Digital Maker Collective: Foregrounding new technologies in creative practice
Between 23 April and 11 May, Wimbledon Space will present Drawn Beyond, an exhibition co-curated by staff and alumni members of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon’s Digital Maker Collective (DMC). The Digital Maker Collective is a community of artists, designers, staff and students, established back in 2015 to raise awareness of digital making cultures at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon (and UAL as a whole) and to increase our capacity to confront our collective digital unknowns. They’ve had a lot of input in the construction of the new open-access Maker Spaces in the three colleges, where students from all courses can access high end tech equipment like 3D printers, laser cutters, VR headsets etc. Rooting digital practice and diverse use of technology across the DMC in the physicality of drawing, this show will question and challenge preconceptions of drawing through the use of technology, audience participation and performance.
The Collective has had a busy few years, with plenty of projects under their belts! In 2016 they were invited by Tate to be part of a new project called Tate Exchange, as one of 50 Tate Exchange Founding Associates. 150 members of the Collective took over the 5th floor of Tate Modern to deliver four days of ‘Digital Making Art School’ events, which were a huge success and engaged with over 2,000 public visitors. In March 2018 they were back at Tate Exchange for ‘Arts Work of the Future’, this time for a week-long residency, where members engaged a very impressive 3,981 public visitors as well as attracting national press coverage. Every day they ran workshops with a different theme, for people from all backgrounds: for example Deconstructing the Digital, in which we explored ideas about creativity, activism, and risk-taking through the act of taking things apart.
What’s On spent some time talking to some members of the Collective – which includes staff, students, and alumni – to find out exactly who they are and what they do. Hello everyone. Thanks for making time to talk to What’s On. Could you start out by explaining how you first got involved with the Digital Maker Collective?
Vishal Mistry: I first heard about the Collective last academic year when a few of my course mates at Chelsea were invited to show some of their work at Tate Exchange 2017. I joined in September, and the small group that I am part of within the DMC produced a live interaction between viewers and a simulated artificially intelligent robot called Rex. The project prompted discussion around responsibility, ethics and personal feelings around future technologies.
Jazmin Morris: I saw posters around the University and a tutor recommended it to me last year. After first signing up to the email list, I became a more active member in the second year of my BA Fine Art course at Chelsea. I did a call out and started a group provocation within the collective, the first outcome of which was shown at Tate Late.
Pascale Gourlay: I first heard about the Digital Maker Collective when I spent time in the new Maker Space at Chelsea as I attempted to fix the Ultimaker 3D printers I was trying to learn how to use. I became aware that we were responsible for the space, and skill sharing was key to accessing the knowledge and skills required to use the technology available there. I was invited to get involved with the Tate Exchange and joined a group collaborating on Art and Science. I worked with a secondary school student, Khyrham Tose, from Marylebone Boys School, a disability support worker Nur Abdullah-Perkins and Eunji Kim, a 3rd yr student on BA Theatre Design at Wimbledon.
Nicola Rae: I work in Academic Support at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon, and have been a pro-active member of the Collective for a while. I registered my interest in becoming involved at the very start and attended meetings at Chelsea Makerspace from Autumn 2015 onwards as well as co-learning events at FabLab. The first public facing project I was involved in was the Digital Maker Week at Chelsea during May 2016.
Irina Starkova: I’m studying Grad Dip Fine Art at Chelsea and I was interested in exploring gaming in my practice. I saw an advert for a DMC meet up on technology and gaming and decided to go along.
How does the collaborative work of the Digital Maker Collective interact with your personal creative practice?
Jazmin: What I do within the collective is very relevant to my practice, not only concept and skill-wise but also in terms of professional development and job opportunities. I have learned many skills that I think will have a long lasting impact on me, however I have been so busy with DMC projects since Christmas that I haven’t had much time for personal work! This is not a problem, what I did within the DMC simply became my practice: directing projects, exhibiting, and gaining real life skills. It gave me the confidence to curate an exhibition and I’m looking forward to revisiting my personal practice for this.
Irina: I was focussed mainly on painting and sculpture before I started working with the DMC. I wanted a change of direction – to get to grips with making animations for video games and VR experiences. The DMC allowed me to use their resources and develop practical skills to use in this area.
Vishal: My personal practice is quite research based, so working collaboratively has been very beneficial as it has allowed me to come into contact with like-minded people who have helped me to develop my ideas. Working with the DMC has also helped me to push these ideas into a more public sphere through projects at the Tate Late and Tate Exchange.
Pascale: I saw the potential of Immersive Technology such as 360 video and Virtual Reality to document installations, as well as using technology embedded within the installations themselves, in order to facilitate access to the arts to the disadvantaged and disabled. The sense of collaboration within the Collective has opened up a whole new social awareness aspect to my work. I can now see how these technologies have a capacity to widen the scope of access to the arts.
Nicola: My art practice has focused on the visualisation of live or recorded sound frequencies for over ten years now, but I wanted to expand the analogue and digital aspects of my work through co-learning opportunities. Learning how to use Arduino between 2016-17 was very useful for developing my knowledge of Open Source coding and DIY electronics. This opened up different possibilities of using surface speakers and resonantobjects alongside the digitally-created sound frequency installations more usually associated with my practice. What’s the best thing about working collaboratively? What is the main challenge?
Pascale: As a disabled student with an invisible long term chronic illness, I realised that a collaborative group can really enhance a project’s forward momentum, as each person in the group takes an active role in making the work. I was able to execute, with the help of those in my group, something that I normally would be physically incapable of doing on my own. Each person involved in the installation of ‘Experience your Plastic Future’ had their own personal challenges to contend with. It was truly an exercise in inclusiveness and we supported each other to enable everyone’s individual skills to come to the fore.
Jazmin Morris: I love the knowledge exchange: we learn from each other, everyone brings a skill to the table. I have also made some good friends through collaborating in the DMC! Working in a team means you can be ambitious with ideas and share out the workload. The main challenge is relying on others to deliver, there’s a certain level of trust and dedication that is vital to every successful collaboration.
Irina: The best thing is that we all have creative backgrounds and are keen to experiment, throw crazy ideas on the table and actually make things happen! What are you most excited about in terms of future projects for the DMC? Nicola: Tate Exchange has been an exciting project to be part of and this will continue to develop. One of the dynamic aspects of the DMC is that students are getting jobs as a result of pro-activel taking on project responsibilities and technical skills. I know some of the students well from Academic Support sessions and it is great to see them rapidly developing their entrepreneurial skills within the collective. The DMC is about to engage in a few different types of projects that will undoubtedly result in more paid work for those students that are really involved.
Jazmin: I’m excited about remaining an open, accessible collective and also the opportunities that are coming out of being an active core member. You really get out what you put in to the Collective and after my commitment, I’m delighted to have been selected to be one of the DMC technicians for UAL’s Module: Immersive.
Pascale: The realisation of the connections we’ve made and the potential opportunities to incorporate virtual technologies into my personal work, for example, encapsulating a gallery experience in VR to make it more mobile, to respond to requests to present the work in schools and the creation of future installations. Realising that collaborative work and digital technologies really have the ability to expands one’s expertise and skill set to create truly immersive, multi-sensory and potentially transformative installations.
Vishal: I’m excited to see how the Collective develops over time. I can definitely sense a buzz about what we do which will only get bigger. Our Tate Exchange in March was a great success: we worked alongside amazing companies such as Space10, Green Lab and SenSat, Sky News aired a short report on TV about our project, and it was visited by almost 4,000 people! It was a great week for the DMC, but I feel the near future holds even more exciting projects.
Alejandro Escobar, Chris Follows, Rosie Munro Kerr, Peter Maloney, Nicola Rae, Grzesiek Sedek, and Lucy Wheeler, all members of the Digital Maker Collective.
Drawn Beyond is at Wimbledon Space, 23 April – 23 May.