art and isolation

a while ago, a friend of mine sternly told me that i should watch that amazing TED video by Brene Brown on vulnerability. it took a few days, but on a cold, gloomy day in Berlin i sat in bed and watched.

i cried and i laughed. i laughed, like she said, in a knowing way ‘oh god..’

and apart from hitting some personal nerves, i loved what she says about humanity’s need to connect. actually i believe this need built into our cell.db – but even if it isn’t, history has consistently presented to us our need for connection and the damage that is done in isolation.

Mauer Monument

having said that, when i was in berlin, it was the first time i got in touch with a level of isolation (and therefore vulnerability) that i hadn’t experienced before and i thrived.

i was removed from my big group of friends, my sense of complacency about navigating public space/the shopping experience, my command of language and even the outside world for a couple of weeks (i spent a week only going downstairs to get coffee and then coming back up to the apartment).

but there was something about that ‘outsiderness’ that enabled me to really get to know myself, my work and my place in the world. sorry. i can’t believe i just wrote that either.
what i’m trying to say is that i discovered the complexity of isolation. it turns out i needed a little something of ‘removed’ in order to have the space to be.

obviously, i’m a modern young lady/geek, so wasn’t completely isolated. i was still checking into blogs i hang out on, twitter, facebook, e-newsletters and phone calls to people. and, to be honest, the fact that i was in germany and within a culture that doesn’t reject art-making kind of helped.

cut to: perth.


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isolation is a thing here.

the population is actually small (as opposed to the rhetoric of small population as excuse for poor public service. another rant), the feeling of being closer to jakarta than the canberra is palpable and unless you live within walking distance to work like i do (ha!), it takes bloody forever to get anywhere. it feels like time slows down here.

so, it’s little wonder that there is a combination of intense frustration and intense production here. the artists that are here are super generous, fruitful and really focused on making work that is interesting, engaging with technology and pushing boundaries. i think there’s a reason that there are more art schools in perth than in melbourne, that anyone interested in working with bio/body/electronic art comes to perth and that the state of WA was the first to implement a percent for arts scheme.

perhaps in the same way that iceland is a feminist country – there’s not the overbearing bully neighbours to tell you what to do, so you just fuck it and do it anyway.

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i could go on and talk about the link between isolation and space for shame, that enables people to act freely. and i could go on about space/time for contemplation too.

but the other aspect to being separated from the rest of your pack is that you feel vulnerable.
and lonely.
and there’s no room for complacency.
sometimes being complacent is a wonderful thing, even for an artist.
not having to fight for your right all the time can be valuable.

how can technology and the internet and the rest of the world help meter your isolation, so that you have just the right amount of “come here and go away.”

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the future

a few weeks ago, i popped over to london to take care of a few things: there were a series of excellent exhibitions on that i didn’t want to miss (i’ll write about them later); there were some friends i needed to touch base with; and there was a little symposium about the future to attend.

thrilling wonder stories, part II was organised by geoff from bldgblog and liam from tomorrows thoughts today at the architecture association in london.* and featured a stack of writers, gamers, interactive designers, artists and researchers talking about a whole range of fiction-based ideas about the future and its possible construct.

check out the list of amazing people involved!

oh, and did i mention it was free? charlie and i were there at 10:30am, expecting a marauding mass of architects falling over themselves to be part of the discussion. turns out architects aren’t quite like that.

i don’t really consider myself much of a futurist – sometimes i’m disappointed when discover that i’m actually too romantic to readily cast aside old ways of behaving in favour of new innovations. but i’m  really attached to the idea of innovating and changing and mixing it all up so that we don’t get caught up in our stinking thinking.

and unlike my dear friend rob who thinks that kind of talk is bollocks, i do actually believe in the idea (one i think i’ve garnered from bldgblog or russell davies or some other awesome brain) that in aiming way forward to gain 10, with the inherent ‘backdraft’ of life, you can still actually gain 3.

science fiction (inc some of its design associates like buckminster fuller and pentagram), is an excellent tool for designing for the future in this way. if you get wacky and can really design for ‘a galaxy far, far away’ you might just unlock something that will be functional for a building that will be great for 10 years’ time.

or, free from the constraints of ‘must be viable’, you can end up with ‘could be possible’ and you start to solve problems that no one has bothered to think about yet, whilst still make them believable to an audience firmly sitting in the present day. language, imagination and concept rooted in fact. ftw.

so, the day was split into 5 sessions (perhaps a little OTT, by the end of it all), but each session started to unpick different aspects of designing for the future.

i didn’t really make very objective, journalist notes like rory did, so my report of the day is going to be quite subjective and perhaps influenced by where the ideas took me, rather than what was actually said.  (if that isn’t a caveat for sloppy reporting, misquoting and laziness, i don’t know what is!)

the ideas which floated my particular boat i’m calling designing for hiding, the smell of the moon, and using changed behaviour through gaming.

designing for hiding

geoff manaugh spoke about geologists dealing with nuclear waste having to come up with a protocol to signify to future generations: DO NOT OPEN THE CAN!!. basically, there’s a stack of toxic waste being drilled into the earth, which is all fine and dandy for us who can read a sign or two, or who have the means to be in communication with the culprits. but how do you build a vault to hide that garbage, with those 60,000 years in the future in mind. given that we’ve no concrete idea about what stonehenge, the pyramids or macchu pichu are trying to tell us – how can we expect the equivalent to understand what our ‘wrong way go back’ signs might mean.

not only did this particular feat of language and signification pique my interest, but the whole idea of designing for the hidden was exciting too.

everyone knows that if you want to hide something, put it in plain sight. the real outcome of a tunnel, maze or complex series of encryptions is not safekeeping, but a means of revelation, discovery and inquisition. the safe is the best kind of learning tool. it got me thinking of other ways to use this kind of design process. maybe the best way to teach young boys to read is to bury books in a well, or the hide ideas about sound behind a glass soundproof door.

the smell of the moon


now, when i told this story to my scientific photographer friend, of course i didn’t have all the facts and he picked holes in it straight away (spoil sport), but the idea and the possibility of what this means still totally floated my boat.

nicola twilley presented a story about perception from the moon – astronauts on one of the apollo missions recalled the particular smell of the moon – that it was something like gunpowder. they brought back a sealed sample of the moon dust and no aspect of its chemical added up to smell anything like gunpowder. which means that the way humans smell on the moon is different to the way we smell on earth.

which of course calls into question our whole perception of life itself, but also about the possibilities for the actual science of earth and/or the moon itself. if we perceive things differently away from earth, whose to say that things aren’t actually different here. and if the chemical properties are different away from the moon, whose to say that what we believe is on the moon is not completely different. like, what if we only see a desert of sand and dust and fuck-all, but

now all of this is fascinating from a philosophical point of view, but the reason i think this kind of ‘what if’ thinking is important is for other areas of existence. like the perception of power, or the perception of life itself (like the couldabeen arsenic-ingesting bacteria from last week).

which leads me onto…

changed behaviour through gaming



ed stern spoke about the splash damage game brink, which was an intense FPS multi-player, multi-level game with some amazing architectural and wayfinding structure inbuilt. he spoke about the need to really make things work – “a barrel needs to big enough to really hide behind and small enough to jump over”. each level had varying levels of decay – this being based in a future in which war is being waged. the imagery was brilliant and the architectural possibilities for archiving and spatial experience were super exciting.

when talking about designing the next version of the game, ed said that “it would have more women in it” –  highlighting the fact that v1.0 was all blokes**. which had me thinking about a game solely designed on feminist or gender equality principles – it could be a completely different world: social organisation could be different, motives and spatial organisation could be altered –  imagine what that could actually look like!

and what would the kids who played that game grow up to be like, if they had already experienced a world in which women and men really were treated equal? what if gaming is used to construct alternative social dynamics in which we experience an altered perception, reinforced by haptic and sensorial memory. i mean could we equalise men and women? could the israel/palestine conflict be solved through gaming?

epic win.

UPDATE: so it turns out jane mcgonigal has presented some similar ideas, and join the company and method are also doing work on the small ways in which you can use play/gaming for changing behaviour.

*here’s the chain of promotion: @roryhyde;@sheseesred;@CharlieGower + @johndodds (who watched it live on the interwebs). who sez we’re disconnected, yo.


** although the lead character, i noticed, was an afro-carribean man – something i haven’t really seen in macho gaming this far. not that i’m a gamer, per se – i have zero dexterity.

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hangin’ out crafty in the back alleys of melbourne

ariadne's tangled mess: craft vic

for those of you who are in melbourne; and for those of you who perhaps walk down flinders st, perhaps you’ve seen a little mess hanging off the edge of a building on spark lane. a little discarded knot of cable, or thread? some kind of undealt with complexity left to swing in a dark alley?

well, if you haven’t, my work is installed at craft victoria, as an extension of the work in craft cubed, so check it out if you have the chance.

also, there’s a closing party for the craft-based festival next week: september 4th.

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isea days 2 + 3

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the last two days of isea have been jam-packed. i’m kind of glad that i need to leave on friday night, because i suspect after more late nights tonight and tomorrow night, i’m going to need an early night in very soon.

a large chunk of yesterday was punctuated with problem-solving to do with my iphone, so i missed a bunch of excellent sessions and the rest of the electronics workshop.

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however, i did get to the session i had most wanted to get to – sonic strategies. 4 speakers all talking about interaction with sound, audification, sonification, mapping and the gesture of listening/playing. rachel o’dwyer from ireland, yolande harris based in the netherlands, shintaro miyazaki based in berlin and marc chia, currently based in spain via indonesia.

both shintaro, and yolande had listening/mapping elements to their work, which related to my listening/mapping works and marc, whilst not directly related, reminded me about the need to maintain the soul of music/sound/performance and that improvisation can help maintain that.

unfortunately i missed rachel’s actual presentation, but we had an excellent natter at the festival club afterwards – we both fawned over michael bull, bill smith and hearing/sound cultures publications.

alessandro ludovico moderated that session and after georg klein‘s fantastic ‘don’t call it art’ intervention, i was planning to see his presentation at really existing social media in the afternoon, when technology called. so many people have said how great it was – the slides were sent to the audience’s devices and they had to listen to (not watch) presentations. we also ended up having great discussion about the fanzine>blogger transfer phenomena at domicile later.

and speaking of domicile, last night i saw an unexpected, but super-awesome performance of UK performer infinite livez – think rick james vs radiohead vs beanie man vs peter gabriel. and maybe a bit of george clinton/sly stone in there. he totally played up on the black-man-soul image, but totally fucked with a stack of field-recording/relay/synth-beats stuff. so much so that there was some seriously terrible german dancing going on in the front. i fell in love a little bit.

today, whilst everyone was out and about through the ruhr region, i stayed in dortmund and wandered around the e-culture fair and the exhibitions. perfect day, actually.

i discovered that most of the e-culture labs/projects that i was interested in (and had the best conversations with) were from the netherlands/belgium. those low-landers know how to float my boat. v2, foam, dropstuff, and UP Labs – all doing great things with sound/public space/interventions/fashion or generally rockin’ stuff.

joyce hinterding

the trust exhibition, on the floor above, featured a few good works, but didn’t really sweep me up to suspend my belief. joyce hinterding‘s graphite sound drawings were completely rad and the robotic camera arm work (which followed you around the room) by seiko mikami was really unnerving, but really quite beautiful. carsten nicolai‘s work was an great concept and pretty intense: a light-based hypnotic work, although the placement of a sound work nearby disarmed the complete mind-bend/altered state that the work could have been. perhaps that was intentional.

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unfortunately, my biggest criticism about the symposium so far has actually been about the site that is housing e-culture fair and the trust exhibition: dortmunder U-tower. it’s an amazing building, with a fantastic media facade, but it’s still really under construction: wires are still exposed, plaster dust is everywhere, floors shut off and whole sections still behind scaffold.

the only really great thing about this is that you’re sharing the lift with workmen as you go up to the exhibition – keeps us all honest in a way. but seriously, as an audience, there are enough barriers to interacting with art, let alone media/electronic art, that physical barriers and perceived spatial barriers are kind of unhelpful, really.

/rant.

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i saw two other great exhibitions: one at MKK – full of excellent sound and interactive works. the other, agenten 2.0 a student show, which surpisingly kicked arse over some of the more ‘professional’ works. in a shopfront, it is the document of a series of interventions, actions and situations which challenge the sleepy, comfortable, gemütlich public of dortmund out of their complacency. actually, i think i will write a whole post about just these two exhibitions, so i’ll cut it short here. but if you’re reading this and you’re in dortmund over the next 2 days, go to lütge brückstraße and the MKK on hansastraße.

right now i’m off to go dancing. again. for the closing party of the e-culture fair. see you in the morning!
[which of course was written last night, but i’m fuckin’ with the time-space continuum, can’t you tell]

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ISEA2010 day 1

today was the first real day of proceedings in dortmund and it started off with a bit of a fizz. i was ill, so missed out on the first session. but the second session was a good mix of festival experience: a bit of an experimental electronics workshop, some internet catch-ups and then a few presentations on media in the public space: one establishing engaging criteria for good media/public projects –

interestingly, i’m sure that advertising planners and media buyers would have similar criteria, and a valid question was raised about what differentiates these questions for art, as opposed to, say, a children’s playground, etc.

one of the key ideas in that list was ‘challenge’. i do see that a lot of works that are not quite successful (including my own), don’t necessarily have an element of challenge to them, which is a common element within public audience.

this was furthered during lanfrance aceti’s presentation on isea2011, in istanbul, a city with many challenges in public space. seemingly good public projects challenge both audience AND artist and that perhaps artists’ work can become complacent without them.

after that, i went back to my circuit-bending workshop and finished fucking with a kids music instrument. i’ve never done anything with electronics before, so it was all new to me – but it was great fun and tomorrow i’m going to go back and insert a jack into it, so we can either amplify it, or listen to it with headphones 🙂

before dinner and the official opening/performance of the festival, i went to see the Heavy Matter exhibition at the Westfalen Forum. I’m a bit critical about it because quite a few exhibits were still not working and there wasn’t a lot of knowledge/understanding. It also seemed a bit derivative. But then i realised that it is a student exhibition, so maybe there’s a little more room for error.

I hope the other exhibitions aren’t also like that, though, because so far, my first impressions of the festival are good, but still a lot of unfinishedness/unpreparedness – the U-tower is still all wires and plaster dust, i had to wait a day to get my festival pass, and then a few difficulties with the wifi too – doesn’t reflect so well. but maybe it’s just first day jitters.

After the official stuff, it was over to domicile club for drinks, more performances and some excellent discussion over beer.
the germans do alcohol-free beer, which makes my life much more fun.

we covered the gamut of australian and german politics, feminism, gender studies, gentrification, media festivals and art in general.

not bad for the first day, huh.

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craft cubed and whitebox

AriadnesTangledMess

if you had’ve told me 3 years ago that i would continue to create work that actively includes craft practices in spatial and media arts practice, i would probably have vomited on you. or at least told you that you had the wrong lauren brown.

but, it’s true. my short time spent at craft victoria influenced me profoundly and i find myself creating works that relate to fashion, thread, wearability, patterns, measurement and insertion.

craft victoria have reinvented their winter festival program from a single textile-based festival, to one that encompasses a range of craft/making practice and aims to remind everyone that there’s more to craft than bloody knitting scarves.

one of the interesting projects is called whitebox – a selection of video works that interact with the ideas, materials or gestures of craft practices. this year they also relate to the festival theme of childhood. and i’m privileged to have a video work in there: ariadne’s tangled mess.

it also includes some spanky works by some of my fave peeps: dell stewart, cory archangel and holly mcnaught.

the festival opens tonight at craft victoria and there are a stack of exhibitions, commissioned works, satellite events and online programs to participate in. check out the site for all the deets.

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