MadLab: Introductory Session
20th February 2014
After having teas, coffees and some cake in a nearby cosy restaurant on a chilly Thursday evening in late February, we made our way to MadLab. Alongside Adele and James, the four project members present at the session were Olesja (student), Suhail (creative practitioner) and Barney (documentary film-maker) from the Bokeh_Yeah! group as well as Chris (University administrator) from the Arduino group. Given that Bokeh_Yeah! members are in the midst of a very tight schedule with their poetic film challenge until May as are Arduino members with their own projects and professional work, we were happy to have the four attendees with us that night.
We began the session with introductions in order to get to know each other better and then went on to explain what Pararchive is about. In doing so, we found it helpful to project the website on a wall screen to enable members to get a good sense of what the project is aspiring to achieve, who else is involved and in which capacity, and what has been happening since the project commenced in October 2013. The technology team were keen to emphasise that the initial technology lab sessions will be designed in such a way that things will be kept deliberately woolly. That is to say, conversations and discussions in these sessions will take place offline (‘no worries about getting Arduino guys online’), will focus on participants’ proposed themes for their research projects, and will help identify appropriate sources of material through our institutional partners on the project.
Members had the opportunity to ask questions. For example, how the other community groups became involved and how real the possibility would be of obtaining access to BBC Archives? Members learnt that the other community groups on the project came on board as a result of existing and new links made by Simon – the Principal Investigator of the project. Regarding access to the archives of our institutional partners – particularly the BBC, we explained to members that our partners were keen to open up the cultural assets in their archives to the public, and that Pararchive was an experiment towards achieving this goal. As such, members will get the opportunity to interrogate archives but Pararchive is not just about searching archives. Pararchive is about using archives to access and rearrange material in members’ own ways, to feedback on own experiences about what an archive might be and in doing so, contributing to capturing the whole process which would lead to the creation of knowledge that is beneficial to others. Indeed, the starting point for Pararchive is the realisation of the difficulty of searching institutional archives, often exacerbated by interfaces that are complex to work with, thereby putting a barrier between archives and users.
And then came the most interesting part of the session where participants were asked to talk about the themes they would want to pursue for their research projects. Adele led the way intimating that she is interested in nettles – a kind of versatile but labour-intensive plant used for medicinal and nutritional purposes: the prevention of arthritis and the making of salads respectively among other things. In particular, Adele is interested in looking at possible technological means and/or ways to process nettles. Her other topics of interest include the production of diary and questioning whether we need it, the making of Sheese in Bute deriving from her allergy to diary products and being confined to doing soya milk instead, and IVF technologies, particularly centred around the question of whether conception is possible without sexual intercourse. Having previously engaged with work highlighting the role of British Black and Asian soldiers in the First World War, Suhail’s interests are connected to centenaries: the work of Noor Inayat Khan – most well known for being a British spy in occupied France and an author of children’s stories, Sukumar Ray – another children’s book author who came to Manchester around 1911/12 and whose son – Satyajit Ray, a prominent film-maker received an Oscar, and William Burroughs and the Beat Generation. Barney seemed to indicate he was interested in the latter theme too but otherwise reiterated throughout the evening that he was just ‘curious’.
Olesja is interested in making a film about Manchester music venues that are no longer in existence. She felt it was unfortunate that such places that made music history just disappeared. Interestingly, this is a topic that James too is interested in alongside looking into industrial computing, digital heritage and twentieth century Jazz in Manchester. Chris showed interest in Manchester’s computing history and the possibility of automated access to archives. We discovered that some participants’ themes overlapped which might allow for fruitful collaborations. Adele and James, for example, hinted that one such collaboration between Bokeh_Yeah! and Arduino would be making an unconventional and innovative documentary and/or an installation that rearranges material and/or footage using different senses and sounds to link to people’s memories. This sounds really exciting and we will report more on progress in the next posts.