Session 3 reflections: Designing for Responsive Communities

Artist Christian Nold joined us for our third session for a fascinating insight into his practice. Christian began with a chronology of his work since the early 1990s, when the ‘internet found him’. He referred to artists working at the time who inspired him, such as Heath Bunting and Critical Art Ensemble and practices of tactical media that were evolving as a way of intervening into the dominant media. This led to him start researching the policing of group protest, carrying out interviews with riot police, non-lethal weapon designers, activists and sociologists, resulting in his publication, Mobile Vulgas in 2001. Christian talked about his interest in building his own ‘techno-social’ tools (as another form of tactics – based on de Certeau’s reworking of Clausewitz’s writing on strategies and tactics), that might resist or create an alternative to the ones being marketed as interactive technologies at the time. The course he did in interactive design at the RCA, was very much focused on these tecnological fantasies which promised to make life easier, with fewer choices and seamless transition between daily chores (he showed the HP ‘cool town’ advert from 2001 which presented a world where technology is pervasive, persuasive and simply everywhere and mentioned Mark Weiser’s work on calm technology).

Christian took us through a few of his projects in detail, specifically, the bio mapping work he’s been doing and the Bijlmer Euro project. Bio mapping involves wearing a portable lie detector on your fingers which measures your sweat responses, which is connected to a GPS device. As you walk around an area, it creates an emotional reading of your route which is then plotted on a map and the participant can annotate the troughs and peaks with anecdotes about what they experienced on their walk. Christian talked about how the device becomes a piece of performative technology and enabled co-storytelling through technology and a collective look at an area. Having carried out the emotion mapping project with people living in a number of locations (e.g. North Greenwich, Stockport and San Francisco), Christian has decided he wants to shift his focus away from the people he is usually expected to work with – i.e. troublesome teenagers – and to instead wire-up the decision-makers in an area – such as the mayors, politicians and police.

There was discussion on the ethics of this research – how is it used? Who owns the ‘data’? As with the Bijlmer Euro project (a reworking of the Lewes or Brixton pound idea), Christian is interested in creating open data and public visualisations of data that other people can use (what, then, if this data falls into the ‘wrong’ hands?). Currently interested in the ‘citizen science‘ movement, Christian led a discussion on the sustainability of collective, self-organised activities (such as the Cuban food movement), foregrounding the fundamental question of how data is genearted in the first place, who generates it and why?

By Sophie Hope

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