Processes of organisation

I feel pushed to respond to the entry John made after our discussion on Friday morning as I feel that I have been misunderstood and do not find the label of skeptic appropriate. I wish to outline a few of my current frustrations I have with the cultural environment in the UK at the moment.


The discussion arose from a question of how to continue once the workshop was over. How can the ground covered over the past week be developed further and whether or not we felt there was anything we could do to support each other in our long term goals for the future.


From this we decided that we should try to meet up again in a few months time and set John the role of organising it.


The discussion then turned to the ways in which groups and artists organise themselves and the level of control they have in producing and exhibiting the type of work they would like. John brought up the point that he felt there should be a way to circumnavigate  cultural organisations whom he feels siphon off the (public) funds available and act as gatekeepers in cultural production – artists becoming employees of the organsations when they fulfill the remit set for residency programmes or commissions and do not get to wholly dictate the manner in which they work.


I perhaps did not make this clear at the time, but yes, I do agree that artists should continually find ways in which to produce and display the type of work that they find critically interrogating and should not chase the funding money pot, adapting their methods to suit the desires of the organisations strategic agenda if they do not feel it fits with their own outlook.


However, regardless of whether you are an individual or group working directly with the public funding bodies or you are receiving funds through a supported cultural organisation at some point there will still be the need to provide reasoning for your allocation of funds and evidence of its impact. This is a task in itself and one that requires knowledge of the relationship outlets have to funding bodies and the goals (goalposts) those bodies have had to set and which you must fit into (otherwise there will be no funding). The cultural organisations all came about for their own reasons and in the eyes of funding bodies they must also come up with their own strategic plans for the development of artistic production within their self-designated context. This secondary and perhaps more narrow set of specifications within the funding structures can of course bring about further hurdles for artists to hop over on the way to the fruition of their ideas but these constraints can also be enabling in that they promote particular forms of practice and help to better establish them by developing a platform dedicated to its exploration.


I know I’m going of track here but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that regardless of how we manage to gain access to funds so that we may make and promote our work we will still have to provide reasoning to the powers that be as to why we should have it in the first place. The organisations and individuals still have to spend lengthy hours filling out forms and building the case which can at times undermine the work itself.


John pushed the notion that a group can continue for the longer term without any central co-ordination. I do not feel that a group or organisation can and as I have tried to outline above it is because in the long run, if they want to access public funds or become larger entities in order to further promote their ideas they will then have to take on the role of administration. You suggested that this would be absorbed into the group and members would take it upon themselves to carry out this task in a act of self governance. I then responded by saying that these less artistic tasks will become more time consuming to the point where people will be unwilling to give up so much of their time unless they can have some sort of recompense, namely income.


As Simon pointed out there are pressure points at which organisations do alter their structures, some close in upon their decision making processes, creating a line between management and production and allocating these roles appropriately. It is here that groups must be vigilant in reaffirming the equilibrium so as not to create a hierarchical distinction between the two roles. Rather they should maintain access to broad opinion but not in such a way that it becomes an endless and debilitating task – seeking to strike a balance and knowing when to move on or quit.


The insistence during the discussion of entirely open means of organisation where everyone is self-governing, especially in light of funding cuts when opportunities will become all the more sparse, feels a little too close to the recent conservative initiative of the ‘Big Society’. People willing to offer a significant part their time for the greater good. A reasoning that asks people to absorb disproportionate cuts in public spending brought on by the economic crisis by a Government that is trying to get out of providing key public sector services (health, education, culture etc) yet protecting the very financial infrastructures that brought this situation about. I suppose my frustration has been unfairly directed, instead I should be asking the core question effecting all of these instances which is how we value cultural production because at the moment we are pushed into viewing it as a direct capitalist transaction and have to quantify it in monetary terms to prove impact within society. Currently we are being pushed further and further into treating artistic production as a consumer object or service, one that requires a proved rate of return on investment and I find that the re-appropriation by the Conservatives of the long established practice within arts communities of self-organisation into their ‘visions’ for society a difficult pill to swallow. I believe that public provision of culture is something that should be protected and feel it is not being accurately defended against and ever encroaching commercial value system.

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Goldbloggers talk with the artists

On Friday the 25th we spent our day at Metal and had the chance to talk with the artists about their work during the residency. Here’s the result:


- Hans

Hans feels like an antenna here at Chalkwell Hall, he’s getting lots of inputs and inspiration from working side to side with other artists. At first, he found it difficult to free himself from business dynamics he’s usually subject to by working in a company, clients demand results, finished products, and don’t seem to care about the importance of the process, which is what the residency here is focused on. Being in between the art and business world, Hans tries to mix the idea of “uniqueness” related to the former with the one of “reproduction” on which the latter is based on. Using code (Action Script and Processing), he generates slight variations of the same piece, resulting in a series of reproduced but still unique images. Also, he is concerned with the role of hardware in digital art as often this is only thought of as art if delivered together with a physical medium. Particularly, digital art is expressed through screens, i.e. artificial light. Hans is here researching the possibility to exhibit digital art through other media such as E-paper or more viable QR codes techniques.



Other surfaces for digital art


- John

John was looking into two different areas and projects, one of which he had already started working on some time before Metal, and the other one set by him as a consequence to a theft within the building. Such system consisted in a small camera filming the building entrance, and a system that would perform face recognition, which was partially working – for example, it would struggle to recognize Graham’s beard.
The first project on the other hand, was involving one out of four swan pedalos that were used for the Liverpool Biennale and then sold on Ebay and that John decided to buy. His purpose was to try and create an “open source” swan pedalo: understanding the unconventional combination of the two expressions, and especially how open source implies that the source has to be available, the idea was to actually expore new methods of collective and maybe modifying use of such pedalo, through people’s interventions and suggestions. In fact, the object could maybe be modified by its ‘users’ as ong as it is still usable.
John’s view of his work is that all of it is continuous, and is not made for a sole and specific purpose, which can in fact be seend in the swan pedalo and the ongoing research about it.



Computers do not recognize Graham


- Stephen

Stephen is investigating the predictive power hidden in data. Data sets can reveal recurring patterns if analyzed over time and such patterns can show tendencies on which a possible model of future things to happen can be drawn. Data mining, a practice increasingly adopted by business to profile users and target marketing accordingly, does that by using algorithms to find informational patterns in databases and produce knowledge out of them (KDD). Various forms of divination such as tasseomancy, a method for reading tea leaves, also use data patterns to forsee the future; Stephen is developing a system that juxtaposes KDD and divination methods: a webcam installed at the bottom of a cup scans the leaves pattern and send the images to the computer that analyzes them through algorithms and store them in a database in which the interpretation of the same pattern given by a human user (divinator) is also stored. In doing so, the parallel human-machine vision of data patterns is merged in the production of knowledge.





- Olga

Olga, who is also a PhD student at Goldsmiths and attended our same course, created a light responsive system made up of four light sensors and three vibrating devices whose connection one to the other and then to the body is meant to explore the interaction between the sun and the body. By the time she showed us her project, in which the sensors were attached to different parts of her clothes, they were all responsive although some of the values (especially the one of sensor n4 on the front) had really low values because of the darkness of the room.
Olga is generally interested in infraverbal communication, i.e. the exchange of informations that happens at a non linguistic and more subtle level such as the one of electromagnetic fields and feromons. She is directing her PHD research towards the connection between sun, humans and machines, while the work she is performing with another student is based on interaction dynamics happening out of consciousness between humans, which she is exploring through the use of sensors.



Wired to the sun


- Rob

Rob is working on a system that captures images at set intervals and are affected by light sensors. The images are automatically stored in a remote server and then played as a sequence creating a time lapse effect; the hardware components of the system are a Make Controller to which light sensors are plugged and a camera connected to a Mac Mini. He is using Max MSP/Jitter with a patch that regulates the system and that he had created before joining Metal and edited in order to adapt it to the surroundings at Chalkwell Hall. He showed us some extracts of what has been captured between 4 pm on Thursday the 24th and this morning, resulting in a video where the shades affected by light intensity implied a visual sensation of movement and evolution of the space.





- Markus

Markus is exploring new possibilities in video expression not necessarily based on speech and dialogues but rather focused on montage and post production techniques. He would like to add interactivity to his work as it is something he has not done yet. On Thursday, he went for a walk on the mud (a “non space” in his words) with Graham and filmed short clips which he then edited in order to create a visual pattern. He often adds his own sounds to the videos based on what he’s trying to express.



Walking on mud


- Caroline

Caroline explained that she has not been practicing for a couple of years, and was now trying to explore new areas of research and get back into arts practice: she mainly researched during her stay at Metal, deciding to take on more different kinds of information without narrowing it down too much, in order to identify a focus.
One of the points she got into, was analysing how different means of everyday life exercise control on the very basic tasks of her life itself, such as work, amongst others.




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Graham Harwood invited me to have a walk on the ‘mud’, which was a very fascinating meditative experience. It was shortly before the tide would arrive in the afternoon so we had around 30 minutes to walk through the ‘drill’ of water, which is a little river bed. Interestingly you actually walk in that drill as it has a harder soil than the mud beside, which is very sticky and makes walking nearly impossible.

Since a couple of years I am interested in the phenomenon of travel and it’s impact on the perception of space and dimension. The walk as the ‘basic’ human walking speed provides a very close connection for the individual to its surroundings, sensory experience and memory.

The ‘mud’ walk brought us to an ‘in between place’, which is accessible at certain times either by foot or boat. The space is probably more considered as a water area than a soil area in our psycho geography. The cyclic accessibility interestingly relates to gravity between earth and moon.


stills from video fragment 'UN SPACE'


I filmed a bit and started to work on an experimental video fragment (sketch). The walk as a starting point for creating an audio visual fragment might seem naive, but it brings about a meditative element reminding on the dependence of human activity in relation to its situation of the planets climate condition as well as its unique set up in the universe.

As a result I tried to create an ‘in between space’ visually, which is not easily to locate and which allows the imagination a drift for identifying it.

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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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A class of old habits

The elegance of coding is a topic that popped up regularly in the conversations between the participants of this lab. Graham Harwood inspired me to think a bit more about coding in general. This phrase on Wikipedia seems to summarize well what elegant code should be:

… a computer program or algorithm is elegant if it uses a small amount of intuitive code to great effect.

I do not consider myself as a pure coder, but I might begin to understand why I am so attracted by the act of coding. There is simply something beautiful about an elegant piece of working code.

During this week I managed to spend some time with Processing. Not much, but still I rewrote some old Actionscript to function in Processing and turned it into an ‘elegant’ class. Then I browsed the available ‘Getting started with Processing‘ examples and in a very basic way plugged in my class. Here is a result of these ‘messing around sessions’:

Processing exercise

Obviously it resembles my previous work in Actionscript since I simple reused my old code. But I have it now in an elegant reusable class. The very traditional wish for visual beauty in art is matched by a very similar ‘feel’ of beauty in writing code.

It think I still need these kinds of visual outputs just to show or communicate to people what I sense while writing ‘elegant’ code.

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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
Subject: [-empyre-] unwired sustainability
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <>

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


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Database Divination: Classifying The Machinic Gaze Part 2

Having done the requisite research on tea leaf practice I decided to engage once again in the act itself. I again recorded the process using the same apparatus as last night.

To prep myself for the frame of mind one should be in when doing an act such as this I did some basic four fold breath breathing exercises and also listened to some binaural brainwaves music. It’s important to engage in these actions to enter the mental/psychological space, even if one would consider that space a simple suspension of disbelief, necessary for scrying practices.

I decided to steer clear of the interpretations of what the various symbols I saw meant, but realised that the person who looked into the tea leaves would need some sort of guidance as to what to detect. Usually this guidance would be provided by the tea leaf reader (in a classic instance of mediated agency between bodies) but in the eventual realisation of this concept this guidance will be provided by software who will provide it in order to gather information into it’s database tables.

Once I had completed the gazing and took time to look at the patterns I realised that there was a possibility of using the users input to the database as a trojan horse for the computer to garner information. For instance I could ask the user to count the number of leaves they see and add this to the database. This data would go into the computers view of the patterns, as knowing the amount of tea leaves might be additional data which will let it filter the imagery more appropriately.

Something that I found noteworthy was that upon later inspection of the glass that the patterns within suggested different shapes and combinations to me. This really made me think about the state of mind one has and how much this determines your propensity amenable to perceiving patterns. I wondered if there would be a way to bring out how distilling ones experience into a database could alter your pattern discerning capabilities.

Following this more intuitive engagement with tasseomancy I was on much firmer conceptual ground. I was much clearer about how the interaction between computer and tea gazer would have to be a co-relational relationship, with the computer adopting a pseudo – seer like position as well as acting as a data munging agent. I was also able to devise a provisional database structure into which the data of the divination practice would be entered. This is a rough sketch of how the structure will work


this is a rough plan, awaiting proper ER diagramming


I then set about using Perl to create a DBD interface whereby data could be entered via the command line. I wanted to code this from scratch as much as possible, as I deemed it within my existing knowledge and that it would take just as long to start coding it as to search efficiently across google for a script that approximated to the function which I desired to have. In so doing I was take a cue from Tim Kindbergs decision making process.

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A game of QR chess

QR Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.

QR-code look basically like this:

example of a qr code

My interest in these codes was among others a pure visual one. (more…)

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I fell in love with Transistor

I have recently started to suffer from a weird affection; one I didn’t think was possible: I fell in love with Transistor. This fascinating machine composed of n- and p-type semiconductors has enough personality as to allow current through it only under certain conditions. For transmission to be enabled the machine needs to be touched in a particular way. Isn’t she wonderful?

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