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Dane’s experience

“In 2009 I was lucky enough to be awarded a Science City residency at KWMC where I had an open-ended brief to explore ways that household energy data could be visualised.

At the time I had a good knowledge of traditional animation 2D practices and the Flash web authoring software. I could do a limited amount of scripting with Flash but my use of Flash was as a development of traditional filmmaking; that is I produced content that was passively consumed.

Passive media is TV, radio and film – where the audience sits and soaks in authored content. But these forms are changing and for me as an artist it is important to experiment with the communication tools of our time; social media and live data. Social media encompasses Facebook and Twitter, websites where the audience becomes the author. This is a dramatic change to the romantic view of the isolated artist sitting on a South Sea island. These new forms of communication mean that artists have to create work in a dynamic environment and respond to unforeseen circumstances.

Getting involved with KWMC

KWMC have embraced these new technologies as it reflects their desire to give local people a voice and an opportunity to comment on what is happening in their area. The residency was a huge learning curve where I had to stretch my understanding of animation to create visualisations that responded to live data feeds. I have extended the range of my skills base: from traditional animation techniques, I now have an excellent knowledge of databases, php and javascript – the fundamentals of modern web technologies.

In my first KWMC residency I developed Electric Footprint, a social media tool where households could create a profile of their house and see their electricity consumption.

There are lots of residencies around that give artists the time to experiment with new ways of working. The difference with KWMC is that they extended my residency and then incorporated my artistic practice into practical applications. Carolyn Hassan, the director of KWMC, has been brilliant in taking the Media Centre forward from predominantly time-based media into interactive digital tools for the community. KWMC supported my work by encouraging an experimental approach. Most interfaces are quite dull whereas I was supported to be creative with the visuals.

Whose Data?

KWMC is a great place to try out new ideas. As well as Electric Footprint I initiated Allotmentville. This was a project funded by UnLtd to experiment with the idea of a social media platform for gardeners and has subsequently been developed by KWMC into My Knowle West.

In 2011, as part of their enquiry into live data, KWMC developed ‘Whose Data?’ and commissioned artists to develop work around community data. Because of my work on Electric Footprint and KWMC’s continued support of my practice I was asked to be lead artist on the project. We developed two key projects that gave both myself as an artist and KWMC a direction to develop new work.

  • Witterung by Susanne Stahl: Susanne developed a four coding system for the weather and I helped code the database and visualisation. This was programmed in php with a mySQL database. I used php to combine different images. This work has informed the web-apps that we have been developing for the local community and the local council.
  • CONNECTION/TIME: Developed with Dr Paul Hurley, Connection/Time uses social media to document live performances and events. It enables the audience to tweet and upload their pictures of an event and instantly archive the event reducing post performance documentation.

After Whose Data? I went on to develop Mayor for the Day, an interactive online survey encouraging local people to consider the issues around the Bristol Mayoral election. The survey was developed from the experience of developing Witterung and used the same techniques.

Reflecting on KWMC

I have been an independent artist for 14 years and I have had a lot of residencies and commissions across the world. On average these take about three months and then I move on to the next thing. There are several key differences between KWMC and other art organisations I have worked with.

For example, KWMC is interested in the practical applications of art. This intent can often reduce visuals to a bare functionalism whereas KWMC still encourage and support creative visual experimentation. Working at KWMC has been a unique experience because of the freedom and support they have offered me as an artist.

Furthermore, the context of the KWMC has informed the development of my work. I think KWMC is reflective and responsive to the local community so any work undertaken has to follow that remit. KWMC expect artists to work directly with the local community. This is great as it gives artists instant feedback on their work.

I don’t think my work on its own has engaged more local people but as a part of the KWMC team it has extended the organisation’s reach. It has also been used to showcase the many different projects that are happening in the building and that has encouraged more people from across the city and beyond to come to KWMC.

KWMC is a great place to experiment and try out ideas. I look forward to seeing it develop as place where those ideas can be resolved into fully functioning tools.

All the work I have made at KWMC has been developed from previous work, an ongoing experimentation and re-iteration of techniques and conceptual ideas. As an artist it has been wonderful to have that opportunity over a sustained period with support. Although the work has been artistic and creative I have also had the opportunity of working with Siemens and Toshiba in developing real digital tools. Because of the freedom I have enjoyed to experiment with the technology my technical ability has grown to such an extent that I have been able to help Siemens with ways of aggregating data feeds. My work at KWMC has massively developed my skills and opened up new opportunities.”

(Dane Watkins, KWMC Artist in Residence)
Visit Dane’s website

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