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Knots in our heads

Concept Maps are ‘graphical tools for organising and representing knowledge’ They were developed by Joseph D Novak at Cornell University to help students visualise how their new learning could be assimilated with their existing ‘cognitive structure’. Sowa places them within the context of knowledge visualisation diagrams, alongside Semantic nets and Mind Maps. Read more…



Hello Chici

This is my first blog post, as part of the Child Computer Interaction at the Chici Lab in the University of central Lancaster. There aren’t many other artists at the ChiCI Lab, so thought I’d spend this first post explaining why I’m doing an Mres in this subject area and not in digital art.

Read more…



Liverpool Processing Meetup

We have started hosting a meetup at our base the Ranch for people interested in using Processing, the programming environment designed for artists and visual thinkers. Read more…



Pier Head Time Warp

The Pier Head Time Warp was an  interactive video event by Re-Dock at the Museum of Liverpool on Saturday the 15th Oct.

We were asked by the Museum of Liverpool to run an activity that would get people working creatively with archive video, so we invented a time machine.

This time machine was in reality, a musical keyboard that through the magic of Isadora, could be used to trigger video, sound effects and audio memories relating to the Liverpool Pier Head.

Although we were aiming to appeal to people from 8 to 80, for the most part the people that really got into it were either 8 or 80.

I exaggerate here, but it did spark the interest of both young people and older adults at the same time, which is rare. Read more…



3D Thought Shapes

I am working with a group of young people at Weatherhead high school, on a project exploring what our thoughts might look like if we could see them all around us.

The group have been sculpting 3D models representing different breeds of ideas, memories and emotions using Blender.

Read more…



Thought Balloons

I am working with a group of young people at Weatherhead high school, on a project exploring what our thoughts might look like, if we could see them all around us.

This week has been a good opportunity to revisit the Balloonascope, which is a 3D graphing tool made up of Balloons, weights and pulleys.

We used it to model the emotional and psychological space of a set of fictional characters created by the group.

The young people added to the Balloonascope in between scenes of a drama created by the young people. The drama consisted of three scenes and explored a classroom conflict between a Teacher and three other pupils.

At the end of each scene the rest of the group were asked to write what they thought one of the characters might be thinking, feeling or remembering, on one of the balloons and place it in the classroom according to these rules.

Rule 1

The nearer the thought balloon is to the character that is thinking it, the more intensely it is felt.

Rule 2

The higher up the thought balloon is the more positive the thought, the lower it is the more negative it is.

The highlight of the session for me was when the one of the girls placed a thought balloon by the character Charlie, who in the play had been refusing to speak in class.The balloon was very close to the girl who was playing Charlie, and very low down.

The girl placing the thought balloon described the feelings it represented.

“Charlie was quiet, because she was remembering at home when her parents kept telling her to be quiet”



What Shape Are Ideas?

I am working with Fact & a group of young people at Weatherhead high school, on a project exploring what our thoughts might look like if we could see them all around us.

So far the group have investigated ways to make connections between words and shapes, and then created different breeds of shapes to represent different thoughts, emotions and memories.

Here are a sample of some of  the shapes developed so far.

The group decided that memories are the most complex shapes, with a mixture of smooth and sharp edges, as memories are sometimes pleasant, and sometimes painful.




Read, Write, Re-Imagine

In the last week before Christmas John, Sophie Bower and I, delivered a new course in Hume Manchester called ‘Read, Write, Re-imagine’ . The course focused on developing the facilitation skills of creative new media practitioners, so that they would be able to deliver top quality creative new media activities in Schools across the North West.

The course commissioned by Curious Minds, brought together a mixture of classic connection making exercises, introductions to young people friendly software, and live ‘mini’ projects for which the participants developed their own activities to test run on one  another.


One great example of the kinds of curriculum splicing activities invented by participants was “Go Ballistic with Pythagoras Theorum” which used the theme of the Second World War, and in particular the trajectory of mortars, to explore Pythagoras. If you were to take part in this activity you would create a simple mortar, using cardboard and elastic bands, and then use Pythagorus Theorum to predict where your ammo would hit the wall – Genius!

Just briefly here are a few of my favorites of the ideas that came out of the rest of the course.

- Encourage young people to develop speaking and listening skills by filming interviews with one another.
- Link young peoples interest in War and artillery with trigonometry.
- Use computer game planning documents as a format to explore creative writing.
- Use tools like SketchUp & Scratch as a tool for young people to visualize and pitch their ideas to the rest of their class.
- Use the behind the scenes debate with which the Wikipedia community decides on what is and isn’t of publishable quality, as a way to bring debates about different readings of history to life.

I could go on but I am running out of space….

What felt like the biggest jump in my learning was the way we recruited the group.

We were asked to gather together an eclectic group of people who worked in creative new media, but not in schools. This was tricky, as the people we were looking for were not part of the existing Curious Minds promotional networks.

We decided to apply a scattergun approach, advertising the course across as many networks as possible with flyers that pointed back to a Ning site, which we kept as open as possible up until the day before the course.

In the build up to the course we were able to set up a dialogue amongst this impromptu community. People could find out more what the course was about, tell us a bit more about themselves, from that point the people who were going to get the most out of the course effectively selected themselves.If we had recruited in a more conventional way, I don’t think we would been able to bring together such an interesting group of musicians, inventors, film-makers, software developers, artists, designers and educators.

I think this method of recruitment has great potential for future projects, as it could prove a great way to contact and bring together eclectic groups of people based on their interests, rather than them being lumped into one demographic or another.



Restrictions 1

Revisiting the Canal& Map. The idea that ‘Restrictions make us more Creative’ will probably ring true to anyone who has seen what George Lucas did with a budget of millions, once he was able to ‘fully realise’ his original vision for the Star Wars Saga.

I’m not suggesting an absolute rule here, but this is an idea that we have always found useful when developing tools used to stimulate imaginative thinking and connection making.

As Constellation of Signs was launched this weekend, it seems a good time to share some reflections on how, as part of the Mapping Activity for Canal&, we developed a collaborative mapping activity using a restricted visual language and very simple materials.

The main benefit of the restrictions in this Visual Mapping Language were that the people building the interface could focus on mapping very specific things, so using the spatial metaphor of a map, without getting bogged down with less relevant, geographic details.

At this point it’s probably worth sharing the process of building the map.

Setting Up the Map
1. Clear a space in a Community Centre/Shopping Centre/Retirement Home etc.
2. Throw down the rope, and arrange it loosely in the shape of the Canal between the Albert Dock and Seaforth, introduce the idea that that this rope represents the Canal.
3. Place a Liverpool Flag at the liverpool end, and the Seaforth Flag at the other.

Tuning Up the Map
1. Take the cardboard cut out landmarks, and ask people to place them, where they think they should go, along the Canal.
2. Negotiate with others where these different landmarks should be placed in relation to one another.
3. Ask each person to make a quick drawing of something you might see along the canal, blu-tac it on a plastic dome, and place it where they are most likely to see it on the map.


Adding Content to the Map
Ask each person to…
1. Make a sketch of a memory that you have of the Canal, place it on a different coloured plastic dome, and place it where it happened on the canal.
E.g. “My  husband was walking the dog, which is blind, along the Canal. He was looking the other way, and the dog fell in the Canal. ”
2. Think of a suggestion for something amazing that could happen on the Canal in future, based on your memory,  someone elses, or a combination of a few different ones.
E.g. “An annual sponsored ‘Throw Your Husband into the Canal Day.”

“My husband let our dog fall into the Canal..”

“Sponsored ‘Throw your husband in the Canal’ event..”



The simple restriction for this interface was to  work with just three categories of colour coded nodes to be placed on the Map.
1) Views of the Canal
2) Memories of the canal
3) Suggestions for the future of the Canal,
Over time this allowed for some really complex interactions with the Map.


What was produced with many different variations, depending on the people, the space we were in, and the atmosphere created, was a very simple map, plotted with an incredibly rich constellations of memories and ideas.


“Robot Sharks..?”

Even if the conversations we had with people around the Map often went around the houses, the things that it captured were Memories of the Canal, & imaginative suggestions for it’s future.

People were able to combine and recombine this limited set of places & memories, and use them as stimulus to make weird connections and suggest something new for the Canal.

Artists, most famously the Surrealists, have been using random combinations of limited data sets for years, as a way to stimulate their own creativity, throwing just the right number of ideas up in the air, and seeing what caught their imagination.

What was interesting with this activity was that by using the reductive visual language of the mapping interface, plotted with Constellations of Memories and Suggestions,  we were able to share this process with large numbers of people, many of whom were communicating & collaborating without ever meeting.



Games V’s Films

I am currently working with Fact, on a Computer Game Design project with a group of young people at St Francis of Assisi School, Liverpool. The group have spent the past five weeks developing their creative programming skills using a variety of problem solving activities, and they have now started to create their final games.

These include a “Herd ‘Em Up” Zookeeper game called ‘Alpha Animals’, the “Empire building”, ‘McDonalds V’s Burger King’, and a host of other games that I could never have predicted when I gave them their design brief.

Working in small groups, the young people have been set the task of developing a simple computer game, in which their avatar is caught between two conflicting groups. This has given them the chance to develop the first person games that they are excited about, but also necessitates them to program the complex systems of intelligent agents, that make good games interesting and unpredictable.

I have encouraged the group to drag their faces away from the screens as much as possible, using Knex, paper and blu-tac to build tangible representations of code, movement based activities to represent the programming of group interactions, and paper and pens to create these fantastic game design system drawings, like the one above left , which became a mixture of game design document and eco-system diagram.





John and Neil were out on the road a couple of times last month sharing their BALLOONASCOPE.

First up, on October 22nd, was an invite to Newcastle University’s CULTURE LAB, celebrating their re-launch and showing off a diverse cacophony of hi-tech (and not so hi-tech!) works and facilities to a VIP audience.

Highlights included motion capture demos, high-definition cinema projection, the digital proto-typing workshop and Andrea Pozzi‘s  final project for the Digital Media MRes. : SOMETHING WENT WRONG – the viewer’s physical manipulation of a projector’s beam disturbs what is revealed or hidden in an onscreen, computer generated landscape.

Next, Halloween, and a presentation at  RULE OF THIRDS, at Ulverston’s Lanterhouse.

“HANDS-ON INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE” introduced the BALLOONASCOPE to attempt to open a broader discussion about Re-Dock’s use of simple material props – cardboard cut-outs; sports equipment; old rope; balloons – in order to transfer digital realm metaphors onto physical spaces such as shopping centres, libraries, social clubs and green spaces.

The BALLOONASCOPE originally emerged as part of a research and development commission by digital arts agency Folly and Lancashire County Council and was originally conceived to facilitate discussion in Libraries, and public spaces across Lancashire around different aspects of ‘Digital Culture.’


Through facilitated discussion the BALLOONASCOPE device, allows participants to cumulatively plot and graph information, over time, in physical 3D space – sharing knowledge, thoughts and feelings about ‘Digital Culture’, in terms of accessibility and the over-all value to their lives.

In the end, we arrive at a constellation of helium balloons – an analogue measure – which in turn is collated and shared using the 3D modeling program Blender.

IMPORTANT – The BALLOONASCOPE project is a Creative Commons Licenced work: We invite artists, scientists, psychologists, educators, policy makers (everyone!) to take, use and develop the BALLOONASCOPE device to facilitate groups of individuals in collaboratively visualising their emotions and ideas in 3D physical space.