About the Metal/DEC Lab

Light Responsive Animation

Animation Still

Click here to see an extract of the animation: animation(s)


Before I came to the Metal Lab I had been working to create an animation that would connect light to duration and time and explore an idea of exposure in digital format.  The lab offerred a great site to try out the apparatus. The were some nice windows with a view out to the amazing estuarine vista, there was a buzz of activity in the space in front of the window so the opportunity was there.

The apparatus itself would monitor light levels coming through the window using a light dependant resistor. This went through  a micro-controller, into the software and would in turn control  the brightness and contrast of an image captured through a video camera and then the frequency at which the images were captured.  When the images were captured they were uploaded to a server where they could be captured and compiled into a stop-frame animation.


Here is the patch for people who like these things:

Screen shot of the Max patch I created



The apparatus created a space for me to have many conversations and reflect on the critical environment of the labs and begin to take apart and address the individual elements of the work and how they interact with this idea of software culture.

My conclusion is something like…. why am I trying to create a device to capture an image in response to light when I have a camera already?



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Day 3 in images

The Chalkwell House floor plan, basis of the ‘teching up’ process.


Graham Harwood and Ken Guild discuss the role of art methodologies within science and technology.

Tim Kindberg explaining the Digital Crystals project.




Stephen Fortune and Olga Panades in the Arduino lab.


Stephen Fortune and the Arduino bread board with button.


Electricity + socialism = communism (the Russian say)


Arduino LED fun


Emily Giles working at super speed.


Deep concentration to program Arduino in unforeseen ways.


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Day 3

After an intensive second day, the metal labs participants started the third day with a discussion about their thoughts on what had occured after the talks and workshops on Tuesday.

Ken Guild, professor at the University of Essex, talked about his collaboration with METAL in ‘teching up Chalkwell Hall’, an extensive project allowing for creative and flexible solutions for the Chalkwell Hall workspace. Solutions for the Hall were inspired by smart homes and cities – incorporating smart technology into the entire layout of the space. The result: networks and platforms specific to the house, allowing artists to work on multiple audio-visual platforms simultaneously, no matter their location in the Hall.
Ken’s research also focuses on wifi/mobile technology and vital monitoring – technology that allows for mobile heart and blood monitoring. This project sparked vivid debate on the ethics of technology and the possibilities of artistic collaborations in research – artists can help explore the spaces of ethical and conceptual problematics linked to technology (like those of monitoring and making public the data of our physical bodies).
Tim Kindberg of Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studios and Matter2Media presented his work on his Digital Crystals project.

His interests in this project stem from location-unique and location specific content, as well as an investigation of so-called “round content” – content that appears or can be read circularly. While some participants of the workshop argued a solely non-proprietary approach to media technologies, Tim in this case took the side of pragmatics and ease, using Flash to create a programme that projects round images onto table tops and allows users to share memory and media across space. The Crystal Project is completely web based, avoiding ‘buying into the app industry’. Surprisingly, only a small portion of the workshops otherwise techie participants spaces sported smartphones.
The final part of the day offered a choice for the artists to work on their individual projects or participate in an Arduino workshop led by Stephen Fortune and Olga Panades ranging from the rather simple task of having Arduino light LED’s to more advanced usages of the Arduino board. Heated debates on the nature of electricity parted the group with Graham Harwood arguing that we can never really know what electricity is and that each technological trial is an exploration of the mysterious nature of power circuits (and frogs legs). The workshop ended peacefully in spite of the philosophical disagreements and had the participants working together in exploring the many possibilities of the Arduino boards and their interfaces with reality.

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Paranodality in Southend-on-Sea

This morning we found ourselves talking about activating peer groups and their different modes of organisation.  Simon brought in ideas from network theory and if I understand correctly the point – the strength of the weakest links in a network will correlate directly to the effectiveness of the network.  Caroline maintained throughout a skeptical viewpoint of the forces involved which act to instrumentalize the role of artists into a capitalist media machine.  Disparagingly she quoted Chris Morris’s satirical Shoreditch anti-hero Nathan Barley: “I am a self-facilitating media node.”


From my own perspective I agree that it is important to challenge and reflect upon existing models of collective energy, and work and how this activity becomes constituted, ritualised and institutionalised.  What limitations can we place, in the form of an “ethic” or “attitude”, which might prevent or subvert the emergence of patterns of behaviour which we do not want to perpetuate?


In conversation with Metal chair, Jude Kelly yesterday a very intriguing (and perhaps paradoxical) question was posed:

“How can intimacy be scaled?”


These fascinating discussions are, of course, from the privileged perspective of viewing and building a “model” and this activity and speculation must be distinguished and recognised as only one small part of building relationships within the “cultivation” of a peer-group.


An interesting email I read several years ago seemed to posit a counter-view to “network-logic” by thinking in terms of something called “para-nodal” space (the ‘space’ which is not represented on the network map of nodes and their connection).  I am going to copy and paste the email below (I’ll send a quick email to the author too – I’ve never followed this idea up really but I think it has had a profound effect on how I think about the relationship between “models” and “life”).


//Updated 12:45 – here is a link to a website for Ulises Mejias //


From: “Ulises A. Mejias” <EMAIL ADDRESS>
Date: 22 April 2008 01:57:01 BDT
To: empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] unwired sustainability
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

My apologies for not having posted as actively to this list during my time as moderator this week (technology is partly to blame, but mostly it’s my fault). I want to end by providing my own take on wired sustainability.

I believe networked forms of production, collaboration, activism, and mobilization will be essential to figuring out how to engender more sustainable relationships with the world and with each other. However, in my own work I try to examine the very unsustainability of the network episteme, of this ‘wired’ logic.

Since the distance between two nodes within the same network is zero, and the distance between a node and something outside the network is practically infinite, it follows that a node can only see the world in terms of other nodes. Something that is not a node is, for all practical purposes, invisible. I call this tyranny of nodes “nodocentrism.” Nodocentrism is the assertion that only nodes need to be mapped, explained or accounted for. It is a reductionism that eliminates everything but the reality of the node. Nodocentrism informs a model of progress or development where things not on the network must and should be incorporated in order for them to exist (this is the ideology that informs the discourses of the digital divide, pervasive computing, etc.).

In opposition to nodocentrism I use the concept of paranodality. Contrary to what is represented in network diagrams, the space between nodes is not empty or dead, but very much alive. In fact, this space–the paranodal–acts as the only sustainable site from which we can articulate a subjectivity separate from the network, from which we can unthink the network episteme. The paranodal is, as Ranciere would
say, the part of those who have no part, the site where disagreement, not consensus, takes place (and hence, the locus of the political).

Of course, to unthink the logic of the network is not to pretend the network doesn’t exist, or to refuse to deal with it, but to re-imagine one’s relationship to it. The relationship of the paranode to the network is perhaps like the one of the parasite to the host (and here I’m borrowing from Serres): the parasite inserts itself into the
communication process, between the sender and the receiver, disrupting the communication by being ‘noise’, and forcing the system to adjust to its presence. In this context, the paranode can be described as a parasite of the network, an element that lodges itself between nodes, distorting or introducing noise into the information that passes between nodes, and forcing the network to adjust to its presence.

I guess what I am suggesting is that perhaps sustainability is not wired, but unwired. What is subversive and creative is not the network episteme (wired logic), but the parasitical disruption that can provide a way to think outside the logic of the network, to disidentify from it, and to resist its nodocentric view of the world.

empyre forum empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au http://www.subtle.net/empyre


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Day 1: Artist’s Projects and Aims

Overview of the day at Metal Digital Labs.

Day 1 composed of 3 parts, was a truly exhausting albeit very productive day. Session 1 invited the 8 artists to discuss initial ideas and aims of projects in the week ahead. Session 2, led by Matt Fuller and Graham Harwood, was used as a follow-up to the first, providing critical feedback and useful pointers for the 8 artists to consider.

Session 1: Artists discussing their aims for week ahead

For some, their aim was to focus and develop methodologies that would enable them to explore routes between conception and execution. Others desired to explore new practices and how these could lead to greater possibilities of intensifying the physicality of their work.

Many of the artists projects had related and interweaving themes. Some expressed a desire to create reflexive artworks that would respond to their environments, to explore the media ecology of a place, the rhythms and patterns that were inherent and how the individual observed and was part of this ecology. Discussing interaction between object, context and place, people as part of place raised the notion of the hyper-mediated individual, and the nature of interfaces as (re)presentation devices, be that a computer screen or office window. The notion of scale was also a recurrent theme seen in terms of time as well as space and how this is affected by the digital. All hoped that the lab would offer them an opportunity to play and produce ‘beginnings’ that could inform their later work.

The response to peoples’ aims/projects raised several related questions of the artists’ relation to technology:

  • The need to acquire new skill sets.
  • The advantages of coding as practice and conceptual tool.
  • The artist as sole author or whether collaboration could be as rewarding and more expedient.
  • Whether technology could be used as a passive tool or if the agency within it required a more antagonistic approach?
  • Using technology for technology sake, whether ‘low-tech was more engaging’?
  • The relation of the analogue and digital, and how this questioned authenticity relating to the virtual/real.

The session ended with a lively discussion pertaining to the dichotomy of propriety/ non-propriety software led by Simon Poulter and Graham Harwood.

Tim Kindberg

First to get the afternoon session to a start was Tim Kindberg, Research Director of Pervasive Media Studio. Tim led the group through his methodologies and his robust approach to code, that others might also find beneficial; falling mostly under the following sections. Tools, Methods, ways to Debug and Avoid Bugs. These are some extracts from Tim’s presentation.

Tools: Ensuring that the right programming language / code for any given project was used. Many factors contribute deciding what will be best, such Budget, Functionality and Performance.

Building something quickly. Instead of attempting to code from scratch, refer to online code libraries; use similar codes that already exists, using it only as a framework, upon which to build something more accurate.

Comment. Blog. Document. However straight-forward the script being developed seems, returning to the same project, weeks and or even days later will be more difficult to resume, let alone resolve issues. If a code has been copied from like library and you’ve modified it in any way (as suggested above), document, how it was modified and what this new statement/ function does. Test it and ensure ‘that the code works, before trying to make it work faster’.

Tim suggests that becoming a ‘Code scientist’ i.e. being “highly skeptical and analytical, gathering plenty of data.” If stuck, refer to sites such as stackoverflow, where open-source community that can most likely offer suggestions the problem code.

Avoiding bugs
A term that Tim introduced those not fluent with coding and its terminology was ‘Defensive programming.’ To sum it up writing additional code that protect a project from unforeseen problems. This can be ‘a simple’ if/else code that tells the program to ignore an invalid input/output, rather than trying process an unforeseen request and ultimately crashing.

Overall, this presentation was very useful and provided best working practice, applicable across most projects. Audio of this presentation will be available.

Interaction framework/architecture for mobile project

Following Tim, was Peter Higgins (and team) from Land Design Studio, talking the group through some of his studio’s biggest projects (budget and technology-wise) over the last 10 years.

Play Zone at the Millenium Dome

Peter spoke of the complications involved with what he felt somewhat reluctant to call Exhibition Design. Projects included: “Play Zone (1999)”, “Urbis” and “Sheikh Zayed Centre”. A particular project that caught the group’s attention was “Sutton Life Centre”, a multimedia project aimed at children 10 and over. Many, felt it to be an interesting project primarily for the propaganda undertones; presenting one authoritative perspective, on a range of complicated issues and using methods akin to scare tactics, to coerce it’s target audience in becoming good citizens. This resulted in Peter and his team explaining what they saw the differences between artists and designers to be; whereas artists are at liberty to develop self-initiated briefs, he felt designers didn’t have that luxury, thus worked to fulfil the client’s design briefs. As result, had little say in what was created. Naturally, a member of the group posed the question, most were thinking. ‘Ultimately is it not a choice how much time is spent on commissioned client projects and self-initiated briefs? Is it not possible to strike a balance?’ This question propelled the discussion into new and unexpected areas. Which is about as much that can be said on that matter.

As the evening drew to a close, the artists presented selected pieces from their portfolio to date, which provided a good insight, to their professional backgrounds, their interests and what we could hope to see in the week ahead.

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Day 0 – Presentations

Right after today’s social activities, the participating artists sat all together with Graham and Simon for one last group session before calling it a night. During that session Caroline Heron, Olga Panades, Markus Soukup and Hans Verhaegen presented to the rest of the artists their work and  elaborated on their present interests.

Caroline Heron is currently involved in the “Art of Digital London”, an urban network for cultural organisations and digital strategy, where she co-organizes events that cover such topics as digital arts, new media, gaming and many more. She is also holding a position at Mute Magazine as project coordinator.

Olga Panades is a media arts researcher with an interest in biotechnology and body communication. Her work has been featured at Mediashed and Furtherfield, where she operates as co-editor and workshops facilitator. She also carries an enthusiasm for physical computing and during the Metal – DEC Labs she will be cooperating with Stephen Fortune for a session on Arduino.

Markus Soukup is new media and sound artist currently living in Liverpool. He was recently shortlisted for the Liverpool Art Prize 2011 for his work at “The Bluecoat” in which he worked in a negotiation between the physical and virtual worlds through video installations and 2D and 3D animations. His time-based media works have been featured in exhibitions all around Europe and he has been involved in many web design projects.

Hans Verhaegen is an artist based in Brussels, where he accommodates his work under the roof of his studio, Hansup. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Ghent and the Free University of Brussels, Verhaegen navigates through different formats of artistic endeavors including oil and wall paintings, prints and digital animations. In 2009 he won with ’128 people‘ the award of the public at the Fotomuseum in Antwerpen.

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Day 0

The need to explore the capacities of software has never been more visible than in our times. With software culture breaking into the mainstream, a critical approach is necessary in order to probe the mechanisms that pertain our daily interactions in our personal and professional environments.


This type of investigation is usually confined in lecture halls, scientific labs and corporate research centers thus excluding the public’s participation in the processes that actually delineate the sociopolitical, financial and cultural mechanisms of our era while setting a specific agenda that leaves a very limited space for analytical exploration. During today’s introductory session of the Metal – DEC lab a new paradigm was set that contradicts the production-oriented approach to software. By setting the ground rules of open investigation to software culture, Graham Harwood and Simon Poulter welcomed the participating artists in a rigorous week focused on processes and procedures that examine software and technology without the anxiety for final products.

Most importantly though, today was all about getting acquainted with each other and start building a trusting community where the participants feel comfortable enough to express their ideas and provide feedback to their peers. After the welcoming session, the participants had the pleasure to discover the areas around Chalkwell with Graham as the tour guide feeding them  interesting information about the transformations the area has survived through due to waves of industrialisation.


After setting up in their hotel rooms, the participants and the organising team broke bread together during an intimate, home cooked dinner and shared a  much needed moment of entertainment and frivolity. As we moved towards the end of the day, some of the participants shared segments of their past work and discussed about their expectations from the Metal – DEC Labs.

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Metal – DEC Labs 21 -26 February 2011

Metal and DEC (Digital Exploration Centre) are working with 8 artists for an intensive week looking at software culture.

The lab is facilitated by Graham Harwood and Simon Poulter at Metal’s Chalkwell Hall base in Southend.

Participating artists:

Stephen Fortune
Emilie Giles
Caroline Heron
John O’Shea
Olga Panades
Rob Smith
Markus Soukup
Hans Verhaegen

The artists will be working with software experts, designers and computer scientists looking at ways of using software in devising new work.
Visiting speakers include Dr Tim Kindberg, Dr Ken Guild, Dr Matthew Fuller and Peter Higgins.

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