Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
Now that I’ve finally moved to St Ives, living in town means that my research can be more autoethnographic, which means my subjective experience of everyday life also becomes a kind of social research method. Things like going to the local hardware shop (every day last week, for a vegetable peeler, gaffer tape, airbed, tape measure) start conversations about St Ives. This means more stories to record and discussions to have. Being part of the community I’m researching is, I think, really important to gaining a deeper understanding of place, its rhythms and narratives.
One of the delights of this is Feast Day. I overslept after not sleeping well, and was woken to the sound of drums along Fore Street as the procession made its way up to St Eia’s well (up the hill past Porthmeor, by the cemetery). I managed to have a shower and coffee in time to be outside my house to see the procession on its way back down Fore Street. The band were followed by the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, some other town officials (I’m never quite sure of their correct titles, I really should know after the Knill Ceremony), and school children dancing. They all wore ivy wreaths, and some wore Cornish tartan.
I took my coffee and wandered after the procession with the crowd, through the mild February drizzle towards the parish church gardens. This is where the Mayor begins the hurling at half past ten o’clock, by throwing a silver ball to the waiting children on the beach below.
Cornish hurling is something like quidditch, played without broomsticks. There is a silver ball, usually made of wood and covered in metal, which is probably quite painful if it hits you. The aim of the game is to return the ball to the Mayor at the Guildhall by twelve o’clock. The winner gets a silver coin. There don’t seem to be any other rules, really. The first boy to catch the ball ended up with his face shoved into the sand. In the melee that followed, those involved in a scrum of punching and wrestling were so busy fighting that they didn’t see one of the bigger girls take flight with the ball. After that, the children dispersed to hunt the ball around the town. They also have to avoid being fooled into chasing one of the decoy balls, usually an orange covered in silver foil.
There follows an hour and a half of children running through the streets, shouting that so-and-so has got the ball, or that so-and-so had given it to someone else. Tactics are planned weeks in advance, hiding places pre-planned.
Everyone gathers in front of the Guildhall to wait for the ball to come back. In between, the Western Hunt (who weren’t hunting owing to poor dog health) and some saboteurs dressed as foxes came and went in Royal Square, which I missed.
Apparently, the bigger children are supposed to give the ball to one of the smaller ones to give to the Mayor. This didn’t really happen. A group of pink-faced older boys, steaming and over-excitedly restless as race horses, appeared, waiting for midday. They managed to get to the steps of the Guildhall without losing their ball, and presented it to the Mayor, to much cheering and applause.
The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and others then appeared on the balcony to throw (according to Bev, specially polished) shiny pennies to the children waiting below. I was quite surprised at the excitement of twelve year-olds to falling pennies, but the police were there to keep public order and prevent any injuries.
After that, the crowd dispersed, and I went home to get on with the long list of things to-do this week.
What Phil and I were trying to achieve with this (a rhizomatic encounter with memory, looking at the intertextuality of memory in the form of oral history, and the materiality of place, and the spaces in which these encounters occur to create a continuous narrative of place. More or less.) proved to be tricky to communicate in the St Ives September Festival programme. We didn’t want to scare anyone off by describing it too loftily as piece of sonic art, which it wasn’t really, as it was a test project to see how people responded. But neither is it an historical audio tour. I wrote this for the programme, with Phil’s help:
Put on some headphones. Take a walk around town. Encounter memories of St. Ives as you wander the streets. Fragments of memory, swept up from cobbles and beaches, tidied away into the archive, are pieced back together to again litter spaces around town. Archive voices entwined with original material create a rich soundscape to find stories of creative community.
Devised by composer Philip Reeder and St. Ives Archive Research Fellow Jeanie Sinclair, UCF
Wednesday 14th – Sunday 25th September, Mariners’ Church Crypt, Daily from 10 am until 4 pm. Free.
We were hoping that would get the balance about right.
It didn’t. The first day was somewhat disparaging, and I began to wonder why I’d thought this would be a good idea at all. The first people to do the walk, an older couple on holiday, came back after an hour or so. That seemed positive to me. I asked them how they’d got on. They were somewhat hesitant, so I encouraged them to be honest as it was a research project and I wanted their opinion so I could make improvements. “It was quite nice, but we wanted to know more about the history of The Digey.”
So, lesson number one, explain things better.
It went on a bit like that for the rest of the morning, and I probably wasn’t doing a great job of selling as I ended up being a bit apologetic; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else. I should probably mention that the demographic at the festival does tend to be older people and those with very young families. I realised that explaining that the HP ipaq PDAs that we were using work like satnav made more sense to people unfamiliar with smartphones.
One person actually said he wasn’t interested once I’d explained it, and left. Feeling very downhearted, I started to wonder if it was impossible to create something that would be accessible to everyone at all. The one person that I knew from the archive that came to have a go was foxed by the technology as a previous user had somehow managed to turn on the standby after three minutes button.
I realised that Phil’s sound track wasn’t going to work for anyone with tinnitus, as two sufferers reported back negatively.
I learned to stop talking about the project in terms of the negative, of what it isn’t, after one very nice local man came in and interrupted my weary apologia by saying yes, he understood what it it was thanks, and was very interested, and could he come back with a friend on Sunday? I felt then like a prize chump for patronising the only person to come to the Crypt Gallery that day who understood what we were trying to do.
So, be more explicit. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail and fail to summarise what is essentially a simple idea.
On day two, one of the ipaqs stopped working, so I only had two that worked.
I started being a bit more upbeat, and a few more people came. I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have any more people come, as there wouldn’t have been enough equipment.
I got more positive feedback. Some people would, they said, rather be told where to go, and be given more direction. Others liked the idea of just wandering. There were some really lovely comments about Phil’s music, and in particular the way in which it enhanced a sense of presentness in time and place, making people look at things in new ways. I think in some ways that it worked better for those who were locals, or knew their way around the town better; existing knowledge and memories of place woven together with the sound walk created the kind of thoughtful intertextual experience I’d hoped for. At least it did while the technology was working.
The GPS drift seemed to be a bit of a problem. Areas I’d tested thoroughly didn’t deliver any content for some users. It’s very hard to get things in the right place using a pixellated map image when you need things to stay in a street that’s only a metre and a half wide. Using live maps in Appfurnace should solve this.
So, things to do for the next iterations: concentrate on specific places more, or specific themes to create micro-narratives of place, and join them together. Use more programming to improve functionality. Keeping it simple made sense, as it’s not about the technology, but the topography of place necessitates more careful thinking. Consider using narrative; the rhizomatic wandering can be retained, but perhaps reassure and guide without actually making a linear walk. Make some more recordings. Extend the stories, or at least identify them – possibly QR codes, possibly using good old paper, or possibly just a tumblr or similar. I still don’t want to interrupt the experience with material other than sound and place, as this disrupts the intertextual of the feeling of being both outside of the everyday and present in place.
On the Craft vs. Digital debate, this is my exhibition catalogue essay for Craft Code 011 – New Ways of Making, currently showing at The Wills Lane Gallery in St. Ives.
Ultimately the computer is a means for combining the skilful hand with the reasoning mind. Our use of computers ought not to be so much for automating tasks as for abstracting craft.
Malcolm McCullough, Abstracting Craft 1996
The more we forbid ourselves to conceive of hybrids, the more possible their interbreeding becomes […]
It is perhaps ironic that the digital and the analogue are so often discussed in binary opposition to one another. The more present that digital becomes, the louder the discourse becomes in its pros and cons relative to analogue, when quietly, hybrid practices are developing. The present moment signifies a point of change, a desire for discourse on craft that does not simply create dichotomies that prevent understanding of processes and of making.
CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING explores the potential for experimentation and reappropriation, using digital technologies with traditional skills to create hybrid processes that create new contexts for craft production. These designer-makers reflect the move towards the postdigital in the hybridity of processes, playfully subverting expectations of ‘digital’ and ‘handmade’, but always remain connected to materiality.
These hybrid processes of making have emerged in part from the Autonomatic research cluster at University College Falmouth, where human-machine interaction, experimentation and innovative thinking produce diverse work connected by the discourse around craft and digital technologies. Combined with traditional skills and materials, these digital tools can create new modes of sustainable practice which seek to give the designer-maker greater autonomy.
In the 1970s, industrial CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines were developed that allowed the production of 3D things by entering numerical co-ordinates defining height, width and depth. From the 1980s onwards, computing technology evolved and democratised, allowing complex 3D objects to be designed on a 2D computer screen, but few had access to ways of making these objects real. Now, a new conceptualisation of tools and process is emerging. The physicalization of the digital is produced by challenging and interrogating these tools, and reflects a wider movement towards this reification of digital technologies as a natural progression from on-screen to real life from other kinds of digital media. What would have previously only been possible in 3D digital design on a 2D computer screen, developments in Rapid Prototyping and CNC allow objects to break out of the frame of the computer screen, creating new possibilities in making 3D objects that were previously only conceivable in 2D. Ultimately, as McCullough suggests, using digital technology is not about automation, or an anonymous computerised aesthetic, it is about intellectual investigation and creative manipulation, using hand and head to develop tools that give a new context to modes of production.
The autonomous hand of the maker is both visible and invisible in these new ways of making. A playful relationship between ideas of hand-made and digital connects these makers. A looping transformation between handmade and digital, blurs through an iterative process of making and remaking. Katie Bunnell’s Bunny Beakers started as a desire to create a narrative on a drinking vessel. Hand-drawings are scanned to create a digital image that is used to create a silicon mould, wrapped to create a beaker shape, and slip cast in porcelain. Concealing the mould’s join by hand-stitching the silicone reveals the hand in the beakers’ making, hand-made imperfections and continuous touch inscribed by hybrid process.
This hybrid processing of information to produce different contexts of making is integral to the circularity of process in collaboration between Ismini Samanidou and Gary Allson. Ismini’s hand-woven textiles made using traditional fan reed techniques are not flat. Tension in the weave produces a 3D object that is digitally scanned, then output digitally in different materials. When drawn on to paper with a CNC milling machine using pen or brush, they appear to be exquisitely hand-drawn. Using three sets of co-ordinates, a 3D drawing becomes 2D image, demonstrating a sensitive hand-drawn aesthetic that playfully refutes any preconceived notions of digital craft. The CNC milling machine then inscribes the textile weave into Cornish oak. The tactile surfaces of the woven wood are both impossible textile and miniature landscapes.
Drummond Masterton’s work in metal is influenced by his refusal to accept the limitations of digital technology’s aesthetics. The triangulation of points in space in 3D digital production tends to create a triangulated aesthetic, the process self-evident in the craft object. By understanding this triangulation he is able to break out of it, using triangulation to escape the triangular. Three-dimensional co-ordinates of making machines relate to co-ordinates in real space; fingers travel over the object’s surface and continue moving over an imaginary landscape. Drummond talks of the essential hidden haptic element of the hand’s intervention of the digital making process, the stopping and starting of the machine, the touching or blowing required that reveal the autonomous maker in the seemingly automated machine.
Points in space are materialised further in Tavs Jorgensen’s work exploring the possibilities of ‘Pin-Point’, ‘an array of pins placed in a set of perforated screens in which impressions made from one side are reflected as positive shapes on the other’, allowing infinite shapes to be reproduced in kiln-formed glass. This experimental tool allows for different modes of production, that allow, like the others used here, the intervention of the hand of the maker according to desire, to adjust the digital design by hand. The process of making is visible, and integral to the materiality of the object, creating layers of meaning beyond the aesthetic. Tavs’ investigations are iterations of process that express a need to find ways for makers to gain more flexibility and sustainability in contemporary craft.
Connected by points in space, place, inversions of process, playful and practical interventions of the hand, a love of traditional skills and the ultimate materiality of production, CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING is a reconsideration of contemporary practice.
I was going to go for a walk around St. Ives today, and take pictures of things. However, it looked like this, and although I don’t mind getting wet, don’t think the new device would like it much.
Janet and Alban made another video on Friday. I’ll post about that as soon as it’s available. It’s an incredibly touching story from the archive.
I really think that we should pay more attention to the things under our feet. We take sanitation for granted, generally. It symbolises the literal construction of place. Proper sewers and streetlighting signify the coming of urban modernity at least as much as the railway, if not more so. And these major sanitation works began in 1895. Further major works were carried out in the 1930s, and then not much happened until the Clean Sweep initiative in the early 1990s, as far as my cursory research into the parallel development of town and good sewage systems go. Not very poetic, but interesting, I think, and surprisingly relevant to my research. Although not that much, so I’m going to stop going on about effluent. For now, at least.
The archive is closed this week for a stock take and general tidy up. This means that there are boxes of interesting things all over the place, and a great opportunity for me to have a rummage around and get to know the archive better.
I started on a few boxes of documents that had come from the St. Ives Borough Council Planning Department. More interesting than perhaps it initially sounds, highlights included grant approval documents for people living in downalong to have hot and cold running water and indoor toilets installed. These were dated right up to the early seventies and I found it shocking that several years after the moon landings, people still didn’t have indoor sanitation. I realise I’m probably being naive, and I’m sure this wasn’t unique to St. Ives.
The fascination with sanitation and utilities continued with the oldest documents from this box, beautifully copperplated contracts between the Town Council and an engineering company for the public works, including the installation of sewers, gullies, manholes, ventilation etc. which dates from 1893.
An interest in the town’s sewage system may seem far removed from the history of the creative community in St. Ives, but the works to improve the sanitation were essential to the local economy, making the streets more attractive to visitors and residents. It’s only twenty years earlier that a guidebook recommends avoiding St. Ives because of its open sewers and fishy stinking effluent. The population is growing again by this time, and more housing is being built and a growing population requires modern streetlighting and proper drainage.
Further documents show public health improvements were made in the town in the 1930s, around the time of the slum clearances. According to Greta, WWII interrupted the clearances, or St. Ives would look quite different today, and as it is, only the area which is now the Sloop Inn car park was cleared. The residents were moved to new council houses in estates like Penbeagle, with proper indoor bathrooms. Considering the number of applications still received by the council for grants to install indoor plumbing and bathrooms in 1971, as documents in from the archive demonstrate, it was probably a sensible move. The oil-painted poverty may have attracted artists and tourists, but the reality of living without modern conveniences must have been a lot less poetic in reality.
Other really interesting things included an accounts ledger from a clothes shop, containing details of purchases from the early 1900s until the 1950s, and another ledger detailing the fund-raising activities of some eminent St. Ives ladies who worked hard to raise money for a variety of causes during the First World War.
I’ll upload some photos next week, once I’ve got my fancy shiny new smart phone.