Hi, my name is Megan Smith, I go by cawsand on twitter. I’m a new media artist. I’m going to talk to you today about embedding narratives
Or extending social space
And in particular, I’ve been invited here to talk about a project I did here in Leeds called Our City, Our Music.
So this talk is going to include: Roads, love, philosophy, heartbreak, and is mostly about local stories. But before I get to that I think it is a good idea in a talk like this to come at it from a personal angle and so I’m just going to briefly tell you a story about how I got here.
And, as my work often references mapping, I’m quite literally going to show you how I came to be here in Leeds. I grew up, here, in the Ottawa Valley, Canada, in an area called the Pontiac. It is not uncommon to hear theorists and psychologists say that your childhood has an impact on your daily life. I’ve come to see these influences quite clearly in my own practice, and I now use them to develop new work.
This is the main highway, the 148, and it pretty much is the artery through the trees and fields and to the river. There are about 20 miles running along that pink line.
So, I spent the first 18 years of my life living here.
As a little girl I travelled every day, to Quyon to attend school,
and then later on I went in the other direction to high school.
The roads off the 148 carried me to friends and family. My parents office.
My great-grandparents, in Wyman, named after my grandfather Wyman MacKechnie.
Where I took swimming lessons in the summer and later worked as a lifeguard.
My aunt and uncles.
My best friends house.
And other friends houses.
The arena where between my figure skating lessons and my brothers hockey practice we spent most of the winter months. The Grove, a sand pit in the middle of a bush, where we used to hang out as teenagers and make-out and burn things.
And to build on that are these locations associated with great and hilarious memories
Births, Death, and tragedy.
I know these roads probably better than the back of my hand and along them, in the blue dots,there are emotional triggers every time I drive along them, or think of the locations and people who inhabit them. This is probably not an unfamiliar experience at all. So, to give you some perspective on how this land mass translates to where I am now,
this a map of Leeds at the same scale. And, in my life, I will never get to know this map as well as I know the hills, seasonal road bumps, people and stories of the Pontiac. It’s impossible, this area of the world is far too compact both in population and with roads.. But, I have tried. I’m going to come back to this map later to explain how. But before I do, I have a few other roads to show you.
I moved away to pursue my education and explore a new space. There are about 270 miles between these to dots. And, here, at 18 I was sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency to go to Peru with my class mates to volunteer for 6 weeks and to just open our eyes to another culture. Before we left we took a course on Peruvian economics and our lecturer said told us something that has forever stuck with me, And has completely affected my practice as artist and a designer. So, this is what he said.
You can’t change the world. And at 18, when I thought the world was my oyster, I was a bit unsure about that.
And, he followed it up with. But you can have an impact on how people chose to experience it. And he also told us.
Know your own country before you form judgment on another.
And, as I picked up to move once more in 1999, those two statements really affected the next few years of my life, my learning and my creativity. I moved to Toronto (about 430 miles from Lennoxville) and I thought I had better get to know my country so I can travel intelligently outside it in the future.
It took me about 4 years to travel to these areas in Canada. Sometimes I stayed a day, sometimes weeks at a time. I used the obvious methods of transportation, train, planes and automobiles. And, I can’t really tell you how many miles I covered, I lost track after a while. By this point I was really in love with my country, the people, the freedom, the geography. I just thought it was an amazing place because I had picked up and located so many amazing stories along the way.
Near the end of my time in Toronto, I took a course at York University called. ‘Artist as Activist’ and then, because of it,
I ended up traveling up to Quebec City, in 2001, about 500 miles away to document the protests at the Summit of Americas . And that is where my heart was broken.
Regardless of whether or not my heart was into the politics, I was standing on an overpass documenting the protesters in festivity. This event was purposely nowhere near the political centre what you are seeing is an ambush. We were corralled by police on either side of the pass, and helicopters pressed down on us from above. To get off people were jumping 30-40 feet to the road below. I took these pictures in the stampede. The fog is pepper spray and the panic was because they were shooting us with rubber bullets. I left the situation in shock that an attack like that could happen in Canada and an unprovoked one on top of that. but what really opened my eyes to reality was the way the then prime minister refused to acknowledge the abuse his country people had experienced and then he further ignored that we had even been in the capital to peacefully draw his attention to this political matter. It was almost like, if I had not taken these photos, I would have no story to tell because the government dismissed it. Because of that situation, and, despite having travelled extensively across the Canada, I now understood a greater complexity that existed in my own country.
It was time to leave and explore others.
I spent just under a year in Central America, and then another year in Asia, in both areas accumulating amazing experiences and stories.
And then in late 2003 I came to Britain and became a citizen.
I was living in Winchester, and in my north american way, I took a road trip ‘up north and discovered Yorkshire.
By 2004 I had cashed my life savings, to my mom’s dismay, and I was living in Leeds
Where I fell in love again.
Which brings me back to this map, I started think. How can I get to know this area of the world better, which is by far more populated and networked by roads?
If I want to enrich my life in Leeds the way it was here in the Pontiac, I can’t draw on my family to make the connections, and I can’t just nock on peoples doors and ask them who they are? I know I’m a bit excentric but that’s just a bit over the top, right?
So, I started to draw creatively on these things, which were the ‘new new’ in 2005.
And slowly, through some crazy hacking methods in 2005-6, and working with my collaborator Ben Halsall, we started to make them talk to eachother. It’s automated now, but then, it was not so easy.
So, then we started to use blogging, mobile, phones, mapping, and GPS, to interact with people.
And, this is what happened. We asked the people of Leeds, through our blog, what we should do, go, and see in the city. And then we systematically traveled around the city to their requests, logging everything on mobile phones and transmitting back to our blog so it updated in real-time. Simultaneously we used GPS to chronicle our routes.
Which led on to this project. Our City, Our Music is a collaborative projects run by myself, Ben Halsall and Ben Dalton and actually extended to involve about 50 emerging artists in the city.
The vision was to shoot videos of local musicians performing within the city and then to embed these videos onto a GPS enabled mobile device.
We pitched our idea at the b.TWEEN conference in 2008 and won the Exploding Narratives prize to develop the project with HPLabs mscape software.
And this is what we were aiming for. To pull bands and filmmakers and GPS technology together to make Leeds’ first geo-located album.
This was our first test with local musicians Ruth Viquiera and Garry Stewart. Once we had done this and knew what we were dealing with technically we
put out a call online for emerging filmmakers and musicians from Leeds to be a part of the project. Then we assembled a team of professionals in both the film and music industry in Leeds to help us select our album. We then drew 50% from the open application and the other 50% were nominated by the panel.
What made the project really interesting though, for me, was that we asked all the musicians to choose three locations within the city where they would like to shoot their video and to tell us a stories about those spaces and why they had chosen them. So not only were we looking for great artists to wok with we were also looking to archive their memories and interpretations of the city. This is one of the first planning maps that came out of the meeting with the panel of experts, where we plotted the potential shoot locations.
This is the final map that was embedded in the GPS enabled device. The pink dots indicate located videos and stories.
And here are a few images that were taken during the shoots. This one is behind Kirkgate market. This was the Garry Stewart band getting ready.
Ellen and the Escapades shot by James Rhodes and animated by Niki Naroz. Set in one of those little ginnels off Briggate street.
Superworless on the Town Hall steps, shot by Anna Palmujoki.
Here is Ben Dalton, on the right setting up the binaural sound equipment we used to record a lot of the videos and stories. This is in the Hyde Park picture house with Eskimo Twins.
We also ran a professional development programme for the participants that introduced them to people from the music industry and the media. The filmmakers received workshops in shooting for small screen devices and producing binaural sound recordings. Here we had Jez Willis from the Utah Saints and Ben Cryer from the BBC talking about their careers and advising on methods of promotions.
We launched on June 20th and 21st of 2009 with a party for our filmmakers and musicians and some of the bands performed. The event was advertised across the city both via the internet and on local forums as well as using the usual Leeds methods.
You can experience the album this way online, from the comfort of your couch, by moving over the icons to select the video.
Or you can take the streets and enjoy in situ. Which a great experience. We have given tours to over 200 people and more have walked it on their own.
This is actually my mom, who I think now believes I made the right decision. She’s here watching the Ellen and the escapades video in action.
Superpowerless on the town hall steps.
And, I just thought I would end here. Because like the images I showed earlier from the summit in Quebec City, if we had not done this project we would not have a video shot at the International pool in Leeds, nor would we have a great story about the building and its “special” history accompanying the video. With Our City, Our Music we literally used the city as a platform, and we did this with a huge team of people who were willing to share their skills, their ideas, their creativity to help us archive part of the cultural scene that exists here. In doing so we used new tools and social media to contribute to this cities cultural scene and to embed our accumalted narratives within the city. After 6 years of living here, I still can’t say that I know it, and I don’t think I ever will the way I understand the Pontiac,
And the reality is as a designer and artist I will never aspire to change the world, but I have chosen, perhaps, in a modest way, to use my interest in mapping and accumulating local stories to understand Leeds better, and as a method to fall in love with the city, and then to use my knowledge to form narrative and social systems for sharing, so that those who want to can experience these located situations as well.
Megan Smith @cawsand Embedding Narrative/
Megan Smith @cawsand Embedding Narrative/ Extending Social Space:
Megan Smith @cawsand Embedding Narrative/ Extending Social Space: Our City, Our Music
roads love philosophy heartbreak & stories * I promise this is not off topic.