Yearning to Yarn

Simon Munro, Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research, The University Gallery, University of Newcastle, NSW. Workshop: 14th May 2019.

Simon Munro, Axe from Yearning to Yarn, 2019

This exhibition is the culmination of a research project at the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health in Tamworth, NSW. The project explores the ways in which aboriginal ways of knowing can be used to support the clinical placement experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional students. The project was part of one of the research programmes funded and supported by the Centre for Excellence in Equity in Higher Education, in which I work. My role has been to run workshops on research design, methodology and methods, and on academic writing and publication, and to advise and mentor grant holders. In this CRJ post, I am going to focus specifically on the arts-based methodology used in this project, on the exhibition and associated workshop and on the more general issue of the significance and use of artefacts in enhancing our understanding. The work also raises questions about how we understand our relationship to the land and the environment (a key component of Australian aboriginal culture). These are all issues at the heart of the development of my photographic practice. The exhibition, and reflection on the process developed by Simon and the project team, provide an apposite opportunity to gather together thoughts and relate these to the development of my FMP and my photographic practice more generally.

Cordage from Yearning to Yarn workshop, 2019

At the heart of the project is the use of the practice of ‘yarning’ to meet together, talk and to exchange ideas. Yarning involves both making of artefacts (in this case, weaving and making cordage, see example above) and conversation/storytelling (in this case, exploring a number of questions relating to the research). The underlying principles of the approach are based on the notion of Winanga-Li, a word/concept from the aboriginal nations of the North-West and Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, meaning hear, listen, know, remember. The starting point for the conversation related to kinship and land, with the initial question ‘where’s your mob from?’.

Simon Munro, Box 3: The pedagogy of Winanga-Li, from Yearning to Yarn, 2019

This is not the place to go into the process and outcomes of the research (that is covered in Munro, 2019), but rather to relate these specifically to the development of my project and photographic practice. The exhibition included a number of boxes made by Munro which ‘contain’ the principles, processes and outcomes of the project. It also included some of the weaving and other artefacts produced and Munro’s own artwork, including a number of tools and artefacts made through a combination of Aboriginal and European techniques (reflecting Munro’s own dual heritage, something that is difficult to address both within Aboriginal and European heritage communities). Visitors are encouraged to handle the exhibits. The exhibition thus addresses a range of complex issues in a way that places artefacts at the core and puts very different cultural understandings and practices alongside, and in dialogue with, each other.

Yearning to Yarn workshop, 14th May 2019.

The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a workshop led by Munro, in which participants did some ‘yarning’ (that’s my cordage in the photograph above) while he mapped out the development and outcomes of the project (there was a longer workshop the following day around the making of a possum-skin cloak), and I was fortunate to be asked to make a response and give an appreciation of the work by Munro and the team at the Centre for Rural Health.

Like this project, the work I have done to date on my project has been collaborative and interactive. I have treated photographs as artefacts, using a portable printer to produce prints in situ, and encouraging members of the community to bring photographs of their own (and also to bring artefacts). Munro’s exhibition raises the question for me about the extent to which I want to make objects, and the production of artefacts, a more prominent feature of the work. Critical engagement with post-humanist theory, new-materialism and object oriented ontology gives a theoretical basis for engagement with objects, and the work done as part of the ‘Object Lessons’ course and consideration of the work by Fitzgerald et al (2018) on the ‘neuropolis’ reinforces both the conceptual and practical base for this (explored further in another post). Aboriginal conceptions of the relationship between human activity and the land/environment also holds potential, though how this relates/translates to the contexts within which I am working is an open question. Looking forward, Munro’s exhibition and workshop leads me to think more broadly about the potential outcomes of the Final Major Project, both in terms of a possible exhibition/event (which will be multi-faceted and multi-modal) but also about whether some sort of workshop (or interaction or performance) should be a component of this. That’s not to be settled here, but should be high amongst my own objectives for the Surfaces and Strategies module. Having run, for the second year, the national writing programme for equity practitioners in the week following the exhibition, I am also thinking about the relationship between my writing and my photographic work (and the relationship between the production of visual work and the process of writing – and, provoked by engagement with Ruscha’s art, text as a component, or primary focus, of visual work).


Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.

Munro, S. 2019. Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research. Newcastle, NSW: University of Newcastle.

Preliminary Activity: Conversation with Ed Ruscha

Andrew Brown, 102 Maitland Road, 2019

In contrast to the now near ubiquitous ‘photobook’ in contemporary photographic practice, as Di Piero (2012: 49) observes, ‘for Ruscha, a book can be an icon, an archive, a technology, an action zone, an artistic support, a motif.’ This suggests that, in engaging with Ruscha’s work in book form, we should take care to consider how each work is situated in relation to these possibilities. This is particularly important in considering the selection, cropping and placement of images, the form taken by the book (for instance, how it is bound and the use of blank pages), the form and use of text (including fonts used and the layout of the cover, title and other pages) and titles (including the variations in precision in relation to quantity, from ‘twentysix’ to ‘various’, for instance) and the pacing and rhythm of the images. Given Ruscha’s particular interest in words as a component, or, indeed, the primary focus, of his visual work, the book provides an apposite medium for his art, making it far more than a ‘portable exhibition’ (Lippard, 1977). As Dziewior (2012) observes, there is a subjective rhythm to Ruscha’s books, in, for instance, the shape and arrangement of images, which contrasts with the formality of the covers. The shape, pattern and arrangement of words is purposeful, as it is in Ruscha’s work more generally, and paper is carefully chosen. Narrative structure is asserted in some works (Twentysix Gasoline Stations gives a sense of a three day journey in its arrangement of images, with the Fina image marking an end point) and subverted in others (for instance, in the lack of discernible structure in, say, the arrangement of images in Real Estate Opportunities). And there are jokes (‘Camera facing west on all photos’ in A Few Palm Trees), fitting of the creator of OOF.

Ed Ruscha, OOF, 1963

As an artist, Ruscha is very much embedded in place, specifically Los Angeles, and more precisely Hollywood, (see Schwartz, 2010). Given the focus of my work on urban regeneration, it is this place related aspect of Ruscha’s work that most interests me. Reynolds (2015) explores Ruscha’s relationship with the redevelopment of Hollywood through the analysis of Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004, which consists of two continuous panoramas of the north and south sides of Hollywood Boulevard at two different points in time, thus mapping the transformation of the neighbourhood resulting from the Hollywood Redevelopment Project (HRP). The format of the book revisits the structure of his earlier Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Reynolds’ reading challenges the view that Ruscha’s art is primarily nostalgic, and draws out the potential of the juxtaposition of images in this way for a more radical reading, which subverts the idea of the reclaiming of a golden age, framed in this case by the fantasies of the Hollywood film industry. Space is left in the work for a more dynamic relationship between the past and the present and for imagining possible, non-utopian, futures.

Ed Ruscha, 2005, Section from Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004, Steidl Verlag.

Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004 is the only work by Ruscha using this form of juxtaposition, accentuating change over time. His other Los Angeles works focus of a given point in time, and present images of the vernacular architecture of the city. The drabness of the images makes it difficult to view this work as nostalgic. In engaging with this work for this task, I want to get a firmer sense of the how the books that focus specifically on Los Angeles might constitute a form of critique of development, and how the process of construction of similar texts might provide a means of exploration of both personal relation to place and the dynamics of change in the built environment.

Ideally, I would have focused on exploration of East London in the creation of some Ruscha style books. However, the task was set just a few days before setting off to work in Australia, so I have focused on issues relating to that move, and to my Australian context. I have produced three books: Illegal Immigrants, Twelve Barber Shops, and High Pedestrian Traffic. There are separate posts about each of these below. If I can make the time, I might put together a book focusing on east London, using street level images from Google Maps.

The camera may not quite have ‘always been facing west’, but I have been a little frivolous with this activity, partly as a result of the demands of my current work in Australia. Given more time, I’d explore the relationship between the images more carefully – the Hunter Street works have an explicit material basis for sequencing (they both follow the numerical order of the buildings) which pragmatically (given time constraints) denies the opportunity to construct a visual pattern or rhythm. I would also like to explore the relationship between text and image further, and examine the relationship between the organisation of text in Ruscha’s books to his other text based art (he discusses his attraction to the treatment of text as blocks in this interview), and, in my own work, pursue the case for thinking more about the function of text in cityscapes (Text in the City?). In relation to the production of books, exploring Ruscha’s work has increased my interest in non-narrative oriented books (where sequences do not ‘tell a story’, and might even subvert narrative form).

I have an appointment to visit the Study Room at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on Friday to look at their holding of Ed Ruscha photobooks, so will write more when I’ve had the opportunity to actually see and handle some of the work.


Di Piero, W.S. 2012. ‘The sand is in the vaseline’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 46-53.

Dziewior, Y. 2012. ‘Reading Ed Ruscha’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 18-25.

Lippard, L. 1977. ‘The artist’s book goes public’. Art in America, Jan-Feb 1977; reproduced in Lippard, L. 1984. Get the Message? A Decade of Art for Social Change. New York: E.P. Dutton. 48-52.

Reynolds, M. 2015. ‘Landscape in Motion: Nostalgia and Urban Redevelopment in Ed Ruscha’s Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004’. Journal of Urban History, 41(6): 1052–1072.

Ruscha, E. 2013. The Tension of Words and Images. TateShots. Video interview available at: [accessed 20.05.19]

Schwartz, A. 2010. Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Informing Contexts Work in Progress Portfolio

This was submitted as an online portfolio. It is in three sections, each comprising of four images and an animation. How the images were produced is described in my Critical Review and elsewhere in the Critical Research Journal. The animations are here. The galleries below present the four images from each section. This is experimental work that I started about half way through the module. There is a long way to go in developing it further.

Animations, space and time

While I was working on the images for the work in progress portfolio, I produced short animations, principally to illustrate the process of channel mixing that I had developed. After sharing and discussing these with Jesse and Michelle, and others on the course, I decided to include them in the portfolio. To be included, they have to do more than illustrate a process, so I have edited them to fit with the theme and setting of each series in the portfolio. These are the three resulting one minute animations.

Andrew Brown, 2019, compress animation
Andrew Brown, 2019, displace animation
Andrew Brown, 2019, erase animation

Doing this has also led me to reflect on the wider photographic context for this work. I am using a method similar to that used by Muybridge in his exploration of human and animal movement. ‘Horse in Motion’ (Muybridge, 1878) shows 12 consecutive images of a horse running, which can be combined, using a stop-motion style technique. This work is commonly seen as providing the inspiration for the development of motion pictures.

Eadweard Muybridge, 1878, The Horse in Motion

The juxtaposition of successive photographs of animals and humans in movement reveals what could not be perceived by a human viewer in real time. The initial motivation for ‘The Horse in Motion’ was to discover if at any time all four of the horse’s legs were off the ground. There are two levels of fiction here. Firstly, each image is a fiction, a point of seemingly static transition in fluid movement created by the act of photography: though presented as individual images, no point in the sequence can exist independently of the others, apart from as an image. Our resultant understanding of motion is a product of the translation of temporal into spatial relations. Secondly, by combining the photographs into an animation, perceptual transitions are created (intermediary states, between one photograph and the next) that do not have any corresponding material image. This is particularly the case with my animations, where the process of dissolving one image into another creates images that I have not produced. Here we are dealing with perceptual, in Muybridge’s animation, and digital, in my animation, artefacts, which challenge claims (and desire) for the indexicality of the photographic image.

This is explored by contemporary artists using photography. Catherine Yass, for instance, has explored the passage of time and its relationship with space. In her early work, Yass has made successive positive and negative images of the same scene and overlaid these on a light box. Small differences in time (between exposures) are made visible in this process. She sees the process of overlaying as disrupting sense of space and position.

More recent work has involved digital video from a drone moving around an object, and the slowing of the video to one eighth speed whilst maintaining frame rate, which forces the creation of new imaginary moments through digital interpolation (like the channel mixing composites, where interaction between layers produces images as fictions, and the production of animations of these images, which produces new images as transitional artefacts).

Catherine Yass, 2011, Lighthouse (north)

She has also looped and manipulated the Harold Lloyd clock scene from the 1923 film Safety Last to play with notion of time and direction of the flow of time. Most recently, she has left 4×5 sheet film in the street to decay and displayed the results on a lightbox to explore time and decay.

Catherine Yass, 2011, Decommissioned

Through my own composite images I aim to explore changing notions of time. As Yass (2017) states, photographs, and the critical juxtaposition of moving and still images, offer exciting ways of exploring this.

“The time in the photograph, the movement within and between two photographs as well, is so conceptually different from a moving image and yet they’re a tiny millimetre apart. I started filming things but slowing them down by incredible amounts so they were almost still. That was a little jump into the moving image and I got more excited by it” [online, no page]

This ambiguous relationship between still and moving image, and the capability to produce movement from still images and still images from moving images, and to manipulate this, demonstrates the power of photography to explore the nature of time and its relationship to space and place. Where my work, and that of Yass and others, differs radically from earlier (say, futurist) artistic explorations of time, movement and the still image is that I am not trying to represent movement or the passage of time in a still image, but to disrupt time and explore conceptions of time. The animations are part of that exploration. A key difference between the still images and the animation is the agency that is given to the viewer. The author grasps control of sequencing and the temporal juxtaposition in the animation (but not, of course, its meaning, only an influence on its meaning potential), whereas sequencing and juxtaposition of individual still images is in the hands of the reader (though, again, this can be subverted in, for instance, book format). The form of Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (1962), composed almost entirely of still images, explores this relationship, and it is notable that Marker preferred to describe La Jetée as a photo novel, rather than a film (Hinckson, 2014).


Hinckson, J. 2014. “There’s No Escape Out of Time”: La Jetée., Macmillan. Online: [accessed 20.04.19]

La Jetée. 1962. Directed by Chris Marker. France: Argos Films.

Muybridge, E. 1878. The Horse in Motion. San Francisco: Morse’s Gallery

Safety Last. 1923. Directed by Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. USA: Hal Roach Studios

Yass, C. 2017. Quoted in British Journal of Photography, ‘When does photography stop being photography?’ 6th April 2017. Online: [accessed 20.04.19]

Relating practice to learning objectives (Week 11 Reflection)

My own objectives for this module were: (i) to explore new forms of image-making; (ii) extend my engagement with and knowledge of contemporary theory in photography and visual arts; (iii) develop a stronger conceptual basis for my practice; (iv) position my photographic practice within inter-disciplinary enquiry and multi-professional practice; (v) progress with my project, including the development of skills and networks. I think I have made good progress in all these areas. In this reflection I will relate progress with these to the learning objectives for the programme.

The reflection will be prospective (looking forward to the completion of the degree) as well as retrospective (looking back over Informing Contexts).

LO1: Technical and Visual Skills.

I came to the module technically and visually competent in particular forms of image making, working both in film and digital media. I wanted to both improve and extend the scope of my work, and experiment with new approach to image-making. The workshops and the portfolio reviews in Falmouth helped me with this. The principal areas of development over the course of the module have been in the shift to making constructed images (inspired by the early Informing Contexts lectures), the production of composites and the creation of animations – all new areas for me. See portfolio and CRJ entries. Alongside this I have continued to develop portraiture and still life work in community and museum contexts, and environmental and urban landscape work in the photographic study of urban regeneration. The work in my portfolio, though in the early stages of development, and the other images included in my CRJ, demonstrate that I have an in-depth understanding of a range of photographic processes, and I hope displays sophistication in the application of techniques.

LO2: Visual Communication and Decision-Making.

Focusing on the relationship between human activity, urban development and the natural environment, and exploration of conceptions of time in relation to this relationship, has helped me to develop a clear conceptual basis for the work and a clear visual strategy and method. This has informed decisions made in the production, editing and presentation of images (for instance, the inclusion of animations and the form taken by the online portfolio in as a mode of presentation of the work). There is still a lot to do to develop this work further. It is, though, just one part of the work I have been doing towards my project. I have also exhibited work in print form (for instance, the exhibition of portraits of community project participants at a local community centre, and the creation of image banks with community activist groups. I have also worked with museums and galleries and with undergraduate students on the use of photography in object based learning, and the creation and exploration of archives. Although my portfolio is presented online (which I feel is appropriate for an online course), my principal interest, in the presentation of work, is in the production of prints, books and artefacts and their presentation in multi-modal exhibition and installation form. I hope that the work in my portfolio demonstrates a level of sophistication in the production and presentation of my visual work and the ability to communicate complex ideas.

LO3: Critical Contextualization of Practice.

Ethical concerns about covert forms of photographic work led me into more collaborative forms of image making. I have continued to develop this with my community focused work and work with students and museums. Moving into more constructed and manipulated forms of image-making in this module has led me to explore a greater diversity of forms of work in photography and the visual arts. From my CRJ it will be clear that I have become particularly interested in the work of Japanese photographers (starting with Hatakeyama and Sugimoto, and more recently Lieko Shiga’s Rasen Kaigan series, which I will write about later) and other photographers who cross cultural boundaries (such as the aboriginal artist Christian Thompson: in my work in Australia, starting at the beginning of May, I will be working for part of the time with rural and aboriginal communities, and supporting research projects that have been making images and artefacts). The ‘digital’ turn in my work has brought me in contact with a range of artists exploring time, change, identity and ‘datafication’. I have become particularly interested in posthumanist theory, and artists who are influenced by this. I have explored this in my CRJ, as well as considering the influence on photography and the arts of areas of the humanities, social research and natural sciences (for instance, theories of space and time from theoretical physics). I’ll say more about theory under LO5 (LO3 and LO5 seem to me to overlap in relation to theory). As I am focusing on urban regeneration, there is a strong sociological influence on my work. I hope that through my visual work and writing, I have been able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge and understanding of a diverse range of contemporary (and historical) photographic practice, and to contextualise my work in relation to this and to contemporary theory. The area that I particularly want to develop now is around digitisation, data, social (in)justice and self, and, in particular, the manner in which contemporary desire for data to represent individuals and groups mirrors earlier (thwarted) indexical desires relating to photography.

LO4: Professional Location of Practice.

Over the module I have become clearer about how to position my practice professionally. Coming to better understand the professional contexts for dissemination and consumption of photographic practice has enabled me to clarify both what I do and do not do as a photographer. I am not a professional photographer in any conventional sense: my work is predominantly as part of inter-disciplinary and multi-professional teams, and I want to explore what photography, and arts based approaches more generally, can offer in conducting research into complex questions, and in formulating and implementing actions. My audiences are, therefore, diverse, ranging from the participants in my projects through to academic researchers and policy makers. I am working at all levels from image making with community members through to playing a role in the governance of public bodies. I have come to understand better the dynamics of the fields in which photographers work, and want to actively act as an advocate for a broader vision of what photography can achieve more widely. At this point of time it is necessary, in the face of new imaging technology, software, data analysis, communications, associated social practices and applications of artificial technology to rethink all professions: photographers have to be pro-active in doing this, and to be clear, and confident, about what visual arts can bring to inter-disciplinary work. I’ve explored this elsewhere in the CRJ.

LO5: Critical Analysis.

Having taught social semiotics and cultural sociology, I came to the module with some knowledge of the key critical paradigms and theorists (in particular structuralist and post-structuralists like Barthes, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan, Frankfurt School critical theorists such as Benjamin and Marcuse, and sociologists, such as Bourdieu and Sherry Turkle). My own work has been broadly post-structuralist in approach, with a strong emphasis on language and the analysis of discourse in relation to social practices and the (re)production of social inequalities. My focus in this module has been to better understand posthumanist theory, which takes a more materialist stance and not only de-centres the human subject, but sees humans as materially intertwined and enmeshed in the environment. This gives greater emphasis to neuro- and bio-sciences and to relationships with the environment, objects and other species. Forms of posthumanist theory have been influential in the arts, and where I have explored this in my CRJ, it has been in relation to the work of other photographers. I have also explored areas of contemporary philosophy, for instance Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology and Francois Laruelle’s non-philosophy. Critical appraisal of my own photography and that of other practitioners draws on this work, as well as on perspectives from social research, urban development, environmentalism and cognitive neuroscience, and engagement with the work of other photographers and visual artists. As would be expected from this, I am using photography in a lyrical, analytic and heuristic manner, not as a narrative tool, and therefore have limited expressing opinion on narrative forms of photography (but have written about this in a way that is, I hope, constructively critical about ‘story-telling’). The module has expanded my knowledge of critical theory in photography.

LO6: Written and Oral Communication Skills.

I am confident in my ability to communicate fluently and eloquently in a range of formats and contexts, and to differentiate delivery methods appropriately according to audiences, and hope that my written and visual work, and participation in webinars and face to face activities, demonstrates this. In addition, I am working with community groups and individuals on estates in east London, running photography workshops for undergraduate and postgraduate students and working at board level in the areas of education, urban development and social research, so have to communicate and engage people with my work at a range of levels and in a variety of forms. I’m increasingly confident in using visual modes of communication, and the use of social media. I am based in London, but work internationally, so am able to work collaboratively online, and doing the MA has certainly helped to develop my online communication skills.

In Defence of the Grey Image

[With apologies to Hito Steyerl].

Interesting presentation from Sam Laughlin on 10th April. Although the focus of Sam’s work is predominantly rural, he is exploring a number of issues that overlap with my own work, which is predominantly urban. In relation to Informing Contexts, he provided a particularly strong rationale for his work, and related his objectives very clearly to his way of working, the forms of images produced and how these are displayed.

Sam Laughlin, from the Frameworks series

Frameworks explores the essence of a building, before it becomes architectural space. A clear set of criteria guide the selection of sites (with extensive location scouting), and a firm set of operating principles guide the production of the image (working at night, large format camera, small aperture, long exposure) and the ultimate aesthetic form (a ruin in reverse, transparency, the sense of an Escher print, the suggestion of an object). The ‘greyness’ of the image forces the viewer to explore every part of the frame, with no colour, high contrast or strong lines to guide the eye. In many ways, this reflects a concern about my own recent images, which I now see as a strength. There is a need to search, but this turns up unexpected interactions and artefacts.

Sam Laughlin, from the Slow Time series

The same aesthetic is evident in Laughlin’s subsequent work, which focuses on natural cycles (nutrients, water). These images have even less structure, and the subject in some cases is difficult to discern. This places an emphasis on the process even more on the suggestion of subject. Laughlin has thought carefully about how this work is exhibited, displaying print directly on the wall without glass (so as to engage the viewer directly with the work without the distraction of reflections or frame) and using print size, scale and placement, and juxtaposition with objects and artefacts to guide and provoke (but not direct) engagement. The work is clearly not made for online viewing, and this raises questions about how best to promote the work and cultivate an audience.

Sam Laughlin, Slow Time exhibition

I wasn’t expecting to be working in black and white (though the rationale for this is now clear) nor to be producing such complex images (likewise). It is clearly the least graphic (and therefore the ‘greyest’) images that work best. There are similarities with images produced by Idris Khan and Sohei Nashino in tonality and complexity, and absence of visual guidance for the view (but both do provide points of reference given the emphasis on a specific place, albeit at different scales, and different form of composite image making). A clear issue for me, in developing this work, is how best to circulate and display the images.

Idris Khan, St Paul’s, London, 2012
Sohei Nashino, Dioarama Map Bern, 2012

Imaginary Cities

British Library, 5th April 2019


The exhibition presents four technology-based installations that derive from images of 19th-century maps, and associated meta-data, held in the British Library digital collection, created by digital artist Michael Takeo Magruder (an artist in residence at the British Library) with collaborators Mahendra Mahey (British Library), Drew Baker (independent researcher) and David Steele (software architect).

Of particular interest in the development of my own work is the movement between analogue and digital. The maps themselves are exemplary analogue representations, which have been digitally archived. The archiving process produces not just a digital (re)presentation of the map, but adds meta-data to this (effectively a digital encoding of the narratives, for instance of origins, authorship, circulation, association, ownership and functions that become attached to and associated with the map as artefact). The meta-data itself becomes subject to processing, and thus available in the production of artwork relating to the maps. With the map as a point of origin, a data trail is formed, and from this artworks are created.

A conversation with artist Michael Takeo Magruder

The talk provided insight into the process of production of the work. Magruder is interested in production of tangible objects, including the use of traditional craft techniques. Outputs from this project include 3D and digital prints, and objects made with wood and gold – analogue and digital together. He also uses prosumer and consumer VR in to allow visitors to explore the imaginary city produced from maps of New York. He sees himself as applying the language of the visual arts to things that are ‘digitally born’. Previous work has been about visualising data; this is about visualising (digital) archives. Drew Baker explained the process of production of 3D visual content from real-time data (as an archaeologist he relates this back to the process of finding, extrapolating, understanding, archiving, disseminating and exploring archaeological material – lost and marginal spaces). David Steele, software architect, explored the process of building a continuous archive (with minimal intervention and maintenance) and processing of information. Interestingly, he presented the relationship between software engineers and artists in the production process as similar to Sol Lewitt’s use of instructions to galleries in creating exhibitions (this might also bring to mind Jeff Koons’ production of sculptural work – providing an instruction set, oversight, quality control, authentication).

It is clear that there is huge potential to draw on the BL digital collection and to do collaborative work. There are interesting questions to explore about the relationship between place (as represented in the maps) and the artworks (imaginary cities) produced, and the nature of the ‘processing’ (both analogue and digital) that sits between these. I was tempted to say that this is uni-directional (the process of creation of the work, but, of course, the viewer remakes a pathway back from the artwork (to another imaginary place). There are obvious analogies with my own current work, which creates imaginary scenarios from the manipulation of digital interaction between images. The starting conditions are ‘real’, in the sense that they are photographs of human activity and the environment in a particular place at a specific point in time (and we can therefore exercise our desire for the indexical promise of the photograph), from which a number of fictions are created by bringing the images together and varying the conditions of their interaction. Those conditions relate to the visual (in that they depend on the translation of colour into tones, and the combination of those tones). The question is, though, whether that is any more or less arbitrary than any other principle of translation. In the installations, numerical data (some derived from visual sources, some not) are translated into visual form. The principles (or, in other words, the algorithm, programme or software) by which this translation takes place can exhibit differing degrees of arbitrariness – an imaginary city can be generated from any starting point and develop according to any principle. However, the artist (if it is an artwork) has to account for this in their rationale (or intent).

One interesting observation about the process of creating an interactive environment was the use, by the programmer, of a cryptographic hash to obscure the relationship between the viewer and the effect on the work, to stop viewers from ‘gaming’ the system, and learning how to control it by getting a ‘feel’ for the algorithm.


The algorave (billed as ‘the world’s largest algorave in a national library ever’!) was also interesting in this respect. Here we have code generating sound (and visuals, through light shows and projections), some through intention, some through response to the environment, some through arbitrary or random processes (including glitches in the hardware, software, data, programmer). Heuristically, there are also questions about what we learn about the initial and final state, the process, about ourselves and others (as creators, as audience, as collaborators).


British Library Digital Scholarship Blog. Online [accessed 24.04.19]

British Library Digital Scholarship Department. Online[accessed 24.04.19]

Michael Tadeo Magruder. Online[accessed 24.04.19]


Each image is made from the same three photographs (the place as it is, organic material from the site, construction work around the site) with different tonal mixing. Just to illustrate the approach. Let it run as a slide show to see the relationship between the images. Or click on the image to see the detail of an individual image. I’ve also uploaded an animation based on the sequence (below – best played full screen) which maybe shows the relationship between images more clearly.

Now working on images relating to the developments and communities in east London that I am focusing on for my project. My intention is that these will look very different – and will visually relate to the regeneration strategy being deployed (future post about this). Info on the process here. Discussion of what I am trying to do in exploring questions of space and time in relation to regeneration programmes, communities and the environment here. All work in progress, with a long way to go, as always.

Moving Objects Symposium and Exhibition.

UCL Institute of Advanced Studies Common Ground, 14th March 2019.

The ‘Moving Objects’ symposium was held to launch the ‘Moving Objects: Stories of Displacement’ exhibition at the UCL Octagon space. The exhibition explores people, animals and objects in exile, in the UK and the Middle East. It includes photographic work by migrants in London created through a series of workshops held by the Helen Bamber Foundation. This work explores the ambiguity of objects as they move through everyday and museum settings. The work examines both exiled and migrated objects and the capacity of objects to move us.

Photo by participants of the Helen Bamber Foundation Photography Group

The symposium explored issues raised by a number of inter-disciplinary projects carrying out research on objects, migration, heritage and well-being. The ‘History, archives and displacement’ panel explored the role of writing and the arts, including photography, in creating critical spaces and different ways of seeing, feeling, hearing, understanding and being with individuals and communities affected by displacement (see, for instance, the Refugee Hosts project). Heritage objects (the real and the wished for) play a key role in the empowerment of communities. Archives need to be dynamic, allowing reflexive questioning and capable of projecting into the future, including wishful futures. The archive must ‘have wings’ not be a cemetery, or sink into the past; objects should facilitate comment and desire their own redundancy (Leila Samsur talking about Open Bethlehem ). See, for instance, the Unpacked: Refugee Baggage series by Mohammed Hafez.

Mohammed Hafez, UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, 2017

And, as Derrida (1995) observes, we have to closely scrutinise what enters the archive and what does not. For my own work, care has to be taken not to create something that is reductionist and backward looking. The idea of a portable archive is one avenue to explore.

The Photography and Displacement panel included a presentation by Alejandra Carles-Tolra on the Helen Bamber Photography Group workshop, which includes handling and discussion of objects from the UCL collections (the objects providing a focus for discussion, fun and conversation). The images made by the group members are shared and discussed through WhatsApp and shared Google folders.

Samar Maqusi, Baqa’a Camp, Amman, Jordan, 2014

Samar Maqusi presented her research on the spatial politics of the Palestine refugee camps, and the role played by installations and photographic work in the research. Spending time in the place was important (it is a pre-cursor of image making and can be ‘seen’ in the frame; she raises the question of whether powerful personal stories can be told without being in the frame), and the camera was viewed as a mechanical bodily enhancement. Time (excess including waiting time: what does waiting do to hope?) and space (limitations) are intertwined in the camps. The presentations reinforced the importance of spending time with people to understand their context, their relationship to time and their relationship to space and place.


Derrida, J. 1995. ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression’. Diacritics, 25 (2): 9-63