I started at KWMC as a volunteer on the summer school in 2009.
I have worked as a freelance artist for over 15 years and had the great fortune to work with KWMC on several occasions. It was very exciting working with KWMC because they are interested in the practical application of experimental art and design. In a gallery, artists can make work that questions the boundaries of a discipline, work that acts as a provocation and makes people think about aesthetic and/or social situations.
But a gallery is a designated zone of interest, it attracts a certain demographic who upon entering the space expect a certain amount of experimentation and are disappointed if the show doesn’t surprise. KWMC work within a community in South Bristol that do not fit the usual gallery demographic, or have access to the same cultural amenities. The Media Centre has a definite interest in social change, of empowering people to improve their situation either through knowledge or work or both. When there is such a worthy cause then experimentation can seem slight and less important. But KWMC pushed forward on both fronts there was the opportunity to experiment, to try new ideas and improve people’s lives through the practical application of art and design, which was incredible.
For example, I was involved in the 3e Houses project, a collaboration between KWMC, Toshiba Research Labs (TRL) and Bristol City Council. The project was investigating how IT could improve householders’ awareness of their energy consumption. What a fantastic opportunity to try some new ideas. Of course anywhere else it could have been quite dull, death by a thousand isotypes; the enthusiasm flattened by fear. Public art is often neutralised by commissioners who are worried about causing offence. As a result the work can be safe and unchallenging: the fear of offence outweighing the desire to question. [KWMC Director] Carolyn was great to work for and she fully supported experimentation, trying new things, new ways of expressing ideas, new ways of asking questions.
Toshiba Research Labs were great to work with, they were gracious and we, particularly [KWMC Web Projects Manager] Russell, were able to contribute to the technical development of the project. How often do you get a community centre contributing to the technical research of a laboratory like TRL?
We developed a really innovative interface and tested it in local households, that was an amazing achievement. I thought it was exciting at the time but now looking back it seems almost unbelievable.