Sunday, April 26, 2009

Flash Company Worker Stitcher

Matt Cowan invited me to embroider a handkerchief for his exhibition at the English Dance and Folk Song Society at Cecil Sharp House in London (opens April 29th). I carried the envelope with the music to the song 'Flash Company' round in my pocket for several months, waiting for an opportune moment to arise.

So when I heard about the Umeå Folk Festival in February - I had to go along with a needle and thread in my bag. On the first day I met up with my friend Phil and lost my ASCII green thread in the bar, so not much sewing took place. But I went back another night and met up with Magnus and Linda, still searching for inspiration for my stitches.

Then the amazing Nano Stern took the stage. On arriving in Sweden Nano was intrigued to hear a children’s song familiar to him from Chile. Nano sang his own version of the song, starting with the original character of the spider, but translating the work of the spider into the idea of a worker, and the spinning of thread into knitting. Weaving together the threads of webs, workers and making, Nano’s passionate song struck a chord with my project. I took out my needle and thread and started stitching in the dark. The picture above shows Folkoholics intense combination of Nano Stern and Matija Solce in the full infectious energy of their song. They certainly blew away the cobwebs from my memories of folk (sitting on a hay bale drinking cider in Cornwall) and brought the whole room into the present with Czech-Chilean humour.

To keep my tradition of html stitching, with a nod to the folk culture of the net, I added embroidered across the bottom of the handkerchief.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Circles of Participation

This weekend I'm preparing my 'short course' for HUMlab, entitled Net Art and Craft (or Circles of Participation). So rather than spending this glorious sunny afternoon walking by the river and visiting the art school exhibitions I am chewing over the connections between what we might call classic net art, and what might equally be called classic craft. But of course, we have moved beyond the classic modes of craft and net art. The overlaps between these established modes of operation have paved the way for an explosion in super-hip, gender encompassing, flexible circles of participation in which anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of pixels, sewing basket and bandwidth can take part.

These days ask young people what they think of participation on the web and they will tell you of the typical web2 sites, secondlife and the massive online gaming environments. But how many people think of the basic graphics and clunky interfaces of net art as innovative spaces for online creative participation? It's true that without the advertising friendly slickness of gender stereotyped avatars, we may feel a bit lost. But, I'm always more intrigued by the things people build in their sheds. Reliant on my own choices, and a more individual relationship with the intentions of the artist and the possibilities and restrictions of the programme, I am more inclined to try and find out how the art website works, rather than my natural desire to find the edges of the commercial programme, and try and break it.

One of my favourite pieces is Glyphiti by Andy Deck. I first came across this at Furtherfield's HTTP Gallery in London, where I became instantly hooked. Andy Deck has also created Screening Circle, which "adapts the cultural tradition of the quilting circle into online format" as described on the

Andy's work has the feeling that if you know a bit of programming, and you put your mind to it - you could do this too... if you wanted too. His work is an example of how people can be creative on the net without subscribing to a media giant. But what's really exciting about the web2.0 is its raised the stakes in user-friendlyness, and taught a large section of the population that the web is a space to participate and not just consume. In 2009 artists are creating websites and spaces which have the open principles of the net art generation, with the participatory dexterity of web2.0. The Open Source Embroidery exhibition anticipates this moment, tracing histories and presenting practices which make Net Art and Craft a potent combination for a sustainable culture.

So now to prepare the course!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Analytical Women

Last Sunday afternoon I went to the Science Museum (appreciating the free entry) with my friend Jake. We went to see the Analytical Engine the Museum built in 1991. I was quite relieved that one of the few sections of the Museum which is not fully computerised all singing all dancing interactivity is the Computer History display! I'm not a programmer, and although the text panel explained that the engine could 'store' information in it's memory, I couldn't quite understand where this is located. However, the punch card system, inspired by the Jaquard Loom, was clear to see.

For a quick intro to Lovelace, Babbage and the Analytical Engine have a peek at Sydney Padua's, fabulous cartoon and here.

The Open Source Embroidery project has led me to some fantastic women working with media arts and crafts in many different ways. Furtherfield invited women to post about women in technology who have inspired them. So I nominated a list of women artists and writers who have inspired me in their analytical rigour, and whose work will, or should, go in the history books. Here they are (in no particular order):
Joanna Drucker / Sneha Solanki / Aileen Derieg / Kate Pemberton / Becky Stern

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fångad i någons garn

I got back to Umea just in time for the HUMlab Open Day. Charlene and I spent the afternoon inviting people to help translate the Yarn Text into Swedish. It was quite a challenge due to the poetic metaphor of 'yarn' in the Raqs Media Collective's original. But fortunately there are several HUMlab workers who are experts in the language of both craft and code, and were happy to advise. The word 'yarn / garn' didn't translate the idea of a story in Swedish, so we had to be creative. So we used a Swedish saying 'to weave a story', which made more sense than the literal translation of 'to spin a yarn'. But in some cases 'Tråd' made a poetic computing metaphor. For example, the last line is translated as 'That's why Threads (Trådar) make good kernals.' Sadly we didn't manage to squeeze in my favourite saying - tangled up in yarn = 'Fångad i någons garn'.

Charlene also made a great display illustrating the relationship between pixels and cross stitch, and Suzanne showed her Knitted Flat Screen cover.