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Field Work, a project for the Periodical

September 24th, 2012 by gileslane

For a decade or so we’ve been designing custom notebooks and sketch books for use in projects and workshops – for individuals, groups of participants, communities and some just for anyone who wants to use them. There’s a small library of ‘eNotebooks’ on Diffusion – many by us and some by others (see below and/or click for an example by architect Rob Annable).

Next month I’ll be travelling to Papua New Guinea to share my experiences of using our hybrid digital/paper notebooks for recording and sharing Traditional Environmental or Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Never having worked before in such an extreme climate (Tropical jungle) and in such a technologically remote setting, I’m hoping to learn more about how effective they may be and how much we’ll need to work around them and other constraints to make something locally-specific yet useful and replicable. Right now I’m experimenting with printing eNotebooks on waterproof paper stock to take with me to compare with standard paper stocks for durability and effectiveness.

All this preparation for the PNG trip, along with conversations with my old friend Brandon LaBelle, who was in London recently to teach on this year’s Field Studies summer school, has made me revisit some old concepts and plans for Diffusion Series and dust off one of them. I have also been looking into the remarkable and inspirational Sketchbook Project organised by Art House Coop in Brooklyn, NY to push my original ideas further.

A few years ago, I began to develop an idea for a series of Diffusion commissions that would take the form of a designed eNotebook being given to a number of participants who would be asked to use it to conduct and record field work according to their profession, practice or discipline. Their investigations might be around place, a subject, a process or a community – whatever they choose.
This idea for a series remained a series of sketches and notes as my ideas at the time morphed into the City As Material series of events and collaborative eBooks of Autumn 2010 (and following series). However, with my own imminent PNG field work about to take place and being in the midst of thinking about the nature of what a field notebook or sketchbook might be, the idea has returned and seems highly relevant to the concerns of making and sharing – public authoring – that are driving the ideas behind the Periodical.

Thus Field Work has formed as a new and discrete project that can exist within the framework of the Periodical – each subscriber will receive a blank Field Work eNotebook of their own to record an investigation of their own in (should they chose to do so). All completed eNotebooks sent back to Proboscis will be digitised and made back into eBooks that can be read and downloaded from bookleteer. Depending on how many we receive back, we will select and print someone’s Field Work eBook to be sent out to subscribers as part of the monthly issue – perhaps 2 or three times a year.

Why do this? There is an enduring fascination with the notebooks and sketches of artists, writers, scientists and composers etc – we see this time and again with our own modest eNotebooks for projects which take something unique and handwritten or drawn and make them into ‘shareables’, where the trace of the personal is directly communicated in the digitally reproducible. So much can be appreciated about creative process and intentions from the scribbles as well as the precision of thought, eye and hand that simply evades a ‘finished’ book, typed and formally illustrated. I think that the Periodical and bookleteer both have much to offer not just as a mode of production and dissemination of designed publications, but also as a means of sharing creative process in the raw.

When I first began the long journey towards building bookleteer, back in 2003, we built a rough working prototype of what we called the Generator. I was asked to give a presentation about my concept of public authoring at a symposium held at BT Labs campus, Adastral Park, near Ipswich – People Inspired Innovation. I presented our work on Urban Tapestries alongside the first test eBooks made with the Generator, and suggested how we might in future link them to enable both the sharing of local knowledge and data on mobile geo-annotation systems with physical outputs. One result of this presentation was a series of discussions with anthropologists Genevieve Bell (feral data) and Ken Anderson at Intel Research on how it could be used as a tool for field research : quickly capturing and sharing field work as it happens. Years later I actually got to explore this idea with James Leach when invited to help with the Melanesia Project at the British Museum.

So, working towards a very simple initial template for an eNotebook (i.e. not so highly focused as with some of the ones I’ve designed recently, such as the Soho Food Feast We Are All Food Critics notebook or one I designed for Tim Wright & Joe Flintham’s The Haunter Field Trip) we will send out a printed copy to each subscriber to take part in building up a library of field notes and sketch books. I am also thinking that some field studies and trips – extending the work we’ve done with City As Material – may also form part of this project and would love to hear from anyone interested in taking part or helping organise some.

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