Digital literacy: this way for tassels and pompoms!

Photograph at Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum 2014

Living in a perpetual upgrade culture, where technological obsolescence is the norm and our personal digital devices have become ubiquitous and mundane artefacts, has huge implications for 21st century art and design archives, and for art and design education. It is with this in mind that students and staff from Central Saint Martins today embarked upon an experimental project set at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which explores designerly relationships with mobile technologies as part of the creative research process. In doing so they are contributing to the ongoing discussion about what digital literacy means in a contemporary art and design setting.

As we have seen from earlier research findings at CSM, the ways in which design students use their smartphones as part of their creative practices are rich and varied, including: creating; collating; communicating; collaborating; storing; recording; browsing; researching; reflecting; sharing; sketching; documenting; editing; publishing; planning; networking as well as navigating physical locations. However, as has also been highlighted, unlike their relationships with sketchbooks for instance, students are tending to employ their mobile technologies in an uncritical fashion. Hence, an aim of this project is to heighten student and staff sensitivity to the ways in which young designers are using digital technologies to support their creative process and critical inquiry. In doing so we are also hoping to make evident the type of digital data that needs to be captured and maintained in order to ensure that our future personal archives, and those of our national institutions, contain rich and fulsome accounts of the heritage of 21c artists and designers – i.e. as described by a senior curator of the V&A, “the picture of the whole context of a career”. If we succumb to the crash loop of upgrade culture without taking time to consider how to value and preserve the digital marks of our creative processes, then we will lose the rich contextual narratives of our future histories.

To launch this project, the MA Design students and staff visited Blythe House for an extraordinarily insightful and stimulating morning with members of the V&A team. The following pictures illustrate this encounter.

Feathers and wigs at Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014

Feathers and wigs at Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014

Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum

Detail, Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014

MA Design students view books at Blythe House

MA Design students view books at Blythe House, 2014

MA Design students wander through the archive

MA Design students walk amongst the archive at Blythe House, 2014

Detail, Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014

Detail, Blythe House, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014

The project itself occupies a highly conceptual territory, and combines experimental research methods with the more familiar. More about the project will be reported in future articles, but suffice to say that the students are in part having a wander with Branden Hookway’s notion of the interface ‘as a relation with technology rather than a technology itself’ (2014:ix).

…the interface describes a cultural moment as much as it does a specific relationship between human user and technological artifact. To use an interface is to participate in culture; it both performs and presupposes an acculturation.

Hookway, 2014:16

 

Student research equipment, 2014

Student research equipment, 2014

Student research equipment, 2014

Student research equipment, 2014

CSM staff leading this fascinating experiment are: Elizabeth Wright, Ulli Oberlack, Simon Fraser and Jo Morrison, and the students are the MA Design: Ceramics, Furniture and Jewellery first year cohort.

 

Interesting links

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/videos/b/blythe-house-encounters-in-the-archive/

http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2012/11/09/smartphones-connecting-to-the-rest-of-the-world/

http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2012/11/16/smartphone-seducer-slave-or-spy/

http://digitalpresent.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2012/12/07/smartphone-intimate-incidental-and-indispensible/

http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/interface