Autumn in Farnham

Zappar codesDuring the last week of September, I was once again invited to be an artist-in-residence in the department of Media & Communications at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham. This year I focused on some of my most recent work, The Salmagundi and Tales from the Towpath, and gave workshops on creating Zappar codes. The course coordinator Yuwei Lin asked me to address topics the students were currently studying, including representation of the body, feminism, and issues of surveillance and data privacy, and I found myself concentrating on the latter. Although my work relates to all three areas, surveillance and data privacy fit well with the works I was discussing and with the emphasis on mobile technologies.

We also collaborated again with Rebekah Taylor from UCA’s Animation Archive, using examples from the archive that related to the three areas and offering the students this material as possible starting points for their Zappar animations. The archive is a very rich resource, which surprisingly many of the students didn’t know existed. Given more time, it would be great to do a larger project with something like Zappar codes to bring the archive to life and make it more visible on campus.

But we only had a week, on three days of which there was a different group of students from post-graduate to first years, with a three-hour lecture and three-hour workshop. In the lectures, at which Yuwei and Rebekah also spoke, I showed examples of work by artists who are critiquing surveillance and data gathering, from “I know where your cat lives” and Surveillant Camera Man to Andy Campbell and Mez Breeze’s PRISOM game. It was interesting to see the reactions of the students, particularly the younger ones. I was a bit surprised when one expressed the opinion that if the government was undertaking surveillance and data gathering, it must be with good intentions, to help the people. Most of them were not quite as trusting as this, but still had not thought deeply about it, and nearly all of them acknowledged that they had little idea about the terms and conditions of the apps they routinely installed on their mobiles. I hope I achieved at least a little bit of awareness raising, if not increased critical thinking!

UCA Farnham workshopThe workshops were hands-on and focused on how to create a Zappar code. I started by showing them some examples – first of all some professionally-made ones that the company sent me, to get them excited about what’s possible, and then the Zaps we made last year for Tales from the Towpath, to show what’s realistic with limited time and resources (still quite a lot!). I got the students work in pairs or small groups, to help them to quickly come up with and develop story ideas and generate the content together. We discussed why they might want to use a Zappar code to communicate an idea or story, and where and how their audience might be able to interact with it. Working directly in the Zappar creator interface, we looked at how to structure an animation using consecutive scenes, and the interaction options such as buttons to trigger things or go to URLs. All of the students managed to finish a Zap code, or at least have it in a working if not exactly how they wanted it; some of them were great, both in ideas and execution. Each student created their own personal account which gives them one free Zap, which they can continue to modify, update and improve on after it’s been published. The students will be able to keep on playing around with their Zap if they are interested – and I think some will, as they really enjoyed the workshop.

One of the students has blogged about their experience here, and Yuwei has blogged about it here and here.

Yuwei and HelenI didn’t have much spare time to wander around Farnham, which is a very picturesque old market town, or have a go at finding the difficult geocaches that Yuwei and I gave up on last year. However, the weather was beautiful – cloudless skies, mild temperatures and colourful autumnal trees – and I could walk across a field from my B&B; to the campus, pretending I was in the middle of the countryside and feeling like a local. It was a great week – lots of work, lots of learning, and lots of sunshine. Let’s see what we can do next year … :-)