Where Are We Now; A Review of <Space is the Place>
<Space is the Place> was a ‘scratch show’ broadcast on April 1st 8pm GMT via a livestream Bambuser.com. It was a pilot for a live event concept that could, maybe, forge new ways or possibilities for live events. The idea is ambitious in that it tries to examine and explore several themes at once using technology and social-media in a very live, improvisational and untested way. This particular event also served to act as a launch event for my re-vamped website and my new artist page on Facebook.
I have been fascinated by the possibility of livestream for a number of years and have tried during the development of a number of previous projects to shoehorn it into them but it never quite fitted. However the idea of utilising a livestream creatively has been percolating in my mind for a while. I am also interested in Facebook as both a medium and a space, and how physical and non-physical communities and spaces are beginning to merge, how could facebook be used as a virtual venue.
The premise of the work is as follows: projector no.1 is hooked up to some visuals, projector no. 2 is hooked up to a Skype feed, projector no.3 is hooked up to Facebook page or desktop. We use a channel mixer, to mix between these.
Using the Skype feed overlaid on the Visuals I would then take my camera and create portraits from the 2 feeds overlaid, and mix in the Facebook or desktop page if needed.
To use the facebook commentary or any online page into the mix, or to show any images uploaded to say Adobe Bridge or Photoshop if I wanted to show the audience this. With the 2 feeds, Skype and the visuals overlaid, I would then take my camera and create portraits from this mix.
Once the portraits have been taken they are uploaded to Facebook or my website. The scene of the room, images projected and overlaid onto the screen would be filmed and streamed online, whilst the musicians performed their music. The audience would see the screen, part of the room and the musicians performing at certain intervals.
The concept of involving people, an audience, in a photographic process like this excites me, and further in potentially their involvement adding to a newer or deeper understanding of the photographic image and it’s potential and variety of readings is a great joy. The image, the screen, is so ubiquitous now, and the screens we generate as part of our many online profiles can be said to be becoming an aspect of the individual, we see their icon, profile pic, comments and taglines as often as we do their actual physical presence, we identify each other now with a mix of what we have seen of them online and what we know of them from physical ‘real-world’ encounters. If the process and the final pieces create both interesting photographs and contribute to discussion and thoughts on what the photographic images means for us at this point in time then I will be happy.
The inspiration behind the concept comes from a couple of places. I had noticed that after Christmas a set of 3 night clubs had closed in Peterborough, sort of trashy vodka-jelly and bad chart music club, but that made me wonder that if a city with a population of 180,000+, and growing rapidly, especially one with a higher than average proportion of young people, can’t support clubs like these then what exactly was happening to the live music and night-life scene in the city? where are these young people meeting?
It brought the total of closed venues to 6 with another about to close (according to rumour) so a total of 7 live music venues closing in as many months. This raised many questions in my mind. It signalled to me a change in the landscape, a question about where are young people coming together? Music venues are spaces for collectivising and coming together to have a shared experience, the process of going to live music can be very ritualistic and ceremonial and they can be a place to facilitate social bonding. If these venues are closing so rapidly in this city what does that say about how people are choosing to spend and share their time? This raises a number of dynamic questions for me. As music venues and pubs close ever more rapidly by a combination of factors, and as the tools of social media proliferate, will ‘live’ events be moving into an online, cyber, space? I think this is certainly a yes, eventually and in some form yet to fully manifest itself, certainly there are lots of equipment and software that is vying for this possibility. Some sort of combination of virtual-reality hybridised with social-media will probably start to reveal itself soon. Will this, can this, take the place of people meeting offline in a physical space? The idea was to see how an event could take place, that involved participation and collaboration using the simple tools of social media. Can community come together at a online live event. What would it feel like? What modes of behaviour would be adopted? What unknown variables would present themselves?
The inspiration for the event title and for approaches to the event was the biography of Sun Ra. “Space is the Place” is the title of his biography by John F Szwed. I was lent this book by the always keen eared Pete Cox, a poet. When I began the book I knew little of this man, it wasn’t long before I was utterly mesmerised by his life story, reading the biography late into the night and over cornflakes. His approach to creativity and the universe blew me away. His theories which inspired his creative approaches tapped into me. The phrase ‘Space is the Place’ was like a mini-manifesto, a fleeting lullaby that lodged into my inner ear. And it seemed to ring clearly in tune with the thoughts I was having about live music venues in my home-town and the cultural segue into cyberspace.
I chose the date purposefully to represent both a new year, as it was to be an ending and a beginning for me, and April 1st is a kind of new year,and additionally for it’s fame for being the day of ‘The Fool’, April fools day. This was one of the main themes I wanted to invoke, the fool as the protagonist setting out on his journey through the deck, and in the modern card deck he fits in nowhere but everywhere. I am also interested that in our current miasma of broadcast news we are relying on comediennes to tell truths as the news becomes an unseemly and surreal circus of corruption and absurdity
To represent this aspect I used the day’s instalment of The Trews, the YouTube feed of Russell Brand and and a video of Bill Hicks. I have it in mind for future sessions to utilise live feeds from broadcast media, such as the news or football matches.
The <> symbols in the title represent html tags, indicative of it being ‘in cyberspace’, and the ♇ sign in the flyer represents the old sign for Pluto, a reference to one of the albums of Sun Ra. Language and poetry is a strong element in my practice so playing with syntax within the title was indicative of this.The incredible music was provided by Mono-Region, and Magiclamp. Please nip over to their pages on Soundcloud and give their music a listen, they are both really rather good. I have worked with both these guys in creative and collaborative ways for well over ten years, so it was
PROCESS & OUTCOMES
In my mind this was very much a pilot event. - give it a go and find out what works and what we could do in a future session. Not knowing who will connect and project themselves into the livestream adds an element of chance combined with the controlled unknowing of the visuals, images are pre-selected but I am allowing them to unravel with input from me that is responsive to the environment means that there is abundance of potential images to be created.
I had one laptop less than I planned, and I hadn’t counted on having multiple incoming calls on Skype causing an issue with answering them, so after my first successful call from Charron I could not then answer any subsequent incoming calls. To get round this I used images from callers Facebook profiles and YouTube channels to create the effect I wanted. Still this was very frustrating, and whilst doing this I could not seen the image that was being broadcast, darn that missing 3rd laptop!
The broadcast cut out about an hour in and was off for 20mins before we noticed, (due to only 2 laptops) which was very frustrating. Certainly we needed more laptops and someone to field the conversations with people online.
The other key improvement is in the sound quality, it sounded great in the studio, but we will need to make sure the audio feed goes through a sound-card before it is broadcast as the sound transmitted was distorted. To solve the Skype issue we will give the audience time-slots to call us.
The images were taken on both a HTC 1 phone or on a Canon EOS 500D, this was a practical approach so that I could upload some images quickly from my phone so that the audience can see results, and a DSLR to make the hi-res images for the final work.
The event cost no money to put on, (except the £20 on a new webcam) as everyone involved worked, or donated their space or equipment, for free. 59 people were viewing it live with 113 views in total, the first set lasted 56 minutes the second set lasted 38 minutes.
Ultimately It was about creating photographic portraits, using elements of a live event and community participation, which examine the screens we use so ubiquitously and the definitions of event, community and space
Using the visuals overlaid with a Skype feed to a live audience creates enough potential for improvisational responses, so that I will not truly know what the final photographs will look like, and in this case I did have to improvise using YouTube feeds and Facebook profile pics. The video of Delaine Le Bas was a great moment as the images that were unfolding on the screen were truly fantastic and exactly what I was hoping to achieve.
I came away with a number of images capturing the elements and concept I was trying to explore, so whilst it was a modest success, it was still successful in that respect.
With some more technology and some space to develop the setup I think we could run a series of very exploratory sessions in a similar vein.
Luke Payn, April 2015
If you were involved in this event, as spectator or collaborator, I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this experiment.
The videos of the event can be viewed here. (Turn the volume down on the video screen to 1 or 2 bars and it should cut much of the distortion out)
Chime Creation Centre is a community recording and rehearsal studio in Peterborough managed and run by Beat This.