Last week, we returned to Bath Spa University for the annual three-day MIX Digital Conference, held for the first time in the new Commons building on Newton Park Campus.
Writing Digital: MIX Digital 3, supported by partnerships with the Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC), The Writing Platform, and Conducttr, gave participants the chance to catch up with artists, writers and academics who are working at the forefront of where arts practice meets technology, where the artificial division between the digital and the analogue no longer exists.
Over the three days, there was a vibrant mix of academic papers, practitioner presentations, seminars, keynotes, discussions, workshops and an exhibition of the work by conference participants.
It was also the chance for The Writing Platform’s 2015 Bursary Recipients to showcase their work. Kate Pullinger, conference co-chair and co-founder of The Writing Platform, introduced the recipients: Victoria Bennett (writer), Adam Clarke (technologist), Kelly Jones (writer) and Linda Sandvik (technologist).
Victoria Bennett and Adam Clarke applied as a team and their project, My Mother’s House, used Minecraft to immerse the player in the experience of the poem and expand the idea of what literature and video games can be.
Speaking about their project, Victoria and Adam said, “Minecraft offers potential for shared expression and experience of literature in really interesting and playful ways.
“We are keen to share this work with the growing Minecraft community and see how it may seed new ideas.”
Elspeth Penny, tweeted: “Thanks for your touching poetry Minecraft film @thecommonpeople at Mix. I am now going to join my kids on Minecraft and explore.”
The judging panel paired Kelly Jones and Linda Sandvik because, as judge Naomi Alderman prize-winning author and Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa noted, they both wanted to explore “telling a story that cannot help but be shaped by and respond to technology.”
Their project, 1.4 for copy, is an interactive sound sculpture with the ability to connect audience members throughout the conference space. Inspired by the real life meeting of Kelly’s parents on a CB radio in 1980 and the science of radio waves and their infinite but fading travel, Kelly and Linda have created a piece that takes us away from our phone screens and see’s us connecting with one another.
Kelly created a mock-up of the project in room 133 in Commons. In the discussion, Kelly took us through their installation explaining how it came about and why it was named 1.4 for copy, “1.4 is the channel but they always call it the one four…For copy means for someone to come back to me. It’s all a language.”
Naomi shared her enthusiasm for the bursary projects. “So often, in digital writing, either the ‘digital’ or the ‘writing’ ends up feeling like second fiddle, the bit that’s put in at the end when the other bit’s all dealt with. So I’m always thrilled when a digital writer has a story to tell – not just a new way to use the medium, but a story that cannot help but be shaped by and respond to technology.
“I was particularly excited, therefore, to see Kelly’s story of how her parents met over CB radio.
“It feels like precisely the thing I was looking for here – a story that is not only told via technology but is actually about how technology shapes our lives.”
The Bursary Programme has undoubtedly grown since its inception three years ago. In its first year, there were only four technologist applicants.
Joanna Ellis, co-founder of The Writing Platform, commented, “We had 218 applications for the 2015 programme, three times the number we had in 2013.”
MIX 03 highlights
Throughout the conference, there was a vibrant and diverse list of visiting speakers and discussions. Anna Gerber and Britt Iverson founders of London-based publishing house Visual Editions discussed its new project Editions at Play, a collaboration with Google Creative Labs. They hope to create a place to showcase, celebrate, and bring out digital books that are immersive, written and developed with the idea of being digital.
Chris Meade, writer and founder of if:book, kept delegates entertained throughout the conference, encouraging visitors to his pod to donate their “nearly” stories. He presented his transmedia novel in progress, What Didn’t Quite, about how we live with the things we’ve nearly done.
“Far more things nearly happen than happen,” he said. “The universe is held together by the dust of human kind’s nearlyincidence.”
Cardiff-based academic, Jenny Kidd took us through her collaborative research project with the creative marketing agency, yello brick, funded by REACT. “With New Eyes I see” explores whether documentary can become an experience or a journey beyond the screen. The project will research a site-specific documentary using torches, projection and RFID to trigger content as participants walk around Cathays Park in Cardiff.
Further highlights over the three days included:
- Bambo Soyinka chaired a great discussion on Digital Remediation: From Analogue to Digital with Dan Prichard, Sharon Clark and Miriam Rasch.
- Kate Pullinger’s presentation, “From dBook to pBook and Back Again”
- Naomi Alderman discussed her hugely successful apps, Zombies! Run, and The Walk
- Blast Theory – internationally renowned as one of the most adventurous artists’ groups using interactive media, creating new forms of performance and interactive art – discussed their current kickstarter-funded project, Karen.
One of the most thought-provoking events of the conference was the launch of James Coupe’s artwork “General Intellect” on Bath Spa’s MediaWall, an architectural scale portrait format gallery display, consisting of ten 55″ panels. At just under 4m wide and rising 7.5m from floor level it is uniquely positioned at the heart of the Commons building.
The project is a thirty channel video work, which uses video that has been acquired from Mechanical Turk an Amazon.com service, showing how computer algorithms can hire human beings to complete tasks that are hard for computers to do.
James says in a short video about the piece, “The work is largely concerned with labour, in particular digital labour. Most of the people on Mechanical Turk are completing tasks for which they have no idea who they’re working for or what the purpose of those jobs are.
“The work has something to say about relationships between humans and machines, between humans and algorithms, and the nature of dissociative, potentially disenfranchised, relationship with technological narratives.”
As the three days drew to a close, it became clear that technology really is transforming narrative.