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Last week  I attended a talk (arranged by Skillswap Brighton) on the topic of persuasive design.

This is something of a buzz topic right now- from the ubiquity of Cass Sunstein’s Nudge (winner of my “desk-furniture for planners award 2009”), to the emergence of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, to the biggest advertiser in the UK‘s newly-stated ambition of ‘behaviour change’- it concerns bypassing the traditional ‘change-attitudes-first’ model of communications and going straight for the behaviour jugular by influencing an individual’s decision-making apparatus without necessarily engaging their conscious mind. A lot of this stuff builds upon the still-awesome exploration of human adaptation to environments in Jane Fulton-Suri’s photographic essay ‘thoughtless acts‘.

thoughtless

One of my favoutite books, that is.

The speaker I went to see was the fresh-faced Dan Lockton, a research student at Brunel University who has achieved no small measure of fame already for his compelling work in this area. His contribution to the field is the Design with Intent Toolkit (free to download and experiment with) which helps to stratify the various ways in which designers can influence people’s behaviour whether by ‘enabling’ choice (making an option more attractive by making it easier than alternatives) or by constraining choice (the opposite – think park benches that are designed to discourage people sleeping on them).

Here he is, giving the very talk I witnessed:

dan_lockton2

He also has a knack of coming with rather good analogies – particularly for design that failed to understand the behavioural ecosystem it exists within.

One I particularly liked was the vision of a fire door propped open by a fire extinguisher.

extinguish

Anyway, the Design with Intent approach is very interesting and I think enormously relevant to any communications practice in this day and age when everything is media, and the practise of embedding communications thinking in products, services, interfaces and interactions becomes ever more important.

Here’s an example image of one of Lockton’s Design with Intent Toolkit‘s ‘lenses’:

DwI Toolkit

These various ‘lenses’ are used to provoke a myriad of possible design solutions to a particular behavioural problem.

The example he used in the talk was the problem of household energy consumption, where behavioural ‘decisions’ (or more correctly, non-decisions)  account for somewhere in the region of 26-36% of usage. Kettles, for example, are routinely overfilled- even for the purpose of making a single cup of tea. This is a behavioural norm that is harmless routine at the level of the individual, but that has extreme and problematic ramifications at the state or global level.

So what’s the solution?

Is it a ‘2.0’ style social interface that uploads your kettle-data to the web and automatically compares and contrasts you with your neighbours, fellow citizens or global best-users?

Or is it a plastic filter that automatically shuts after 1 mug’s worth of water is detected?

Or is it a signalling system employing emoticons to provide a timely feedback loop at the point of filling?

We don’t know yet – but the point of this research is to generate enough good, different hypotheses to test, and then report back on the findings, because whilst it presents a very challenging design brief, reducing home energy consumption is at least easy to measure.

At the time of writing, Dan’s talk hadn’t yet been uploaded as a podcast, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find it here soon. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other interesting talks to peruse – big thanks to Skillswap Brighton for a thoroughly stimulating evening 🙂

Images sourced from event organiser boxman on Flickr, from Andreas Kirstensson on Flickr, and from Dan Lockton’s site
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So a few weeks ago I went to see Brian Eno have a conversation with his friend Jon Hassell as part of the South Bank’s Ether festival. I was going to write it up, but I actually think it’s probably more interesting (and less work) to just post the hurriedly-typed notes I made in-situ.

The stage was dominated by a giant screen that showed the table top the two men had arranged their stimulus on in massive scale- whether live scribblings, images or pages from Eno’s notebook.

enohassel

It was a broad, wide- ranging chat, but stayed within the realms of the type of things Brian Eno normally talks about- the weird sex stuff was all from Hassell, who I thought was a bit of a waste of space conversationally (maybe this is unfair – he just seemed to keep taking the dialogue into less interesting places as far as I was concerned).

Anyway, this is my record of the two hours:

“Stop moving the ohp!
Not just about making attractive things, creating new worlds
Systems + structures, music as a metaphor for collaborative society
‘Surrender’ a choice vs control
Surfing, bridge building
Human history is the surrender zone
4 areas: art, sex, drugs, religion
Not me, us, the flow
The north owns broadcasting (most powerful technology) an ideology of survival
Science makes opposites that are false
Media pipeline is narrow, demands caricature
Is there always a valid opposite opinion? Culture of agument
Elevate the nutter
Geometry makes equal makes opposite- these are abstractions_
misleading when applied to human affairs
Anus- wordism- desire to control by fencing language
Drug companies- inventing illnesses, not cures (paxil)
Creating by naming (WMD) propagenda
What exists before language? Is weird sex marginalised when it should
be lionised? How much is universal?
Porn does not equal happiness, equals alienation
Pleasure is evolution’s compass- now we’ve virtualised it
Scale effect- a qualitative as well as a quantitative effect. All
political systems work well on a small scale
Intrinsic/conferred value
There is no reality referred to in the credit crisis- it is a belief
system that propagates itself- conferred value is easily unconferred,
intrinsic value is not
Art is all about conferring value (creates something from nothing, is ephemeral)
Most art loses value
We are mixed up
Gold moves between real and abstract
Nearly everything happens in the middle ground, not at the poles
What is it that you really like?
Wanking as surrealist art
Art is valuable because its harmless
Eudemonic criteria
Navigating possible worlds
It exists because it’s non verbal
Charts are v useful!
Being blown off course- haircuts
Real information in cultural choices
Dialectic between control/surrender
Religion is like classical music- an attempt for ecstasy”
Read the rest of this entry »

I went to the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2008 and had a great time touring the city and discovering some great artworks.

bpb

One of the things that it re-confirmed for me was how brilliant an organisation Brighton-based Photoworks is. They organise loads of talks and exhibitions throughout the South East as well as producting a truly excellent magazine (subscribe here) and publishing numerous monographs and collections of critical essays. Their logo is a guarantee of excellence as far as I’m concerned.

I wanted to share one of their publications here; Mark Power‘s arresting “26 different endings”. It’s been sitting on the coffee table in our new house for the last week and I can’t stop looking at it!

The idea behind the project is this: Mark Power tours the fringes of the historic and ubiquitous London A to Z, finding the places at the edge of the page -the places that fall just the wrong side of the invisible line- and captures them in a monumental photograph.

It is a tribute to the sites where the grid ends, a portrait of London’s invisible boundary.

What I love about these images is the sense of pathos imbued in every one. The complete assence of people lends them an eerie quality; the places framed and displayed feel abandoned, somehow tragic – as if being outside the map really has consigned them to the land of the forgotten. The fact that the title of each piece is an A to Z grid reference adds to this sense of forgotten places- they are named for how the map sees them rather than how people would have lived in them, humanised and personalised them.

markpowerz22west

Z22 West

At the same time they retain a lyrical, mysterious quality that makes you want to enter the frame and explore, peek round the corners of these strange ghost-town streets and abandoned, neglected fields.

markpowera148south

A148 South

The scenes of suburbia also retain a sense of pride in their closed, gated Englishness.

markpowero145east

O145 East

All the beautiful images are united by the other dominant feature of this collection, the leaden London sky.

markpowerf76west

F76 West

If your coffee table is in need of some fresh artiness, please go ahead and buy the book (in special edition) here.

I apologise for the lack of posting over the last 10 days or so.

I have got pretty good excuses (I’ve been moving house, which has been a 24-hour concern for the last few days,  and I currently have no internet connection), but they don’t count for much when your last post signs off with a cheery  ‘see you tomorrow’ and a smiley face.

So I over-promised and underdelivered – a pretty common and basic misdemeanour that comes with the blogging territory as I understand it.

Anyway, to prove I have some shred of integrity, I will finish the series of Lost-related posts (the new series has already started with a bang btw – who expected to see the ‘big boss’ turn up as a snotty youth on the wrong end of a drubbing by the Lockemeister?) and will try to resist rash declarations about impending installments in future.

I am sorry.

In other news, the Tellier gig I went to instead of watching the Lost series opener was awesome. Here is an appalling photo I took myself:

tellier2

His sound so perfectly captures the promise of the 1980’s – not just the syths and the phase shifted guitar solos but the drama and the overblown significance of every chord change.

Whilst the whole thing is deliciously ironic it’s also sincere and yearning at the same time- an affectionate ribbing that becomes an embrace. That whole Daft Punk thing, the blurring of the line between parody and homage, wide-eyed sincerity and knowing wink is something I really like – because they’re actually both just points on a continuum of appreciation and because I remember the era they fetishize well myself.

Anyway, the gig was great because whilst the music achieved some of the brooding, melodramatic and overblown qualities of some truly great ’80s moments- I’m thinking of Near Dark and Precinct 13 here- it also totally recalled this for me:

which is quite something.

More proper posting in the near future.

img00115-20090109-1235

Last week I managed to find 10 minutes to poke my head into the Maddox Arts gallery near Bond Street, as they were hosting the first UK exhibition of Argentinean enfants terrible Mondongo.

Seems like the things you need to know about Mondongo (who are 3 young collaborators) are as follows:

  1. their name refers to a type of Latin American stew made from tripe
  2. they employ unusual media, particularly plasticine and fur, to create their striking images
  3. they are favourites of Comme des Garcons owner Rei Kawakubo

I have to say that while I enjoyed my whistlestop tour, I didn’t leave feeling particularly bowled over.

There is definitely enjoyment to be gleaned from seeing what are huge, technicolour images break up into many hundreds of squiggly lumps and clumps of string, matted hair and plasticine as you move closer toward them.

I like the idea put forward in their manifesto that through mixing up a ‘cauldron’ (as they call it) of commonplace, lowest-common-denominator products as their medium, Mondongo are trying to somehow capture or distil the rudeness, cheapness and lurid texture of everyday life in a ‘medium = message’ kind of way.

And let’s not be churlish- they demonstrate some real virtuoso skills in just compliling these things. This cat’s face (a detail from a huge ‘painting’) is just brilliant:

img00120-20090109-12421

from Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani (2008)

You can see how engaging with the medium itself is essential to the experience of viewing one of these works by looking at the different levels of detail in the massive diptych Alone Again.

img00118-20090109-1242

From a distance, this image depicts an apparently decomposing corpse lying face down on the grass in an imaginary European landscape, complete with an oil pipe-line and thickly-rendered Van-Gogh trees.

When you move in closer, you can see that the individual ‘pixels’ making up the rich tapestry of the image have their own figurative function. The photo below shows the area in the bottom left of the image, just to the right of the oil pipe-line:

detail from Alone, Again (2008)

detail from Alone Again (2008)

The earth itself is a character in the narrative of this tableaux- a seething sea of disembodied heads with bared teeth and ghoulish expressions make up the ground on which the subject lays, appearing to be complicit in whatever tragedy occurred here.

Whilst I enjoyed all this, the exhibition never seemed to move out of second gear for me. The images were undoubtedly striking, and the skill with which the artists had composed them was truly impressive; it just felt a little lightweight.

This may be unfair (because I saw the images used in promotional material for Comme des Garcons before I actually made it to the exhibition) but the works felt to me like they were made for advertising. They felt a bit contrived to me – designed to be ‘edgy’ and transgressive without really breaking any really meaningful rules or having anything much to say. The twisted-fairytale idea (libidinous red riding hood flashing a leering wolf) felt perfect for a Diesel campaign or a Vice magazine spread. Sex, pornography and images of death are not exactly new subjects to bring into a gallery, and whilst Mondongo have definitely found a unique voice they don’t seem to have an awful lot to express with it at the moment.

Also, for some reason it bothered me that whilst the figures in Eloi Eloi… and the mass of breasts making up a young girls face in Mamman were provocative and sexualised, a huge image of floating infants was very careful to structure it’s composition so that no rude baby bits were exposed. It seemed to strike a false note, undermining the rest of the exhibition, as if the artists had second-guessed themselves or suddenly gone all prudish.

Anyway, I would heartly reccomend a look at their website because the images there really are impressive, and beautifully photographed (unlike those posted here).

Here’s an example:

mondongo-site1

I’ll take a proper camera next time 😦

I don’t make a big thing out of it (naturally) but I happen to hold a first-class degree in History of Art.

(Interestingly enough, I know of at least two other History of Art graduates also employed in the world of media strategy- an opportunity the rather inadequate careers department at UCL should probably include in their very thin folder of potential careers for directionless graduates.)

Anyway, when I came out of college – back in 1998- I was heartily sick of Art.

I’d spent three years reading and studying all sorts of theories; from formal analysis to feminist and queer theory to psychoanalysis to class struggle to semiotics to economics and back to formalism again, and had started to percieve the whole thing as a house of cards. It was the year of sensation at the Royal Academy, which was a pretty good metaphor for how I felt about the whole subject- it all seemed vacuous, overtly concerned with the market and fascinated by it’s own cleverness. I pretty much wanted nothing more to do with it.

Anyway, over the last few years I’ve experienced a bit of a rennaisance (l0lz) regarding Art,  largely down to the sterling work of Regine and her incomparable site, and Brighton artists Blast Theory.

I’m enthused again, and I’m enthused because the way that artists think of and utilise the media that I work with every day are so much more vibrant, so much more necessary and so obviously more concerned with how people live than the ubiquitous blandishments of the advertising community (and the meta-industry of consultants/journalists/authors on which it thrives). Seeing artists work with with digital media has helped me to see it afresh, and see possibilities I wasn’t seeing before. Which is what art should do, I suppose.

Whether it’s creating a ‘dislocative tourism agency‘ to connect physically and culturally disparate cities, or designing an alarm clock that mercilessly exploits social-connectedness to create powerful new incentives to get out of bed, it is thrilling to see digital media being employed with such an innate understanding of how it fits into people’s lives and such fertile, curious and fearless imagination.

As far as I can tell, the future of media is not being nurtured within media companies of any stripe- be it Nokia or The New York Times. In my opinion it is most definitely being imagined at the RCA, in Portslade and in myriad warehouses, co-operatives and studios the world over.

Anyway, seeing all this wonderful stuff that seemed to ‘get’ media in a manifestly different way to how I’d been seeing it actually got me excited about artists again – about how and what they think. It got me excited about going to see exhibitions again.

In fact, I got so excited about all this stuff that I actually presented a slide about Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca project to the company’s UK sponsorship department for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES.

This was perhaps ill-advised.

Nonetheless, I have regained a passion for seeing Art again, primarily because it helps me to think in a less-trammelled way about how things are or might be or might have been. So in a long and rambling manner, I thought I’d post about some of the stuff I’ve seen recently (towards the end of last year) that got me all hot and bothered: the Domestic Appliance exhibition at Flowers East in Shoreditch and the Heart of Glass exhibition that was part of Concrete and Glass, also (surprise surprise) in Shoreditch.

First up, Domestic Appliance.

I actually got to see this as part of our frankly kick-ass strategy team ‘awayday‘. What I loved about this – apart from all the great exhibits- was the fact that none of my colleagues realized that the stuff they were looking at spanned decades of artistic production. The excitement and playfulness of the exhibition had rendered studying the little plaques on the walls irrelevant. The objects themselves were enough; the  curator’s vision defeated the audience’s impulse to try and ‘own’ the exhibits by naming and categorising them into some sort of taxonomy. Domestic Appliance wasn’t an edifying lecture on the canon of kinetic art, but rather a brief glimpse of the weird and wonderful other lives of the objects inhabiting our homes – a Toy Story for grown ups who like their fairytales a little askew.

Jean Tinguely’s Mouton, the scariest and  most deranged thing on show (like a little piece of  Silent Hill somehow existing in Hackney) was from 1962:

mouton-jean-tinguelyjpg

Theo Kaccoufka’s quietly obscene Fountain dated from 1994:

fountain-theo-kaccoufa

And bringing us bang up to date were Tim Lewis’ bewithching, gracefully moving (and heavily photographed) Pony

pny-tim-lewis3

…and Ian Burns’ The Way We Know It – Surrounded Islands (Version 1) – Keep it clean and organized which created a sense of drama by using live audio/visual feeds to magnify the changing light that was being reflected onto a tiny diorama of found objects.

the-way-we-know-it-surrounded-islands-ian-burns

A special mention also has to go to Max Dean, Raffaello D’Andrea and Matt Donovan’s Robotic Chair which held audiences rapt as it repeatedly assembled and disassembled itself. The BANG it made when losing it’s limbs made me jump at least three times.

robotic-chair-max-dean

A fantastic way to spend a few hours and a powerful hit of mental wasabi for me.

Right, now onto Heart of Glass.

I actually got a ticket for the Concrete and Glass mini-festival by entering a competition via email on the opening day (w00t, go me)- which meant I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, of course.

As a result I skulked around, smoked cigarettes to look less lonely (pathetic) and went home waaaay before TV on the Radio got started.

Nonetheless, one of the things I did manage to do was visit the brilliant Heart of Glass exhibition in the creepy basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. I’m not sure whether it was this awesome setting, or the head-rush from the fags, but I had a really fantastic time exploring the nooks and crannies of this impromptu gallery.

The exhibition was also a competition – one lucky artist of those exhibiting would be awarded the prize of a solo show at next years event. For what it’s worth, my highlights included Alistair Mcclymont’s The Limitations of Logic and the Absence of Absolute Certainty, a swirling shifting tornado of water vapour that would repeatedly coalesce into a powerful, visible form and then become loose and unstructured again. It was like a ghostly apparition, moving in a natural and yet weirdly unnatural way that seemed brilliantly otherworldly in the dilapidated dark setting.

the-limitations-of-logic1

There’s a video of it doing what I was trying to describe here.

I also loved Kate Terry’s Thread Installation #19, another work that visitors felt compelled to move through and around, the lines of thread changing from visible to invisible depending on your relation to the light source. It’s geometric beauty seemed to come from the digital realm – something created by an algorithm rather than by an artist fastening resolutely analogue thread to tacks hammered into the walls. The smoothness and regularity was thrown into sharp relief by the crumbling walls and dirty, sandy floor of the room that housed it.

thread-installation19

Paul Archard’s Horseplay was unsettling, in a slightly-scary-fun sort of way.

horsebox

The horsebox dominated the low room in which it was diplayed. People (me included) attempting to peer in were unnerved by the powerful, reverberating sounds of a stallion’s breathing- and left with the sense that the box could hardly contain it’s inhabitant. Every three-minutes or so there would be an explosion of whinnying and snorting that made the box shudder and shake, giving everyone a start. It created a genuinely physical response from those milling about the room, and is a great example of a ‘site-specific installation’ properly doing what it says on the tin.

Lastly, my personal favourite was Kate MccGwire’s Vex.

Caged within a victorian curiosity cabinet, it was a kind of stuffed nightmare- a mutant mess of serpent and bird, sinuously turning in on itself.

vex1

Up close the individual feathers (gathered over a period of months from London pigeons) made attractive (pretty, even) patterns and yet backing away from the thing, I felt disturbed by it, but never able to take my eyes off it.

Compelling stuff, and worthy of winning I think.

I feel a bit sad posting about these exhibitions given that they’re both over. However, if you happen to stumble across a mention of any of theses artists or works featured in an exhibition near you I reckon you could do a lot worse than checking them out.

Images credits: flickr users David Emery and turn towards the light

me

I work in media as a strategist. I like art, robots, comics, interaction design, karaoke, wildlife photography, indian food, campari, gaming, American TV (teen drama included), reading non-fiction, reading fiction and listening to music. I also have a tenori-on because I'm so rad.

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