case study ideas & suggestions news

Storymaking, fictional books & reworked covers

I’ve just completed a personal project in collaboration with my daughter Clara – Phantom Tomes, a book of imaginary titles cunningly reworked onto Victorian book covers sourced from the British Library‘s wonderful digital collection of public domain images. The book invites its readers to elaborate on the book titles by imagining their own publisher’s “blurb” or writing a review of the imaginary book. Each book cover has a blank page beside it purposefully for this storymaking task. As ever, the project is intended to inspire others to build upon our work and create their own versions of the activity, devising their own titles, covers and use of bookleteer as a simple and convenient way to share their creativity.

The titles are much inspired by the fantastic works of Edward Gorey and by long and venerable tradition of fictional books imagined by some of literature’s greats: Laurence Sterne, Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula LeGuin, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec & Stanislav Lem among many others.

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Soho Memoirs

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I’m very excited to announce that we are collaborating with the Museum of Soho to produce a series of Soho Memoirs from materials in their archive. The three initial books are by people who grew up or worked in Soho during the first part of the twentieth century and were recorded or written during the 1980s and early 2000s. As personal remembrances and stories they are steeped in the texture and fabric of the social life of old Soho – something tenuous and precious, yet at the same time time hard and unremitting. What makes these accounts special is not a nostalgia for what has disappeared so much as the living connection they establish to how much continues even now within the community of people who live and work there or whose children attend the last remaining school there.

The three books will be distributed via the Periodical starting in May 2014 – subscribe now to get your copies as well as other treats through your letterbox each month. We will have copies too at a special event at the House of St Barnabas in May organised by MoSoho.

examples ideas & suggestions news

Workbooks for community knowledge networks

Last year Proboscis collaborated with a group of local people and a community run centre (PAG) in Pallion, Sunderland to co-create and co-design a sustainable ‘knowledge network’ that could help people respond to the bewildering array of changes taking place in the benefits system. Our project became the Pallion Ideas Exchange (PAGPIE) – weekly meetings and get togethers run by and for local people to help each other identify and address problem, share information and experience and help share the results with others in the community. A key part of our collaboration (the project was also part of the Vome research project led by Dr Lizzie Coles-Kemp at the Information Security Group of Royal Holloway University of London) was the tools we designed to help the community think through not only how they could identify problems and opportunities, but also how they could figure out what they as individuals and as a group already knew and could share with others. All the tools were designed to be easily produced/reproduced using standard office stationery or, in the case of the larger posters, could be cheaply printed at a local copy shop. Everything was also designed to be easily captured for sharing on the web via blogs, twitter, facebook etc – in whatever way was both safest and most appropriate for the local community.

We devised simple workflows, diagrams and ‘thinksheets’ as well as developing some workbooks and notebooks that individuals could use – all made with bookleteer. We printed up a batch of each using the Short Run printing service, but a key part of the design was that anyone could easily download, print out and make up more copies if they needed to, or the centre could easily order more printed copies as and when they had funding.

We are now creating generic versions of all these tools so that anyone else can set up their own version of a Neighbourhood Ideas Exchange (NIE), can download and make up the notebooks and other tools. We’ve completed versions of the existing 4 notebooks – Experiences, Managing a Problem, Communicating a solution online, Things To Do – and are writing a general guide to the toolkit and NIE concept.

We’ve also been condensing our experiences working in Pallion, as well as many years experience working with other communities both here and abroad, into a playful set of StoryCubes designed to help communities, facilitators and organisers think through the different kinds of steps needed for something like a neighbourhood ideas exchange or other community network. We’re hoping to have the whole toolkit finished in time for the AHRC Connected Communities Showcase on 12th March, where we’ll be showing materials created for our other collaboration with ISG on the Hidden Families project.

news the periodical

Material Conditions: Epilogue

Last December we published Material Conditions, a set of eight commissioned books exploring what it means and takes to be a professional creative practitioner. Inspired by the title of a behind-the-scenes blog post which followed, we’ve added a new chapter to the series, continuing a discussion which seems ever more relevant in the current climate.

Material Conditions: Epilogue is both a companion to those books – for those who read it, for the artists involved – and, as a pleasant paradox, an introduction for those who are not familiar with them. Five of the original contributors – Sarah Butler, Jane Prophet, Karla Brunet, Janet Owen Driggs & Jules Rochielle and Ruth Maclennan – have created new pieces for this publication, as they look back on the series, reflecting on their book and those by the other artists. Far from mere commentary, these responses are works in their own right, and are as poetic and profound as the initial eight books.

It’s also the first publication to launch the Periodical, to suggest the kind of iterative and experimental forms we hope to see being made and shared with bookleteer. As Giles stated eloquently in his ‘manifesto of sorts’, we’re striving for publishing as conversation; despite the finality of its title, this book can be seen as only the most recent part of a process. Here’s hoping for more.

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Recording & Sharing Traditional Ecological Knowledge

This week I’ve spent a couple of days in Scotland with James Leach, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen working on ideas for recording and sharing Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in the field through hybrid technologies and tools. We are taking part in a symposium at the University of Goroka, Papua New Guinea (PNG) in late October, before travelling to Reite village on the Rai Coast (Madang Province) where James has done field work since the early 1990s.

James and I have been building on conversations we’ve had over the past 4/5 years, and on top of some earlier work together as part of the British Museum’s Melanesia project. A case study explores how we used Diffusion eNotebooks to record the experiences of two Reite villagers – Porer Nombo & Pinbin Sisau – when shown hundreds of objects in the BM ethnographic collection from their area. Bookleteer and the eBook formats proved highly adaptable and useful in this process, allowing us to record interactions on the fly – both in writing and in capturing photographs of the social interactions of the project. We used digital cameras and printed out small photos using a Polaroid PoGo printer to stick directly into the eNotebooks which, once complete, were scanned in and posted online. Some months later we also used bookleteer to print up a short run edition of the 4 eNotebooks which were used in conferences and taken back to the village.

Our conversations this week have focused around themes of process, notation and sharing. Papua New Guinea is perceived as very poor in western economic terms, yet abundant with culture and the natural world. There is a great deal of sensitivity about how indigenous knowledge – of plants, places, wildlife and culture – is both presented and shared. Who benefits? To what, if any, degree does sharing more knowledge help preserve the delicate environment from exploitation and extraction? Why and how local people might wish to record and share their own knowledge to be communicated to outsiders in ways that protect their culture and environment is at the core of this issue. What value, if any, might come to local people from annotations of their knowledge by outside ‘experts’, such as botanists and naturalists in identifying species? Might this lead to just further exploitation and depredations of natural resources?

James and Porer have already published a unique collaboration – Reite Plants – which mixes local knowledge of the flora around Reite village with social and cultural knowledge. It is also written in both English and Tok Pisin, the local creole language. This is seen as a model for working together to share knowledge that situates the plants within the lived culture of Porer’s village and at the same time fulfilling western demands for scientific classification, but without delving into complicated and thorny issues such as para-taxonomy or bio-prospecting.

James and I have been discussing how hybrids – such as bookleteer and the eNotebooks – can be used as part of a co-creative and co-designed process that enables people to use simple tools and technologies, especially ones that are readily available in PNG, to record and document what they know. Starting from the simplicity of the eNotebook format, we’ve been thinking about what kinds of process and social engagement with local people could be explored that would allow material to be created and collected in ways that allow further reflection and addition. We have been thinking of accretive processes that build up and layer the complexly interwoven customs, practices and traditions in ways that reflect the whole culture, not just individual elements that can quickly be consumed, Indigenous Public Authoring for Traditional Ecological Knowledge (IPATEK). Perhaps this itself might be another form of ritual, of patterning knowledge and experience through overlapping notations?

What excites me is the opportunity I have been offered to explore these ideas both in the context of the symposium and in Reite village itself. No doubt the ideas we have cooked up in Scotland will be transformed again and again as they evolve in our conversations and collaborations in PNG with both other thinkers and academics and local people who live within their own indigenous ‘knowledge’ and for whom its enactment is always immersed within the practice of their everyday lives.


‘According To The Artists’ / ‘Talking Art’

Before the New Year, we published the first series of Material Conditions, a set of eight eBooks asking professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.

Since then, I’ve come across a couple of books that draw parallels – miniature libraries of creative insights and artistic working practices – which should be of interest.

According to the Artists – 13 Questions, 51 Interviews, (the title is pretty self-explanatory).

Talking ArtInterviews with artists since 1976 , (collected interviews published by Art Monthly).

We’re starting to plan the next series of Material conditions, this time centered around collective responses rather than individual commissions. Stay tuned for more news.


Book-Making Workshop at New Cross People’s Library – 10th September

This Saturday, the 10th of September, we’ll be running a book-making workshop at the New Cross People’s Library, now reopened after its closure by the council in May, and currently staffed by local volunteers, aided by Bold Vision.

We’re asking participants to bring lists and photos of their favourite books, to create a set of eBooks with bookleteer that reflect the kinds of books, things and services people would like to see in their community library.

Join us from 11.00 am – 1.30 pm at…

New Cross Library
283-285 New Cross Road
SE14 6AS

Hope to see you there.

Open till the 21st September, on a temporary license from Lewisham Council, the Library hopes to be granted a new tenancy, and is therefore holding a fund-raising tea party on the 17th of September. Donate £10 or more to attend, and be thanked in tea and cakes!


Diffusion Archive Highlight – City As Material: An Overview

A document of the five City As Material events we ran in London last year, this eBook collects the blog posts penned after each event, a selection of photographs taken, as well as an introduction to the project and our motives for undertaking it. Created in place of an individual eBook for Sonic Geographies, due to the absence of a special guest, this account of the series provides a narrative that was lacking from the other books produced, detailing the experience from each event on the day, not just the resulting output, and hopefully intriguing potential future collaborators.

Simply using the existing text from the bookleteer blog and full-page photographs as covers for each section, in a book, turns transitory blog posts and assorted snapshots into a publication that can stand on its own right, demonstrating the transformational effect and credence associated with a printed document (although it’s also readable online), made possible with the eBook format.

Read City As Material: An Overview with the online bookreader below, or download, print and make via Diffusion.


Diffusion Archive Highlight: Ancient Lights, City Shadows

A collaborative eBook produced as a result of our City As Material: Skyline event, Ancient Lights, City Shadows features mixed media collected on the day and material we were inspired to create after our wander through the city.

Adorning the cover is one of Martin Fidler’s intricate skyline drawings, opposed with an ambiguous photograph of Tower 42, taken from ground level, looking up – once the image is reversed, it resembles surreal train tracks, running into the horizon. Flowing throughout the book are two lines, mapping our elevation over distance and over duration, captured via a iPhone GPS / Altitude app. They stream through notebook scraps and photos, providing a locational narrative – we liked the idea of extending and distorting this digital data into an abstract visual, creating our own man-made skyline for the backdrop of the eBook.

Read Ancient Lights, City Shadows below, using our online bookreader, or download on Diffusion.


Diffusion Archive Highlight: Deep City

As part of the City As Material series, after being our special guest for the Underside event and helping to co-ordinate the resulting collaborative eBook, Layered, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was asked to produce an individual effort. She created Deep City, an attempt to “extract the individual elements we see in cities over and over again, to help me develop some sort of vocabulary for the cities I know and love, building blocks that make them all melt into one another”. Containing striking photographs of streetscapes, skylines and various nooks and crannies, accompanied by Alexandra’s thoughts and observations,  Deep City is an ode to the cities we live in and their commonalities that we discover over time.

Download, make and read Deep City on Diffusion.