Tuesday 5th March 2019 – The slow processing of fragments

I have spent most of today working out how to process the enormous number of photos I have taken – mostly how to get a consistent scale so I can piece them together into a whole that will form the basis of my large scale drawing. It’s a rather laborious process of slightly adjusting the scale based on its neighbouring one – the grid I laid is proving useful but it’s still a very slow process.
So why do it this way?
Firstly, it’s a practical decision – I simply can’t get a large enough photo of the object with enough detail.
But secondly, the piecing together of fragments is part of my drawing process. I usually begin with a collage – this allows me, usually, to play with composition. I trace off, re-draw, copy and re-stick – it’s tricky to describe (I must attempt to at some point). My drawings are a process of slow refinement, increasing in detail with each iteration.
This case is slightly different. Here, I am trying to get an accurate copy of the design before I go in and draw the details from observation.
And so I am sitting and adjusting fragments. It’s rather tedious!

4th March 2019 – Weaving on the Market

Today I was at Rotherham Market setting up the large frame loom and instructing the volunteers for the weaving that will take place this week.
I really did enjoy the chance to just work with my hands and explain what I was doing – plus, it’s always satisfying to work out the bugs (and I’m calling them that with conscious reference to the idea of debugging). For example, it became immediately apparent that we will have to do the majority of the weaving with strips of fabric as the frame is so large we will never finish it in a week just using wool. It also became quickly apparent that my method of weaving with sticks, which I use with the mini-looms to great effect, simply doesn’t scale up.
So I sat for many hours weaving with my fingers until one of the ROAR team pointed out we could add string heddles to speed up the process – I’ll admit I kicked myself for not seeing something so obvious!
There were also some bugs in the electronic connections – something I’d spent a lot of time developing to be pretty fool-proof. I’ll have to see how people have got on with them when I go back on Thursday. This in itself is interesting – coming up with a project and then leaving it for other people to work on without actually being there… it’s an, admittedly crude, example of my ideas about designing ‘systems’ as artworks and it will be interesting to see who has got involved and how it stands up to use.

28th February – 3rd March – A brief note about my practice

The rest of this week has been spent preparing for the project in Rotherham next week and making redraft to the ACE funding bid I am putting in for a project in November. Here, I want to pause and think about something that is concerning me.
Alongside my PhD research, a large part of my current practice is focussed on the work I am doing for the Interlace project and other side projects I keep getting invited to run. The Interlace Project is something I’ve been working on for a few years and involves weaving, e-textiles and community workshops. The project is really interesting and I’m enjoying the work, [plus it seems to be getting very popular and developing pieces that can be delivered to the public is always a fascinating exercise.
However, it does take up a lot of my time and I am worried it is distracting from my PhD research – I have not yet got a reading plan in place and I’ve barley begun to start my studio work around the archive objects. Not even mentioning the historical study I’m really keen to get going on.
I’m anxious about it.
But, I could look at it another way. This IS my practice and the work I am doing for the Interlace Project is directly tied to a heritage organisation and engaging a wide public audience is a fundamental aspect, plus it is allowing me to experiment and gain experience of creating interactive textile technologies – basically a lot of my research areas translate in this projects.
It is being something of a time-suck though and it’s eating into my research time… I need to think about it some more….

27th February 2019 – PhD seminar

Today’s PhD seminar was about methodological ancestors. Methods are one of the aspects that defines a discipline – but the discipline of arts is a broad one with often fuzzy boarders (as we have discussed before) so we need to think of a ‘constellation of methods’. In positioning ourselves within this constellation, today we were asked to talk about our methodological ancestors – an artist, writer, curator, researcher etc. who’s approach we think resonates with our own. We began the discussion about how we picked our methods and why – this is a vital part of arts research as our methods can be varied and seemingly serendipitous, so our reasoning MUST be argued – our methodological approaches reflect our practice and our line of enquiry and not all of these can be expressed in writing.
As the conversation was over two hours long and had 7 participants, I am not going to write about everything discussed but I will briefly note points I felt may have some relevance to my research (I also made a recording of the session).
One aspect that was discussed was the idea of ‘salvaging failure’ – that examining our failures can often be valuable, both as a learning experience and as a generator of new works and enquiries. In relation to this, we also discussed the notion of serendipity – what you have control over and what you do not, and how this might affect your work and research direction.
I found these two ideas related to my own choice of ‘methodological ancestor – unlike others who had selected an individual person, object, exhibition or text, I am reaching a position that my approach is an entire making culture – hacking and making. It seems to me that the amorphous, global hacker and maker movement is synonymous with the approach to my practice – which makes sense as I’ve been involved with the ‘movement’ for many years – but it also seems to be emerging as my primary approach to my research. I drew this diagram during our discussion:

What I realised over the course of our discussion is that I apply this same method to the study of the objects and the production of my work (whether ‘tech’ or not). Here the notion of ‘debugging’ has expanded to include material tests (and failures) I have been making and the examination of objects through drawing – I am ‘debugging’ handmade processes and hacking a material archive through acts of remaking.
I am hugely excited by this idea! I thought it was only one aspect of my approach but through our discussion it seems to be emerging as my primary method, and I THINK it might be a unique one – I’ve not seen an analysis of hacker/maker approaches applied to an arts practice (non-tech) or as a research method – I will need to read further – I think I would like to write a paper about it…
Another aspect of the hacker approach is one of sharing knowledge, skills, information and mistakes – this, I am realising, is a highly political acts and one that echos approaches to craftsmanship and the nature of developing skills.
Some of the other ideas discussed which I found interesting were notions of zooming in and out of objects and time/duration to gain insights into their structure and histories – this expanding and collapsing directly by translation from material to digital and back again – I am completely entranced by D’s approach to her research!
There was also a concept of ‘anamnesis’ (recollection, especially of a supposed previous existence) which could be an interesting way of thinking about the histories of my objects, and the concept of ‘refraction’ – not a reflection of a reenactment but a shift in a point of view – which could be interesting for thinking about HOW I am approaching the objects and techniques and the decisions I make about HOW I am translating them into new forms.

26th February – Tuesday

Took a trip to London today to meet Katie – an embroidery tutor who has agreed to teach me. I feel that I have reached a point where I need some professional training in advanced techniques. I am self taught and as I am getting deeper into my study I am beginning to realise the amount I do not know. I am a great advocate of autodidactism, I enjoy the process of working things out for myself but I am also aware that there are huge benefits to learning from an expert, especially where you reach a point of competency – you need to have a grasp of technique in order to ask the right questions. This is discussed in Nicola Wood’s thesis ‘Transmitting craft knowledge’.
So I’ve decided to get some training. Katie seems very nice and enthusiastic – we’ve arranged for her and Rosie to come to the archive on my next research trip so they can see the objects and techniques used.
I took a walk along the river, as the weather was unnaturally warm, and had a wander around Tate Britain. I love that gallery but I always get lost!
I found two portraits, one by George Gower of Lady Kytson and one by Marcus Gheeraerts of Captain Thomas Lee (see below), both of which show the sitters wearing Blackwork. I took extensive photographs and began to wonder how I might approach this aspect of my research. Do I just use them as reference or could there be something interesting in trying to recreate the embroideries?

Week 18th-24th February 2019 – Hacking and prototyping

In the first week of March, I’ve been asked to run a community art project in Rotherham indoor market with the art organisation ROAR (Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance).
They want a large frame loom weaving with interactive electronic elements that will be jointly made with members of the public. I have designed similar projects before and I am familiar with capacitive touch sensing using micro-controllers. The challenge with this type of project is setting up the hardware so it can be easily used by the participants as I am often not present for the entire duration of the project.
So this week I have been hacking together a system for this project. I decided to try and get the capacitive sensing running directly from the micro-controller – I’ve used MPR121 sensors in the past as they make the process much simpler and you can run multiple sensors through I2C addressing, meaning you can hook up 48 sensor points instead of being restricted to the number of pins on the micro-controller. However, this increases the cost of the components (a major consideration for this type of small community project) and would be fiddly (i.e. fragile) to set up with the type of controller I want to use. I’m using Adafruit Flora micro-controllers for this project – an Arduino based board that has been designed for e-textiles – I’ve selected this board not because the pins can be stitched but because they are large and flat so can be connected with crocodile clips.
So, a lot of this week was spent building and testing the capacitive sensing and outputs (strips of LEDs and piezo buzzers) and working out the code to get the inputs to respond to the outputs.
This is a process of running through the available start-up guides and tutorials, testing parameters, merging code together, testing, adjusting, testing again (a little bit of past experience also helps!). There are also considerations about how to power the system and how they will be integrated into the piece – in this case each ‘module’ (that is set up and pre-programmed Flora) should be low-powered enough to run from LiPo batteries (also a pretty safe option) and they should be easy enough to stick to the frame with some tape – though this will be worked out during the set up as I’ve not built the frame loom myself.
The other consideration is that the delivery of the project is going to be done without my being there for most of it – so once the system is working I had to think about how to make it robust and simple to use. I have set up the Floras so the resistors are solidly connected to the correct pins and then its just a matter of the participants using crocodile clips to connect the boards to the weaving.
I think I’m going to have to write this project up, together with a similar project I ran last year, and publish it on the Instructables. This will serve as a reminder to myself as well as sharing my experiments.

Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

Last day in London so I decided to visit the exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt at the V&A. I was very impressed by the equal focus given to both big budget, independent games and creative projects using game concepts and technology. I was obviously interested in the technical aspects but what I found even more fascinating was the presentation of the processes of planning, designing and prototyping.

Planning board
Production notebooks
Using wiki’s and photoblogging to create mood boards
Kentucky Route Zero
Concept designs and 3D printed models
No Man’s Sky
Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn
Directors,  Tale of Tales,  ram@tale-of-tales.com
Facsimile copy
Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn
Directors,  Tale of Tales,  ram@tale-of-tales.com