In early 2022 I was commissioned by Bluecoat to complete a piece of work I began in 2018, during a residency at Signal Culture in Owego, upstate New York. The partially completed work was a sleeveless denim jacket that had solar panels sewn onto the back to power a Raspberry pi, which then broadcast a local area network around it that people in the vicinity could log into. After the residency, and as my research interests became a bit less limited to the purely local, the jacket got hung on a hanger in my studio and became a bit of a quandry.
The fact that the jacket connects two different spaces, the physical space around the jacket and the digital space online, opens up a conversation about the notion of the civic in the 21st century. Civic spaces, like the Bluecoat, act as open spaces for exchange and discussion around how our society is organised and alternatives can, perhaps, be tested. But when so much social exchange is no longer ties to physical space, but happens in dynamic space online, how do the two resolve? Could a space like the Bluecoat act as a space from which to reflect on this new virtual civic space?
With this in mind I re-imagined the solar powered Battle Jacket as a tool for exploring the hidden ‘electro magnetic soup’ that we all swim together in, that forms the wireless and 4g signals we connect to. I developed the jacket further by sewing in microphones to pick up the ambient sounds around the jacket and connected it to a sensing stick that used a Soma Ether. This translated electromagnetic and radio signals into audio that was mixed with the ambient sounds from the microphones. The resulting sound was then broadcast through a Raspberry pi Nano to the internet where it could be listened to at peripheri.es The whole thing was based on documentation provided by Sound Camp for their amazing Reveil Project
This project extends research from towards the end of my PhD research, around the idea of organisation, and the different ways things can be ordered. This came from working with networks, and beginning to understand that the network, as we conventionally understand it, includes things of as certain type while ignoring others, so they essentially simplify the world. As humans we demarcate networks based on characteristics we can perceive and describe, and so order the world according to our senses and language. That, I discovered, is unavoidable, we will always be human. However, what is avoidable is other people ordering the world for us. I figure that is what happens in twitter, facebook, outlook, on the guardian website, and so on. Engineers and UX designers take over the responsibility of creating the network, the environment and the algorithms that aggregate the content. Peripheri.es, as a project, looks at networked broadcast as an ecology, and asks how we can center that which is usually pushed to the edges or made completely invisible? Can EM waves, the sounds of people chatting, the sounds of the wind in the trees outside, offer a revised speculative network?
This project has evolved into my Mundane Audio Project – where I have continued to do live broadcasts from unusual locations – transmitting blends of different sounds. Find out more here