front room, (this is where the participant has their face stroked and in a computer monitor can see another person's face being stroked in the exact same way at the same time) and thought about how they could use an iPad with the camera turned around. However, after some thought, it came to her that to stage this, you could just have two people looking at each other without using the digital technology.
Trust Julianne brought in how trust comes into this type of practice. Her example was how the audience member has to give up their trust to the artist in Kate's piece, NO PLACE. Kate brought in that there is a way of devising a technique for leading people around and that health and safety issues come into play with regards to issues such as the height of the building and what if the audience lost their sense of reality? It's very difficult to know how to deal with these issues. Julianne added that how, as an audience member, you have anxieties due to being led around the building. Kate thinks that this idea of trust must be translated over to trusting your collaborators too, and that everyone in the piece is responsible as a collaborator. It is a difficult point, finding that trust.
Niki spoke about when working on Desert Rain it was the reverse in that as the artist, you were trusting the audience to look after you; the performer becomes the audience. Going back to Kate's experience in the arcade of the guy she encountered, Matt Adams suggests that in this interaction he is a bystander, a witness, a performer and a participant at some level too. This shift of role is very central to this type of work. The participant's and author's experience also move around as well. This uncertainty is a primary thing and can be applied to internet culture and films such as Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project too. Ben thinks that participating is a creative act in what you're doing. Kate suggested that it's difficult to build structures in which people can give what they want to give, it can happen at even a small level like how people move. If things are naturalised, it provides a way to get rid of that performance anxiety.
Choreographing the experience
Ghislaine went back to the idea around control and freedom and how we use these structures across everything. This can be applied to the idea of choreographing the audience's attention, which goes onto audience distribution and whether there is a fluidity there all the time?
Wayne brought up the use of rhetoric terms in order to describe the work being discussed, such as where does it get us when we frame something as ‘innovative’. Participatory and interactive are terms which he'd like to believe in but he has contradictory experiences when using them. When you use them, the opposite to what you intended can happen. He thinks we need to keep deconstructing terms, taking them apart and not thinking we're necessarily creating work which is more engaging because we're giving the audience certain choices. He struggles with it as he doesn't think that theatre, books or cinema are passive. He thinks there are issues around the words that guide certain ways we're working.
Ju thinks that any way in which we work is choreographed in some sense as someone has made a decision with regards to it. When you add audience into it, this changes it and the choices you make through which to engage an audience depend on the space within which you're working. When Blast Theory make their work they believe that a lot of people like to be guided but they don't mean this in a controlling way. They do perhaps however like to know where they fit, where and where they’re allowed to do things. When you produce a piece you do need to think about the 1% who don't want to conform to a restraint. Their work has evolved through this.
Matt Locke thinks that a lot of good practitioners in this field have noticed the developing maturity of technology and it's uses which have been adapted by a mass audience. The best work plays on the behaviours and activities which people engage in with these devices, and bring them into the work. A Machine To See With brings the audience into a phone call which looks natural. Playing with that familiarity is as relevant as playing with the technologies themselves. He thinks it's in fact a far more interesting membrane than the technology itself.
Wayne was interested in hearing about the challenges which Blast Theory found when re-making A Machine To See With for a different location. Matt Adams explained how there are many different iterations of a piece before it crystalises and as discussed yesterday there are issues around things like cultural sensitivities.
When they were planning A Machine To See With they thought that they could take advantage of all the generic things which you can find in a city such as toilets, banks, multi-storey car parks and cafes and map them out. It was only very slowly through the process that they realised that with regards to the kind of tension which you give, it only takes a few things to break that experience. If after six minutes the participant can't find a bank then you're in trouble. Blast Theory realised that it needed to be more orchestrated. Unless you can open up a tension which has no time constraints then you're not able to make it work and therefore the piece has to be orchestrated second by second. You also have to go though a process of localisation which is site based rather than site specific. You're constantly re-writing and re-authoring it. There is a trade off of wanting to adapt the work but also being practical about how you employ it. As Ju and Hannah Brady chipped in there are also other stages such as the planning and the site visit which go into it as well including working with someone on the ground at the location. The work has to be translated, tested, re-written, and re-recorded. This re-frames the piece each time, for example the idea of heist movies doesn't really exist in China so they had to make changes which were quite fundamental. They had to change the ending so that you do not give money to the public as it wasn't appropriate. They therefore changed it so that it was about choosing a person that you trust. This reflects the idea of re-making a piece each time. You can contrast this to a piece such as Rider Spoke which is very deployable each time. Kate brought in how there is an issue around participation and how members of the public have not necessarily given the permission to be interacted with.
Models and timeframes
Ghislaine moved the conversation to MADE (Mobility and Digital Arts Europe) and the process of body>data>space taking part in it. They have had a local level of input from the beginning which is essential and so she was wondering if with Blast Theory's work, could there be a certain number of cities involved from the beginning? This would mean they could meet at certain points and input to the making process. Matt Adams explained how money was a big part of this and the model that they work with is dependable on how long they can tour pieces. You're making a trade off between the quickest way to get to where you need to go vs. an investment towards something which is more sustainable. There are instances where they've chosen to throw people at the problem rather than technology, as this is the shortcut. You then need to look in the future at creating software to replace this. You are constantly juggling models around the distribution, the marketing, the finance, the research and the production against the creative goals and needs.
Wayne brought in how because of the economic downfall, artists within the US who want to travel have had to start thinking very far in advance. Institutions aren't competing against each other any more so collaborations are possible. As Tim Wright brought in, timeframe is a big part of that. You are always trying to be on the lookout for how a project may have different outputs, you are designing the system to have constituent pots. He used a project called Alton which he worked on as an example, the aim of which was to get people online to start writing. From its roots of being walk-in writing classes came emerged stories which turned into a radio play and maps which were turned into a pack of cards and so the money which accumulated was able to sustain the whole project but it didn't start out like that.
Hannah Brady brought in how with regards to Rider Spoke, the research part of it spanned Europe, but the making of it sat just within the UK. Ghislaine spoke about Vinyl Requiem she worked on in 1992 and how it was split it into sections which meant that they could sell it as individual projects as well as being able to bring it back together as one piece. Kate said that this way of getting small commissions that you can build on is how she is working at the moment. However, if you want to do something big and collaborate with other people it becomes more difficult. Matt thinks that from the point of view of creativity there is only a certain amount of agendas you can juggle before it's destructive. You need to be strategic when working on projects, but sometimes you need to cut it out as it's unsustainable with regards to how work is made. Julianne brought in how their collaboration with Invisible Flock has been interesting as you get to see a different ways of doing things.
Matt Adams moved the topic onto the question 'how do we have transformative experiences out of data?' which came up yesterday.
Matt Locke brought in couple of interesting ideas. The first was about how a lot of people now have online social data trails that are long enough to be interesting to be played back and show where you were before. A couple of examples of platforms doing this are Facebook Timeline and Timehop. There is something in playing people's data back to them in a way which is enlightening or even disturbing and this has only been able to happen within the last couple of years The second idea is about scale and the transgression of our information from context to context. We don't have control over this, for example who will re-tweet what we say and in what context will it be used. Your message can get taken out of context and you have no control over it. So these ideas around having things that you did in a moment from a year ago being played back to you and things that you did being played back to you in a context within which you have no control are both very current conditions which can be explored within art. These everyday transgressions can be played with.
José discussed how all this personal data which is being collected about us by these services will be integrated into modes of experience and also how it opens up a space for data mining. This brought the conversation back to the AI bots which Ghislaine wanted to bring up, particularly the Weavers. Paul spoke about how Artangel had been thinking about how they respond to 'the field' and if it exists or not. In the end they came up with A Room For London, which is their first digital commission. The only way to access this really is online through the website or through James Bridle's piece A Ship Adrift, which was spoken about in José's presentation. It's interesting as it was just created very efficiently and the use of a bot is interesting. There is a framework which James Bridle and Tom Armitage have been making which you can use to create bots which look at an individual's social trail and then synthesize it into a novel coherent output. One of the potential futures of art is something which has been created by artificial intelligence. This expresses ideas around the new aesthetic which is about art that incorporates the texture of it's own making into its own meaning. What the bots are saying within A Ship Adrift looks computer made and that is the point. Tim Wright brought in that the problem with bots, specifically the Weavrs, is their lack of memory. They generate emotions and statements about themselves from stimuli like watching random a YouTube video or seeing a Flickr picture. They'll do the same thing tomorrow as they're not developed enough to relate today to yesterday. Paul brought in how this memory can be achieved though. He worked on a project for Channel 4 called Super Sims, which was to his mind the first successful collaboration between humans and robots. They gave the bots character notes and objectives and they improvised a story. They then interpreted the story in the context of what they'd given them.
Session 4: Distribution
Chair: Matt Locke
Opening: Paul Bennun
Matt Locke began the discussion by putting forward how he was interested in the delegates telling their stories about the networks and the agents used to get work out there, but focusing on the more planned and unplanned ways rather than just focusing on it in terms of institutions and channels. With that he handed over to Paul to give us some opening thoughts.
Paul started by putting forward how all the different areas discussed, the audience, the field, how we create and distribution are all intrinsically linked, so for example the field is characterised by the means that we communicate the platform which it is on and the audience is intrinsic to this. It's difficult to think of these works without the audience and the way they're distributed is intrinsic to it too; this can be applied to a piece like A Machine To See With. Paul isn't sure if distribution is right word for what everyone in this field is doing. This is because it describes something in the present with metaphors from the past. It's from an age where physical objects were created and re-created and given out. He put forward the questions:
- How do you distribute a system, one which means nothing without the audience being involved?
- How can you distribute something that is iteratively designed, something which has different audiences taking part in it and is changed culturally depending on where it goes?
- How do you distribute a non-linear project?
To the last point he referenced the work of Coney with regards to how the experience starts when you first hear about them and the ends when you forget about them. This shows that the product and the marketing are the same thing. Your first impression colours the experience.
His final thought was that we can stop talking about digital as a means of distribution. That the thing we describe as digital art is nothing more than a manner; it's a style and something that we're exploring as an aesthetic thing. If we look at art with regards to the iron age and bronze age there probably wasn't much difference between them, the same can be applied here. This concluded with a thought that the experiences being created are themselves designed-systems.
Working with systems
Matt Locke asked for Paul to give an example of a recent 'content-system' which he'd built and explain how it got out to the audience. Paul used Papa Sangre as an example, a game which uses 3D positioning audio. An advertising agency called AMV saw it and wanted to make a very similar thing, collaborating with Somethin' Else. From this came a game called The Nightjar. After making Papa Sangre they knew how to communicate the game for the audience. It is an art game made from sound and they worked out how to communicate this in a fun way. To market it, AMV put up a website for it and also carried out a PR stunt involving a shipping container at the Camden Festival, which was a sound installation with alien noises coming from it. To communicate the game , Somethin’ Else created a Twitter account for the fleet of three ships featuring in the game, The Nightjar, The Nightwatch and The Nightowl. They gave the onboard computers on the ships voices, which all tweeted slightly differently. This helped to bring the story alive around the game. The content system here was the game and the three Twitter accounts.
With regards to Super Me another content system which Somethin’ Else worked on, this has a lot of elements such as linear videos, games and online tools which are all hosted on a website and were created to work together and have a common purpose. The distribution and syndication of the content was not just part of the marketing strategy, but part of the product as well. The videos and games were all seeded into different places, including before the product launched, which engaged people.
Matt Locke asked one last questions with regards to Super Me which was what was the ratio of attention between the core website and the different elements? Paul said this was difficult to tell, but regards to dwell time on the main site it was around 12 - 20 minutes, with people coming back even 4 weeks later. With regards to a system, and how to curate and gain attention and turn that attention into an audience you need a communication strategy, this is the same with regards to any piece of media.
Using networked communities
Matt Adams was interested with how they built up the audience with regards to The Nightjar Twitter account and how people aggregated around it. Paul explained how they utilised the following they already had from the Papa Sangre account, and they also have a very good relationship with the blind community (who love their audio games) as well as with bloggers. Matt Locke brought in how distributing your work into a highly networked community works and you can see how this worked with Kony 2012. It started out being shown on already networked communities and illustrates how this works. Another point which Matt made was that people used to distribute to everyone else, now you're a node, distributing alongside everyone else so knowing what you're talking about helps.
How do you broadcast a piece? The discussion moved back to A Machine To See With, as Wayne was curious how as a case study this would be broadcast as a piece, being located in a physical piece rather than a networked piece. Paul sees it as a product of what Blast Theory wants to do. He spoke about systems and how in a complex one, certain qualities emerge which cannot be predicted, this is a property of an emergent system and the way in which a piece feels is an emergent property. Elements have been carefully curated in a system to achieve something interesting and everything else from that point on is an emergent property of that system. He thinks that trying to ensure that it has the same poetic value when the piece is moved to another country is unnecessary as the piece is not yours anymore. You create algorithms and a system which you think is going to have a very beautiful or aesethic output, but then you stand back and it isn’t yours anymore, unless you are part of the system. Going back to the question of how you make something which a lot of people will hear about, when Somethin’ Else design a system they think about the landscape, which is the geographical and non-geographical, and the people who will be using the system inside the landscape with regards to how it’s going to be produced. When they make their systems they think about that very long trajectory from when someone first hears about it to when they forget about it. They also think about the different ways that people could find out about it. The conversation moved onto how you can create an entry point for people to talk about their experience over their networks and Matt Locke commented on how this could have been done for A Machine To See With, which could have been used as a hook to encourage other people to come and do the experience as well. Paul referenced zombie LARPS and how at the end of them people like to come out afterwards and discuss the experience with their friends, in an excitable frothing at the mouth fashion; could this happen with A Machine To See With? Ju explained how they did this with Rider Spoke.
Tim Wright discussed a project he worked on by Paul St George called Telectroscope which he was tasked with getting an online audience for. He posted it on YouTube on the 1st April, with the pretense that he had just come across it, and got a lost of responses from people, explaining to him why it was rubbish, but this is often the way to get an audience. Tim then challenged them, saying that he would find out if it in-fact was phony or not; this created a sense of mission is the people he’d spoken to. After they had gone down to the site and seen it there wasn't much Tim had to do to create conversation around it after that. There comes to a point where you do not need to do a lot to produce a piece of work as you will get people such as keen bloggers doing it for you.
The expectation of distribution
Julianne shared a story with us about the expectation and mystique of distribution. She spoke about the art group which she was part of back in Adelaide, VNS Matrix, who wrote a Cyber-feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century which was cyborgy, cyberpunky and dirty and got a lot of good distribution in Europe with the text going viral. They started getting invited to events and people were very shocked to see that they weren't cyborgs with piercings and tattoos. They decided it was perhaps better to not leave Adelaide and let the mystique live on. She thinks it's interesting when you let something into the world and it gains its own life. Matt Locke thinks that this is part of the experience of being a cultural producer, and that to let your work spread it needs to have a looseness of control over it.
Ju told us about how Blast Theory came to make Kidnap. They had the idea whilst they were in Berlin, and knew that that they needed a PR agency to help them do it. They faxed the PR agency Mark Makovsky saying that they were coming to London and were going to kidnap two people which resulted in them being offered a meeting straight away. Firetrap also made the project financially possible by sponsoring them. It comes back to that it was the one cheeky fax which started the ball rolling for this project.
Matt Locke thinks that when you produce work you need to have a certain confidence and poise about it in order for it to reach certain places. Wayne questioned how do you deal with artists from a generation who want complete control over how the work circulates? Matt suggested that if you record the work and make a diary about it, that you can still tell a story about the work afterwards, and this in fact caters for another audience. This can also get attention for the next piece of work. Silence is impossible now though in the current media climate.
We moved back to the case study of 2.8 Hours Later. A lot of the hype around it is generated over social media. It also relies on a lot of volunteers as they play the zombies; Slingshot have no problems getting these though. The model they based the game on is another game called Journey To The End Of The Night. They now tour it around different cities and so have a lot of networks they can plug into and apparently on any given night they'll get 300/400 people on the street. Matt Locke added that the Hide and Seek Sandpit is similar, they can have a very high number of people playing too. Ghislaine told us about a project which she worked on with Andy Field and Coney. She was responsible for the dance part with Andy being responsible for the storytelling and the way it worked was that the more that participants found out the closer they would get to the action and establish where they were meant to be and when. 300 people sign up for it online but on the day it was more like 600 that turned up. The Southbank seemed to stop for 3 minutes whilst people performed their tableaus. Matt Locke referenced Bill Wasik, the man who apparently produced the first flashmob, as he's written a very good book called And Then There's This with regards to these sorts of cultural events.
Niki brought in the story of how Matt Adams was kidnapped during a run of Can You See Me Now? This happened at the end of a run of the game in Cologne at midnight. The men who did it had been playing the piece all week and thought it was an appropriate response to come and kidnap one of the runners. They didn't even know that Blast Thory had produced a piece called Kidnap. Blast Theory didn't get the police involved; they flew back to England the next day and received an email from one of the guys a few days later explaining his actions. They have often wondered why they didn't engage in a dialogue with the kidnappers and go and interview them. It's partly because of a nervousness around their work and not wanting certain expectations from people.
Matt Locke moved onto the topic of mainstream distribution. What he thinks has shifted, is that over the last five years the best way to engage with the mainstream media is to have a story already sparking which can be brought to them. He mentioned a project by the Wellcome Trust that he'd worked on called Roots which was about genes and how they affect your life. They had some videos on YouTube and some flash games, including one called Sneeze in which you had to sneeze on people to infect people. This was around the time when the Swine Flu came out, and the New York Times picked up Sneeze and criticised it, which actually resulted in a lot of interest in the game. This just shows that perhaps the best way to engage with the press is to create a spark, and create something for them to write about. They are much more likely to write about something which is bubbling up on the blogosphere.
Location, distribution and technology
Ben spoke about a project in Bradford that Invisible Flock worked on. It was hosted in a gallery, and presented four different pervasive game-like ways to explore the city. It didn't receive a lot of traffic, even though it accommodated people with smart phones and those who didn't. Most of the people who participated from the city did not find out about it through the usual methods such as Twitter. Invisible Flock found that the models of distribution shift in certain urban areas which don't access those networks in the same way as other places; things spread more through word of mouth.
Ghislaine thinks that working in the UK is very different to working in other countries. She referenced the me and my shadow project that body>data>space are working on which will showcase in Istanbul, London, Mons and Paris and how the social buzz is different in each location.
Anne discussed how up until last year in the Netherlands, young people had very limited resources with regards to networks, mainly using the BlackBerry, but she thinks that is going to change due to the iPhone and Android phone becoming more popular with that age group. Groups seem to be split between Facebook and a Dutch networking site called Hyves. Twitter is becoming more popular, rather than using the Blackberry messaging service. Kristina added that internet usage in Holland has gone up by 20% in the last 6 month, and that is because of smartphones. Ghislaine thinks it's about picking out which technologies we use with regards to opportunities in different countries. With regards to opportunities, Ju questioned whether there are ones out there which are not being pursued and should be and how do you identify them?
Paul referenced all the ambitious ideas that Somethin’ Else have been wanting to do over the last five years which everyone over the last 18 months has been wanting to do. This is connected to technology but also because people have been gaining a better grasp on what things are, and understanding what is possible.
Building your own network
Matt Locke thinks that the best thing that people can do is to build their own networks, and think about how you can reach other people. By doing this and communicating with people via it this will help to think about how you will talk about and make your next piece whilst also helping to get the work out there. He thinks that more opportunities come to those who do this. Ghislaine responded with how they've been building their own networks for a long time and that the arts is based on networks; it’s about finding out those diverse links and how to bring new networks in around you. The problem is having the resources to keep them moving as it takes a lot of work to keep a Twitter stream going.
Matt Adams thinks that the development of those networks is about conversation. There are people on Blast Theory’s mailing list who have been there since the beginning but one thing that they feel they could improve on is having better conversations with these people. As Ghislaine added, you don't have the resources to personalise every mailout, so perhaps following some of the new ideas spoken about is the way to move forward. Matt Locke thinks that this is something that everyone is struggling with it. The people who are doing well on Twitter are musicians and comedians as they are good at 'call and response'. It's just the nature of culture right now.
Wayne was wondering, how can we build on this? Do we want to? What do we want to happen? He thinks there has to be someone passionate to follow up on this in an ongoing way. He's interested in what the real material opportunities which come out from these sorts of forum are and is it to further it, or is it ok to treat them as a one off? He was very happy with the experience of participating and him and José even spoke about collaborating on a project.
Matt Adams thinks it's better to have a set time where they come together again as a community of people. Unless there is a strong imperative to sustain that community it might not happen, which rather than being a negative comment is just a fact. He added that Blast Theory would love to do the forum again.
Tim said that everything discussed in the room has helped to open up the work and bring ideas into conversation.
What struck Matt Locke was that the people in the room have been doing the kind of work they do for years, and talk about being on the edge and being on the avant-guarde but what is obvious is that the world is coming to them, and that more and more people are engaging in the kind of practice which they do.
Matt Adam concluded. He explained why they called it ‘Act Otherwise’, as it reflects how sometimes Blast Theory have spoken about the work which they make as being often an attempt to create structure that enables people to 'act otherwise' and the sense of creating a freedom that might move people out of their normal behaviour by being given a window through which they are given permission to do something they wouldn't normally do. The discussions have allowed Matt to learn so much about things that they need to do, which is a good outcome. He referred back to a beautiful moment when Matt Locke was talking about attention and Google analytics in real time and patterns of behaviour with how you respond to that in real time with then Ghislaine commenting on the sound after a performance; these two things are intimately linked and you don't normally have the knowledge in the room which understands how they link. However, through Act Otherwise this was possible.