Peter Higgins

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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