Dr Chris Speed is a Reader/Lecturer at the Edinburgh College of Art. Mel Woods from the serenA project put us in touch, and I can see why she thought we would get along: Chris is interested in a the interesting accidents and artifacts that bump up against us when we conceive of the objects that we interact with on a daily basis as part of the Internet. In shorthand, he works with the Internet of Things, but tries to disrupt them from their original function, and issue objects with experiences of delight.
The quote tagging this tumbl is taken from FIELDS, the TOTeM group’s blog. It’s from a post about possession and, ultimately, real-time, real-world, technologically-enabled hacking.
Projects such as Significant Objects (http://www.significantobjects.com) attach short fictional stories to artefacts that are subsequently sold on eBay. The value added by the unique story increases the sale price of the items and changes dramatically how an object is interpreted. Similar, but a shopping ‘centre’ in its own right, is Pass The Baton (http://www.pass-the-baton.com/) a commercial project that allows people to attach a personal history to an object before selling it through the project website or an actual shop in Tokyo. Both projects subvert the orthodox use of linear time by placing more emphasis upon the provenance of an object rather than projecting an aura of newness.
The idea behind possession, Chris says, extends this. The group sought to get QR codes - usually conceived of as read-only technologies - to talk back. As he says:
as people purchase the second hand ‘things’ this time around they are actually buying an object that is possessed. Possessed by the memories of multiple past owners that are loaded in to the QR tag that the shop assistant attaches to the otherwise innocent material artefact.
as tags (barcodes, RFID etc.) increasingly become a conduit to the web, what they bring back from ‘the otherside’ may not be what we expect
We then got onto talking about objects that tell owners what they need, like boxes of cornflakes that tell their owners to put them on the church steps on tuesday, next to the beans on wednesday and to serve them with milk on thursday.
This project has got me thinking about the output of the Serendipity Engine. At the moment, the pay off is a random encounter with something that is definition-less. What if the “pay-off” was in itself a chance encounter with a story that you accessed from a QR code that the Engine “spat” out that had been hacked by someone else and then beamed to you?
Needs work. But I think it captures something that moves us in a direction for solving something we haven’t quite got our heads around yet.
More of Chris & his group’s cool QR code projects here.
The Serendipity Engine is an artefact of knowing and an artefact of not-knowing It reflects and produces everyday practices and knowledges It is not bound by one form of human or technical engagement. It is not fixed in place. Embedded in a suitcase, it is infinitely mobile, fluid and capable of infinite modularity. It makes visible the existence of multiple forms of connections. It resists being defined and resists knowing all the time. It claims uncertainty and ambiguity. It is about what works and doesn’t work It is work. It combines and entangles unexpected encounters It is contained and uncontainable It is your task
I had 5 minutes to do nothing but stare at my computer during a lock-off shot whilst recording The Culture Show film on serendipity last week, and jotted down a few of the thoughts about the function of tonight’s lecture at The Royal Institution, the expectations of the audience, and why we are there talking about what we’re talking about.
Evan is a hive of inspiration - a designer, machine-maker, artist and tinkerer, he sent us in some exciting new directions as we contemplated working together on fabricating the Serendipity Engine. It was a timely conversation, as Kat and I are heading into the Royal Institution’s workshop tomorrow to start making.
We talked about Fluxus and Experiments in Art and Technology - groups that embody the LuvviesBoffins sentiments that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently voiced at the Edinburgh TV Festival, and fit with the aesthetic and function of the Serendipity Engine. I particularly like Jean Tinguely’s self-destroying machine, Homage to New York (1960) (he was “an artist, an inventor or a philosopher,” according to this newsreel):
We also talked about Jonathan Harris’ & Sep Kamvar’s We Feel Fine, the 2005 adventure in emotional sentiment mapping across the blogosphere, or “an exploration of human emotion on a global scale”. This may inspire a solution to a conundrum: Kat and I have been thinking about what content we might incorporate into the machine after speaking with Will Pearson, Ravensbourne’s Director of Technology (who kindly connected us with Evan), who reminded us that Arduinos can do inputs from all kinds of sources. Maybe crawling the web for the word “serendipity” might make use of the the technology’s cybernetic networked brain in an interesting way…
Evan’s offered to show us the guts of one of his wired up creatures on Thursday and to proffer his talents in our direction. After thinking about the connections between different objects and people, and how we might gain inspiration from synesthesia (yep, we did go there), we were overwhelmed with possibilities: Sound! Colour! Wired up tamagotchis in a suitcase!
We’re ISO a person with amateur electronics skills to collaborate on wiring up The Serendipity Engine ahead of the lecture at the Royal Institution on 8 Nov. Tweet @aleksk if you’d like to help: we need to speak with you ASAP!