A blog charting the progress of four Parallel Practices residencies
This blog charts the development of the four Parallel Practices residencies - a pilot partnership project from the Crafts Council and the Cultural Institute at King's College London, partnering makers with medical and scientific academics.
- The second Parallel Practices residencies started in February 2016
- The pilot programme of Parallel Practices residencies took place from 22 September to 22 December 2014.
- The Threadbare - Angela Maddock 6/03/2017
- Sharing the ‘Mental Model’ - Angela Maddock 12/12/2016
- Patching up: The first fixes - Angela Maddock 03/11/216
- Making a Zig-Zag notebook - Angela Maddock 20/10/2016
- The First Day - Angela Maddock 7/10/2016
- The message to infinity - Shelley James 8 June 2016
- In the Gordon Museum of Pathology - Celia Pym 25 May 2016
- Back in the DR - Richard Wingate 10 May 2016
- Hacking the Enlightenment - John Grayson 25 April 2016
- Back in the Dissecting Room - Celia Pym 23 March 2016
- Kicking off - John Grayson 11 March 2016
- Space Invaders - Shelley James 3 March 2016
- Baptism with fire - Shelley James 26 February 2016
- First impressions - Shelley James 17 February 2016
- What a year - Tiff Radmore 21 January 2015
- Getting it right Part 2 – Karina Thompson 22 December 2014
- Getting it right - Karina Thompson 12 December 2014
- “We don’t lose anything even if we fail” - Les Bicknell and Naomi Mcintosh 10 December 2014
- You can’t be in the photo - Celia Pym 9 December 2014
- Laboratory Magic - Richard Wingate 24 November 2014
- A Week in the Laboratory - Tamsin van Essen 21 November 2014
- Artist in residence at Dissecting Room – Celia Pym 20 November 2014
- A Pregnant Pause - Karina Thompson 19 November 2014
- Complicated Dynamics - Thrishantha Nanayakkara , Naomi Mcintosh and Les Bicknell 18 November 2014
- Anatomy and Mending - Celia Pym and Richard Wingate 14 November 2014
- The cunning plan - Karina Thompson 12 November 2014
- New Beginnings – Katherine Bond, Director, Cultural Institute at King’s College London 11 November 2014
- A tale of two narratives - exchanges and encounters - Tiff Radmore, Crafts Council 5 November 2014
- Squeeze fold bend and expand - Thrishantha Nanayakkara , Naomi Mcintosh and Les Bicknell 28 October 2014
- The Anatomy of Transformations - Tamsin van Essen 22 October 2014
- Understanding the anatomy of value - Celia Pym and Richard Wingate 14 October 2014
- Getting a stitch - Karina Thompson 8 October 2014
- Match-making - Tiff Radmore, Crafts Council Talent Development Manager 14 April 2014
It’s the first day of March and one month of my residency remains. A lot has happened and this either becomes a very long blog or the first of a mini series, because it’s hard to work out what to write about first. My three main projects are well underway, and the repair one, Patching Up, has brought some real gems into my hands. These have included worn through socks, broken cups, moth eaten jumpers and treasured blankets. I have enjoyed passing on repair skills and techniques – such as Swiss darning - and the conversations that happen as we work away together.
One ‘Patch Up’ likely to become a regular companion in these last few weeks is Amy’s ‘threadbare’ Pooh Bear.
Whenever a project arrives for patching up I carry out a process that I realise has some parallels with taking a patient history, something with which every nursing student is familiar; listening to the narrative, assessing the problem, measuring, weighing and noting down particular concerns and hopes. Amy arrives with her sister and together they tell me the story of Pooh. As I turn him in my hands it is clear that he is a properly cherished and at real risk of being loved to death, this bear is going to need plenty of TLC. Stuffing that has lost all of its bounce, worn through patches across all areas of his body and split seams at every turn. There are clear traces of earlier repairs, fragments of clothing patched into the worn out surface, stitches made by much younger hands and threads of different colours. Later, when I look back at the photos on my camera, I realise I have taken more than twenty images when more usually three or four are plenty.
We talk about Amy’s hopes for this project; she wants Pooh to be more durable and to look less scary. She tells me that his face worries her most, his nose bitten off in an encounter with a dog. This will be a challenge, how to get the balance between a sensitive visible repair and retaining something of the old bear. I am especially concerned with what we might do about that nose and mouth, alongside those, all the other holes and split seams are child’s play! Amy is very anxious about working on the bear herself, telling me that she is useless at stitching, but is also unable to leave it with me for long periods so that I might do it for her. I need to enable her confidence.
I share the colour palette of threads with Amy. She chooses mostly muted shades punctuated by a post box red wool yarn, then she leaves him with me for ‘an hour or two’ and I can barely control my excitement. I notice, right from this moment, that I am a going to find this project difficult. Not because of the material challenge, which is very evident, but because I would like to do all of it, to make it my own and this is not what the project is about. And so, I have to find a way to manage this, to control myself, which is hard, because I can sense that I risk taking over. I would like nothing more than to do all of this and nothing else.
I lay ‘Pooh’ onto white tissue paper, bring the desk light closer and take up tweezers and small scissors to begin the task of undoing. I find myself touched by the evidence of Amy’s earlier repairs, stitches of varying lengths that look like they were made by a young child’s hand. I’m unsure what to do about all these stitches, should I remove them or should I cover them, should I be removing all the traces of previous repairs? This brings to mind the difference between restoration and conservation. I can’t hope to restore Pooh to his original state - that time is long gone - so I guess this work is about conserving him, of making him more durable, which was Amy’s wish. So some of the stitches stay, and some are cut, unpicked and removed from the cloth. These tiny threads I place inside a small plastic bag. I settle to work on the abdomen, teasing apart the stitches that run vertically along the main seam, taking out the most matted of the stuffing, again into a bag. It all feels a little forensic, but I sense this is going to be a very satisfying journey.
One of the biggest challenges of this residency is the scale and also timetabling. Getting contact with students in a meaningful way can be a difficult, especially in November when most of them are on placement, either in hospitals or in the community. When on placement, students work proper shifts alongside their mentors and other qualified practitioners. For the ‘first timers’ it can be pretty tiring, physically and emotionally. Still, I have recruited a few more to ‘Patching Up’ and have had meetings with staff teams from Midwifery, Adult Nursing and Child Health…next is Mental Health.
I’ve also observed a multi disciplinary high fidelity simulation scenario involving final year students from adult nursing, child health, medicine and physiotherapy. This was a series of deteriorating patient scenarios in the simulation centre at St. Thomas’s hospital. All the students take part in a scenario and those not immediately involved observe elsewhere on a live feed, before taking their turn. Oh, and the patient is a manikin, so no risk to life and limb but still plenty of anxiety for the students who understood the need to ‘get it right’ with only a few months before they are qualified practitioners.
In hi-fidelity simulation scenarios the manikin is managed by technician, who remotely manipulates it to exhibit symptoms of rapid deterioration in health; such as loss of consciousness, very raised temperature or falls in oxygen saturation. The success of the scenario depends on communication and teamwork, and most particularly the willingness and ability of those taking part to ‘suspend disbelief’, to accept that this might just be a real life situation. Students are introduced to the manikin before the scenario begins, they observe how its eyes move, mouth can be opened and how vital signs are indicated on an adjacent monitor. A few manipulate its limbs and prod at its skin. The technician also acts as the voice of the manikin, which adds a surreal dimension to the situation, a human voice issuing from the moulded body of a life size manikin. And, unlike some giant toy, this voice responds to questions, even laughs a little. I am surprised at how quickly the students accept this, how well they have suspended disbelief.
In all the scenarios the staff are particularly concerned with how the students work as a team, communicate with each other, follow established protocols and ask for help when they need it. We are encouraged to focus on these issues in the debrief that follows each scenario, a time when the students are also asked to share their reflections on their performance.
One thing I have been trying to do in my own research practice is to make tacit decisions around making more explicit, to share what I think of as my embodied knowledge, the things we do and decisions we take or make seemingly without thinking. This has involved me giving voice to decisions, literally talking out loud my process. Doing this with spinning – to which I am fairly new - enabled me to see that, for me at least, spinning is not that different to swimming! So it was very exciting to see a similar process in action in the simulation scenarios. One nursing student was actively ‘talking out loud’ her process to her colleagues and patient; introducing herself, explaining each step and justifying it, working in a way that synthesised thinking and action. Apart from giving everyone in the room confidence - always a good thing - it also struck me as very satisfying and that she was working in a well-crafted way; showing empathy and respect for her subject and simultaneously managing the situation through reflection and adaptation. Afterwards, she was praised for sharing her ‘mental model’, and I was left thinking how other acts of care, such as the material empathy we develop as makers, are not that dissimilar to roles of care involving ‘live’ subjects. I’m not sure whether she instinctively shared her ‘mental model’, or had been working on it, but observing her do this will stay with me as a transformative moment of this residency and will encourage me to keep sharing mine.
This week the first year adult nursing students are back and I am really looking forward to catching up on their news. Oh, and there will be pompom making, more on that next time.
I came here on the tube with a great crate on wheels, now my ‘stuff’ is decanted onto a small table in an office. This is an unusual place for me to work; it feels very efficient and tidy. I open the window and am aware of the Waterloo street noise drifting upwards; I already have company.
I have invited students to bring along something that belongs to them that they would like to repair. The idea is that working together I will start them off and they will continue the repair in their own time. Our emphasis is on visible repairs, which is where the ‘patching up’ comes in. I am hoping that together we can reflect on what it means to repair, but also to realise that we cannot always return something to its original state, that there are times when the site of damage is made more visible in repair and perhaps function is also altered. A ‘patched up’ jumper is always a jumper, but a ‘patched up’ porcelain cup might no longer serve as a functioning tea cup, instead, an interesting repair might shift it into a very different category…something to be admired, but no longer safe to drink from.
Ellie, a student midwife, brings a jumper that belonged to her boyfriend and describes it as ‘warm and comfortable and cosy’. It is a Fair Isle pattern, mostly of Shetland yarn, the work of someone unknown, and has lovely muted tones. She explains that it’s not something she wears outside, but she would like to, if it were not ‘full of holes.’
I weigh and measure the jumper, as I am interested in how much value we add, in terms of weight, to our repairs.
Then our search begins. The best way to find holes, in my experience, is to lay garments flat. To take them in as a whole and then narrow my field of vision, get in close. I begin by scanning my eyes from top to bottom. This gives an overall impression but does not reveal small areas of damage, the only way to really know this is to get ‘hands on’. For this, I trace my hand inside, which gently raises front from back and glimpses of my flesh reveal sites of damage. I start counting. Then hands are slid into sleeves and the process repeated.
It doesn’t take long to discover that there are many holes, particularly to the front; I suspect moths have enjoyed a real feast. There are at least 13 separate holes here, several more to the back and arms; and one ‘sign of wear’ damage at the cuff. I explain that this repair is going to be quite a project, a proper labour of love. We spend some time deciding on yarns and I realise it might be good to have a broader palette from which to choose, but then I guess this is about visible mending, about seeing the signs of repair.
I ask Ellie to decide on the first hole and she chooses one on the right sleeve that is quite uniformly round. I explain how we need to strengthen the margins of the hole and I trace needle and woollen thread through the loops of knitting, stabilising the boundary. Working vertically, I make the first stitches that will fill the void and, with a few in place, I shift to the horizontal and weave in and out of the vertical threads, always this makes me think how interesting it is to bring the methods of weave into the body of knit. Ellie watches, we are both very quiet. I pass the sleeve, needle and thread to her and she sets off on her journey.
Bethan arrives later with a cardigan given to her by a close friend. She describes how wearing it involves a sense of dressing up, of adopting a role, just as she might do when she puts on her student uniform. She hands me a leopard print cardigan with small shell buttons and our site of repair is immediately clear. The seam of the left sleeve has opened from just below the armpit down to the wrist, a huge gaping hole. We discuss how we might fix this. Should we add a panel, build on the flamboyance? Bethan decides on keeping the original shape, she’s concerned about having draping sleeves, but she would like to add some surface embroidery. We look through the embroidery threads and she chooses a selection she describes as looking as looking like a healthy umbilical cord. She stitches away and then expresses concern that there is a visible difference between my stitches and hers, that she has made a bumpy line. We talk about this, how it might be possible to observe how her technique improves over time, with gaining confidence. I like the bumpy line.
Wants to know what she has done wrong when the thread twists. I show her how to turn the needle the opposite way to undo the over twist.
We both talk about how the split seam has some correlation with her occupation as a student midwife. How she must join the two sides, even though she feels anxious about stitching them together. I start off and then pass her the needle. I realise she’s left handed and immediately think about how different it is to teach someone who is left handed, how this feels more difficult to me. She asks how I manage to handle the cardigan so lightly, how can I be relaxed with it? I suggest that she rests her forearms on the table, that she finds what is comfortable for her. She continues stitching the two edges together and then says ‘finished’, but finished means finishing the thread and not stitching the two sides together; finished thread, not a finished repair.
She works quietly and patiently and describes how what she is doing helps her reflect on what she is doing in her own practice; she feels anxious doing this.
As with Ellie, I give Bethan a packet with her threads and a needle. I see her off with promises of catching up in a couple of weeks to check in on her progress… just like a midwife might do with a mother, we both laugh.
I guess it’s fine to feel a bit anxious right at the very beginning of something and I spend a few sleepless nights wondering how this project will work out. Apart from spreading the word that I am here, it seems important to get making with students really quickly, to connect with them. I’ve met more than 150 of the first year adult pre registration nurses (this is the term by which they are known because nurse training is an apprenticeship culminating in registration) but that’s less than half of the cohort, and only one year. I’ve watched them learning to take blood pressures, assess urine and stool samples and carry out skin analysis, especially important for patients who will spend a lot of time in bed or are recovering from long surgery and are at risk of developing bedsores. Now it seems time for me to do something.
The first years are all off on placement in a couple of weeks, their very first one, and I like the idea of giving them the opportunity to do something with me beforehand. I decide on a simple bookbinding workshop, hands on making with something to take away at the end.
A room is booked and an email sent. I do all the preparation ahead of the day: cutting the card, stiff book covers and so on, this turns out to have been a good move. The room is smaller than I had imagined and set up very differently to the familiar art college layout. Only one table and all the chairs with pop up integral tables that are very small, it’s also a carpeted floor – I imagine myself scrapping EVA off this at the end of the session. I’d thought there might be twelve or so students in attendance, so was pleasantly surprised to find well over thirty coming through the door. I’m glad that Beatrice (who is my Crafts Council link) offered to help out; she kneels in the corner cutting book cloth for the covers.
I demonstrate how to make a concertina or zig zag book, circulate a few I’d made earlier, give everyone a handout and then we’re off! Well, we do it all in stages – folding the paper, gluing book cover cloth to card and so on. It all feels a little chaotic, but there’s lots of chatting and laughter. Everyone manages really well with the space restrictions; they are good at improvising. Most of the students came alone and they are mostly from adult nursing and mental health. There’s lots of commentary and they all seem to get along, they are particularly excited when they come to choose their book cloth from the vibrant selection.
One of the things I am interested in is how they follow instructions for unfamiliar processes. Some are meticulous, following my handout and checking in with me every step of the way. Others seem to make it up as they go along and quickly become unstuck - concertinas that don’t zig zag, glue on the wrong side of the fold, glue on the right side of the cloth cover – most things are easily fixed. A couple are quick to work out that they can make their book bigger by adding in another length of concertina and this causes a run on card, which is pleasing. They laugh when I suggest that the best way to fix the folds and flatten their book is to sit on it.
The session flies and we are soon choosing hemp threads to tie the books together, this often involves requests for advice of the ‘what goes best with this?’ sort. I take a few photos; get them to fill in a feedback card and one by one they leave. I look at some of the comments, many write about feeling relaxed, how they feel good to have accomplished something new or different. One student tells me he will gift his book to his little brother, another that he will use it as his notebook on placement. After the tidying up, and there’s lots of it, we look down at the carpet – no evidence of us being here, mission accomplished.
Monday was my first day as maker in residence in the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College, London. For the time being I am in the Chantler SaIL (Simulated and Interactive Learning) Centre at the Guy’s site. This is where student nurses and midwives learn, practice and rehearse clinical skills that will take them into the community and onto the hospital wards. I am sitting in on a few sessions to get a ‘feel’ for how students are taught and learn before I move forward into ‘hands on’ work. Today’s session, which is led by Carol Fordham Clarke, is with first year students in their second week of training and they are going to learn how to take blood pressures. A few have done this before, some have worked as health care assistants, but most are complete beginners and a couple do seem to be ‘all fingers and thumbs’. Yet in just three hours Carol has taught sixty students an essential skill that will take them through the rest of their nursing careers.
Carol explains that it is usual for blood pressures to be taken electronically nowadays, particularly on hospital wards. She explains that students must learn the ‘hands on’ skill using a manual sphygmomanometer, this means they can take accurate readings without relying on electronic machines, which aren’t always available, and she tells us: “Don’t deskill yourselves before you even begin.”
Early on it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be easy and Carol reassures everyone that taking a blood pressure is one of the hardest skills to acquire. It is a skill with two elements; manipulation and hearing and both happen simultaneously. Students practice on each other, and occasionally me when we are an odd number. I’ve had my blood pressure taken many times, but I’ve never taken one and I am particularly satisfied when I finally manage to hear the two Korotkoff sounds we are told to listen for. These sounds correspond to the two readings associated with a blood pressure measurement, the systolic and diastolic pressures with which we are familiar. To measure these pressures blood flow to the artery is occluded, or cut off, by the expansion and tightening of a cuff wrapped around the upper arm. This cuff is inflated manually by squeezing a rubber bulb, which is held in the palm. When the cuff’s pressure is slowly released, blood begins to flow and this is where the listening comes in because as blood begins to move down into the artery it produces turbulence and becomes noisy. We are told to listen out for the first sound and the last sound. These correspond to the systolic and diastolic pressures – the pressure at which blood begins to flow and the pressure at which blood flows freely, after this there is no turbulence, so we are really trying to listen for the last sound before the absence of sound, this is the hardest bit – for me, at least. I look around the room to see how everyone is getting on, there are lots of concentrated faces; eyes are carefully pinned on the dials and ears tuned in. I notice a couple of students smile broadly when they ‘get it’ and one jumps back in her chair, it does feel a little bit like magic.
When we chat later, Carol explains that doing blood pressures the ‘old fashioned way’ enables the sort of skin-to-skin contact unavailable with digital testing. This means that students learn how a patient’s skin feels, perhaps clammy or cool, and this can give them other clues as to their patient’s well being. I think too that this contact might be reassuring for an anxious patient.
My work here requires me to find and explore parallels between nursing and my own field of practice, textiles and to help develop haptic skills. It doesn’t take long for me to realise the similarity between nursing fundamentals and textile ones. How both fields have foundations from which everything begins. I think of warping up, casting on, even threading a needle. All first steps that we can sometimes take for granted but out of which everything else comes into being. How in both fields we need a proper grasp of these things before we can become well practiced – I notice the link here between the hand and the grasp. Perhaps, in this respect, textile makers and nursing students both need to become properly ‘handy’.
There’s a long way to go and I must confess to being anxious about how this will all work out, I guess I am just like the new students in that sense and that we are all just starting out. Our next session together is all about elimination and skin assessment, now that will be interesting!
The message to infinity - Shelley James
Senior technician Jim Trotter came to the Wheatstone lab at King's last week to try out the new kaleidoscope structure designed for the Utopia treasury. The end cap, designed and built on the lab's own printer by undergraduate student Aman Sandhur, includes a slot for a glass microscope slide. Each person who makes a kaleidoscope is invited to write a couple of words or an equation that represents Utopia for them on the slide. The angled mirrors multiply the message to infinity.
Anatomy students are busy studying and preparing for exams. So I have moved my darning desk down to the Gordon Museum of Pathology. It’s as remarkable as the DR but the feeling of the space and relationship with the specimens/donors is completely different. Feels like I should be studying the process of Darning and Mending in here – looking at old darning examples, revisiting cloth already repaired.
The Gordon is the “largest medical museum in the UK…its primary function has always been to help train medical, dental and biomedical students diagnose disease. Like the Dissecting Room it looks after human tissue. It has a range of specimens and artefacts related to disease and surgery. The museum building is beautiful. Inside are 3 stories of balconies, each balcony is glass floored and they down on and 4 atrium spaces where students can sit and study. The balconies are lined with shelves, which are covered in specimen jars organized around parts of the body: alimentary canal, liver, heart, lungs etc. My darning desk is in the Aesculapius Room. Among other things the Aesculapius Room has a cabinet of medical tools, Britain’s first stethoscope and behind me, where I sit at my desk, a mummified man. Alan donated his body for a very a special experiment in 2012. Three scientists and an Egyptologist wanted to do an experiment to see if they could understand and reproduce the process of Ancient Egyptian Mummification. A film interviewing Alan and his wife, before he died and showing the scientists and historian working on mummifying Alan plays on a monitor behind me throughout the day.
There are usually 5-7 students who are also working in the Aesculapius Room. They have been studying really hard. One woman is always there before me in the morning, laptop and books open. She has a heart exam coming up on Thursday. I am the second person to arrive.
I have had a few enquiries about the objects on my desk and what I am doing. But mainly the students are engrossed in their studies – I feel like I am like them in here. Studying my darning. This project has a way of echoing the feel of the space it occupies.
It is hard to return to this project anatomy and mending. I am struggling to find my rhythm. Initially I though the Gordon was a mistake, I should stay close to the DR but this week I realized that the problem I was having was remembering the donors and so I started to look more closely at the specimens – to read about the case studies and story behind them. And as I did I started to imagine the person with the disease. The stories connected for me with the feeling of weight. The weight of the gift, of the body, of the material of the body to not only teach but to make links with the past, with other students who have learnt from the specimens, from the strange feeling of overlap with someone else’s life. Who you never knew and don’t know but there are you are looking at a real part of them.
Richard and I have been talking about measurements and mapping, journey scrolls and the body as a record of a story. So here in the Gordon Museum I am working on my own body, trying to make visible patterns of wear, cutting into a very ordinary tracksuit, all the holes I have already mended in the DR. It is like a traditional residency where the artist works on display for visitors to observe.
Next step is to contact students and staff who’ve had things mended and see where their mended holes are now and what happened to the garment. To follow their stories a little further.
And then there is Darning Club. Happening Mondays and Wednesdays, 4pm in the Aesculapius Room. Open to all KCL staff and students. Mandeep Sagoo, anatomy lecturer, has been coming we do some darning and we share experiences of mending and anatomy.
This time round the exploration of mending and anatomy is broader and we are looking for how to connect with students once they are outside of the DR. Do students still think of their donors, and how and in what way? Do they think about the holes mended in their clothes or was it just a moment where we overlapped.
We were both aware that things might not be quite the same second time round -but also that Celia’s first residency had felt incomplete in some way. This time around, Celia has returned to her post and quickly become part of the life of the Dissecting Room. The picture of last year’s donors (donors of mends) and their darns looks like a university graduation photo and anticipates a succession of future pictures on the wall. At my old university, the pictures of Physiology graduates stretched back to the late 1800s, becoming increasingly anarchic with age. Modern times brought uniformity in dress and straighter lines. What will our projected timeline look like? It is intriguing to think that the mending desk has created something more long lasting in this space.
At this point in the residency there is a lot to talk about in the project. Much of our conversation roams over a broad territory, settling back on the nature of residency and its impact on students and staff, briefly, before taking flight again. We spend some time talking about disrupted classrooms and how the presence of a variety of activities, different spheres of concentration, might affect the environment. Do student conversations change in a workshop atmosphere? Is seeing focused activity within a different domain enough to make you stop and think again about why you are here in this space?
Over past weeks travelling from Wolverhampton to London, I have felt like a contemporary member of the ‘Lunar Society’, bringing my craftsmanship knowledge from the ‘Workshop of the World’ to regular get-togethers with the scientific community at Kings College London. My Parallel Practices project ‘Hacking The Enlightenment’, has as its point of reference the shared history for science and craft in 18th Century Automata.
The Parallel Practices collaboration is essentially a knowledge exchange programme, where I am trading with students and staff my craftsmanship knowledge in return for being enlightened in to a new world of electronics and computer coding. Through the project I am seeking to contemporise the automata genre, whilst at the same time develop the making skills of science and mathematics students at KCL.
For the residency my workshop of the world is the Wheatstone Innovation Lab, named after Charles Wheatstone, a 19th century scientist, industrialist and general innovator in electronics and telecommunications who’s lab it used to be. The space has been created by the faculty of Natural and Mathematical Sciences as an environment in which students can collide scientific thinking with craft making, a place to prototype the technology of the future. As craftsmaker in residence I have been engaging students with the act of making through developing personal and group projects.
To this end I am in the processes of developing two strands. One, developed through an invitation to join KCL Robot Society, Robot Atelier group, and make a Line Follower robot. This is a machine that uses infrared sensors connected to a miniature microprocessor, motor and wheels, which recognises and follows a black line painted on the floor. The atelier has provided illumination into the potential for this combination of sensors, code-able microprocessor and motors to be used as a means for audiences to interact with an automaton without physical interaction through a handle. Areas that I intend to explore in the coming months include motion sensors and touch sensitive enamel! My ‘trade’ has been working with the students collaboratively, making an automaton that combines analogue and digital technologies. The concept is to make an object that can be located in one of the glass display cases that line the central corridor at The Stand campus, and can be switched on by passers-by. Over the last few weeks a flat-packed fine metal workshop has been carried in my suitcase from the Midlands, the contents transforming the lab into an automata manufactory. Over four days students learnt micro engineering skills, mastering the use of piercing saws, files, taps and dies to cut threads, resulting in each student making an individual modularised brass automaton mechanism measuring some 50mm cubed. The aim was to connect together each module onto a single drive shaft thereby creating a complex mechanism. In subsequent weeks students will work together bringing their scientific knowledge to bear devising ingenious ways that the movement can be set in motion using digital technology. Finally, students will experience working in vitreous enamel creating decorative detail for the automaton – more of this to follow.
It’s good to be back in the Dissecting Room as the “Darner in Residence.”
I have been in Mondays and Wednesdays since the beginning of March. Getting settled, meeting new students and demonstrators, catching up with the team I know. This time I have a large group photo of students and staff, who got things mended last time. It’s framed and hung above my desk. Already it is attracting a lot of attention. As with my last residency with Richard and the KCL anatomy department, the early questions from students are - is this a thing? Darning and anatomy? I have also had several students approach me to tell me about their experiences with sewing – who they know who sews, their dressmaking skills, their lack of artistic instinct. And can I draw? Because I am an artist – one student asked specifically to see my drawings. I showed him my sketchbook – not sure what he felt about them.
My darning desk is set up in the same place and I am continuing to offer to repair holes for students and staff. Richard and I felt the best thing was to “get in there”, re-establish myself and get to know new students. This time I have started as the students are coming to the end of their year. They will revising for exams after Easter and the DR will get quiet and Kirsty, Doug, Stella and Holly will prepare the bodies for the service of thanksgiving and return to the families.
The big difference I notice is that students are more confident in the room in March. There is less faint feelings or tears. They are familiar with their work and working in the Dissecting Room.
The two new things for this residency are Darning Club. This will be a very flexible and informal club. Meeting at 4pm Mondays and Wednesdays in the Gordon. I will have materials and equipment to teach darning and patching and general textile repair. But it’s also an opportunity to meet with students outside of the DR and discuss how they feel working in there. This month I have been advertising the club and have some interest – 3 students signed up and several who are keen, but didn’t want to leave their names (was I being brushed off?)
Work done so far I have darned: a pair of shirt cuffs, armpit in a coat, strap on a backpack, sweater, fur lining of a hat, ladies blouse (ripped at the seam), two pairs of trousers (one with a hole in the pocket, the other thinning crotch), a sock and silk blouse covered in many small holes (moth?).
I have been drawing thinning knitting and worn out stitches and one sketch of where holes happen on the body. For this drawing I used information from all my mend slips. And marked out where the holes I have darned before occurred (there are approximately 150 mend slips.) Wondering about making a big darned body.
Today I looked closely at a small intestine and the greater omentum. The greater omentum is often referred to as a skirt, which, always makes me smile. I listened into Dr Mike’s head and neck teaching and saw a pulley that moves the eyeball.
It’s great to be back.
I have secured one of the Crafts Council’s Parallel Practices Residencies at King’s College London, based in the Maker Space or as it is better known in the Faculty of Natural and Mathematical Science, the Wheatstone Innovation Lab. This new space, developed for students to synthesise technological thought with making, is the brainchild of Dr Riccardo Sapienza and Dr Matthew Howard, both believe in the value of creative skills within science (see sapienzalab.org) and have created the area so students can engage in messy making, risk taking and inventiveness, outside of their taught curriculum.
I am sharing the space with glass-maker Shelley James and the two of us are supporting this culture of making by providing workshops in our respective disciplines. In parallel we are using the residency to engage in a period of research and development in order to progress our own practice. My project ‘Hacking the Enlightenment’ explores the shared history of eighteenth century automata between science and craft, and will, by colliding analogue and digital worlds; making, mechanics and user interaction; bring innovation to my enamel automata.
Week 1 of the residency (2nd and 3rd March) focused on the development and delivery of two workshops in low-tech automata making. Students from undergraduate to doctoral level took time away from the academic challenges of their studies to engage in a very different kind of experience. By experimenting with cutting and sticking, exploring converting horizontal motion into vertical using kebab skewers as axels combined with cardboard cams and followers, the students made twelve simple automatons, and not being able to fully extricate themselves from the scientific field, set about making sense of it all by articulating the mechanical process at work using scientific terminology.
The week ended with an invitation to join ‘The Robot Atelier’, KCL’s Robotic Society’s build a line follower robot event taking place the following week. The society, run by students for students for the advancement of all things robotic, are running a project where members make a robot that will follow a black line on the lab floor using a light sensor! I was sent away with ‘homework’ to purchase an Arduino Uno Programmable Logic Controller and get my head around coding!
Week 2 (9th March) was amazing, Arduino in hand, coding software downloaded on to my Mac I turned up to the event feeling very nervous, but I shouldn’t have been as the students were amazing, so free with their time and tolerant of my very limited (well actually non existent) understanding of electronics and computer coding. By the end of the day I had constructed two sets of light sensors using an Infrared LED and a Photo Diode, apparently my robot will use these to follow the line! And, not only did they work when tested but my soldering was excellent! As I left The Strand Campus sparks of an idea for new work started to emerge, but it is too early to divulge at the minute… watch this space.
This week seems to have frittered away in preparation and conversations about health and safety and where to hold the events. Looking for alternatives to the crowded Wheatstone lab, Sam walked with me through blustering rain across the river to see the Chemistry Labs in the Franklin building. It is potentially a great way to introduce new audience to the WLab project. But every inch of the long benches were packed and the bright smiling Eva explained that the space is fully-booked until after Easter - no good for now.
So I returned to the original plan of holding the events in the Wheatstone lab but restricting numbers to one or two. John, Riccardo, Sam and I blitzed the space, gathering up endless tiny screws, pliers and connectors, intriguing pieces of pipe and expensive-looking boxes. John and I worried about whether anyone will show up at all: he had just three takers for his sessions and I have had only two responses to my Eventbrite invitations. I feel nervous and foolish. After such an enthusiastic pizza-fuelled initial response and having made such a fuss about finding a bigger space, are any of the students actually interested enough to come for even a half an hour?
Matt and I talked about the idea of running some drop-in sessions in the common room on the 5th floor and in the Robotics Research area – perhaps I could take some ready-cut mirror panels and invite people to build Kaleidoscopes and take selfies during their coffee breaks.
I lost several hours wandering the labyrinthine basement in search of Bill Luckhurst’s office and a bandsaw to cut up some plastic pipe for the kaleidoscopes. I finally asked Sam who scurried down what I had dismissed as a cul de sac, down several flights of stairs and through an unmarked door that my card can’t open. It was worth persisting as Bill did kindly agree to take care of them for me.
On the plus side, some of the more complex multi-session ideas are coming on: Soraya patiently showed me how to mix dye with my HXtal base epoxy, Michele sent me some high-resolution hyperuniform patterns to play with and one of Brendan’s colleagues has agreed to help me with the fibre-optics when he has submitted his paper next week.
It’s so disconcerting starting a new project in a new place – trying to work out the who, the how, the where and the what – things will surely get better!
Riccardo and his team charged through the corridors like the cavalry on Monday morning, bearing my pile of boxes to the Weatstone lab, a space piled high with intriguing bits of experiments, coloured wires, a huge metal hoop, plastic vats of cloudy material, tools, clamps, lenses - and a sewing machine.
Sam kindly helped me to find space in the new metal cabinets – apparently installed upside down – and invited me to rummage for useful bits in the intriguing cupboards leading from his lab. As promised, Brendan gave me an introduction to the flexing optics project, offering to put me in touch with a fellow student with more detailed knowledge of this remarkable device that gauges the light lost as the cable curves. Over a cup of tea, Bill gave me a crash course on fibre-optics, wiring up a small piece to show me how it works – transistors, transducers, volts, amps, watts… so much to learn.
The invitation to a ‘taster’ session seemed to be generating lots of interest – potentially up to 50 people could show up, so my original idea of a cosy chat around a desk was clearly not going to work. Julian Greenburg kindly dropped everything on Wednesday morning to prepare and sign off the health and safety review, even getting the smoke alarms turned off for the event. Following a wonderfully encouraging meeting with Matt, Tiff and Kate, I met John Grayson, the wonderfully engaging and talented ‘satirical metalsmith’ who will be working in the same space. Over lunch we agreed that he would present his plans to the students as well. A flurry of shifting and polishing – then the lecture room became crowded with bright, interested young people. They stayed through our very different presentations, asking lots of great questions and clearly keen to be involved. When we had finished, Dorian appeared, as if from nowhere with great piles of pizza boxes and giant bottles of Coke – clearly we are off to a good start!
Fascinating first day soaking up the atmosphere and hearing a little about the work and structure of these teams. Over lunch, I met Dorian, a member of the Robotics Society which seems like a thriving network. A coffee with Kate and Amy was wonderfully encouraging – so much scope to create something new and fun – a competition perhaps?
Over the course of the day, it became clear that, while some students are keen to get involved in a range of activities – including Saturday workshops, others will only make time for something that is directly related to their research. So, from a brain buzzing with ideas and options, I suggested that we host a series of, perhaps three lunch-hour basic techniques sessions for the enthusiasts, and six half-day more intensive workshops for more ‘in depth’ exploration of three themes relevant to specific projects: fibre-optics and flexing, hyperuniform structures and colour, and lasing surfaces.
Matt and Riccardo thought this was a great solution and we agreed to run a ‘taster’ session for the Robotics and Maxwell Societies next Wednesday 24th and plan the lunchtime sessions from there.
On the in-depth theme research, I am meeting the PhD student who has carried out some background work on the fibre-optics on Monday. Magic!
It’s January 2015 and I find myself missing weekly visits to King’s College to see the Parallel Practices collaborators working together on site, in labs along long corridors and in amazing spaces such as the Dissecting Room and the Life Sciences Museum.
The 22 December saw the end of the four Parallel Practices residencies with a round-up of these incredible collaborations.
Towards the end of December, Tamsin and Richard held three open days to mark 300 years of Anatomy teaching at King’s College, netting near to 150 visitors to view their ‘transformations’ and undertake hands-on workshops and a treasure hunt.
A final Work in Progress meeting highlighted that from original proposals, all collaborations managed to see work, possibilities and ideas ‘seeded’ within the three-month timeline. For makers involved, their practice had been tested and shifted radically; many have a whole new ‘toolbox’ and had even removed what they saw to be their ‘rules’ of practice, setting out to ‘not know’ and to really push themselves beyond what is known and their comfort zones. Conversations and in Celia’s case, ‘transactions’ of mending clothing and other items, helped makers move their work and practice along as they embedded themselves in a space allowing for richer interactions with medical students and staff. Could this impact show up in time?
From the academic’s and scientist’s perspective, they managed to carve out time which had extra value for them when collaborating with makers. With this came the luxury of possibilities and also the chance to involve other members of staff and PhD students in the process, especially with Karina and Matthew and Les, Naomi and Thrish’s collaborations. Again, this built trust and enabled the free sharing of ideas and conversations. Interestingly, Richard Wingate observed that ‘craftspeople have no hierarchies and cross boundaries’.
Two strands are emerging; learning and research and making and research. Both ourselves and our partners at King’s are aiming to amplify and enhance the learning, impact and draw out the value of these four residencies and also show the actual work produced. Our ambition is also to roll-out this project both regionally and also into general medical hospital settings.
I also want to thank all collaborators for being generous, articulate and absolutely open to new idea