Innovation vs poetry: what I did this summer

I thought I’d bring back blogging. I predict a blogging revolution. I really think this ‘weblogging’ thing is going to take off.

It’s been a long while, as usual!

Signalling levers at Derby Silk Mill

Here are some of the things that have been happening since July:

  • I’m still working on the Derby Silk Mill R&D commission, on and off. Increasingly off, as I’ve been stretching the money since May, but there will be a final burst on this at some point, and perhaps some more funding. I’ve had some really enjoyable trips to the Silk Mill and curator tours around the extraordinary (closed to the public) industrial collection.
  • I’m one of the artists who was selected in July to work on the Collusion R&D, on the theme of AI. Again, it’s not a huge amount of money, and we’ll get the second half at the end (next month), so I’ve been really stretching this half-of-not-a-huge-amount. It’s been a terrific experience though, nightmare journeys to Cambridge notwithstanding, and so good to get ideas flowing and be making stuff, again.

    Speaking at Derby Quad in August

  • I’ve been invited to do a few talks over the summer, and without exception they’ve been loads of fun and really useful for me. I’ve spoken about my work and approach at the Continue conference in Nottingham, Ladies Wine & Design Sheffield, Creative Mornings Sheffield, and the Derby Quad.
  • I’ve been invited to do a new part-time residency starting asap, and concluding with a talk next April. It’s another AI-themed thing (everything is AI this year!) – but with a twist. AI and apocalypses, at the totally fascinating CenSAMM.
  • I did another course, bringing my total number of courses this year (so far!) to six :D. This one was a fun weekend learning Alex McLean’s TidalCycles, live coding audio composition software.
  • I managed to get away on holiday for a week! We went to the North Norfolk coast. Fabulously beautiful it was, too.

    Seal spotting at Blakeney Point

  • I have been continuing to attend monthly meetings as a member of the Artists Panel, a committee of artists set up as part of Making Ways, making decisions on visual art strategy for Sheffield.
  • I’ve had loads of rejections for different projects and funding, as usual! All part of the game.



There are a number of things that could happen next. The R&D projects could find homes to grow and flourish amid as-yet-undreamed-of funding, or could just as easily go on ice until they’re repurposed, down the line. I could get some fresh offer of a new project or piece of work totally out of the blue, which is generally how it seems to happen for me, (to the extent that ‘it’ happens at all, of course). Or I could be struck by a new idea and feel compelled to hunt down the cash to make it happen. Given I’ve never once got a successful funding bid through, I’m going to need you to pray for me that I never get that inspired. I’m relying on you to stand in my way. Don’t let me down.

I’d like to do some more international work. I was invited to speak at a major conference Arizona next spring, but unfortunately they could only offer a ‘stipend’ of £500… not enough to even cover a one-way, 12 hour, flight. But it made me realise how much I’d like to speak abroad. It’s a year since my residency in Helsinki. Now, you won’t meet anyone who travels worse than me; I’ll be violently sick, get all the wrong buses and lose my passport. But somehow, I’d still like to do more of it.

More urgently, I need to get out and see some art. I’ve been locked down on my own projects over the last few months and I’m running out of brain fuel. A few day trips to shows and galleries are in order, and soon.

I’d also like to do some more writing. I really enjoyed doing a column for Brandwatch earlier this year, writing for New Scientist, and getting my interview with Duncan into Creative Review. But it’s been ages now and I need to get some journalism pitches out.

Oh and the book I contributed a chapter to this year, Mysterium (“Unexplained and extraordinary stories for a post-Nessie generation”), is out next month. Look out for it!


Rosa performing in my R&D for the Collusion AI project

Current interests 

  1. MONEY
    My fascination with money and the economy just grows and grows. I’ve been trying to think of a way to persuade a bank or other financial institution to let me do a residency with them. Residencies are a great learning opportunity, and it would be a sort of work experience, to be able to spend some time with people who think about money all the time, while drawing out some creative angles. I don’t see much art about money, maybe surprisingly, but I’m certain of this: it’s going to be the next thing we’ll all have to understand… or at least understand our feelings towards.

I really miss working with dance and dancers. I’ve been able to do a little bit with Rosa for the Collusion R&D, which has been great. I’d love to get into another big dance project.


My digital art curator job for Site has been all about putting together events, while they’ve been lacking exhibition space. But I’ve been thinking more about what it means to curate. Putting together Hack Circus 4 x a year was a curation; I was constantly deciding which work to feature and how to present it, and the events for Site have been a satisfyingly creative exercise for me. But most of the curator jobs I’ve seen around are what used to be called PA or producer jobs, and that’s not something I’m skilled at, at all. To me, a curator is a composition job.


My projection mapping experiments at the Collusion HQ recently.

My life’s theme, of course, but particularly in regards to these tech/art R&D projects I’m doing. How do you do R&D with art? Isn’t all art R&D anyway?

It’s another case of art borrowing language and habits from its more successful big sibling, digital. But it can still be a useful way to frame the process: you mess around with stuff for a bit, throw away all the experiments that didn’t feel right, then build up the bits that did. Every person’s process is different, and this being art, neither process nor reception is reliably linear. Some will prefer parts of the development process to the final thing, and people can find value and resonance in any part of any stage of the making, without being ‘wrong’.

When tech is bringing the money, we’re obliged to look for innovation when I think we should be looking for poetry. Finding the balance is an exciting challenge, for sure, but it’s not necessarily the challenge we’d chose, if the money was coming from another corner.


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