Digital Media Labs Residency

Constellations: Offline Communication Experiments

Constellations: Offline Communication Experiments. Collaboration with Neil Winterburn
@Digital Media Labs - Octopus Collective - Barrow. Photos by Benedict Phillips 2014

Hand and Arrow with RFID tags.

Arrows offset on boxes.

Participant reads RFID tags in background with invisibility cloak-wearing volunteer hiding in the brush.

RFID reader.

Tag tests.


"Constellations: Off-line Communication Experiments" considers real and imagined ways of passing visual and textual message in closed off-grid systems. It was the result of a collaboration between artists Victoria Bradbury and Neil Winterburn at Digital Media Labs 2014 at Octopus Collective in Barrow.

Neil came to the lab with an idea for a system that allows people to use RFID tags to locate text descriptions of thoughts in public spaces. In this system people either broadcast or read thoughts. His intention was to focus on exactly how thoughts can be described using text stored on RFID tags. I had intended to work with motors and with machines that have a parallel relationship between code, visitor input and machinic consequence. Something similar to the “cook pot cook”, or magic porridge pot parable. Instead, we decided to co-work to explore new strategies unlike those we use in our home studios

At the beginning of the week-long lab, the 10 artists were paired and asked to propose a project idea based on objects purchased at local charity shops. Neil and I bought a large paper fan, a “grabber”, some shiny fabric and 2 Barbie walkie-talkies. This led to us enacting a future scenario in which we wore the fabric as invisibility cloaks and used the large fan and grabber to waft and snag peoples’ identities and place them in a plastic bag. In the backstory, we had returned to 2014 to capture peoples’ senses of self at a moment before they had been fully corporatised, commercialised and proprietised.

The “Anthropologists from the Future Performance” centralised the invisibility cloak and the use of the Barbie Walkie Talkies as channels of communication in which the content cannot be captured and sold. It led to making a series of prototypes that explored a theme of ‘offline communication systems’. Our aim was to develop playful offline communication systems that emphasise anonymity, turn taking mechanics, direction, mis-direction and the promise of data not being harvested.

The week’s work resulted in a performance in the park (video documentation above) in which participants placed RFID tags on foliage, used the RFID reader to read each others’ messages and left responses prompting each other for more information. Simultaneously, a participant was “hiding” in the shrubbery wearing an invisibility cloak and manipulating the movement of 5 arrow boxes. The directional arrows, or pointers, were meant to throw off the people seeking for the text-based communications left by others.

Digital Media Labs Diary