Pat Mills: comics and conflict

Pat Mills

Pat Mills is one of the founders of 2000AD. As well as being behind the best-known sci-fi comic in the UK, he has been involved in the development of many of its most well-known characters: Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock, Savage, and, of course, Judge Dredd.
 

There's no question that Pat has undertaken some vital and important work in terms of pushing UK comics forward. This "In conversation with..." is slightly different, as we offered the chance through @imperica for our readers to ask questions to Pat. Thanks to everyone that submitted a question.

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Elliot Reuben: Hacking? Wise up. This is just democracy in action

Elliot Reuben: Hacking? Wise up. This is just democracy in action

Hackers – we're all going to lose our financial information, our national security, our gaming info, our very LIVES. And it's all their fault.

Once the reserve of honourable and lovely young men like that chap in War Games or that nice Angelina Jolie in "Hackers" the movie, now it's the reserve of dangerous anarchic nerds and –worse – one of them is from Essex, goddamit.

You'd be forgiven for holding this view if you get your information from a media that clearly doesn't understand what a hacker actually does, the difference between a thief and a pisstaker or the cultures that surround either. As a source of information on hacking, the media at large is distinctly underqualified.

We're in BIG trouble, people.

 

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In conversation with... Ed Elworthy and Nic Owen

Ed Elworthy, Nic Owen

A successful client-agency relationship is founded on an understanding of the value that each party makes to each other. Nike has enjoyed a relationship with Wieden + Kennedy for the entire duration of the agency's existence – the sportswear giant was the agency's founding client.

While some client-agency relationships are great, irrespective of the people within them, others hit the dirt. What makes a good relationship? Nike's Ed Elworthy talked with Nic Owen at W+K about their shared principles and values.

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Step on

Step on

 

Music created by systems have produced some real aural treats over the years. When systems produce music, the output is commonly called generative music: a term coined by Brian Eno at the time of his 1996 album Generative Music 1,  produced with Koan Pro from Sseyo. The effect of working with generative systems can be beautiful in often unexpected ways; as Kevin Kelly says, "generative music is out of control" - but for very good reasons.

Dan Stowell has taken the concept of generative music and applied it to one of the more popular and contemporary genres, dubstep. Stowell comes to the project with a not inconsiderable track record: by day he is a researcher at Queen Mary, and the co-author of many publications that discuss the specifics and intricacies of music making when both humans and computers – and systems – are involved. By night he is MCLD, composer and performer, using live coding and beatboxing to offer what is a harmonious product of man and machine, taking the show across Europe – from the Cheltenham Science Festival to Multiplace in Bratislava. Generative dubstep has been part of many of these shows, with Stowell giving it full exposure as part of the Web Weekend @ the V&A weekend of digital events.

Stowell's new project generates infinite amounts of instrumental dubstep tracks. "Rather than composing a single track, I'm trying to compose an unbounded number of them at the same time, by writing software that generates it with random parameters. It's an interesting job to try and play with probabilities so that a system can randomly generate music with the right sort of structure and the right amount of novelty (the right point on the Wundt curve). It's my own over-wrought way of making music I can dance to."

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In the know

In the know

There are two generally-accepted beliefs about Wikipedia. The first is one of exposure: that it's always there in the first page of search results on anything that the online encyclopedia features. The second is one of trust: that there is a shared belief that it is the "font of all knowledge" - that, to most, it is a place where truth and knowledge exist, and that false information is teased out by its community.

The combination of these two points clearly make Wikipedia a viable and useful tool for the recording and documentation of factual information, something that many public institutions do very well. It was, therefore, perhaps only a matter of time that public organisations such as museums and libraries stepped up their interest in wikis and in Wikipedia as a way to open up their often huge body of knowledge and research to a wider audience. Wikipedia has dubbed this body GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) and there is now a GLAM Steering Committee at Wikimedia UK, supported by board member Ashley van Haeften, known as Fae. The importance of Wikipedia to cultural organisations cannot, according to Fae, be underestimated: "The cultural institutions I have talked to over the past year are highly aware that if they are serious about public outreach and access, then Wikipedia cannot be ignored. The value it offers such institutions sometimes comes as a surprise."

For these organisations, Fae sees some basic advantages. Perhaps one of the most powerful from the organisation's perspective is that articles of public interest will be maintained at no cost to the organisation itself, and that its main website remains the key source due to links back from the Wiki article. Given that both the institution's website and the Wikipedia entry are likely to appear on the first page of search results, this will be a help rather than a hindrance, on the presupposition that the institutional Wikipedia page will be kept up-to-date and is a reasonable reflection of it and its activities. Fae sees these benefits to be of particular relevance to curators, suggesting that Wikipedia can also act as a source of reference and background information for exhibitions and collections – something that may exist as a concise version of the institution's own web content, and therefore complimentary rather than in competition.

Although there are opportunities for institutions in using Wikipedia, it is Wikipedia which can act as something of a battering ram for opening up latent information and knowledge to the public. Fae's work with the Derby Museum is a case in point; articles were published about the museum's artefacts to Wikipedia, in over 100 languages. This exercise was perhaps unique to Wikipedia and maybe only a handful of other websites: an entirely voluntary, collective effort to build outreach and access that by any other approach would have been too time-consuming and expensive, if not practically impossible.

The Derby Museum's curator also allowed the voluntary group to add QR codes to an exhibition, enabling links to related Wikipedia pages. While this is a well-understood application of QR technology, the subtlety makes it rather unique: because of the number of languages that the group was working with, the visitor's phone would display a Wikipedia page from the QR code, in the language that the phone was set to. This body of diverse and rich content has, in Fae's view, given exposure to the museum to an audience that may never be able to physically visit the museum, while enriching the experience for those that do.

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London Weekend Telematics

London Weekend Telematics

 

Websites come and go. They often launch with little fanfare, apart from those involved celebrating with a glass of bubbly (or a pint), and the chance to catch up on some sleep. However, one of the world's largest museums of art and design has given its new website something of a grand launch, by organising a weekend that celebrates that spirit of universal, diverse, creativity in media that only the Internet can deliver.

As the V&A has its origins in the 1851 Great Exhibition, it's perhaps fitting that the spirit of its forthcoming Web Weekend @ the V&A are similar in tone, although perhaps this later celebration is slightly less grand in its scale. Web Weekend covers three rather packed days that celebrate how the UK is a world leader in inventing, developing, producing and distributing new, creative ways to use interconnected digital technology. Covering workshops, commissions, demonstration and talks – as well as absorbing existing events such as Dorkbot for one time only – it's certainly something that is filled with a huge amount of intellectual and creative energy. Indeed, it's great to see many former Imperica interviewees taking part: Katy Beale (running a mini Culture Hackday with Mia Ridge); Furtherfield's Ruth Catlow; Joel Gethin Lewis; and the Mudlark team, among many others. Participants will also be let loose on APIs, given the chance to contribute to museum content on Wikipedia, and view many new installations and works.

Louise Shannon is the event's curator, and was co-curator of last year's Decode, alongside Shane Walter of Onedotzero. She explains the thinking behind the event, and its relationship to V&A's wider programming and strategy: "Our ambition is to provide the very best digital content and means to access our collections and expertise online.

"The V&A has a strong background in both collecting, commissioning and exhibiting digital art and design. We have been collecting digital based work since the 1960s and commissioned artists such as UVA, Mat Collishaw, Julius Popp, rAndom International and Troika. We have hosted experimental exhibitions such as Shhh...Sounds in Spaces, the audio exhibition in 2005 and Decode in 2009, which went on to tour internationally after being on show at the V&A. Digital programming is at the core of the V&A's activities and continues to be an important part of our offering."

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The speed of movement

The speed of movement

Change occurs constantly. As our view of creativity is becoming all the more democratised and fluid, then so should the practices that supports this view. What constitutes "art" – and perhaps "good art" in general – has been set in the public consciousness for generations: driven by a naturalistic beauty in sculpture and in landscape.

Many practices are clearly and unrelentingly aiming to change these views. From the recent work undertaken by Folly to acquire a piece of digital art (won by Thomson and Craighead) through to the Turner Prize and to the V&A's Decode exhibition last year, there is an opening up of these perceptions which is gaining public acceptance and inviting wider dialogue, consideration, and appreciation that substantiates the work to more people in more ways. A long-standing example of art which is part of this artistic permeation is kinetic art, with Kinetica being one of the country's most active organisations in terms of its exhibition, commercialisation, and support for the practice.

Kinetica's own journey is one of movement. Founded by Tony Langford and fine artist Dianne Harris, the original space was created in order to unite artists who were certainly showing work that was kinetic and used new media, but it was more than that: it was planned to show works which were exploring scientific and universal concepts under one roof. It took the duo two years to bring the concept to life, and in 2006 the first Kinetica space opened, launching an exhibition with 15 artists, Life Forms.

The evolution of kinetic art is somewhat part of our own evolution, within the contexts of media and of creativity. "The way in which people consume information... it's no longer necessarily in a book or on a screen. That information is now more inclusive; it's all around us. People are absorbing these messages in so many different ways; they are all around us. People are becoming used to absorbing that information through many different media, and society is more open to new and more and dynamic ways of portraying information and art. It's a subconscious thing. People have always been particularly attracted to the kind of work that we show, but there historically have been barriers in terms of people showing it."

 

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In conversation with... Brendan Randall and Brendan Oliver

Brendan Randall, Brendan Oliver

 

It goes without saying that public art is being opened up through interactive, digital media. However, devices that are becoming popular in domestic environments are now also gaining in popularity and relevance in such projects, due to their low cost and increasingly sophisticated nature.

Brendan Randall and Brendan Oliver are a partnership of interaction designers that have developed projects including "Le Cadavre Exquis", explained later in this conversation, and commissioned by the Broadway arts centre in Notttingham as part of its "Making Future Work" programme.

We talked with Brendan and Brendan about their work, the potential that public art now attracts, and working in ways that attract new audiences.

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In conversation with... Andy Sandoz

In conversation with... Andy Sandoz

 

The Internet used to be fun. Was that ever the case? If so, why and how was it more "fun" than it is now?

In the first of a two-part conversation, we started from this proposition – as debated at a recent Creative Social event in London – with one of the its key speakers, Andy Sandoz.

 

Tell us about your talk at Creative Social.

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Cybernetic doodling

Cybernetic doodling

Programming a computer and a robot to undertake a pre-determined activity is likely to result in the same outcome each time. However, that depends on what is being pre-determined in the first place. Mapping the process could lead to very different results to mapping the outcome.

Patrick Tresset's exhibition, currently showing at Tenderpixel, features robots, but essentially it's about drawing. It draws – if one could pardon the pun – on Tresset's background as a draughtsman, prior to his later discovery of computers and then robots. His frustration at being a draughtsman led him to seek out new theories and practices in drawing, with his lifelong love of drawing faces flourishing through the work. Essentially, the exhibition examines drawing as a way to pass time, and the compositional nature of drawing a picture.

The robots in the exhibition draw faces by mapping a still image from a camera into very thin, small lines on a piece of paper. In close-up, they look like little hairs. The robots move in something of a random-access fashion, very much like how a human may approach the drawing were they to use the same technique. It is this angle that fascinates Tresset.

Much of his recent work has been about simulating processes, and to see how an examination of a process, rather than of the technique in itself, can produce better drawings. As the artist argues, "You get better, more authentic results like that". Computerised work which doesn't care about the process, argues Tresset, is unable to give the drawing a history. Drawing is physical and gestural, whether it's by human or robot hand. "You can use simulators, but it's not true. Robotics deals with reality. When you work with software, you can work through all of the bugs. With robots, you can't, as you have to understand what you're trying to do."

The detail of the work goes beyond an understanding and mapping of processes, to how the facial drawings are physically delivered. Rather than send them through a printer, the robot arms are connected to hands which hold pencils. They therefore imitate both the physical and the intellectual means of artistic production. By actually holding the pen, the robot is giving the drawing a further sense of history and, literally, depth: some marks are obviously deeper than others, and the face has a "layered" feel, based on its evolution over time.

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Embracing the makers

Embracing the makers

Historically, the perception has been made in the eyes of the general public, that art and science are fundamentally different and distinct. However, neither cannot exist without the other: it is science that has provided art with complex, high-quality materials for creation, and art has provided science with aesthetic qualities that help it to be explained, tested, and documented.

Kat Austen, artist and journalist, considers that we are now entering a period where the interrelationship between science and art, particularly with reference to the development of science-based work, can truly flourish. Her excitement is fostered by the possibilities of what science-based art can now offer to both the producer and the audience, with opportunities and experiences so rich in their potential that "sci-art" is starting to be seen as a genre.

"There has been science-related art for a long time. Now there are many more ways of openness in the way in which it is sold as scientific art, or art-science. It's publicised more. There's more work being produced as a consequence. I'm not sure as to whether the publicity has brought more of it about, or whether more of it has brought about the publicity. They feed off each other. But, it's a good time to be involved with it, from an artists perspective, particularly if you label it as such."

Her recent talk at SameAs raised the observations that science-based art is becoming involved with two "trends". The first is that rocketry and space exploration are being approached as particularly interesting themes. The second is that fashion is becoming important, with reference to the blending of science and art within the development and manufacture of new materials and products. Both are kinetic, physical experiences although clearly there is much more to explore.

However, Austen feels that not all science-based art has enjoyed such a flourishing, creative period. Until recently, audiences – and the public in general – found it difficult to perceive what science-based art would look like, because there wasn't enough of it being displayed in publicly-accessible spaces. It meant that works that did not fit within the mental constructs of society were often seen to be something that were "not art".

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Motions and emotions

Motions and emotions

 

The real-time, short-form nature of social media invites us to tell the world about every nuance – subtle and not-so-subtle. It becomes a virtuous circle – or a vicious one, depending on how one approaches it. Messaging without remorse to the whole world may act as a form of tension release; a way to build one's profile through substance; or, simply, a way of broadcasting thoughts to a willing audience.

Some messages clearly have more emotional resonance than others. What interests Max Dovey is the detritus: the tiresome updates that would appear to be unnecessary outside of a platform to validate them.

In bulk and without prejudice, they have appeared in two of Dovey's recent projects, blending art, technology, and performance. Twitter Theatre is an improvised piece where two people act out scenes based on received tweets – without the tweeter knowing of their use in this way. Emotional Stock Market is a satirical installation, providing a "share" in the form of an automated till receipt, based on search queries of basic human emotions.

Both pieces were approached with Dovey's scepticism of Twitter, not a user of the service until he decided to develop these projects.

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In conversation with... Jamie Balliu and Jeff Knowles

In conversation with... Jamie Balliu and Jeff Knowles

It could be argued that WikiLeaks is one of the most important contributions to democracy in a generation. With the release of thousands of communications – 'cables', the site has caused political and diplomatic turmoil around the world, while amplifying – even unlocking – arguments for a greater public access to information.

With that in mind, "Information is Currency" is an exhibition from a collection of designers, illustrators and artists which address the themes and topics that have arisen from WikiLeaks, the behaviour of its founder Julian Assange, and the information that has arisen from the project. We talked to the exhibition's curators, Jamie Balliu and Jeff Knowles.

 

Tell us about the exhibition.

JB: There's a lot of discussion about the online world, privacy and freedom of speech, especially surrounding the cable releases from WikiLeaks. What has happened with politicians, the established media, and court hearings... the debate was not happening in public spaces. We wanted the the creative and public communities to come together and have that dialogue, and hopefully the artwork will generate some questions and new conversations, taking it away from the established media into wherever we hang out: bars, galleries, cafés.

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New musical expressions

New musical expressions

 

We are, of course, not the first to report on the changing nature of the (popular) music industry, and the seismic disruption cast onto it from digital technologies, and consumer adoption of them.

With that in mind, perhaps the greatest level of disruption has yet to come. With more and more connected devices, sophisticated cost models, and a lower cost of market entry all taking place, is now the best – or the most painful – time to be in the music industry?

We asked two people with unique insights to give us their views. W+K's Oli Beale developed the recent Kaiser Chiefs campaign, where consumers "make" their own albums and are incentivised to share them; digital strategist Elliot Reuben is former CEO of the Welsh Music Foundation.

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Shooting the past

Shooting the past

 

There appears to be a thread running through Imperica's coverage of creative technology to date: that creatives don't understand the technology, and technologists need to appreciate creativity. It is a deep-rooted issue that manifests itself in many different ways, though is often observed by creatives.

Kate Sicchio is no stranger to these findings. Her performances combine dance with digital media, with the results being a unity that occurs in a single space. Her latest work, Nayramara, performed at April's Digital Stages Festival, explored the interaction between human performers and video display. Alongside video screens on wheels, the work featured a semi-transparent mesh to which material could be projected, but retaining visibility of the dancers behind it. Movements of the dancers would be captured and projected in front of them, with the wheeled displays moving around, changing the configuration of both the dancers and the video in real time. The projections are made by filming the performers in real time on a CCTV camera, with video processing undertaken in real time in Isadora prior to projection back into the space.

Both the mesh and the wheeled displays provided visual indicators for the cultural issues that the work addresses. The Aymarans, indigenous to south America, reverse the space-time metaphor when people are speaking: they don't say that the past is behind them - it's in front of them.

They even gesture to the front, so in saying 'that happened yesterday', they make a gesture in front of them. Through Nayramara, Sicchio explored that idea of the past being in front of you. The work plays with time and space, and the relationship between time and space.

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Connecting the digital world with print

Connecting the digital world with print

I am a designer and express my ideas through product development and built experiences, not writing. So, it's unusual for me to be doing this, but I have a desire to see if I can convince you of my belief in a potential for a future for print. First, I would like to explain a more general idea and lead on to why I think publishers could be the key.

 

Why fluidity of use turns processes into product

Interaction in the physical world changes as it becomes fluid. If hurdles are removed, interaction becomes invisible – it disappears from your conscious mind and your train of thought is not broken; you concentrate on the purpose and not the process. You don't have to think about doing the action.

Eventually the physical object becomes what it does and in our minds you no longer see it as a set of mechanisms. It simply becomes its purpose. For example, each of these was a complex physical system that has now become almost invisible to use:

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In conversation with... Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

In conversation with... Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

What is, and isn't, art? Where should art be constructed and exhibited?

In 2009, an article was published to Wikipedia, called "Wikipedia Art". To substantiate its publication, several articles were simultaneously published and cited. In the following few hours, the article was fiercely debated on Wikipedia, and eventually deleted; legal wrangling followed, with specific reference to the use of the term "Wikipedia".

The work, by Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, was selected for exhibition at the Venice Bienalle that year, and is now on display as part of "Made Real" at the Furtherfield Gallery in London. We caught up with Scott and Nathaniel, to get a first-hand account of the work, and the culture of Wikipedia.

 

Please give us the background to the work.

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Elliot Reuben: The madness of crowds

Elliot Reuben: The madness of crowds

We all know what chaos theory is, right? That whole schtick about a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan followed by an Indonesian volcano erupting a few days later and so forth, yeah?

Well, that's a bit simplistic and a bit misleading, as examples go. Chaos theory is all about how a tiny event can have seemingly unrelated consequences somewhere down the line – but those events are connected. Trying to imagine the series of events that causes a butterfly flapping to set off a volcanic eruption is a bit much. But if you imagine said butterfly flapping caused a small bit of air to move, and in turn that movement triggered more movement and so on, until you get to a point where a tornado may or may not form... we're getting closer.

Why is this relevant? Because of Twitter, that's why. (And Anonymous / 4Chan, but we'll get to that in a bit). Recently, the marvellous Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted (one of the greatest British comedies ever) and the nearly as brilliant IT Crowd, decided to have a bit of a laugh. As a comedy writer, this seems quite natural. So he tweeted the following:

 

 

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Elliot Reuben: What can the games industry learn from the demise of Myspace?

Elliot Reuben: What can the games industry learn from the demise of Myspace?

Remember Myspace? It was huge, once. Just like the music industry, it had a good few years to work out how to monetise phenomenal demand for its products & services on the web and, despite a head start that should have seen it luxuriating in cash and ivory back-scratchers, it failed. myspace will probably get another shot under new ownership but is now back in 18th place on the starting grid, with Facebook,  Soundcloud, Last FM, Spotify, Bandcamp & others now way ahead. Like Friends Reunited before it, it has somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory. How the hell did that happen?

There are lots of reasons, but I’d like to look at it from the point of view of communications. What Myspace did brilliantly at the beginning was connect fans to bands. That may sound simple, but think how things happened before – you could buy a band’s music, you could see them at a gig (and maybe grab a quick autograph), you could read an interview with them in a mag or paper. If you joined a mailing list or fanclub then, once a quarter you might receive a badge, a limited edition EP, a “letter” (written by a press officer) and that was about it. That was as close as you could get.

And then came the digital age. And communications needed to be quicker and there needed to be more to fill the ever-increasing spaces available. Whilst some bands need to retain an air of mystique (some bands would certainly not benefit from the fans knowing too much about what kind of people they really are), others rely on emotional and personal connections with their fanbase. Along came Artic Monkeys, who seemed to just be natural communicators, and suddenly “Myspace made them famous.” This was just a myth perpetuated by people who didn’t really understand what was going on. They were just a great band with a penchant for communications. it’s just a medium. If you have good content, it works; if you don’t, it doesn’t.

But then the music industry saw what was happening and all the people who stood to lose from direct communications between bands and fans stepped in; suddenly, it was de rigeur to have your press officer running your Myspace page. You could tell because everything they posted had lots of exclamation marks!!!! At the end of everything!!!!!!!! Cos, like, that makes a 35 year old PR seem down with the kids, right?!?!?!?!

Gone were the real connections between human beings, and back into the land of the glorified press release we sailed. Churnalism of the worst kind, dressed up as humanity. A certain kind of fan wants a certain kind of connection – and this opportunity was lost, frankly. Now, watch those Twitter accounts for more of the same.

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In conversation with... Charlotte Crofts and Siobhan Harrison

In conversation with... Charlotte Crofts and Siobhan Harrison

There has been significant interest in recent years, regarding how digital media is transforming the art of storytelling. While this is often seen from within a contemporary prism, there are, of course, an infinite number of stories that have already been told and recorded – often passed down from one generation to the next.

The result is that contemporary digital media have a tremendous opportunity to bring the past back into sharp focus, introducing stories to generations and audiences that have yet to hear them – or, at least, to understand the stories that they are aware of.

This "In conversation" features Charlotte Crofts, producer of a project to develop contextually-aware cinema heritage; and Siobhán Harrison, part of BBC Coventry & Warwickshire's project to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz in Coventry.

 

Please tell us about your project.

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