Hawkwood College, November 29-30th, 2018


I set out early on the 29th to meet fellow Fellow Julia Snowdin, who had very kindly offered me a lift with her to the Residential. We’d met at the Random String Symposium, and had chatted a little bit there, but she was basically inviting a stranger into her car. Luckily, we very quickly bonded over a love of the magical Gloucester Services, as well as art and ideas and a bunch of other things. We were deciding whether we had time to take a quick pitstop at said Services, when the heavens opened, and a furious squall cut visibility to about a metre, and then an aquaplaning incident made our decision for us. But we would have to be quick. We raced around in record time, grabbing supplies and treats, and a beautiful (and almost very overpriced) notebook, before heading onward, in calmer weather now, to our destination.

We arrived around 11am at Hawkwood College, a rural Tudor-Gothic villa in the Cotswolds, and were met with tea and cake, which is always a brilliant start. After a quick catch-up with everyone, we headed out to the studios in the old stable block, where we’d be working and playing for the next two days.

After an introduction by Ludic Rooms’ Dom Breadmore, each Fellow gave a short presentation on our work, and what we wanted to explore during the Fellowship. This was a great way of getting an overview of everyone’s art-form, practice, and areas of interest. We were: Mary Courtney, a poet/artist; Natalie Ramus, a body/performance artist; Julia, a textile/installation artist; Hugh McCann, a writer/sound artist, Larissa Shaw, a sculpture/sound artist/musician; Laura Nyahuye, a body adornment artist/storyteller; and me, a writer/maker. (Obviously these are oversimplifications of our artforms, but you get the idea.)

After lunch (and more cake), the theme was: what do we know already, and what do we want to find out? We took to the floor as Ludic Rooms’ Anne Forgan asked us to answer four questions about ourselves and our practice, which we wrote on a long roll of paper that stretched across the room. The questions were (roughly paraphrased): Where are you at in your practice? How do you feel about tech? How do you learn best? What do you hope to get out of this Fellowship? This gave Anne and Dom, the Mentors, and the Fellows an even better idea of who we were and where we were at.

For our next session about Interactive Technology, Mary lay on the floor while a few of us drew a masking tape outline around her. On one side, we had “Inputs”, and on the other, “Outputs”.

We each had a pen and a stack of Post-It notes and started writing down all the different inputs a human might experience, and the sense-reactions these might inspire. We took up a lot of floor space.

This led into a discussion about how we could build things using technology, without them being about the technology. That the aim should be to create a human experience.

Then we got to have a good look at all the tech available to help create these experiences, from Arduinos to Bare Touch boards and paint, to Adafruit Feathers and Lilypads, to servos and LEDS and resistors and e-textiles. The possibilities seemed endless.

With heads full of ideas, we retired to the main house to get ready for dinner. After dinner, the Library had been reserved for us, so we had the option of staying in the dining room, or heading to the Library. I stayed in the dining room for a while, chatting and sharing ideas. Anne had brought some fabric, thread and needles to do some slow stitching, so a few of us joined her, making lines of running-stitch across the hand-printed fabric pieces. It felt like we were a newly-formed sewing club, sitting around the table, talking tech and art and making marks with thread. I found it very therapeutic. Meanwhile, in the Library, Antonio was getting down to some live-coding, and we all eventually ended up in there. It was here, and around the dinner table, that people really got the chance to get to know one another. We’re all from such different disciplines, so it was great to learn about different ways of working, and bounce ideas off each other, while the log fire crackled and burned, and books on post-digital art and tech were passed around. (There may have been wine, also.) 

Day Two, in the “Random String house” was a chance for the Mentors to introduce their work and lead sessions with us. First up was Nikki Pugh, an artist working in interactive tech focusing on people and place. Nikki shared one of her previous projects, By Duddon’s Side, inspired by Wordsworth’s Duddon sonnets, which involved Nikki standing in a river using photogrammetry to scan stepping stones that she would then be able to make 3D models of. These were made from wood, and recreated these stepping stones inside the Wordsworth Museum, along with a touch-reactive wall that played field recordings from various places along the Duddon Valley. Nikki then introduced us to Twine, a way of creating interactive online stories and we all broke off with our pens and notebooks to come up with our own short pieces, inspired by the beautiful grounds.

Next up was Antonio Roberts, live-coder, glitch artist extraordinaire. He showed us how to make shapes and make them DO THINGS using Live Code Lab.

Lastly, came Juneau Projects, who are Phil Duckworth and Ben Sadler. Phil went first and talked us through some of the projects they had worked on – everything from laser cutting, to making zines, to creating a vegetable orchestra and building cardboard guitars for Home of Metal. Phil then taught us how to build contact microphones/piezo transducers. After we wired them up to jacks, Phil used a mixer and AudioMulch software to programme each mic to make a different sound. We taped them to shoes, inside buckets, onto boxes, or just held them, and tapped, stomped, stroked them as we slowly became an orchestra. We were drums and flutes and honks and birds. It sounded brilliant. It sounded awful.

Ben showed us footage of their squirrel band (where they’d patiently waited to capture footage of the squirrels in Phil’s garden interacting with tiny instruments), and talked about the surprises that come from working with people, as well as giving an insight into the fun, playful way some of their ideas had come together. They’d worked on a project inspired by Thomas Bewick’s woodblocks from the History of British Birds, using laser cut designs as printing tools, in a clever mix of the old with the new. Ben then introduced us to Inkscape, and showed us how to create artwork and files for laser cut projects.

And then, with evening approaching, it was time to go. We headed homeward, our brains full of all the fantastical things we’d seen and done and played with, ideas buzzing in our heads.