Following the launch of his Time for Rights commission for 1215.today, we caught up with creative technologist Tim Kindberg to talk about his work, the digital zeitgeist and the importance of having unreasonable expectations…
Tim, firstly, what is a ‘creative technologist’?
A creative technologist is someone who knows how to work with digital technology and can use it creatively, such as for art or entertainment. That involves either being an artist or creative oneself, or being able to communicate effectively with those who are. Digital technology can be complicated to work with, in that it produces interactions that are often hard to foresee. Therefore, being a creative technologist often also involves being able to prototype relatively rapidly, and to learn quickly from this process. Often the impact and limitations of technology aren’t apparent – or are unpredictable – without a prototype, which may reveal a problem or a creative opportunity.
Can you tell us a bit about the concepts you explore in your work?
I’m interested in how technology can be used to augment or merge with what we normally think of as the non-digital, physical world – and, at a higher level, how it plays a part in our lives. I certainly don’t see it as neutral; it is political in the sense that there is an agenda behind its development. The debate over how technology affects our jobs, and might even replace them, provides a topical example. I’m also particularly interested in what people can do collectively with technology. Time for Rights, my commission for 1215.today, explored how people could make videos together, and how they could be combined to create a piece that expresses that togetherness, on the one hand, and their different points of view, on the other.
How do you approach siting a work digitally? Do you look for ‘space’?
I’m a computer scientist by background, and that is perhaps why I look for quite general ways of approaching my digital work, and ways that potentially scale to large numbers of people. So I tend to think in terms of, for example, whether it’s for small screens or large screens or combinations of screens; whether it involves something people will have with them, or something embedded in places they visit.
What comes first – the idea or the technology?
Sometimes it’s the idea first, sometimes an interplay between the two. I may think of an effect then wonder how it can be realised; or I try to realise the effect and in so doing discover a different but valuable effect, or find that the effect can’t be realised after all. I like working with non-technological artists, because they sometimes have ideas about what technology can achieve that stretch what I think it can achieve. ‘Unreasonable’ expectations of technology can be very valuable: nothing much comes from reasonable expectations.
What’s most exciting for you about working digitally?
The zeitgeist is digital. I think we’re mesmerised by digital at the moment, surrounded by hype about technology that’s not based on what it has actually proved able to achieve, such as artificial intelligence. But, whatever one thinks of the digital tide, most of us in the ‘developed’ world at least are swimming in it. So it’s exciting to work with it even as the currents, to continue the metaphor, tug around us: to work in the flux of it.
How has working with 1215.today helped you to develop your practice?
Working with 1215.today enabled me to rediscover how much I enjoy working with young people, first of all. And Time for Rights was a proving ground for some of the ideas I had been developing around people filming at the same time. I learned a lot by trying to motivate people across the world. And I discovered a new form for representing collective filming, the Sphere of Rights, which I am continuing to develop as a form.
For our next artist’s commission, we are setting up an ‘innovation lab’ – a model that gives an artist the opportunity to work together with young creatives and technologists to help shape their ideas at the start of a project. What do you think might be the challenges and benefits of this way of working?
I work in Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio, which is a place where artists and designers, technologists and academics work together on creative projects. So I’m very familiar with the idea of multidisciplinary working in a common space, and it can lead to excellent results. It’s very important that those involved make a prototype (or indeed end product) together, for that becomes both their common ground and a vehicle for the group’s imagination to play out. Otherwise, if it’s mainly talk and post-it notes, it’s easy to think you’ve understood what the other person intends when you haven’t. We speak different languages about our respective disciplines. Unlike, say, a film or theatre production which is multidisciplinary but where the participants have relatively tightly defined roles, art-technology collaborations can be more fluid, and all the better for it.
To find out more about Tim Kindberg’s Time for Rights project, and to interact with the Sphere of Rights, go to: http://1215today.com/timeforrights