Kumuwuki: Riding the new digital wave.

by Jane

The first morning plenary was on digital culture. Hosted by Amanda Duthie, she opened the plenary noting how as a new South Australian she has noticed “how connected the communities here are and of course we’re hee to make all of that better.”

Fee Plumley is an artist whose practice is based around digital technologies and the internet – she is a self confessed geek, and self described technoevangelist. She went viral earlier this year, Amanda Palmer, Hugh Jackman, and Neil Gaiman tweeted about her project Really Big Road Trip. Not only did this crash her own website, it also crashed the Australian crowd-funding website Pozible, all on the way to her raising $25,000 towards buying a bus to travel around Australia. On her RBRT, Plumley will be travelling to communities throughout the country, showing people how they can create work online – a practice which will prove to be even more critical with the advent of the NBN.

“When i was first asked to come and do this key note,” Plumley started, “I thought I was going to do my usual thing, which is a bit ranty.”

When she was preparing the speech, Plumely looked back on a piece she wrote in 2003, when she had reaslised  “there was an incredible opportunity for mobile data space that was mostly empty, and artists should take over this space.” Nearly ten years on, she realised many of these issues are coming up again: “You could replace a lot of the things I was saying then with the NBN.”

Plumely first meet co-key note speaker Sara Diamond in 2001, when Diamond “basically changed my life” when Plumley went to the Banff New Media Institute. There she was “surrounded by people that were all a little bit wacky, too.”

“I suddenly felt like I belonged. Like everything I was doing was actually okay. And it was really beautiful to have a lot of people around you saying ‘I really like your products.'”

“We were the niche […] but I was no longer alone.”

Plumley then spoke about distribution networks: which are computer networks which spread the load of processing across many computers. The internet, says Plumley, gives the potential for people to be connected, creating distribution networks of creative people.

Plumley told us that she was in a transition year, moving from more of a role of a “creative producer” to being an artist, and investing more in her own creative practice. It is also the year the web turned 21 this year: it is “just coming into adulthood.”

Because of this youth of the technology, Plumely said, “Anyone that tells you they are an expert in technology is lying. […] No body knows where this is going.”

One of the things Plumely is looking at is how the systems we use are “broken”, telling us we are currently using systems which were made for a different time, and the systems aren’t the best for creative practices – trying to fit into particular boxes. “If we choose to just flow and just run through life because we choose to do it,” she asked, “what would it look like? Where would it end up?”

Acknowledging that “at the moment their isn’t enough funding for us to do what we want to do”, she was also critical that “The language we’re supposed to use as artists is framed from business. […] If we’re supposed to be benchmarked at the same level of commercial businesses we’re always going to fail, and it’s kind of our fault because we always say ‘okay then.'”

One of the things Plumley will be exploring through RBRT is working with people who have already decided that these online, digital spaces are the places in which they want to work. The newness of this technology can come with hesitation, which Plumeley says is wrong: “There is a concern from people who don’t know the digital environment that they’re supposed to learn from what other people do. I think that’s a mistake. You’re your best leader.”

Plumley says people need to stop going to the same people: they need to start going to Hackerspace (of which Plumely says “I am the most useless member of Hackerspace Adelaide”), playing with people who are exploring and discovering these mediums themselves. “If you ask a geek a little question, you’ll get in a really engaged conversation that will go on for ages.”

Turning to the support she has received through both her Pozible campaign, and also through “crowd sourcing her life” – sleeping on couches and in spare bedrooms for fourteen months, she said  “what crowd funding taught me is how much people want to help.”

“The crowd are there and they want to help, so make good use of them.”

Plumley described how her life now is all about “flow”. While she has previously been led by the producer side of her head, she says she “increasingly realised that the artist was the strong one, that the artist had been leading from behind.” Switching the artist to the forefront enabled her to be excited by and explore any idea which comes up, going in any direction, while the producer sits behind, quietly mulling it over, figuring out

On her bus, she will “get to be a nomadic Fab Lab,” and the internet means she can create “something greater than the sum of the parts I could have produced by myself.”

“Something greater than the sum of the parts that I could have produced, because others have contributed.”

From North Wales, Plumely said ” I get offended of this idea of art being created in London and toured around the country. […] Cities are not the only place where artists make work. And you know that more than most.” From this, RBRT is about going to these artists and finding what they’re working on, what support systems they have – and what support systems they need, do they know anyone else working on the same type of projects?

Dr Sara Diamond is the President and Vice Chancellor of the Ontario College of Art and Design University, where she has driven the university to be a “leader in digital media, design research and curriculum through the Digital Futures Initiative, new research in Inclusive Design, health and design, and sustainable technologies and design.” She has recently published a book in collaboration with Sarah Cook: Euphoria & Dystopia: The Banff New Media Institue Dialogues.

Diamond spoke in great detail and at great speed about Horizon Scanning, in ways I would not be able to blog about without more research or time to get my head around. It’s also very early, and my fingers have decided to move slower than I would like at this time of the day. So my deep apologies for not really grabbing much of her speech at all for the blog, I was too busy trying to wrap my head around it myself.

The university, Diamond said, “very much saw art, design, technology and sciences as having a deeper connection than they have in the past.” And integrates art practices into their planning, as well as expanding arts and design practices out to be inclusive and inspired by science and technologies, including one project where scientists and artists worked together to create applications for use by patients with Alzheimer’s. The university also has a strong commitment to being part of an international, multicultural community, while also being strongly connected and engaged with the local Aboriginal community.

The Aboriginal visual culture program at OCAD is rooted in contemporary expressions of traditions of the First Nation and Inuit people, unusually for a university based on principles of self-government with an Aboriginal Educational Council made up people of diverse practices and backgrounds. Throughout OCAD is the integration of Indigenous principles throughout the courses, and Indigenous staff throughout the university. There are also significant outreach programs throughout the community; while also looking at ways students can study while keeping a strong connection to their own community.

Inclusive Design Research Centre is highly focused on accessibility and inclusion. The ‘curb cut’ effect means everyone benefits.

Digital tools can be far more accessible that their non-digital counterparts: their plasticity means they can become accessible to more people in more ways without significant cost barriers. Education and employment through online spaces, too, gives much more new opportunities for a more diverse group of people.

A group which includes a more diverse group of people, Diamond says, has more perspectives and is more succesful, and she pointed us towards The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies by Scott E Page. OCAD not only offers programs with high degrees of accessibility, it also integrates learning about accessible design needs into its courses, and so into the design work created by students.

Follow along with the conference with #kumuwuki on twitter.