on being uncontrollably controlled

Several weeks ago a dear friend (and Nomad in Residence to-be) Alex Kelly tagged me in a facebook post with a link to an article called Conscious computing: how to take control of your life online. Laughably (?) I was so busy (mainly online) that while I saw the tagged update I couldn’t spare the headspace to read an article about how potentially damaging being online actually was. I’ve just found the time to read that article and realise that – the smart cookie she is – Alex shared an article that has deep relevance for me.

“making a bolt for the door” what time away from the digital world and a cornflakes packet does to me – http://thesubjects.anat.org.au/2013/02/day-3-fee-we-are-cyborg/

Firstly, I never had the chance to ask Alex if she tagged me because I’m always online or because of the affect The Subjects (a sleep deprivation residency created by Vicki Sowry from ANAT, hosted by Professor Drew Dawson & his scientists at The Appleton Institute and experienced with my utterly phenomenal co-subjects Sean Williams, Thom Buchanan & Jennifer Mills) had on me earlier this year. The article mentions a thing called “paper-tweeting” – “scribbling supposedly witty wisecracks in a notebook as a substitute for the urge to share them online”. I never knew this was a thing, but it’s precisely what I did when my internet connection was taken away – as you can see! (NB this link hosts an incomplete version, somehow the full untweets including photos weren’t uploaded, i’ll have to fix that…): http://thesubjects.anat.org.au/2013/02/the-untweets.

I have talked publicly at Adelaide Writers Week about what The Subjects did to my brain, but I have yet to write it up (at least for public dissemination). Partly this is from being too busy with a stupidly complex calendar of commitments this year, but also because it’s not an easy one to untangle (especially for public dissemination!). I’ve always been a bit of a hermit – I prefer one-to-one over group activities and am always kinda freaked out by parties even though I can talk professionally to a room of thousands. Since I started playing online back in 1996 I have been about as ‘always-on’ as my access to technology and my location would allow. Last year’s crowdfunding campaign pushed my online presence to an unprecedented level. It obviously climaxed over the Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Hugh Jackman tweet viral explosion, but has still (to my surprise) maintained a strong consistency long long afterward.

The Subjects was a research study into the affect of sleep deprivation on creativity, but for me it wasn’t vaguely about that; I am invariably sleep deprived and I have often questioned my creativity in any context. The residency to me personally was to explore the affect of complete disconnection from my online & social media community on my … well, on my everything. I really will write this up properly, honest. But for the purposes of this blog post let’s just say that being disconnected from my online world, even just for a week,

FUCKED. ME. UP.

It rewired me in every way imaginable and I’ve really struggled to get my shit back together ever since.

In some ways it’s been a really good experience; I have questioned and challenged what ‘being digitally connected’ and ‘being physically connected’ all meant to me then and what it all means now, which is healthy (if sometimes painful). But in other ways – when you are supposed to be a public voice for not just your own projects and creative path, but have contracts that require you to be actively social online for other people & events – fuck me, that’s hard. And yes, you can easily add the stress of couchsurfing (read: being homeless) and launching a new project (read: finding/renovating a bus and all the crazy that entailed) on top. Suffice to say… it’s been a huge year and it’s still only May.

As I said, I will write up my experiences with all that…another time. For now this article was really pretty bloody good and so I want to come back to that (and thank Alex for tagging me even tho I so rudely blipped her off my radar at that moment in time!).

Muscle (or any) Control

 ends his article with this: “What we need are ways of strengthening the muscle that lets you maintain control of your own attention, so that you can more frequently win the psychological arm-wrestle against the services and sites that are itching to control it for you”. He’s right, that’s a smart view and in a way reflects the ‘program or be programmed‘ advice from my old friend Doug Rushkoff (and others). But for me there’s something else that turned ‘being disconnected’ into ‘a gift’. I returned to skills I used to use every day in the physical world – I started MAKING PHYSICAL THINGS again.

In a past life, for around a decade, I worked in Theatre as a prop maker/set designer/lighting crew and stage manager. I was a jack of all trades who moved happily between departments depending on location and need. I would make things from whatever was around or I would imagine things and make tiny versions of them to try to ‘sell’ the idea of what a large-scale version might look like. That was an art (or probably more accurately, a craft) that I had grown up with and then lost (or more accurately, forgotten) because of technology. Not by choice, just by muscle memory.

The absolute disconnection afforded by The Subjects residency (combined with the dedicated time to notice that was what had happened and act on it) made me incapable of ignoring the differences between those worlds any longer. I hadn’t ever lost my love for physical making, nor the ability to actually turn a cornflakes packet into a mediaeval door bolt, apparently, but I could feel how much I had let that muscle become weak. My time ‘inside’ reminded me that making matters, making ANYTHING matters, and that while, yes, you do need to Make Good Art, you also need to allow yourself the time at a new beginning to just make anything so long as that in future your aim is to make BETTER art. One day, perhaps, with a lot of time and effort you will make GOOD art. It doesn’t matter whether what you make is digital or physical, it just matters that you MAKE IT.

For the record I have now taken control (of a sort!). I am now living fulltime in a bus that has a bed, storage, and a kitchen (although of course there will always be more work to be done). I have (more importantly) just finished or delegated ALL my pre-organised ‘service’ commitments and am now only looking ahead to projects where I actively make things or talk about making things. In case you are curious: Yes, my ego is currently shitting itself. I have spent far too long not making my own work (because I’ve been facilitating other peoples’ creativity) and I have lost both muscle memory and muscle strength; I’ve been in a creative coma and that takes time to recover from. It often feels like nothing I knew before has relevance now – all the code, platforms and hardware have changed since I last made digital things and even then I will admit to a great deal of bodgit & scarper and google copy paste. But I am learning those bits and I have an elderly teenager’s worth of experience in anecdotal references and context. So this year I might not make the art I want to make, the art I can see and desire in my mind. But I will MAKE THINGS. And then, hopefully, next year I will MAKE GOOD THINGS.

Because of how the internet has exploded in that time (and because of how my own online presence has exploded in that time) those things will be a lot more public now than anything I ever made before (erk – this just gets more terrifying the more I write!). These days I am offline more than ever because when you live in a bus you don’t always have electricity or an internet signal (and I’m paying the utterly disgusting rate of $180 per 12GB of data thanks to living in a country where Telstra are allowed to be fuckwits). I have maintained creativity both digitally and through analogue crafts, playing with projects around knitting and sewing, recently starting my first ever cross stich pattern, am about to get/build my own 3d printer, and have a few Arduino toys to play with. I don’t know that I’ll ever take control of my life online (or off!) but I do know that either way the most important thing from all this is that whatever I do, it should have ‘meaning’. For me, meaning comes from both digital and physical; people, like Alex, sharing things that matter on places like facebook that help me live a better life in the bus actively thinking about what I’m going to make and what meaning it’ll have.

Confused? Yeah, me too. Bear with me, I’m working it out and will probably post a status update when it’s ready… so I’ll see you uncontrollably controlled online sometime:)

UPDATE: After writing this post I was chatting with my old partner-in-crime Ben Jones about this creative shift and the problems therein. He mentioned he’d had this quote from Ira Glass as the homescreen of his phone for about a year saying ‘I thought it was a really useful thing to hold on to, especially when making things that i’m not entirely happy with (which is essentially all the time)’. I’d stumbled on the same quote earlier this year while thinking hard about what I was going to be making, and why. It’s helped me enormously to accept what I was saying above – that not being great now is OK and I just need to not give up. Anyway, in case you missed it, here:

ira-glass-quote

No[w]here

"big bus, little bus" photo by Sayraphim Lothian @Sayraphim

“big bus, little bus” photo by Sayraphim Lothian @Sayraphim

Four women from four different lands (UK, US, AU, CA) converge in Sydney in June 2013 for the International Symposium on Electronic Art. Collectively the four have never physically shared the same geographic location at the same time, although lead artist Fee Plumley has spent time independently with all of the others. Creatively the four have never previously collaborated but they are brought together by a collective interest in exploring location and its affect on meaningful human connection.

Because they reside across the world No[w]here is a digitally-driven collaboration process through skype calls, shared documents and emails. It will culminate physically with all four arriving at ISEA2013 in Sydney. Once there we invite you to join us for a series of experiences around the city that will be announced through the reallybigroadtrip blog and social spaces – sign up for notifications below.

Expect maps that lie, perambulatory conversations that uncover liminal spaces, and the decadent sensation of being lost on purpose.

Fee Plumley is a Welsh/Mancunian/Australian nomadic geek artist travelling around Australia in a bus, making and sharing with everyone she meets along the way. reallybigroadtrip.com | technoevangelist.net | @feesable

Kate Chapman is a US geographer and technologist from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team who has most recently been working in Jakarta on crisis preparedness and response. @wonderchook

Brenda L Croft is a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra peoples from the Northern Territory, Australia. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), College of Fine Arts (CoFA), UNSW. http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/media-office/brenda-croft

Cheryl L’Hirondelle is a non-status/treaty nêhiyaw/âpihtawikosisan (cree/metis) interdisciplinary artist and singer/songwriter from the land now known as canada. cheryllhirondelle.com

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Call for Investigative Cartographers!

City of Lights LED map made for TEDxADL

City of Lights LED map made for TEDxADL

Open call for 12 people to join our project at Floating Land Festival and Balance/Unbalance Conference, 26th May – 9th June 2013.

:::::: UPDATE :::::: DEADLINE EXTENDED to Fri 24th May at NOON (we will inform everyone by Fri evening).

“We” are Fee Plumley (@feesable) & Kate Chapman (@wonderchook). Specifically, Fee is a nomadic geek artist from UK and a permanent resident of Australia and Kate is a technologist geographer from US currently based in Indonesia. We enjoy exploring the way people perceive where they are & how they navigate through open source technologies and human contact.

“You” are an adult professional with an interest in creative experimentation, open source technologies and navigation. More than that we do not know, which is why we’re sending out this invitation. You may be a local to Noosa or a visitor here for the festival; you might be an artist, scientist, teacher, technologist or academic (or one of many other things); you might already be a geek or perhaps an enthusiastic newbie. We really don’t mind so long as you are passionate and curious and willing to commit some of your time over two weeks of the Floating Land Festival & Balance/Unbalance Conference.

Activity

Using a combination of OpenStreetMap online mapping technology, extremely basic electronics and our natural instinct to explore and share, Fee and Kate will run a two-day Masterclass and public program with twelve selected participants.

During the Masterclass we will explore how we perceive the locations we occupy and what we gain or lose in communicating those perceptions with others. Through these two days we will collaboratively develop a public program in which Floating Land & Balance/Unbalance delegates can engage in a process resulting in an open source physical and digital artifact that can be added to long after the festival has ended.

Commitment

We have a lot to achieve in a very short space of time, and most importantly we want to build a legacy that can continue after we have gone. If you are interested taking one of twelve positions you must commit to being available for the following dates:

26th May – social BBQ to meet and get to know each other (including meeting the rbrt bus, homeJames!).

27/28th May – two-day intensive Masterclass both working through a creative process and developing a program that you yourselves will run with delegates during the festival.

30th May – an opportunity to trial / talk about our new program at Mill Point (don’t worry, we’ll be there too).

3rd-5th June – run the program for Floating Land participants (with Fee & Kate attending).

5th-9th June – run the program alone (with Fee & Kate participating remotely).

NB: for 3rd-9th sessions a rotating schedule can be arranged at flexible times to enable real life to continue at the same time.

Interested?

Excellent! Now, we only have twelve places, so we want to know a little bit more about you so we can build the right team. If you submit an expression of interest below but we aren’t able to fit you in you will be given first dibs on public sessions to make sure you still have a great experience.

This reallybigroadtrip artwork has been supported by Sunshine Coast Council (Economic Development) to expand the awareness and opportunities for digital culture on the Sunshine Coast. This capacity building project is designed to inspire the developing digital economy and capitalise on the opportunities for community engagement around the NBN roll out on the Sunshine Coast.

Nomadic Fab Lab Part 2

The first Nomadic Fab Lab went really well & personally proved to me that reallybigroadtrip is A Good Idea! I’m a bit late with this, but wanted to share some of the output plus the next round (which are, um, already underway, oops).

(I’m going to do this the wrong way round so you get to see the upcoming events first… yeah I know, a bit odd but there are quite a few photos to share from the first one!)

Part two – schedule

The dates/times for the second round of FREE “Fab Lab Show & Tell” sessions are as follows:
11am Mon 13th May – Naracoorte Library.
11am Tues 14th May - Mount Gambier Library.
2pm Weds 15th May - Millicent Library.
11am Thurs 16th May - Robe Library.
11am Fri 17th May - Bordertown Library.

Part one – summary

Alison Kershaw from DFEEST (who funded the Fab Lab Adelaide pilot) and I travelled to Gawler, Clare, Berri, Burra and Murray Bridge. We met 125 people who were all very excited to either see a 3D printer in the ‘flesh’ or extremely delighted to see that there were others within their own community who were enjoying playing with the process in addition to themselves.

Here’s a few images from our journey (all photos by me unless otherwise stated):

special reserved parking outside Gawler Town Hall

special reserved parking outside Gawler Town Hall

Our first session at Gawler Library [photo by @AdelsAlison]

Our first session at Gawler Library [photo by @AdelsAlison]

Nomadic Fab Lab love from Clare Library

Nomadic Fab Lab love from Clare Library

ABC Riverland interviewed us at River Lands Gallery

ABC Riverland interviewed us at River Lands Gallery

@sayraphim's knitted bus on ABC Riverland

@sayraphim’s knitted bus on ABC Riverland

more Library love in Berri

more Library love in Berri

Daniel Schmidt from ABC OPEN SA came to interview us

Daniel Schmidt from ABC OPEN SA came to interview us

Murray Bridge Library provided yummy things

Murray Bridge Library provided yummy things

and then it was time for Alison & I to leave Murray Bridge - #nomadicfablab part1 complete!

and then it was time for Alison & I to leave Murray Bridge – #nomadicfablab part1 complete!

We were on ABC Riverland radio and met one of the ABC OPEN Producers and were in a whole bunch of local newspaper articles including Northern Argus “Clare Library staff like the look of the 3D printing system” and “3D Printing is just Fab“.

It was FUN, we met some LOVELY people & hopefully this will be the first of many partnership trips between reallybigroadtrip & Fab Lab Adelaide. Now to just find a sustainable business model…

Tesla

Nikola Tesla was a fricken genius. Completely bonkers, but a fricken genius nonetheless. The more I learn about geekery the more I wish I’d known this man so I could hug him in thanks.

I was pretty happy when The Oatmeal published “Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived” (I’d even buy the poster if I had an, um, wall to put it on!). I was even more thrilled when Matthew Inman became the figurehead for a massive crowdfunding campaign to help save Tesla’s old laboratory, Wardenclyffe Tower. The campaign was a huge success (they raised nearly 1.5 million – and HELL YEAH I contributed!) and a quiet little notice went out on social media last week:

"WE DID IT! Wardenclyffe is ours!"

Now this might seem unrelated, but last night I went to see They Might Be Giants, a band I’ve loved since I was a teenager but never seen live before. It’s been a crazy hectic time of late and I almost bailed on going, but my word I’m glad I did. It was already an awesome gig, and then they played a track in honour of Tesla from their new album Nanobots. It’s everything you’d expect from these guys, full of facts and love… but here, listen yourself:

Then this morning I saw a new poster from Mister Oatmeal updating the world about the project’s progress; go check it out. I especially love this bit, I guess because I can relate, crowdfunding-wise:

This campaign wasn’t about crowd-funding a video game or financing a startup or creating a fancy new gadget. It was about righting a wrong. It was a way for everyone to collectively say:

“Mr. Tesla:

we’re sorry humanity forgot about you for a little while.

We still love you lots.

Here’s a Goddamn Museum.”

The post also explains that renovating the building & grounds will take even more time and money (obviously). But check this out:

Furthermore, there are believed to be tunnels underneath the property that were built by Tesla and may still house some of his equipment … There are rumors of a huge underground resonance chamber…

TUNNELS! WITH TESLA TOYS IN THEM! AND A RESONANCE CHAMBER! HOLY SHIT!!

So I have an idea that’s so bloody obvious I’m hoping they already have plans underway: TMBG should play a gig at Wardenclyffe Tower to support its continued restoration/excavation. Hell I’d probably even fly to the States to be there for it. So I’m going to suggest it. If you agree, suggest it too. Hell, let’s use a hashtag – #TESLAGIG.

Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower contacts:
http://twitter.com/teslascience
http://www.facebook.com/TeslaScienceCenter
Email: info@teslasciencecenter.org

Matthew Inman / The Oatmeal contacts:
http://twitter.com/oatmeal
http://www.facebook.com/theoatmeal
Email his publicist: filter@theoatmeal.com

They Might Be Giants contacts:
http://twitter.com/tmbg
http://www.facebook.com/pages/They-Might-Be-Giants/10655752394?ref=s
Email: fanclub@theymightbegiants.com

And while I’m here, HUGE thanks to all those people who genuinely share the love in crowdfunding and supporting projects like these. Pre-sales is good too but it means a lot when people just want to see you make your dreams come true. I can’t hug Tesla, but one day I’ll go to Wardenclyffe & I’ll hug it, just like people hug homeJames when they meet her <3.

Nomads in Residence

Since things are starting to hot-up around here it seems to be time to post a bit about what I mean by “Nomads in Residence”.

These nomads are basically my guests in the bus. They must be from the creative digital culture space but I’m really broad about that. By “digital culture” I mean artists, makers, hackers, coders, practitioners, researchers, games developers, animators, filmmakers, policy folk, arts workers, cultural practitioners… ummmmmmm…. other people who play creatively with technology. The point is to be INclusive, not EXclusive, so if you’re not included by title here but feel you should be included by practice then message me regardless.

I have a list of people I have already personally invited. I also have a bundle of folk I have just loved working with/around over the years and will be contacting in due course. But there’s also folk I stumble on/am introduced to who just spark something and need to be invited. For example, I just contacted my first total stranger because her work suits my thinking perfectly, and there might be the perfect match event coming up next year.

And then there’s the unknown-yet-by-me. Of which there are many!

I do not know everyone (or everything). Obviously. This whole project is about getting out there and seeing who/what I don’t know, as well as sharing who/what I do.

So.

The ‘challenge’

  • Location: You don’t need to be from another country; plenty of you gorgeous Australians are on my list. I need to see this country through your eyes and be introduced to your networks too.
  • Your mission: I ask all my “Nomads in Residence” to define where you want to go, who you want to meet and what you want to achieve from your trip.
  • Networking: Once I know your intentions I can help make connections with people you could meet both with me and outside of your time with me. I really encourage you to spend extra time in this amazing country if you can. I can also follow up on people you tell me I should know about in case we can meet them together.
  • Duration: I would love you to stay with me as long as you can, but I understand time is a valuable commodity and you are probably travelling a fair distance. When I started visiting Australia from the UK our costs were often split across a few organisations and that worked a treat, but affects timing/demands, etc.
  • Monies: As you can see from my crowdfunding campaign, this is all very DIY. I would love to offer you travel/accommodation, a nice fat artists fee and a luxurious ‘maker’ budget, but that’s not something I can promise. Especially right now. But I can fundraise (either through crowdfunding targeted to both our communities or through traditional arts funding) and co-productions/shared visits are pretty straightforward to coordinate. You will at least get standard return flights, acommodation/food in the bus and some kind of artist fee.
  • Accommodation: The bus will have a ‘bedroom’ space, a sofa-bed in the ‘lounge’ space, a swag (traditional aussie sleeping bag/tent), and an extra tent. You can choose which you’d like, even on a daily basis.

The Bigger Picture

This often freaks people out when I talk about it; “Your plans are too big, Fee. Calm down and take one step at a time”… Um, no. I think big missions help you better achieve baby steps… but that’s just me.

The big picture plan is to start the model in Australia but then take the concept all over the world. I’ve already been talking to a University in Canada who likes the concept as a research methodology. At some point we’ll run a co-production together to raise funds for a bus and the same process over there. That bus would of course drive across Canada, down to America and then South America, scooping more locals and international en route. I’m also British, so at some stage I’ll be setting up another bus in the UK, which would go to Europe… and so on.

The really-big-picture is that eventually I would like to have a bus in (or within access of) every continent. While I’m not using it the bus would be available for other digital culture practitioners. If they maintain the bus and continue to support the concept (capturing/sharing data, etc) they can have it for free when it’s not being used. If they want to do their own thing then they can hire it and any proceeds will go back in to the project.

National / International

This really isn’t just an Australian project, it’s a digital one. Like the internet it’s inspired by community, collaboration, creativity and connection. The potential is huge but the baby steps are really manageable and realistic. It just takes a little bit of conversation and we can make amazing things happen together.

So if you’re interested, message me with some responses to the above ‘challenge’ and we’ll take it from there.

UPDATE: Get a flavour of some of the Nomads.