Workbook: Bridging the Gaps Residency

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  • WorkbookBridging the Gaps Residency

    Swansea University 2012-2013with Fern Thomas

  • The Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands is a constructed mobile time travelling research unit. Formed to explore what it is like to look at the world now from a different perspective (through its ability to time travel), its core aim is also to explore or enter into unknown lands to see what can be found there, what emerges that we do not yet know. In this context, research is understood as an ongoing quest that is not concluded or resolved, but rather something that is built upon, and continuously oscillating forward.

    The Institute is centred around an enquiry into the imagination and its role in how we engage, believe, discover, exchange, and be in the world.

    From September 2012 until June 2013 the Institute had its base at Swansea University where it was given the opportunity to engage with and respond to research across many fields and disciplines within the wide research community. This was in the role of artist in residence and working with Bridging the Gaps, a programme which facilitates interdisciplinary research at Swansea University.

    The following is an account, a reflection, a proposal some fact some fiction, relating to the time spent by the Institute at Swansea University.

    When reading the account please be aware that for ease of communication and to not over-complicate what is already a complicated existence as an artist in this context, it was not always revealed to the people I met that I was lead researcher at the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands or, indeed, that I could time travel.

    Fern Thomas

    Lead ResearcherInstitute for Imagined Futures & Unknown LandsJuly 2013

  • The idea of centres of knowledge is interesting; the gravitational pull of questioning, searching and exploration. The particular kind of energy generated in the discovery of an idea.

  • The soundtrack for this document should be something that evokes the sounds of an expedition. As if you were travelling into unknown territory. Something that speaks of changing landscapes, diverse terrain. Perhaps long low notes of stringed instruments, abstracted auditory gestures that invite you to retreat into yourself and reflect on the notion of being a stranger moving through an unknown land.

    The Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands was given a desk in Singleton Abbey, the hub for administration at the University and the source of the history of the university itself, having belonged tothe Swansea industrialist family, the Vivians. The abbeys old stables (a site now for more administration) has a bell which echoes down the stone walkways, carrying the students and staff into the next hour of their day, and, at lonely weekends it bridges long distances to call for them in their beds.

    The Institute was in a shared office. In the space were the inherited remnants of a past project and general shared office items such as internal mail envelopes and staples. I brought in objects and images to pin up as if setting a declaration of a proposed territory of working. Tools that I carry with me, like a walker and her survival blanket.

    I was the stranger, the outsider. I did not have a calendar on my wall or a framed image of my family. I had a gigantic poster of my hand holding a ceramic fragment, glass magic lantern slides of a lion and beeswax and books about arctic expeditions. These objects in this environment formed the temporary base for the Institute and its research.

    I would sit at the desk and think about the possibilities; the vast potential of the artist being in a space such as this with its wide ranging, world changing research. I was here as a member of the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands, a research unit amongst countless other research units across the campus except mine was fictional.*

    Before leaping into a project I needed to gather the substance, find out what was at the university, how does it function? How does it fit together? How do people meet and exchange ideas? Where is the space for a response from the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands? It was a looking at the phenomenology of the place.

    In Goethean Observation the first stage of observation is called Exact Sense Perception characterized by a detailed observation of all the bare facts of the phenomenon that are available to our ordinary senses. An aspect of this is to ignore some knowledge, for example the name of things.1 It was, in a way, easy to ignore the name of things because I was moving though an unfamiliar world. I became interested in the way the buildings functioned, the signage used, how research staff personalized their doors. I was interested in exploring the vessel of the universitys research before I could attempt to look inside.

    *though the substance is very real.

    1 Isis Brook, Goethean Science as a way to read landscape, Landscape Research, vol.23, no.1, 1998

  • I became wanderer, explorer, a person in a liminal existence. I found that working in an office environment I would write emails with an urgency of the office worker so had to stop. Instead, when I didnt have a meeting to go to, I would start my working day at the university at 5 oclock when most people had gone and move through the empty corridors and quiet grounds. I preferred it when it rained so I could perpetuate my role as the outsider and observe this world from under my hood. Though there were times also when I tried to blend in.

    This is kind of the existence of the artist in residence. It does not start at 9am and finish at 5pm; instead it permeates the day and affects everything you do. It is beyond being in resident in a certain place, it could be when you walk, you are in residence in the park you walk through, or on the bus, or when you are doing the dishes. It is like leasing your inner thought space to this task.

  • The breadth of engaging research at the university was overwhelming. As an artist and as an Institute (for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands) which is future oriented and focused on how we shape our world, the potential was endless. Each research projectpresented a space of wonder as researchers,absorbed by their fascinations, offer new ways of looking at the world.

    Knowledge and our perception of knowledge is a source of fascination within the work of the Institute.

    What defines knowledge?

    How do we know?

    Fascination is also key. This is where I felt I could speak the same language as the people I met.

  • A usual starting point of a process for the Institute is to occupy the library, to allow books to be discovered. To pick one by chance and to enter into realms of knowledge. The cartography section is often a favourite, where ancient maps can lead one into unknown and imagined lands.

    At Swansea University a library book was opened at random (perhaps not random, as maybe I was instinctively drawn to a once-loved-but-perhaps-not-so-much-in-the-last-twenty-years-looking-book) and revealed this image titled Instrumentation in Deep-Sea Biological Research.

    Both the title and the image were evocative. Instrumentation. It was a beautiful technical word, it felt active and honest.

    An instrument for research. This is what I needed to form.

    This discovered image seemed like a sign pointing me towards considering an instrument that would act as a framework for the journey of the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands whilst at the university. I liked the idea of something mining (unobtrusively) the depths of the sea in pursuit of new knowledge or better, new understandings.

    A vessel that was submerged into darkness, into a world that is in the most part largely unknown, in its act of research.

    [submerged / searching / underworlds / innerworlds / the depths of understanding / a process taking you to the heart of the substance]

    It was clear that the Institute needed to charter a vessel for its own deep sea exploration and it needed to be able to time travel. It was to be used as a strategy, to invite researchers to be part of it, to shape it. I invited researchers to say what they thought should be onboard the vessel, what should be taken into the future what is needed?

    This included thinking about the design, the functions, the optimum conditions for future-thinking. I thought that this would open up discussions about the future connections between research now for the future then. If it had to be put into an institutional phrasing; it was like an exercise.

    I offered the plans of a potential time travelling deep sea vessel which could be labelled, changed, corrected (some parts were made of a camera flash, a bell and a record player - thanks to Aled Simons who helped design it, though they were just to give an impression of a suggested layout)

    Institute for Imagined Futures

    & Unknown Lands

    Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel

    CALL FoR PARTICIPAnTS

    The Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel, chartered

    by the Institute for

    Imagined Futures & Unknown

    Lands, is an exciting new deve

    lopment in time

    travel and future preservation

    .

    Aboard the vessel will be hous

    ed the most significant, dynam

    ic and challenging

    representations of research ne

    cessary for the benefit of the fu

    ture. The vessel will

    also act as a living and workin

    g area for up to 100 people.

    Researchers are invited to offe

    r suggestions for what they thi

    nk is needed for the

    future. This can range from spe

    cimens, certain kinds of knowl

    edge or particular

    kinds of technology. Maybe you

    want to suggest what sort of s

    paces are needed, the

    different functions of the vesse

    l, the material it is made out of

    , or the kind of living

    and interactive spaces require

    d for the people aboard. It is pr

    obable that your

    suggestion will be connected to

    your current research.

    It may be that your suggestion

    is at risk of not existing in the

    future and so putting

    it aboard the vessel will guaran

    tee its future existence. or perh

    aps your suggestion

    does not yet exist yet as it may

    be, for example, bound by time

    and space or gravity,

    but please be free and experim

    ental with your ideas in relatio

    n to what you think

    we need for the future as we at

    the Institute for Imagined Fut

    ures & Unknown

    Lands are committed to making

    it happen.

    There will also be an on board

    library and so we also invite pa

    rticipants to suggest

    a book for the library, this can

    be of any discipline or genre.

    There are no weight or size res

    trictions on board, and indeed,

    your suggestion may

    be something that is invisible, b

    ut everything will be accommod

    ated for. This is a

    once in a lifetime opportunity (u

    nless you are already experienc

    ed in the art of time

    travel and we have met before.

    )

    Please send your suggestion / d

    iagram / drawing / notes / rough

    sketch/ alongside

    your book title with your name

    and department via Internal M

    ail to:

    Institute for Imagined Futures

    & Unknown Lands

    c/o Bridging the Gaps

    Singleton Abbey

    Please note: the diagram above

    is only a suggestion of a layou

    t. Your input will

    help shape the final outcome o

    f the vessel.

    Suggestions for the Time Trav

    elling Deep Sea Exploration Ve

    ssel will close at the

    end of March 2013. A final ver

    sion will be made public soon

    after. (Please also be

    aware that we are currently aw

    aiting further funding in order

    for the building of

    the Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel to commen

    ce)

  • Institute for Imagined Futures

    & Unknown Lands

    Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel

    CALL FoR PARTICIPAnTS

    The Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel, chartered

    by the Institute for

    Imagined Futures & Unknown

    Lands, is an exciting new deve

    lopment in time

    travel and future preservation

    .

    Aboard the vessel will be hous

    ed the most significant, dynam

    ic and challenging

    representations of research ne

    cessary for the benefit of the fu

    ture. The vessel will

    also act as a living and workin

    g area for up to 100 people.

    Researchers are invited to offe

    r suggestions for what they thi

    nk is needed for the

    future. This can range from spe

    cimens, certain kinds of knowl

    edge or particular

    kinds of technology. Maybe you

    want to suggest what sort of s

    paces are needed, the

    different functions of the vesse

    l, the material it is made out of

    , or the kind of living

    and interactive spaces require

    d for the people aboard. It is pr

    obable that your

    suggestion will be connected to

    your current research.

    It may be that your suggestion

    is at risk of not existing in the

    future and so putting

    it aboard the vessel will guaran

    tee its future existence. or perh

    aps your suggestion

    does not yet exist yet as it may

    be, for example, bound by time

    and space or gravity,

    but please be free and experim

    ental with your ideas in relatio

    n to what you think

    we need for the future as we at

    the Institute for Imagined Fut

    ures & Unknown

    Lands are committed to making

    it happen.

    There will also be an on board

    library and so we also invite pa

    rticipants to suggest

    a book for the library, this can

    be of any discipline or genre.

    There are no weight or size res

    trictions on board, and indeed,

    your suggestion may

    be something that is invisible, b

    ut everything will be accommod

    ated for. This is a

    once in a lifetime opportunity (u

    nless you are already experienc

    ed in the art of time

    travel and we have met before.

    )

    Please send your suggestion / d

    iagram / drawing / notes / rough

    sketch/ alongside

    your book title with your name

    and department via Internal M

    ail to:

    Institute for Imagined Futures

    & Unknown Lands

    c/o Bridging the Gaps

    Singleton Abbey

    Please note: the diagram above

    is only a suggestion of a layou

    t. Your input will

    help shape the final outcome o

    f the vessel.

    Suggestions for the Time Trav

    elling Deep Sea Exploration Ve

    ssel will close at the

    end of March 2013. A final ver

    sion will be made public soon

    after. (Please also be

    aware that we are currently aw

    aiting further funding in order

    for the building of

    the Time Travelling Deep Sea

    Exploration Vessel to commen

    ce)

  • My process of engagement begun by being present at a stand for the universitys research week where I had large print outs of the plans and handouts inviting participation. I would explain to people who passed by the process, though little interest was shown, one day however, a long and detailed conversation was had with an Astrophysics student who discussed the technicalities of time travel and the viability of my idea.

  • I hoped to encourage drawing, playfulness, an expanse where anything is possible, and in this process I could start to meet researchers with whom I could take the conversation further.

    The invitation called for researchers to send the Institute their contribution in internal mail (to try and avoid the familiar format of computer response). But nothing came. The Institute did a live work at a lunch event for researchers where I introduced the idea, then there was a follow up email, there was a direct invit...