Thursday, 27 January 2011

Evolution and Revolution

The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy attending the SCANZ 2011 Eco sapiens event at Owae Marae in Taranaki and Co-Lab workshops on social and mobile media.

Ecosapiens Conference

This year's location of the Ecosapiens Conference at a radical Marae in Taranaki, NZ, added an interesting element to proceedings. I must admit that at times it felt uncomfortable for me and too reminiscent of intercultural dynamics and rhetoric from the 1980's and 90's. That said, the local and internationally sourced participant group were one of the most diverse (and tolerant) I have encountered, and the atmosphere allowed for a degree of informal connection and conversation you don't often get when there is formal arts/academic involvement.

Highlights for me included former Foam colleague, Angelo Vermeulen's talk on BIOMODD: a computer recycling/biology experiment/multiplayer game/community development/sculpture project. Angelo works intensively with teams across a variety of international locations to put together art/bio/technology/game pieces which stimulate the imagination and foster collaboration across boundaries. They seem to involve little micro-habitats where computer parts feed, and are in turn fed by, biomatter of different kinds (e.g. algae). Creepy, yet interesting and engaging.

(On the basis of his innovative work he has recently been commissioned to consult with the European Space Agency - assisting them with designs for other-world habitation technologies.)

Another friend, Karen Ingam talked about her fantastic project 'pollinating frocks'. The frocks are the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration with entomologists, botonists, microscopists, surface pattern technologists and print and coating engineers. She worked with this diverse team to create a range of day and evening ware aimed at fashion forward, starving butterflies and moths. The creations are beautiful and very wearable and will allow you to feed insects as you flit about your duties in urban cities. She is currently in negotiation to sell the garments and accessories commercially and have profits generated sent to organisations trying to save rapidly declining pollinating insect species.

There were some great small group discussions and some other interesting presentations - all of which seemed to be nourished by the relaxed, organic atmosphere. However, I felt that, up to the time I left, open honest and ground breaking discussion was greatly hampered by the political and ideological undercurrents generated by the hosts of the marae, and the constraints of NZ cultural protocols. Maori world views (and first arrival/first nation views generally) provide a rich counterpoint to traditional scientific paradigms, but their wholesale adoption are not an answer in themselves. This is especially important to consider in light of the mass extinctions and forest clearances that have occurred in many nations by supposedly 'enlightened' cultures and traditional societies. I would personally favour an integral approach to issues like climate change - or at least one where all points of view had some sense of validity.

As an on again-off again member of the organising group for this event I have to say (after a few years of running similar events) it is extremely difficult to organise interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary gatherings - particularly when the topic is as complex and contentious as climate change.

Co-Lab/Mohawk Media Workshops

I can highly recommend Helen Baxter of Mohawk Media as a presenter and trainer of all things new, interesting and technology based. Her passion, depth of expertise and high voltage delivery style were a joy to be around - her Social and Mobile Media Masterclasses were excellent.

At the end of the two half-day sessions I felt slightly overwhelmed at the enormous rate of change that is happening right now- and the implications for me as a consultant, student and teacher. To get a sense of this rate of change, take a look at one of the links Helen gave us in the Social Media session....

Helen covered everything from the latest technological advancements (e.g. QR codes - an example of which is featured as an image at the top of this blog), to a vast range of different online arenas that are fundamentally changing the way we shop, socialise, demonstrate, and organise our lives. For those of you, like me, who find all of this a bit overwhelming there is even a site for us called where you can attempt to manage all of your online identities and information flows.

I tried out an iphone for the first time and shot a 30 second promo for the TechStyles exhibition with Steve Rood (a fellow attendee) as the very able presenter. I used to immediately send the footage to youtube although our agreement with the exhibition people does not allow me to show you the finished version. I am now inspired to beg, borrow or steal a similar phone and begin sending reports to this blog.

For those of you either overwhelmed or disinterested in the latest hybrid technologies and practices there is a growing movement of technological luddites who have decided to bury their head in the collective sand and ignore the changes happening around them. To them I say good luck!

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