Thursday, 18 May 2017

Reflections on a guest lecture by the interactive design studio "Invisible Flock".

The following notes are taken from a really useful lecture held on Wednesday, 16 May, provided by Rich Warburton, of Invisible Flock, an interactive design studio, based in Leeds.

The intention of the studio is to embed digital design technology directly into everything that they do. Digital technology is part of the ethos of this group, and their continual question is "how can you incorporate IOT (the Internet of Things) into creative art?

The group is a cross-disciplinary practice of artists and digital media experts including a highly capable computer programmer.

An example of a current project is one called "beta" which is intended to bring business and art and technology together in artistic practice, which is based at the Leeds East Street Art Studios. Its objectives are indeed to embed technology into art practice, but at a softer level to scale up intimacy, that is, to "broadcast emotion".

The group recognised the need for human centred design, after all, it is acknowledged that all people are "actors"!

This means that digital media interactions and ultimately culture are intimately shaped by constant iteration and feedback through audience participation and reception.

One particular area that is being explored in focus at the moment is in doing work for mobile phones. These devices provide a platform "space" of new images visuality and audio.

Art can have meaning through the interruption of daily reality. It can cause a shift in perception that is unexpected. For example, in Berlin, there is an art piece constructed throughout the whole city and is found as small embedded brass tokens fixed into the pavements, the German phrase roughly translates to "stumble stones". These small but noticeable subtle symbols in a way celebrate and remind walkers about the Holocaust. It is both gentle and subtle but is incredibly poignant once a person has engaged in its exploration.

This example can be likened in many ways with the Internet, which is equally accessible but is also an interruptive exchange and experience.

There is this assumed relationship with mobile phones, in that if there is an application that has been downloaded, one of these small "apps" often used as a kind of marketing Dolly, it is apparently expected to work! However, the complexities of different types of operating systems, platforms, software dependencies, hardware versions and so on make it tough for these app developers to have total confidence in the released and published apps effectiveness.

To try and tackle this problem, Invisible Flock of developed a relationship with an Indian software house called "Quicksand", who are specifically developing ideas for mobile phones that are cross-platform and hardware independent.

An example of one of the projects that are already online which cross this boundary into cultural and creative art is called "Duet". The concept of this idea is a digital interaction between strangers, where the mobile phone short message service (SMS) network is used to conduct a year-long conversation between strangers, based on asking one specific question (anonymously of course) and getting a corresponding one answer, between participants per day for a whole year. The results are of course anonymous but are then aggregated and analysed. The need for an immediate emotional feedback loop has been recognised by the writers to keep interest and motivation of the participants to a high level.

What results is a very complex dialogue, through the prism of a simple question. In a sense, it works through illuminating relationships through disparate timescales and intervals. It's a kind of nostalgia and taps into emotion through articulations that would never exist or be there "officially". Therefore this program "Duet", and its concept of just having one question a day and one answer in total anonymity, can be very revealing about human nature. It forces the participants to engage in a dialogue that is entirely anonymous and therefore without the emotional baggage that may be pre-known. The outputs, therefore, seem to be "clean". That is they are tending to be more honest and less contrived as a reflection of intimate human thoughts in our contemporary culture.

An absorbing and stimulating lecture, I felt the presenter had engaged with a deeply sensitive and smart vehicle for exploration of not just the West or isolated cultural facets, that a thoroughly engaging method to start to view the whole global human condition.

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