Katharine Oswell

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DMS8013: Life Line

This Blog post is dedicated to one of my three final projects for DMS8013.

Looking at the security of housing for digital technology projects, I decided to create a precarious, somewhat dangerous housing system for a basic Arduino project (namely, a blinking LED).

Here is a link to the YouTube documentation.

 

DMS8013: The Offering

This is a blog post dedicated the ‘Making Things Talk’ aspect of my DMS8013 submission. This piece is entitled ‘The Offering’.

In this project, I have been thinking about communication, and how we communicate with each other, as humans, and also how technology enables this. I also look to how we communicate with the unseen aspects of our world, whether that be gods, spirits, or our higher spirits, or selves.

Using a smoke offering, from the plant mugwort, the smoke was affecting the readings on an LDR, connected to an Arduino, which was in turn feeding the data into Processing.

LDR – Breadboard – Arduino

This is the code used for the project, developed from Tom’s and other code provided for the course

I’d now like to speak more about the idea of incense smoke and ‘offerings’.

In many indigenous practices, plants are dried out and burnt ceremonially. In Native American tradition, this might be the leaves of sage, or could be the wood of Palo Santo, both very different in scent, and bringing different essences to their clearing. Looking to the Catholic faith, we see the burning of frankincense, however this stems back further into the Old Testament, and also to ancient Egypt, further reading can be found here.

In this piece of work, I have used a herb native to these lands. According to this website, Mugwort is a powerful herb which allows for clarity of mind, clear space and connection with the astral worlds. The effects scent can have on the human mind is interesting and is something I would like to explore further. In a Peruvian shamanic workshop I have taken with Ruben Orellana, I have learnt of the importance of sound, colour and scent in traditional Q’ero healing practices. Healing in this respect does not speak of curing a cold, or cancer. Rather it is a preventative, and speaks of allowing the deeper aspects of ourselves to be released.

I would like to work more with essences in my work, and future works will look to how I can combine smell with my digital art practices.

 

DMS8013: Earthquakes as Bleeps

This is a blog post dedicated to my exploration around the project ‘Earthquakes as Bleeps’, for the ‘A Waste of Good Data’ aspect of my DMS8013 submission.

I spent most of the ‘data-wrangling’ class figuring out how to turn earthquake data from this website, into something sonic in Pure Data.

Cleaning up data is time-consuming and involves knowing things like what a .csv file is, and becoming better friends with Excel. Thanks to Sean Cotterill’s help I was able to tidy it up to a point where it was able to be used as data for a Pure Data, shown to me in class with Tim and John.

  1. This is all the data copied and pasted from the site into Pages

     

  2. This is the data now in a document to divide the separate rows and columns

    3.

 

    This is one of the two final .txt docs used by Pure Data to produce the sound

4.

And this is the Pure Data patch used for the final sound piece.

On reflection of this process, I felt confident in using data from an online source and combining it with the Pure Data patch we had been given by Tim and John for one of the LEP modules. I adjusted the patch to allow for two parameters to be affected by data, rather than just one.

Overall, I was happy to just get making, and not get too stuck in my thoughts and concepts around what kind of work I want to make. Something which had been a developed class exercise, then grew into being a larger project. Sonification of data is something I am interested in, and am inspired by the work of Natalie Miebach. Her weather scores allow classical musicians to interpret the data into live music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HSS8121 Public Making: Ex Nihilo

The process of creating Ex Nihilo was one of joy, confusion, stress and ultimately growth. My role in this 7-person collaborative ensemble (including Kiran, Liam, Nick A, Nick C, Pete and Ryan) was always going to be performer of sorts, as that was what I wanted to do with this public plenary opportunity. In the much later stages, I also ended up taking on the much needed role of producer. On reflection, we could have done with a producer from day 1, however we didn’t realise this. As we were such a large group, we had many issues with communication, and didn’t meet again in person, all together, after our first initial meeting in our Public Making class. We managed a Google hangouts, which was fun, and had a shared Google Docs document to piece together some of these ideas we were having separately.

The final idea that we came up with, following a sleepless night of circling conversation at ACA, was to create a live stream of performance from Allenheads to the Culture Lab, using the blow-up planetarium in the Ballroom as an installation space, housing a telescope which, when moved, would capture the different performers’ streams. This project, needless to say, had to mutate to accommodate technical and time demands. Kiran, who was originally going to be part of the performing ensemble, became more involved with the telescope side of things, and decided to focus solely on that. The technology behind live streaming to an Arduino, through Processing, was going to be too demanding and so we came to a decision to be more ‘illusory’ with our live streaming, and actually pre-record material which would be what the audience would see. The live stream would still go ahead, however onto YouTube, an easy platform which could hold all 4 hours of the proposed performance, at no cost.

In these later stages, I also took responsibility for trying to get the live radio stream working. This was a huge, yet exciting, challenge, and helped by Pete’s friend Dominic Smith, I was able to successfully get on air in a test run. However, on the day before the show, I tried a test run at Allenheads and it did not work. I still, to this day, do not know why, and I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, technology doesn’t work, and it can’t always be troubleshooted. As an addition to the radio stream, I also took on some responsibility regarding finding an appropriate live-streaming option and therefore created the Ex Nihilo YouTube account.

Other preparation for our collaborative project included being part of the great water tank ink experiment. We had wanted to create 70s style special effects, by dropping ink into water and capturing it on film. Thanks to Nick A’s editing, we used this footage for the final stream, as a mystical merger for the three separate films of Ryan, Liam and me.

The Performance:

I had originally wanted to create a performance of ritual, one which connected with the landscape and nonhumanness of Allenheads, by looking to the rocks and plants of the surrounding area. This adjusted as we saw our project grow to be one incorporating the idea of another inhabited planet, fitting with the Allenheads Contemporary Arts current project ‘Beyond’.

I developed a persona for this, apparently, which only became apparent on reflection. A creature from an alternate dimension, stuck between realms and not quite sure where she stands. This echoes my current process within my practice as I navigate my way through my singing combined with electronics and the digital world. Another analogy which resonates with this persona is my interest in Peruvian shamanism versus my general art practice; both are possible paths I could take in this life. I seem to be constantly finding myself straddling two worlds, which if we look to shamanism, is a common thing; the shaman cannot reside in solely the spirit worlds, nor the earth worlds. How can I combine and integrate the worlds I find myself in? How can I become whole? 

The performance I developed was a new exploit, as I collaborated with Liam and Ryan, for a durational live improvised performance. Improvisation is an area I feel incredibly comfortable in, perhaps because memorising music is not something I do very well. I enjoy the flow state and the surprise element always involved with an improvised performance, and the focus needed, and this durational one, with new collaborators, was no exception. Surprised by the absence of boredom, despite limited material (zither, voice, and movement), I was involved and present for the entire time, and will look forward to future opportunities of durational performance. A key observation was that it wasn’t until I stepped out of the performance, after having been in it for the 4 hours and 20 minutes, that I realised how immersed I had been. When seeing John, Alan, Helen and the others present up at ACA, I realised how alien I felt in myself. I had truly been in another realm, in my mind. As a practitioner of meditation, this is something I experience following a deep meditation. Where is it we go to when we’re so immersed in the flow of life? A state of just being, doing, flowing, living is something I aim to achieve through my meditation, and bringing it into my art practice is apparently an inevitable thing for me as I try to integrate all aspects of myself into my work. I like how this was unexpected, though.

In fact, something else which was unexpected was the movement element of my part of the performance. In my original intention, I was going to have a close-up of my hands on the zither, and this was what was used as the pre-recorded footage for the telescope. However I had to develop something quickly as it transpired that I would not be able to have a webcam solely for my aspect of the performance, therefore I would be seen as a whole. Luckily, I had prepared for this possibility, and brought some costume options. The dress I wore was an old 60s dress I’d found a few months earlier in a charity shop, and I liked how the floral quality of the dress corresponded with the scientist get up of Ryan’s space, and the invisible darkness of Liam’s corner. What was not visible in my attire was the chrome, sharp pointy nails I had done for this piece. The juxtaposition of the floral, the hair down, along with the chrome nails was a way to exemplify this juxtaposition of the persona from an external perspective. The hands were decorated with symbols, looking to a possible otherworldly alchemy of elemental symbols. The zither was played using various rocks (harking back to my original wish to perform for the rocks), but also small chrome cylinders, which made me think of miniature fuel tanks for miniature space rockets. This chrome versus stone was again my exploration into the earth’s minerals, the conflict of how we need them for our survival, and yet we exploit humans, other animals, and the nonhuman world through our consistent extractivism.

Overall, my experience of being part of Ex Nihilo has been a highlight of my Masters, and although there were difficult times, I would do a project on this scale again in the future.

Below are some images and links to documentation:

The Performance:

Photo credit: Ryan Boyle

Photo credit Nathan, ACA photographer

 

Zither and Objects:

Photo Credit: Katie Oswell

Film for the telescope, uploaded by Ryan Boyle. Film credit & concept: Katie Oswell

 

Final Live-Streamed Performance:

Audio from first Ex Nihilo improvisation rehearsal jam (Liam, Pete and Katie) Recording credit: Pete Haughie.

 

 

 

DMS8013: Boxy Spheres

For part of our Graphics & Data assignment, we’ve been asked to consider the ‘boxiness’ of housing for digital art components/projects.

I’d like to think a little about the boxiness from a structural point of view. Why are they always cuboids, or boxes, and why not spheres? I started to question why spheres were not considered normal housing for these digital arts projects.

I usually like to think in symbols, what objects say without speaking, what they are referring to without explicitly showing themselves. In this journal by Chang Hong Liu, we see the exploration of the comparison between spheres and cubes. His research shows how we subconsciously assign other characteristics to certain objects. He asked people to assign one of two characteristics to spheres & cubes, and there was over 80% consensus with the following assertions, that spheres are:

Soft, Happy, Mother, Love, Good, Bright, Alive, Light, Summer, Warm.

That’s all very lovely stuff, much better than what cubes are, apparently:

Hard, Sad, Father, Hate, Evil, Dark, Dead, Heavy, Winter, Cold.

So, needless to say, I set about positing ideas for an interactive ball, that reacted with the floor via sensors, and would do some cool fun stuff, like light up, or shout out at people, or play a nice tune.

I first realised that constructing spheres from scratch was very complicated, involving curvature which is difficult to achieve, without specific skills. I went through various options, looking at ping pong balls, buying slime from Tiger and using its spherical container to start playing with for this project. The immediate issue I foresaw was cables getting in the way, as developing code for wireless transmission would have been too much for the time I had for this project.

The answer to why people tend to use boxes over spheres, I now realise, is not because they’re Sad Evil Fathers, but because it’s just DIFFICULT to make spheres happen. Let’s stick to our take-away boxes, as we see here in Pete’s work:

DMS8012: An Excerpt

References:

 Chang Hong Liu (1997) Symbols: Circles and Spheres Represent the Same Referents, Metaphor and Symbol, 12:2, 135-147, DOI: 10.1207/s15327868ms1202_3

HSS8121 Public Making: The stones know

When I originally went to Allenheads I was thinking about the fluorite, and the iron ore. So much mining happened in this town, and it was its main source of work for the people of the village. I thought of the mine shafts, of the earth and how we need it for our survival, of how the earth gives us everything, because it’s all we’ve got. I then began thinking of the greed and how the balancing of our need vs greed is a huge issue on the planet at the minute. The issues going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with modern slavery (including children) happening for the mining of the cobalt in our smartphones, are an echo of the oil industry, of the meat and dairy industries.

Looking out at Allenheads, with its beautiful rolling hills and stream running through, I felt grateful to be spending some time out in the countryside (even though I live in Hexham, it’s not quite as remote as Allenheads). It’s hard to balance these thoughts of industry, greed, need and balance them with just having fun with your classmates as you stay up all night trying to come up with a decent idea for a public plenary…

This is a reflection on what public is, and it changes, depending on contexts. I can’t help but think on a global scale, but I know my perspectives are skewed, and I also know that thanks to a biased media we really don’t know the half of what’s going on.

Maybe that’s why I think about the rocks, the ore, the fluorite. I wanted to make a performance just for them, just for the trees, not for the humans. Sometimes I get fed up with humans (yep, myself included), we’re big toddlers messing everything up. Let’s be still, like the rocks.

Link for cobalt mining:

https://partnersforsustainability.ch/cobalt-mining-linked-to-modern-slavery/

HSS8121 Public Making: The intimacy of the public

I’ve been thinking about intimacy in the public. Kyp, in his presentation, spoke of his work where he, instead of using a camera, he sketched police officers’ faces. He said how this began a conversation between him and police, who were in the middle of some kind of crime prevention action, a camera would be prohibited, but sketching, how can you police a pen and paper?

This direct, one on one connection, between not just a member of the public, but an activist artist, and a police officer actively enforcing the law, made me question the levels of intimacy reached in the public. A fear of direct communication, emboldened by our cyborgity (our general tech dependencies), makes for a public with a capitol P, one which is Other from the individual, one which is Alien. It makes me think of how if humans had a common enemy, we might all be friends and stop bombing each other. This need for a common enemy. The anarchist’s enemy is the law, the system which constrains. The policeman’s enemy is the one who goes against the law that their job protects.

But back to the cyborg thing. As a public, a Public, we are moving away from an interconnection in the flesh, to an interconnection in the cyberspace. What was once a connection through voice and body, our speaking to others, in person, is now extended to speaking to those on the other side of the world, through electronic devices. On one hand, we’re more ‘connected’ than we’ve ever been, however on the other, we have disconnected from out immediate surroundings, by default of looking at a phone screen which is messaging someone, elsewhere. It’s cool that we can do this, it’s amazing that I can write this blog entry on my iPad, edit it, publish it for whoever to read, in the future, long after I still care about what I’m saying.

Can true intimacy, human connection, exist in the digital public sphere?

HSS8121 Public Making: Invertebrates

Worms. Scallops. Snails. Slugs. Spiders. Bees. There are loads of invertebrates, SO MANY OF THEM. Jane Bennett speaks of Darwin’s worms, Michel Callon speaks of his scallops. Both these readings prompted me to look to the not so obvious public. When we think of the word public, initially it probably involves a bunch of humans. It certainly, at least for me, doesn’t involve animals, plants, and definitely not invertebrates. But these creatures are an important part of our ecosystem, and as Bennett shines a light on Darwin’s worms, we learn that worms make our earth hospitable, by their vegetable mold (Bennett, 2010).

Callon speaks of the communication between the researchers, the fishermen and the scallops. How can communication evolve between three very different parties, one of whom is not human? (Callon, 1999)

I’m particularly interested in communication between humans and nonhumans, be this plants, animals, rocks or the unseen worlds (ie. parallel universes, spirit realms). I do believe it’s possible, and have had many strange experiences. But the general gist of all these communication attempts is that they are irregular, inconsistent, and immeasurable. Where can science and research sit within these communication endeavours? Perhaps nowhere, and that’s what makes it exciting, it’s the unknown and inexplicable.

References:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter a Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Callon, Michel. “Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay.” The Science Studies Reader, by Mario Biagioli, Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, 1999, pp. 67–83.

 

 

HSS8121 Public Making: Media Facades

“What kind of features make media facades ‘infrastructures of the commons’?”

This was the question I was to answer in the first seminar of this module, in response to the reading of Nerea Calvillo’s paper ‘Mediastructures, prototypes and collective prosthesis: Digital facades as public infrastructures’

In order to answer this question, I had to break it down into sections.

What are ‘the commons’?

According to OnTheCommons, “The commons are the things that we inherit and create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come.” and therefore “A commons-based society refers to a shift in values and policies away from the market-based system that dominates modern society, especially over the past 30 years. The foundation of the market is narrowly focused on private wealth, while the commons is built upon what we all share—air, water, public spaces, public health, public services, the Internet, cultural endowments and much more.”

What are infrastructures?

Buildings, roads, plumbing etc..

What are soft infrastructures?

What could digital soft infrastructures bring?

  • socialising platforms
  • enhancers of cultural participation
  • promotes new forms of shared experience in symbolic locations
  • capacity to install political action

What are media facades?

  • Posters
  • Billboards
  • Signs
  • Digital screens

According to Calvillo, some key features of digital media facades are:

  • “emitters”
  • “public dynamisers”
  • “capitalist invaders”
  • “collective prosthesis”

So, how do these features make media facades infrastructures of the commons..?

  • “emitters” – they are voices, they are communications
  • “public dynamisers” – ludic participation
  • “capitalist invaders” – they can be hacked for the betterment of the people
  • “collective prosthesis” – unification of the commons

The paper has some interesting insights into how to use media facades for the commons, and the public art examples seemed fun and naturally participatory.

 

 

HSS8120 Project Work: “Post-performance Ponderings: When is an opera an opera and when is tininess truly tiny?

Not long has passed since the presentation of the tiny opera, my collaborative project between myself and the plants. Here is the filming of the performance, thanks to Ryan for sharing:

On reflection I can see that a lot happened differently in performance from what I had intended yesterday. The main thing I can see is that the graphic score wasn’t entirely functioning, not technically, but responsively from me. I had wanted my vocal to increase in vocal amplitude, and well I just didn’t do that, and I was quite arbitrary with my choice of when I sang. I mean, of course, that the plants were telling me what to do, but ideally that would have been via the graphic score.

There was some disconnect from a structural, interactive perspective. It was a one woman show, and it’s not surprising that the live performance resulted in some aspects that were unexpected.

I enjoyed adding the element of a backstage, and there was even some character with front-of-house. Something which came to me in the morning, and then I toyed with the idea of issuing tickets. After Scarlet’s game with the tissue paper, I wondered about those then being tickets for entry to my opera. Then I changed my mind. I would have loved to have made tiny programs. I was getting a bit overwhelmed with all the elements of opera, something which is a hugely dramatic practice, sometimes lasting days as we see in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, the four-opera cycle. I decided to leave the rest to improvisation, something which is simultaneously a security blanket and panic-inducing.

As Pete pointed out, there are two key elements to today’s project, the idea of the small opera, and the plant interactive project. Opera exists with a narrative, however mundane, or secret that may be, and I felt that my continuing studies with plants enabled me to give them a stage, a voice. Their tiny voices (electrical signals, water-content, whatever their communication methods may be) were able to be amplified, in a an area of ‘high art’, an historically elitist area of music theatre. Opera however has always found ways of giving voice to those without voice, and this is seen in many of Mozart’s operas, where the soubrette, usually a maid, is a puppeteer of the complicated interpersonal relationships between the aristocracy.

I’m looking forward to taking this project forward, with sights to create a cycle or series of mini-operas, incorporating more plants, perhaps remotely. I would like to ponder HCI further, and question how people can interact with the plant ‘synthesiser’ as I’m starting to see it. There’s a lot of fun to be had with learning more about which areas of soil to press create which sound. Learning it as an actual instrument, perhaps is a more appropriate way of using it musically, as opposed to creating a graphic score. As far as the graphic score work goes, I will try to get ahold of some Ag/AgCl electrodes, so that the plants can be autonomous in their communication. Then we can see what kind of graphic scores they decided to share. I just hope I haven’t miffed them too much with all the prodding…