Gamified

Programming

In these troubled times of financial uncertainty, I’ve decided to invest. I am currently attempting to buy a share in KmikeyM, the first publicly-traded person. Here’s the short story:

The Conceptual Businesman: KMikeyM

I came across Mike Merrill via an article in The Atlantic detailing his journey into self-commodification. In 2008, he divided his ‘self’ into 100,000 shares and sold them at an initial public offering price of $1 a share. What started out as a creative experiment turned into a full-fledged simulated stock market with shares fluctuating , turning him into a publicly traded person.

KMikeyM Trading Chart

Shares allow stockholders to vote on Mike should do with his life, from who and how he should date to various questions big and small:

  •  Should he get a vasectomy? (Rejected)
  •  Should he subscribe to Spotify? (Approved)
  •  Should he grow a mustache? (Rejected)
  •  Should he attempt polyphasic sleeping? (Approved)

KMikeyM

I’m not sure I fully have the hang of the trading business yet – my offer to buy a share is still pending – but I already feel invested in the life of my “conceptual businessman” and look forward to weigh in on his next life-changing decision. He is now crowdfunding for his latest project, a ghostwritten book about a fictional version of himself that lets the public design the manifestation of his personal erotic fantasy – a collaborative Choose-Your-Own-Adventure process to have fun with what he terms himself a dumb genre by asking collaborators to debate and decide on what they want to read.

Publicly Traded Privately Held Video from Mike Merrill on Vimeo.

As with other projects launched by Mike Merrill, it’s holding a mirror to so many things: financial world, social networks, decision-making process, notions of authorship and readership… with a wonderfully absurd and deadpan strain of humour, but also some pretty serious theory bubbling behind. While his mantra – community through capitalism – can appear worryingly cynical, this reflection on markets as communities is a useful reminder of the role of money in our economies of life: an enabler of exchanges, a tool to build a platform, rather than something with intrinsic interest.

Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about? These #81, Cluetrain Manifesto

Merrill’s creative response is to take this theory to its logical end: monetise everything, turn his blog into a shop and sell anything from digested reads (written by others), a random spreadsheet straight off his desktop, his attention ($5 for an email response) or his presence at your party (complete with Powerpoint presentation and laser pointer).

Radical Games: Molleindustria

Oiligarchy-screen

I discovered Molleindustria’s “radical games” around the time I was working at Unicorn, a Manchester-based vegan workers’ coop, spending a lot of time reading Corporate Watch and Red Pepper. Artist and game designer Paolo Pedercini describes his games as “homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games”, ranging from “satirical business simulations (McDonald’s Video game, Oiligarchy) to meditations on labor and alienation (Everyday the Same Dream, Tuboflex, Unmanned), from playable theories (the Free Culture Game, Leaky World) to politically incorrect pseudo-games (Orgasm Simulator, Operation: Pedopriest).”

Molleindustria from paolo pedercini on Vimeo.

The McDonald’s Video Game and Oiligarchy are old favourites, exploring the complex economies of the fast-food and oil industry and revealing how and why decisions are made. Molleindustria is now venturing into VR with a new experiential essay, The Short History of the Gaze… It requires Oculus Rift, so it’s not something I can comment on for the time being, but it makes me curious about the potential of VR for the performing arts.

Casual Games for Protesters

At the low-tech end, Molleindustria also recently launched Casual Games for Protesters, “an ongoing collection of games to be played in the context of marches, rallies, occupations and other protests” designed to facilitate meaningful participation.  

Co-designing the future: Games for Cities

At city scale, what can games and playfulness do for intergenerational and intercultural interaction and participation? Can they help to imagine more inclusive and sustainable cities?

Amsterdam-based Play the City is a city-building agency that creates bespoke games to involve stakeholders in creative problem-solving and imagine new ways to design and govern cities and systems. They respond to challenges ranging from affordable housing and  digital development to social change and urban transformation. With a range of partners, they also run the collaborative platform Games for Cities, which recently organised its first international conference, bringing together designers, urbanists and decision-makers.

Paolo Perdecini – him of Molleindustria – was one of the keynote speakers, taking a critical view of SimCity and the simulation game paradigm. SimCity’s ideology is at odds with the real – messy – world, presenting a winning urban ideal that’s all grid-shaped, zone-based and car-centred, devoid of historical class and racial conflicts, and unreservedly buying into the idea of unfettered growth. Perdecini describes his own city games series as Magical Marxism, inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – and the first chapter, Nova Alea, is a dreamy, intuitive user-led experience. He concludes by calling for a different kind of city game:

What we should make are not games that explain how cities work. But rather games we can use to think about our cities, past, present and future.

That’s where the performing arts approach – and its notions of process, participation and legacy – comes in. Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex has developed an impressive portfolio of playful interventions and platforms for expression, giving voice to children, teenagers and seniors (talking about sex!). In France, public space collective La Folie Kilomètre imagines stories, promenades, poetry and mapping workshops to create new dialogues between people and cities. International platform Playable City platform – led by Bristol’s digital & arts centre Watershed – are working across a network of cities (to date, Bristol, Recife, Lagos, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Oxford and Seoul) to prototype, develop and tour innovative projects that create sparks and disruption in the urban fabric.

Playable City puts people and play at the heart of the future city, re-using city infrastructure and re-appropriating smart city technologies to create connections – person to person, person to city.

Through interaction and creative installations it unlocks a social dialogue, bringing the citizens into a city development conversation – one which will vary in each location.

Playable City Lab in Lagos, Nigeria from Playable City on Vimeo.

What’s the relation between the custom-designed civic games of Play the City, city simulation games and these playful embodied artistic experiments? Are they completely different types of ‘games’ responding to different needs and set apart by motivation, purpose, expected outcomes and evaluation methods? What can each type learn from and bring to the other?

For researcher and designer Eric Gordon, the civic value of games lies in their “meaningful efficiencies”:  

We play games not because they are inefficient systems, but because the inefficiency in games—that means that the fastest path between point A and point B is not a direct line—provides some ability to make meaning from that process.  (…)

A system with mere inefficiencies is something that’s frustrating. There is no clear opportunity for a meaningful encounter with a system or another person, it’s just about frustration with not being able to proceed.

Deliberation is a great example of a meaningful inefficiency within a democratic process. The quickest way for a group to make a democratic decision would be to vote. But the process of deliberation where there is dialogue that builds over time where multiple stakeholders are involved, and the positionality of those stakeholders matters. That very process is a process that people engage in not because it is efficient, but because it is inefficient. There is opportunity for people to discover things along the way. It is actually designed for that purpose.

In a different interview, he also points out the distinction between ‘gamification’ – making a particular situation more playful in order to nudge users/players to a particular behavior or a desired outcome beneficial to the provider of the game, in other words setting the agenda and employing a behavioristic strategy to motivate people to carry it – and ‘engagement’ or ‘empowerment’ – including play to empower users to set (or at least influence) the agenda themselves. Just like it is important to be aware of ideological biases in simulation games before using them as educational activities, considering the nature of participation is essential when setting up a game-inspired project. Artist-led initiatives and residencies – such as Mary Miss’s City as Living Laboratory – can enable conversations with and amongst residents that city planners and bureaucratic structures find difficult to foster.

Jazz North Originals Survey

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Following a sector consultation with 25 artists and artistic directors, a pilot project with Manchester-based composer and improviser Rodrigo Constanzo and research into promoters’ operational capacity, Art of Festivals is conducting a survey on behalf of Jazz North to understand better how commissioning new music can be better supported.

This next stage of development aims to establish a consolidated approach to commissioning new work that can assist the jazz sector in building relevant partnerships and encouraging new thought processes.

There are 3 different short surveys for artists, promoters and arts managers / creative producers with commissioning experience. For any questions about the project or if you want to discuss your experience in more depth, email me or indicate your interest at the end of the survey.

 

Artists

Have you been commissioned by a festival or venue to create a new piece of music? Please complete the Artist survey.

Promoters & Curators

Do you commission new works or present projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Promoter survey.

Arts Managers & Creative producers

Do you have experience working on commissions or projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Producer survey.

 

jazz-north-logo

We are the Music

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The fastest-growing section on my bookshelf seems to be the autoethnography corner – researchers turning the lens on themselves and their own tribe. The latest addition to my collection, joining the ranks of Richard Hoggart, Lisa McKenzie, Kate Fox and al., is Marvin HarrisWhy Nothing Works, an “anthropology of daily life” published in 1981, digging deep to retrace the roots of everyday evil in contemporary America.

“This book is about cults, crime, shoddy goods, and the shrinking dollar. It’s about porno parlors, and sex shops, and men kissing on the streets. It’s about daughters shacking up, women on the rampage, marriages postponed, divorces on the rise, and no one having kids. It’s about old ladies getting mugged and raped, people shoved in front of trains, and shoot-outs as gas pumps. And letters that take weeks to get delivered, waiters who throw the food at you, rude sales help, and computers that bill you for things you never bought. It’s about broken benches, waterless fountains, cracked windows, dirty toilets, crater-filled roads, graffiti-covered buildings, slashed paintings, toppled statues, stolen books.”

Marvin Harris, ‘Introduction’, Why Nothing Works

How and why does all of this happen? The underlying causes of all these disparate problems are, according to Harris, centralisation, bureaucracy and oligopoly, the dark side of unfettered capitalism that ends up killing – in the name of maximising shareholder profit – the sense of initiative, quality control and efficiency that led to prosperity and progress in the first place.  

If the cause is centralisation, it would only be logical that the solution should be decentralisation (and Harris’ is always reassuringly logical, even when he turns upside down entrenched myths and rock-solid narratives). Already in 1981, Harris was calling for legislation towards greater local autonomy, “legal barriers against takeovers of new energy technologies (…) by multinational conglomerates” and support for “small business and community-based cooperatives” – an unlikely but necessary scenario that finds many advocates today, such as the partisans of the Transition model.  

The human-scale, everyday damage of capitalism is illustrated in the first two chapters – ‘Why Nothing Works’ and ‘Why the Help Won’t Help You’. Harris introduces up a simple concept that peaked my attention: if your new toaster burns everything it touches, or the shop sales assistant has no idea (and no interest in finding out) when they will restock your size, that’s because the social link between maker and user is broken. In a small-scale economy, the transaction between the person making and the person using the object is much more than monetary: there has to be trust, care and accountability. Objects made for oneself, a family member or next-door neighbour are perfect and durable because there’s a direct relation between the maker and the user: Harris give the examples of a sea canoe and a parka, which failure would be life-threatening on a freezing hunting trek. Inversely, in modern-day manufacturing and service industries, ever-growing layers of bureaucracy and hierarchy fragment the making process and separate each employee both from the product or service and the end-user.

This made me think of “music-making” – a term I’ve come to like for giving music – technically, a series of invisible waves – a physicality that makes it easier to relate to the people at each step of the process, the makers (musicians), users (listeners), but also the enablers, such as producers, promoters… It clearly places music within the frame of a communication process.

Music as a social link between people is an idea that I find helpful to think about activities that fall within the range of education, outreach, engagement and participation: of course, music can be ‘beneficial’ in itself, and the well-being and cognitive benefits associated with playing and listening to music are well documented, but the power of live music is also that it’s created by someone to share with others. Organisations like Live Music Now, as well as many orchestras, take music to people who can’t otherwise access it – inside hospitals, special schools and community centres – and as LMN founder Yehudi Menuhin says in this short extract, it’s about communicating and touching people one by one.

When music is played together, from a duo to an orchestra, a special chemistry happens between players, which, when it ‘works’, becomes a thrilling, enthralling bond between performers and audience. The context is hugely important in creating this connection, as the audience experience is shaped and influenced by a multitude of details that are mostly completely out of the control of the musicians: venue layout, sound quality, interaction with staff or volunteers…

And when thinking about the user-maker relationship, I wonder if we could think of the audience themselves as both creators and receivers of their own experience – that of being part of a crowd, a community of feeling. Then it’s perhaps the social link between listeners that is broken when rules and etiquette are erected to contain emotion and exclude rather than include participants. I’m thinking here of the concert hall experience often associate with classical music, and the stilted attitude to fellow audience members that can come with it – see the baffling episode related by Gillian Moore, Head of Music at Southbank Centre, who was chided by an audience member for moving her head in appreciation of the music.

There has been much done recently to allow the audience to develop and express a collective emotion while listening to classical music, by playing in more informal venues, from pubs to clubs and car parks, playing with presentation format, like the annual festival La Folle Journée in Nantes, or even making it a multi-sensory experience, like in the experiment below by BitterSuite.  

As I revisit these initiatives to reinvent the classical music experience and constantly discover new ones, it strikes me that I just can’t find the same type of information for jazz, another once-popular genre now soul-searching for new audiences. There are plenty of innovative jazz promoters out there inventing news ways to be with live music, but they just don’t get shared the same way that classical music case studies do – for example, I don’t know any jazz equivalent to this photo-heavy collection of 40 innovative live classical music case studies from around the world compiled by audience specialist Johan Idema. One for the to-do list? In the meantime, I take this call for responsible listeners that concludes Aaron Copland’s “preparation for listening” manual as a reminder that not all responsibility lies with the promoter:

“Take seriously your responsibility as listener. (…) Since it is our combined reaction as listeners that most profoundly influences both the art of composition and interpretation, it may be truthful to say that the future of music is in our hands.

Music can only really be alive when there are listeners who are really alive. To listen intently, to listen consciously, to listen with one’s whole intelligence is the least we can do in the furtherance of an art that is one of the glory of mankind.”

Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music (1939)

In Joy or Sadness…

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In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink, sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers. We dare not die without them. We have worshipped with the lily, we have meditated with the lotus, we have charged in battle array with the rose and the chrysanthemum. We have even attempted to speak in the language of flowers. How could we live without them?
― Kakuzo Okakura, The Book Of Tea

I’m pretty sure I once signed up for a WordPress reminder in an attempt to keep up with a self-imposed weekly blogging schedule, but it seems to have turned itself off – probably because I failed too many times to publish a new article on time. I have a few projects on the go right now that keep me busy enough, but as I still like to share what I’m doing (and find it really useful to dig deeper and structure my reflection) here’s a quick post based on research I’ve undertaken for an upcoming event.

(I’ve also just started using Tumblr for very quick posts as an experiment  – so far so fun).

 

The spirit of nature: Kathy Klein’s flower mandalas

freesia & euphorbia

Freesia & euphorbia

iris and mimosa at wild rose ranch

Iris and mimosa

protea, coastal geranium, chinese latern flower on chinese singing water bowl

Protea, coastal geranium, chinese latern flower on chinese singing water bowl

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Alstroemeria, hydrangea, gerbera, daisy

succulents from the cliffside, at 11th street beach during rain at low tide

Succulents from the cliffside, at 11th street beach during rain at low tide

A mandala is a spiritual symbol – usually a geometric pattern in the shape of a circle – that represent a microcosmos of the universe. For a more accurate definition, Wikipedia is probably a good start – and for a modern artistic interpretation, American artist Kathy Klein’s dānmālā practice is a great example.

The name dānmālā comes from the vedic sanskrit words dān: the giver and mālā: garland of flowers. Her website has a huge image gallery of pieces using flowers and other organic materials, but also mandalas created with stones, shells and sweets.

She’s also active on social media, with new designs posted regularly on her Facebook feed and – especially relevant to my purposes – an ever-growing album of in situ creations.

 

Painting with flowers: Red Hong Yi’s petal stories

rooster made from gerberas and leaves

Rooster made from gerberas and leaves

peacock made from butterfly pea flowers, bottlebrush leaves, coconut leaf sticks, alamandas : trumpet flowers

Peacock made from butterfly pea flowers, bottlebrush leaves, coconut leaf sticks, alamandas : trumpet flowers

dodo made from white, pink and orange chrysanthemum flowers

Dodo made from white, pink and orange chrysanthemum flowers

hornbill made of chrysanthemums, germeras and purple shamrocks

Hornbill made of chrysanthemums, germeras and purple shamrocks

northern cardinal made of red gerberas and deep purple chrysanthemums with dill

Northern cardinal made of red gerberas and deep purple chrysanthemums with dill

‘Red’ Hong Yi – the artist who ‘loves to paint, but not with a paintbrush’ – is a Malaysian artist-architect, who started working with everyday materials when she moved to Shanghai, a city her family had left in the early days of the Cultural Revolution.

For the purpose of my research, I’m especially interested in her series of birds made of flowers (above), using a wide palette of petals, leaves and branches. She also has an extensive portfolio of portraits made from mundane objects – chopsticks, melted candles, shuttlecocks, sunflower seeds… – and has created exquisite daily scenes on a white plate only using food ingredients for a 31-day creativity challenge. She’s very active on Instagram, where she publishes her experiments with new themes or materials.

 

Sensory overload: Rebecca Louise Law’s floating fields

‘The Flower Garden Display’d 2014′

‘The Flower Garden Display’d 2014′ – a floating meadow of 4,600 blooms – commissioned by London’s Garden Museum.

OdysseyMain_Crop_second stage

‘The Flower Garden Display’d’ – Second stage, Odyssey Exhibition curated by bo.lee Gallery. This installation was made using the dried flowers from the previous display entwined with 8800 meters of copper wire.

The Hated Flower, 2014 The Coningsby Gallery, London 5,000 Carnations and Chrysanthemums

The Hated Flower, 2014 The Coningsby Gallery, London (5,000 Carnations and Chrysanthemums)

Neither drawing from geometrical patterns nor from figurative representation, Rebecca Louise Law’s large-scale installations create immersive sensory experiences with hundreds of flowers – often upside-down, always strikingly delicate yet powerful.

 

 

Grow Your Own City

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Gardening is my graffiti: I grow my art.

– Ron Finley

Ron Finley urban famer

Ron Finley, graffiti-gardener

Urban farming has its new hero: Ron Finley, artist-gardener, on a mission to make kale sexy in South Central Los Angeles, one of America’s food deserts. Since he planted a vegetable garden on a city-owned strip of land outside his house in 2010, then got fined for it and successfully led a campaign to make curbside gardening legal, he’s received a lot of media attention, including a TED Talk in 2013 (from which the quotes above and below are taken).

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

“If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.”

“We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is — if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta.”

The video below, featuring Ron pre-TED fame, encapsulates the multiple benefits of urban gardening: healthy eating, communal activity, cultural heritage, sensory stimulation…

From producing fresh food in a brownfield and at the same time beautifying an area to providing a physical activity to local people while creating community links, urban farming is a multi-layered activity that keeps on giving. I’ve looked below at 3 other initiatives with deep roots – transforming a school’s rooftop, re-inventing the city as a public orchard and blowing the seeds of change from a West Yorkshire village to the rest of the world.

The Teachers: School Grown

If there is one constant with urban farming, it’s that it can happen anywhere and everywhere: on the side of the road in LA, 33 metres below the busy streets of Clapham, or at the back of a truck, anywhere. By comparison, a rooftop farm is perhaps quite banal, but the one transformed by Food Share in Toronto – that can be seen from scratch to end in the timelapse video above – is rather special, because it doubles up as a “food literacy education centre, large market garden and vibrant event space all wrapped into one”.

The 16,000 square foot rooftop currently includes over 450 garden planters, 100 shiitake mushroom logs, a dwarf fruiting orchard, seating for over 200 people, a covered area and an indoor classroom – and has plans to add a rooftop teaching kitchen, a small greenhouse, a composting area and an open air cafe.

Students sell their ‘school grown’ produce at three local farmers’ markets and also supply several Toronto restaurants.

foodshare.net/schoolgrown

@FoodShareTO

The Gleaners: Not Far From The Tree

Founder and director Laura Reinsborough got the idea for Not Far From The Tree when she was working as a Community Arts Facilitator for the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) and was asked to pick apples from an urban orchard and put them to good use.

From this first experience was born Not Far From the Tree, an initiative that picks unwanted or surplus fruit from residential properties, sharing the harvest 3 ways: ⅓ to the fruit owner, ⅓ to the the volunteers and ⅓ to social agencies. In 2008, their first full season, 150 volunteers picked a total of 3,003 pounds of fruit, and the concept has now grown into a fully-fledged, city-wide, award-winning charitably constituted organisation with permanent staff.

In 5 years, they have:

  • harvested over 70,000 pounds of fruit;
  • donated more than 22,000 pounds to social service agencies;
  • registered over 1,500 trees to be picked in our operating area;
  • registered more than 1,600 volunteer pickers.

They have also produced a pretty 5-year annual report available to view online, listing these achievements and more, and also regularly commission artists – such as the one below – for their event and campaign visuals.

Apple-by-Zeesy-Powers-Oct-2012-e1393605838297

Apple by Zeesy Powers (2012)

notfarfromthetree.org

@NFFTT

The Planters: Incredible Edible

This is the extraordinary journey of a small market town in the North of England, now a hotspot of the local food revolution. With just a handful of people and seeds to start with, Todmorden has transformed itself into a place where fruit and vegetables are grown everywhere – outside the police station, in the cemetery, along the canal – and for everyone. Pam Warhurst, one of the instigators, calls it “propaganda gardening”: a way of ensuring resilience by creating deep links between community, learning and business. It’s even created a brand new genre of tourism, with “vegetable tourists” coming to the 15,000-strong town to visit the Incredible Edible Green Route.

The Todmorden experiment has inspired over 200 local groups in several countries that form the Incredible Edible Network and are typically involved in “setting up community growing plots, reaching out to schools and children, and backing local food suppliers”.

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Incredible Edibles, outside Todmorden Police Station

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Food to Share – Incredible Edibles Todmorden

incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk

incredibleediblenetwork.org.uk

@incredibledible