Saturday, 5 May 2012

'Alice in Apps Land' workshop: from zines to smartphones at Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention

Smartphones, history and lo-fi DIY culture might not obviously go hand in hand, but a creative duo who are passionate about both fanzines and smart technology will help visitors to the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention make the most of their phones at the same time as exploring the environment around them.

The 'Alice in Apps Land' workshop is the brain child of Christopher Watson and Logan Holmes, who invite visitors to discover the local landscape through digital stories while learning more about apps and the functionality of their phones. Each attendee is invited to print out their own, personal map and Chris hopes the workshop will attract participants ready to share their memories of the building and the area. He said: “We'd love it if everyone came along with a memory.”

Chris and Logan are visual artists and lecturers at a Further Education college in Rotherham. Alongside their colleague Nigel Rogers, they are part of Shift Space, a collaborative collective with a studio space at Bloc in Sheffield. Both are passionate about new technology and its potential to take learning outside the classroom. Logan identifies “a generation that has been brought up being fed through the internet”, taking in information that is “digestible and fast-paced”. He feels the current rigid education system is inadequate.

He explained: “The existing mode of education doesn't really accommodate this kind of new learner and it's time we adapted. The teaching environment shouldn't be seen as a classroom and four walls. We need to be flexible and empower students by taking education outside and really contextualising it. We need to be able to collaborate with out students and make it more of a two way process. Students and educators don't know what's around the corner and what it's going to bring. We need to work together.”

Chris added: “You learn more by doing and going out on trips – learning the environment. We want a space where you are not constrained by things like ticking boxes. Education shouldn't be confined to 9-5 and set learning outcomes. It is good to get people out and doing things.

“We want to help people bring their environment to life through technology. We think we can give people confidence using and understanding technology and make it accessible. It's crossdisciplinary – it can take in literature, the arts and general knowledge. Technology is open to all and it's a wonderful way of breaking down these boundaries."

Technology is central to Shift Space's work, and they're keen to get other people involved. They explain: “We want to engage everyone, right from school-age to retired people. We want to explore how new technologies can facilitate art and help you express yourself through different media. Smartphones are simple notepads that can capture video and audio but they're underused. We have the technology to bring snippets of information together for people to enjoy.”

One of Chris's other projects uses the name Visual Think Map, and his work has included compiling creative maps that pinpoint creative activity and facilities in different cities. Chris has been devising an app called Little Gems, which he hopes will be a “hub to answer students' questions”. It is a project he sees as being particularly useful to people starting out in the creative industries. He explains: “I took on the thankless task of trying to map the UK's creativity, revealing hidden gems because I had no idea of the creative sector and things that were out and about when I was at university – it was all about craft and technique. I started making creative maps with the idea you could tell students how to set up their own practice. The maps help students know the creative landscape – including galleries and craft shops – and facilitate their independent creation of art.” The maps could also be a boon to tourists, incorporating a live feed, journey planner and the potential to share information with friends.

Logan visited the 2011 Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention and returned with a pile of fanzines. Along with Chris, he is an enthusiastic zine-maker. Chris explained: “Most of our work is digital but we still try to incorporate the tangible in some way. We like to make things by hand and realise things in print.” Logan added: “You've got to have a healthy balance of digital and print. Nobody likes to work solely with a computer screen. People can get frustrated with it. We like the smell of the printing press and the simplicity of fanzines.”

Logan describes the pair's approach to zine-making as “curating the things we collect”, and sees zines as “a way of pooling thoughts or prompting debate”. Chris has done a project based on obsolete library books called Stamps, Stains & Battle Scars which involved photocopying stamps of dates and stains left on the books. He has also made a series of 'paper portraits', which he describes as being a “branch between print and digital”, which involved interviewing the artists who did the etchings on bank notes and blowing up the notes to reveal the detail. He explains: “If you blow notes up on a photocopier you get beautiful, intricate drawings, but I had to contact the bank as there are very specific guidelines about photocopying money.”

Chris and Logan have also been working on a zine in the form of a collaborative sketchbook passed back and forwards between the two artists, and collaboration is key to the way they work. As Logan explains: It's easier to do things collectively than as an individual.”

To take part in 'Alice in Apps Land' come along to the former superintendent's flat at upstairs at Victoria Baths on Saturday May 19. Free, starts at 11am.

1 comment:

chris said...

thanks for this natalie. going to be exciting.