The artist as boundary crosser in the collaboration process to create a mixed media art piece

This article I wrote with my intern Meike Kurella for the Design Research Society conference 2018. The article was rejected but we would still like to share our findings here.

Summary

In this article we explore the role of an artist in a multidisciplinary team with regard to the effectiveness of the communication and the productivity of the team. In this case study a diverse team worked towards a complex, multifaceted, interactive art piece. Our main questions were: What makes this challenging collaboration successful? How does the team deal with the boundaries they encounter? We have looked at those questions from the following angles: The teams’ use of boundary objects, the multidisciplinarity of the artist, her artistic vision and the final result the team is working towards. We have researched these questions using observation, reflection and through a questionnaire answered by every team member. We have come to the conclusion that all four angles have contributed to the success but there may be other factors at play which call for further exploration.

Keywords: Experiential Knowledge; Boundary Crossing; Boundary Object; Multidisciplinary Collaboration

Introduction

This article describes part of the creation process of a mixed media artwork. This work is being created during a six month project as part of the WEAR Sustain open call. The aim of the WEAR consortium is in line with the broader goal of the European Commission “…to enhance creativity and the innovative capacity in industry and society…” (“Open Call Themes”, 2017) it wants “…to boost synergies between artists and ICT experts (technologists) to enable Europe to benefit from the catalytic nature of the arts and culture across European society and industry. …In order to promote further collaboration between the arts and technology through innovation activities, WEAR focuses its engagement in collaboration, co-design and co-development of a new generation of ethical, critical, and aesthetic wearable technologies and smart textiles to influence change in industries practices and for a more circular economy.” (“Open Call Themes”, 2017)

Artist DR works at the intersection of art, technology, science, spirituality and design. With her work she wants to promote self and environmental awareness and well-being using emerging technologies and data. At the time of the call announcement she had already been working on a wearable for a year. The wearable tracks physiological and environmental data during meditation. Its aim was to learn if and how meditation practice can be optimised by changing aspects of the environment.

This wearable fitted the theme and criteria of the call. She applied for the call and was one of the 23 winners. Below follows a brief description of the project.

The project is called Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. It is a tool-set that allows users to do their own experiments to improve their meditation quality. The kit consists of:

  • a wearable with 10 different sensors called Silence Suit
  • a software program for storing, analysing and managing data and wearables called the Data Server
  • an Internet of Things interface to automatically influence environmental light using a device called Light Instrument
  • an API to create your own applications with the data

To realise this the system makes use of emerging technologies like Internet of Things. This allows devices to talk to each other wirelessly such as, in this case, the wearable and the light device. An artificial intelligence module will learn from the data to create the most optimal light circumstances for meditation for individual users.

During this 6 month project we focussed on building a basic, flexible system that can actually influence meditation through light.

The structure of the call is such that you apply with a team, they are the project owners and get to spend the most time and money on the project. With additional vouchers a team can buy external expertise not present with the team members. So there is a technical difference between team members and external experts. For our research in this article we will however regard both types of collaborators as part of the team.

Both authors of the article are part of the team. They work on the project as well as reflect on the collaboration. Below we will describe the team and its members in more detail.

What might set this project apart from other design assignments is that the artist is also the commissioner. She had complete freedom in determining the deliverables and setting their standards. She could decide on the success of the project and its outcomes.

At the time of writing the project is still ongoing and is in its third month. But the first stage of the project is where the collaboration is most intensive and the meetings are most frequent. During the first stage the design and production of the wearable takes place. The data server structure and interface is designed. Both these activities require a lot of communication and collaboration. We therefore think that reflecting on the collaboration at this stage will still yield valuable insights. More so because were are not only looking at the results to inform the success of the project and collaboration but we are especially looking at the role of the artist within the team.

Starting points

The product

Part of the requirements of the WEAR Sustain call was that there was already a prototype at technical readiness level 3 (TRL3). At the start of the project there was a wearable that could be worn and data from the sensors could be plotted and stored. So a lot of the design, the concept and technical groundwork was already done. The collaboration during the first three months focussed on:

  • Improving the existing wearable with regards to technical robustness, look and feel, usability and interaction design
  • Designing the overall system and the Data Server which included: system architecture, database design and user interaction

The team

The team consists of a mix of experienced experts, students and interns. Their backgrounds vary from computer science and electronic engineering to design and fine arts. This is a typical setting of boundaries at work in the technology and design domain as explained by Akkerman (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). Below is a summary of the team members’ roles and expertise. This provides a picture of the diversity of the team.

The main team (as defined in the WEAR Sustain call) are:

DR is an artist. She is the project manager and during this part of the project works on various design tasks ranging from interaction design, experiment design and soft electronics. She holds a BFA in sculpting and monumental design. She has completed several university courses in psychology, psychological experiment design and statistics. She finished several courses in the field of software engineering and intensively studied information architecture. She learned the basics of electronic engineering. She took online courses on Buddhism and psychology and philosophy. And she has studied and practiced user-centred design. DR combined autonomous art production with work as a self-employed web designer (until 2013) and various teaching jobs and project management in the cultural sector (up to the present). We will explain the significance of this knowledge and experience in the collaboration process below.

VP is a textile designer with a strong interest in technologies like 3D printing, laser cutting and sustainability through fashion on demand. She is responsible for the suit design, pattern making and production.

SB is an embedded software engineer with experience in hardware for wearables and software development. He’s an employee of the innovation acceleration foundation Protospace. He is responsible for the system design and programming of the Data Server.

The external experts (as defined in the WEAR Sustain call) are:

SG is a master student embedded systems. At this stage he is responsible for the electronics and firmware.

KH is a master student embedded systems at Twente University. He is responsible for the design and production of the PCBs.

JD is a bachelor student mechanical engineering at Twente University. He is responsible for the design and 3D printing of the containers for the electronics.

AH is a student Multimedia Design and Communication and is an intern at Protospace. She works on the user interaction and interface design of the Data Server.

GB is a data scientist. He is responsible for the learning algorithms and artificial intelligence module.

HA is a software architect. His responsibility is to ensure the robustness, flexibility and scalability of the whole system.

MK is a fine arts student. As an intern at DR she works on describing the ongoing development of Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit in a weekly blogpost and various hands on tasks like sewing.

The team has used several ways to communicate. Because members were scattered over 5 locations telephone and teleconferencing have been used in addition to face to face meetings.

Research methods

To research DRs multidisciplinairity and the impact on the collaboration with experts from different disciplines, we reflected on the interaction between team members in specific meetings. Especially, we focused on the role of the DR in relation to others. In this research DR reflected mainly on herself and how she experienced the collaboration and the communication. MK took on the role of an observer to reflect on how the collaboration and the communication seemed to a third party.

To verify the assumptions we made, we asked all team members to fill in a survey about how they see the collaboration and communication. In this survey we combined 5 point Likert scale responses with open questions where the team members could describe their individual point of view. So we could get as much detailed information as possible as well as the possibility to compare them to each other.

The questions we asked the team members were about their own role and their motivation to work on the project. DRs role and her qualities, as well as the interaction between DRs role and the team members and the quality of the communication within the collaboration (Attachment 1).

Working with boundaries

In this part we want to further explore the role boundaries play in this project. We have described the multidisciplinary team, the artist leading the team and the mixed media deliverables the project will yield. We want to take this a step further and show how boundaries, boundary crossing and boundary objects are at the core of the process and the end result.

When looking at the progress in the first months (milestones are being met) and the overall smoothness of the communication and collaboration (rated 3.81/5 by the team) we believe the collaboration up to the point of writing has been successful. This is despite the diversity of the team and the complex results they aimed for. We hypothesise this is due to the following factors:

  1. The use of boundary objects
  2. The multidisciplinary artist
  3. The artistic vision
  4. The art piece as a boundary object

1. The use of boundary objects

In order to make communication and transfer of knowledge possible and better, mixed teams make extensive use of self-created objects often referred to a boundary objects. They can be described as artefacts doing the crossing across sites by fulfilling a bridging function (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). The team described in this article is no exception.

We have identified 19 objects which can be considered boundary objects (table 1). They have been used on varying occasions and by different numbers of team members. Because the art piece is multi-faceted, every facet has its own set of objects which may explain the even distribution of use and perceived usefulness of the various objects (table 1).

Table 1. Overview of identified boundary objects

  Title/name Type Use frequency Subjective importance
1 Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit|System Specifications Dropbox paper 41 changes, 7 remarks in 2 months, shared with 7 users 3
2 MLEK Data Scheme Dropbox paper 13 changes, shared with 6 people 2
3 Silence Suit first design a Tangible object Brought to x f2f meetings 3
4 System Outline version 2 Schematic image Brought to almost every meeting, referred to in Skype meetings 1
5 MLEK system architecture PowerPoint with system architect proposals Used in one Skype meeting 3
6 MLEK data server user interface and functionality Schematic image Used in two meetings, referred to in no 1 4
7 Costumer journey maps Text file Used in two meetings 2
8 MLEK DS Implementation Schematic image Used in one meeting 4
9 Meditation Quality Classification Annotated image Used in one meeting  
10 Silence Suit textile sample version 1 Tangible object Used in one meeting 2
11 Silence Suit textile sample version 2 Tangible object Used in one meeting 2
12 Silence Suit first prototype b Tangible object Used in one meeting 2
13 Silence Suit part list Excel file Used in several meetings, shared with multiple people  
14 Project management plan Design Lab White board drawing Used in one meeting  
15 Cable and connection layout version 1 and 2 Drawings Used in several meetings, shared with multiple people 2
16 Photographic notes Photographs Used in several meetings by the designer 1
17 3D PCB designs Technical drawing Used in several meetings 2
18 To-do list per meeting Evernote to-do list Used in one meeting 1
19 User interaction flowchart Schematic image Used in several meetings, shared with multiple people 1

 

In our survey we asked the team to name the objects most helpful to them. We have ranked the objects found most useful by the team and categorised them:

  1. Schematics of the system (5 objects)
  2. Prototype (4 objects)
  3. Interactive collaboration tools (on-line) (2 objects)
  4. Drawings (2 objects)

Other objects have been used but were mentioned once or not at all by team members in the survey.

From the reactions in the survey it has become clear that the appreciation of the communication and the intensiveness of use of boundary objects are strongly linked. To explain this finding we give two examples on the extreme of the collaboration spectrum.

On the one hand is the work with VP, the suit designer. VP rated the overall communication 5/5. DR and VP have worked intensively on the user interaction with the suit. They have used iterations of the suit prototype to explore the way in which users will wear it and interact with it. The prototype was always at the centre of the communication. They enacted the future interaction with the suit with simple objects available at the scene (image 1). This way they simulated the future reality for the user and made it visual and tangible for both the artist and the designer. This type of learning through boundary objects is part of the reflective impact of boundaries called perspective taking. “This taking of the other into account, in light of a reflexive knowledge of one’s own perspective, is the perspective-taking process”. (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011, pp. 145). We crossed the boundary into the future to imagine the most optimal way for the future users to interact with the garment. The object facilitated our learning and thinking process.

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Image 1 cardboard sensor replica and suit prototype. Photograph by VP

On the other hand is JD, the 3D printing expert. JD rated the overall communication 2/5. Contrary to the many samples of VP, JD only presented DR with a 3D drawing of one of the containers during a Skype meeting. It was difficult to get a clear idea of the container from the screen, this was also hampered by lack of computing power to render the drawing. In his statement he clarifies that much remained unclear because of different frames of mind. This makes clear that from his perspective boundaries were not crossed. This is underscored by his remarks when questioned about the use of boundary objects: he finds boundary objects useful in general but acknowledges the fact that we made poor use of them and mostly used email.

What was lacking is this particular communication was the learning aspect of coordination in which “…effective means and procedures are sought allowing diverse practices to cooperate efficiently in distributed work, even in the absence of consensus…” (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011, pp. 143). In those cases boundary objects facilitate the bare minimum of dialogue necessary to maintain work flow (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). 3D printing is an area DR is not very knowledgeable in. JD is a young and specialised student. The two perspectives were very much apart. A requisite for coordination is a communicative connection between diverse practices or perspectives established through boundary objects (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). The lack of (good) mediating artefacts at least partly explains the low productivity and stagnant work flow in the design and production of the containers.

These examples make very clear the key role boundary objects have in supporting boundary crossing communication.

2. The multidisciplinary artist

Multidisciplinarity

To characterize DR as an artist we first need to define different kinds of artists in the contemporary art scene as described by Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012.

Nearly every contemporary artist is a multidisciplinary artist who has no steady medium. By medium we mean the traditionally known disciplines, such as painting, sculpting or ceramics through which the artist expresses himself. We are living and working in the post-medium-conditions. This means that the question about the medium no longer defines the artistic practice. It no longer defines you as an artist. It changes the artist’s self-concept as well as how he is seen in the society (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012).

In our days, many creative professions are plural practices. Bureau and Shapiro define in ‘L’Artiste Pluriel’ three different levels of pluriformity: the polyvalent artist, the polyactive artist and the pluriactive artist. The polyvanlent artist has different tasks in his own artistic practice. That could be creating things, developing the concept as well as managing his own project and governing financial matters. The polyactive artist has different professions in different social fields. It is the artist who has a non-artistic job in addition to his artistic practice. The pluriactive artist has different professions in the creative field. That means that the job you have in addition to your artistic practice takes place in the applied art field.  Pluriformity is an economic as well as a legislative and a political choice. It offers you a financial security but it changes the identity and the autonomy of the artist (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012).

Camiel van Winkel, Pascal Gielen and Koos Zwaan add a fourth level of pluriformity to the artistic practice. It is the hybrid artist they introduce. A hybrid artist firstly has to be a pluriactive artist. Secondly, the two practices of autonomous and applied art are no longer divided, so that they are equal. They take shape in one context and in the same production. The blurring can contribute to the identity and the profile of the artist in a positive way. The artist has no need to divide the tasks because they enhance each other (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012).

As van Winkel, Gielen and Zwaan describe, together with the hybridism and the post-medium-conditions goes also the deskilling of the artist. The contemporary art practice is build up around a framework of concepts, intentions and attitudes. The vision of the artist is central. From here the artist determines which (technical) skills he has to learn to realize the vision. This phenomenon is called deskilling because the skills itself come on the second place. They are a derivative of the vision instead of a main thing. The artist creates a versatile package of skills (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012).

In this sense the artist maintains his autonomous context which is characterized as self-determined, uncompromising and authentic (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012). The vision of the artist is central. It is the critical view of an artist and the extraordinary capability to reflect on yourself as well as on the society. A driving force to the artist is the will to make things nobody is waiting for, except yourself. From the personal desires and inspirations around yourself the vision of an artist develops.

Having described the various types of contemporary artist we will now explain how DRs position is unique and how it may influence the team collaboration.

Looking at her art practice we can conclude that DR is polyvalent, pluriactive and hybride in different parts of her practice.

When DR is working in her studio she is an polyvalent artist. Also in this project she has different tasks such as team leader, project manager and artist at the same time.

She is a pluriactive artist when she adds various design aspects to her artistic work, may it be the research method or the outcome of the work.

The combination of design and autonomous work goes further in the case of DR than a pluriactive practice. It definitely can be said that she is a hybrid artist. ‘There is no need to divide the different domains of my work, because it is not possible to divide them. The autonomous practice needs the applied art to meet my vision and vice versa’, she explains.

We think that her skills and her artistic identity go beyond the practice of a hybrid artist. DR graduated from St Joost art school in Breda, the Netherlands in 1993 on the subject of sculpture and monumental design. So when she finished her art school education the post-medium-conditions were not that present as they are nowadays.

DR is not only active as a creative but has also worked in and or studied psychology, ICT and spirituality. During her career as an artist DR has built a broad set of skills and she has expanded her knowledge continuously. Not only to keep up to date with new developments but also to broaden her view.

This process is called ‘deskilling’ (Gielen, van Winkel, Zwaan, 2012). The choices of what to learn and how to expand are closely linked to the artistic vision. DR studied these fields to enhance her art practice and to be better able to talk to experts in different fields. On the other hand the studies and work in different fields are also a big source of inspiration to her. They feed her artistic practice and help her come up with new ideas and provide different angles of looking at reality.

During her career she has stepped outside of the art scene and traditional artist sources. She has been on the lookout for new and interesting developments in science and technology. This is what sets her apart from regular hybrid artists. Having a broad repertoire and keeping a learning mind-set are typical for innovators (Liedtka, 2017). We believe it is this outlook which enables her to perform well across boundaries as we will explain next.

Boundary crossers

Akkerman & Bakker explain the ambivalence people working at the boundary may perceive: On one hand they have a very rich and valuable position since they are the ones who can introduce elements of one practice into the other (cf. Wenger, 1998). On the other hand they face a difficult position because they are easily seen as being at the periphery, with the risk of never fully belonging to or being acknowledged as a participant in any one practice (2011).

Within this project DR clearly performs the role of boundary crosser. Contrary to the claims made above she didn’t experience any of the difficulties described. We contribute that to the following factors.

After winning the open call DR automatically became the commissioner of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit project. She also controlled the budget. She was right at the centre of the project and never experienced herself as being at the periphery.

She felt a strong sense of belonging. DR describes her own role as including but not limited to guarding the process and keeping direction. With that comes a natural leadership position which the team recognises and respects. SG describes her role as between costumer and product owner.  He says: “We have room for our ideas but finally, she [DR] has to agree. Therefore we have to underpin our ideas well.” Apparently the team members follow DR as a leader but also feel free to bring in their own ideas.

As for never being acknowledged as a participant in any one practice: this and other projects have shown that being a boundary crosser is at the core of her work and her identity as an artist. Complex projects like the one described in this case study enable her to fully be an artist at the cross-roads of disciplines and domains.

As explained above DR can be characterised as hybrid artist and innovator which implies a broad repertoire and a learning mind-set. Both the contemporary artist and the innovator can be characterised as multidisciplinary. To verify if DR was perceived as such by the team we first asked the team how they rated the multidisciplinary of DR. This yielded a score of 4.4/5. So the overall perception was that DR is highly multidisciplinary. Next we asked if this broad knowledge was sufficient for the team members to perform their role and tasks. The knowledge sufficiency was rated 4.2/5. DRs overall general knowledge and openness to expert knowledge is appreciated. She has enough general knowledge to be able to enter the conversation. But there is enough room for the experts to do their job and feel they have an import role to play in the project. They feel DR relies on their expertise. “DR learns quickly and trusts advice.” is HDs comment on the question if DRs knowledge is sufficient. SB put it very well: “On a global level, yes on implementation level no. In my opinion global knowledge is in this case important.”

3. The artistic vision

We hypothesised that the artistic vision of DR could influence the motivation of the team members in a positive way. To verify this hypothesis we asked them in the survey if the artistic vision influenced their motivation. This yielded an average of 3/5. But there is only one team member who scored a 3. This points to a balance between two extremes of members who find the artistic vision a very strong influence on their motivation on the one hand, and on the other hand people who find the artistic vision does not influence their motivation at all. We wondered how it can be that the opinions of different team members on the same project are so far apart.

To explain these extremes it is interesting to look at the members own motivation. Here there are also two extremes. On the one hand, there are team members who are mainly motivated because of the collaboration aspect of and the personal challenge contained in the project. E.g. VP: “Knowledge enrichment concerning technology. Working in a team. Being a member of a bigger whole.”

On the other hand there are team members who mainly work on the project because of specific interests such as money or the fascination for their own discipline (e.g. JD: “Money.” or KH: “I am always in for electronics.”). We compared the extremes of the motivation to the extremes of the influence of the artistic vision and it appears that those who worked on the project because of the collaborative aspect were influenced by the artistic vision and those who were focused on a specific interest were not influenced by the artistic vision.

We consider these two perspectives a strength of this project, not a weakness. Members coming from different angles could and did find their role and contribution to the project useful, as we will explain below.

We see the artistic vision as guiding: even if it is not influencing people’s work or motivation directly, this project with all his complexity and diversity could never have taken place without a strong artistic vision.

4. Art piece as a boundary object

When looking at the description of a boundary object one may conclude that the final result of the collaboration will actually be a boundary object. The results translates between different disciplines as well as between autonomous and applied art. We believe this quality contributes to the success of the collaboration, as we will explain below.

The final result will be a mixture of different media and fields of expertise. This will make it accessible for different types of users:

Users wanting to optimise their meditation.

Users who want to experiment with their meditation.

Developers who want to explore new possibilities with the data and the build in Internet of Things functionality.

Users who enjoy the autonomous quality of suit and art works created from the data.

Right in the middle of these use cases is Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. To accommodate for these different uses the outlook and expertise of very different people was needed.

The parts we worked on at the time of writing were: the garment, the electronic hardware and its containers, the embedded software, the data server with data base and user interface, the artificial intelligence module and the overall system architecture. The outline of the results were there, they guided the various tasks. But there was enough room for every team member to experience that their expertise is a valuable contribution. When asked about their role 4 out of 11 team members explicitly mention their role in the project as useful or important. The others see their role mostly as facilitating important parts or the project as a whole. Or as SG put it: “…It is clear that she [DR] needs to be surrounded by a team of experts to develop all the details of her ideas.”

Conclusion

We have described the process of working on a complex mixed media project with a diverse multidisciplinary team. Despite these challenging circumstances milestones were met and the quality of the communication and collaboration was high. We have explored the reasons for this success through observations, reflection and a survey among team members. We have discovered that the four aspects below have contributed to the success:

  1. The use of boundary objects
  2. The multidisciplinary artist
  3. The artistic vision
  4. The art piece as a boundary object

With respect to item 1. we conclude that we have used many different types of boundary objects which can be explained by the multi facet-ness of the project. In most interactions they have been used intensively. Which resulted in good productivity and communication. In the one case where boundary objects were lacking we saw a lack of productivity and poor communication.

With regard to DR as multidisciplinary we conclude that as an artist DR goes beyond the hybrid artist. Her innovative mindset has provided her with broad general knowledge. This enables her to easily cross boundaries. Her knowledge is sufficient to lead different team members. Being a generalist creates the need for expertise but also creates room for others to excel in their expertise.

We can conclude that the importance of the artistic vision differs among team members. This is driven by individual motivation. Still the overall vision is crucial because it connects the many facets and disciplines included in the project. But we believe that the passion of the artist in pursuing this vision reflects on the team members and acts as a source of inspiration. It might be the (hidden) driving force to go that extra mile. It triggers the team members to cross the boundaries of their own expertise.

Because we can identify the final art piece itself as a boundary object it provides room for users and experts to take a stance on the result and the tasks involved. This allows team members to view their contribution as an important part of the whole. The nature of the art piece is one of the aspects that enabled the successful design and production process.

This research has provided insights into what aspects contribute to successful communication and collaboration. For this article we only looked at the first months of the project period. Future research should take into account the whole project period. We believe that the role of the artistic vision and artist as someone who inspires is worthy of further research.

 

Referencing

Abrahamson, D. & Chase, K. (2015). Interfacing Practices: Domain Theory Emerges via Collaborative Reflection. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 16(3): 372–389. DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2015.1052384.

Akkerman, S.F., Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 132 – 169.

Bowen, S., Durrant, A., Nissen, B., Bowers, J. & Wright, P. (2016). The Value of Designers’ Creative Practice within Complex Collaborations. Design Studies, 46, 174-198. DOI: 10.1016/j.destud.2016.06.001.

Gielen, P., van Winkel, C., Zwaan,K. (2012). De hybride kunstenaar; De organisatie van de artistieke praktijk in het postindustriële tijdperk [The hybrid artist; The organisation of the artistic practice in the post-industrial age]. Breda, Netherlands: AKV|St. Joost Expertisecentrum Kunst en Vormgeving.

Liedtka, J.M. (2017). Design Thinking for Innovation, Coursera Course University of Virginia.

Open Call Themes. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://wearsustain.eu/open-calls/open-call-themes/

Appendix 1

Questions to team members

1. What did you expect from the project before you started?

2. What motivated you to take part in the project?

3. Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit is guided by an artistic vision (working towards a high tech hermitage). Does this vision have an impact on your motivation?

4. How do you see your role in and its meaning for the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit prototype?

5. How would you characterize the role of Danielle within the project?

6. How multidisciplinary does Danielle appear to you? How does that impact your tasks for this project?

7. Do you fell Danielle’s knowledge is sufficient for your contribution?

8. The next questions are related to specific meetings. In answering the next questions please go back to one of the following meeting. State in your answer which meeting you picked.

a. Software kick-off via Skype Monday 21 August from 14-16h

b. Kick-off at Design Lab Twente Monday 11 September from 15:30-17h

c. Work session at Design Lab Twente Thursday 5 October from 12-17h

1. If you think back to these meetings how good was the communication? (Think of smoothness, mutual understanding, knowledge sharing, etc.)

2. To communicate we used several aids (think of: prototypes, schematics, shared documents.) How would you describe the meaning of those aids with regards to the communication? Which aids were most useful to you?

Things come together in Twente

Last week we went to University Twente to meet Vera de Pont, our designer, and Klaas and Stephen, two of the students of DesignLab, working on the electronics and the software of the Silence Suit. It was a very exciting day to me. Before, I did not really know what to expect from the meeting. But I planned to take the role of an observer reflecting on how a meeting with people from different kind of disciplines proceeds. I have obtained interesting observations I want to share with you in the following.

Meeting in Twente - Vera, Danielle, Klaas, Stephen

Meeting in Twente – Vera, Danielle, Klaas, Stephen

Network
When we arrived, Danielle introduced Vera and me to Frank Kresin, the managing director of DesignLab. He warmly welcomed us. He asked us: ‘What is your background?’ I explained where I am from: ‘I am studying fine arts at the art academy St.Joost in Breda. I am finishing my final year and among other things I am doing my internship at Danielle’s Awareness Lab.’ He smiled warmly and said something like it was nice to meet. Vera’s answer was much more professional. She really explained what her work is about and which techniques she is familiar with: ‘At the moment, I am focussing on 3D printing’, she said, ‘so I am especially engaged in the graphical side of design.’ Frank seemed interested and wished us a productive meeting.

After we walked away, I wondered what his question was about. It was all about networking. Danielle explained later that he is into connecting people with each other. I guess that Vera is now saved in his memory and he associates her with the words she dropped within this short encounter. When somebody asks him the next time for a designer engaged in 3D print he will think about her. When it comes to my person, he only associates the intern of Danielle. That is neither good or bad, but the next time somebody asks me such a question I will know what this question is about. I need to name the core concept of my artistic practice in a few words.

I think it is good to be aware of such behavioural codes in the art world as well as in your daily life. As a child you have to learn what the answer should be if somebody asks you ‘How are you?’ We should say: ‘Good. How are you?’ At a certain point those behavioural codes go unknowingly. At the moment I am still the growing child. I am really thankful that I am learning from this internship about the behavioural codes in the art world.

In the course of the meeting I found it really interesting how an interdisciplinary collaboration proceeds. The Silence Suit has to meet many requirements such as beautiful look, stable data and convenient fit. In the following I will reflect on the different kinds of roles of the designer, the technician and the artist.

The role of the designer
Vera de Pont arrived with a big suitcase. ‘I thought it would be better to take some swatches with me, so that we can try different things. The suit itself is not that big.’, she says and laughs. She was well prepared. When we entered the meeting room she immediately unpacked her suitcase and presented the different parts of the suit on a table. I really loved to see how attentive she treated the suit she has made.

Preparing the suit for fitting - by Vera de Pont

Preparing the suit for fitting – by Vera de Pont

The first half of the meeting was about the progress of the electronics. She had many practical questions for the technicians about the look of the badge and the microcontroller container, so that she could include it in the following sketch of the suit. She properly wrote down every information she got about the electronics. In that first half of the meeting, the role of the designer was to understand as much as possible of the electronics to optimise the design of the suit.

Danielle fits the bottom layer - looking for solutions with Vera de Pont

Danielle fits the bottom layer – looking for solutions with Vera de Pont

The second half of the meeting was really about the fit of the suit. Vera seemed very excited when Danielle fit the suit. ‘It is so nice to see it on you.’ She said with a great smile on her face. It fits very well and she seems pleased that Danielle likes it. We have to think of each sensor, where it should be placed and how the cable connects to the microcontroller. Vera came up with new ideas how we could bring the electronics and the design together until everyone agreed. Her arguments were mainly about the look and that it should be as comfortable as possible for the user to maintain the suit. I was really impressed how focused she stayed during the whole meeting. In the second half of the meeting the role of the designer really seemed to be a living source of inspiration. She really thought in options instead of problems.

Danielle fits the suit - by Vera de Pont

Danielle fits the suit – by Vera de Pont

The role of the technician
Stephen and Klaas are both master students of University Twente participating in the DesignLab working on the software and the electronics of the Silence Suit. The DesignLab seemed to feel like home to them and I experienced how deep they are into the subject. They even worked through their lunch break. Before we met, they have worked many hours to optimise the construction of the badge and the microcontroller PCBs. They were able to minimise the number of plugs. Stephen and Klaas seemed happy about the outcome of their research.

Sketch of the electronics - by Klaas

Sketch of the electronics – by Klaas

Finally, they got a nice sketch of the electronics. But still, Vera and Danielle had some questions about optimising the electronics. For example, a screw connection of the plugs would be better than a clicking one. The argumentation of the technicians was mainly based on what the market offers. If there are no screw connections for that kind of plugs, they cannot do anything about it. But they were also trying to understand Danielle’s vision of the suit to bring it to a higher level on the field of electronics. They came up with the idea to change the light sensor with the wind sensor on the badge, so that the shadow of the plug will not influence the data. I enjoyed to see how they tried to think in the artist’s shoes.

Danielle consults about the electronics with Klaas and Stephen

Danielle consults about the electronics with Klaas and Stephen

The role of the technician stayed the furthest away from me. I was really impressed how much they know about their subject, but I only understood some of it. Still, I see the role of technician as a really practical one. In contrast to a designer or an artist who create things, the technician’s choice is more depending on existing things.

The role of the artist
I think the role of the artist is a really personal choice. Every artist has to formulate his own criteria. In the following I will try to characterise the role of the artist as I observed it in the case of Danielle during the meeting with Vera, Stephen and Klaas. Danielle herself told me once that she sees her own artistic practice in bringing things together. Her personal fascination leads to the vision of a project. In this case her vision is about Hermitage 3.0. The role of the artist here is to plan smaller steps to realise that vision. One of these steps is the Silence Suit as a part of Hermitage 3.0. Within that project the artist has to look for experts and people she wants to collaborate with. That is why we are sitting in Twente around a table with Vera, Klaas and Stephen.

During that meeting, Danielle kept on task all the time. But for me it seems very difficult to find the balance between practical choices and visual choices without losing your vision. For example, when Klaas told her that there is no screw connection for that kind of plug, she did not want to believe it and asked him to research once more. She asked it in a very respectful way, but I witnessed that an artist does not want to depend on existing things. Maybe Danielle’s role as an artist is comparable to a tinkerer.

Danielle presents the bottom layer of the suit by Vera de Pont

Danielle presents the bottom layer of the suit by Vera de Pont

Generally speaking, I think that an artist has to offer alternatives to existing structures. In my opinion, Danielle contributes valuable aspects by collaborating with different kind of disciplines. She creates her own universe by utilising different kind of research as a source of inspiration. The collaborations and the diversity of sources of inspiration make that she comes to a vision which could not have been thought out by one person.

To conclude this eventful day, it can be said that I acquired an in-depth view on how a collaboration in that professional environment looks like. I have especially learned a lot about the role of an artist by seeing how Danielle defines her artistic practice. That helps me to think about my future position in the art world.

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Kick-off in Twente

We are very happy we can work together with three students from Design Lab, a creative and cross-disciplinary ecosystem at the University of Twente.

Kick-off in Twente - two of the students of the DesignLab

Kick-off in Twente – two of the students of the DesignLab

This week Danielle went for two days to Twente to visit the students who will focus on the electronics and the embedded software. They will focus on the PCB’s and the 3D printing of the box for the PCB’s which will be included in the Silence Suit. After explaining the main idea of Hermitage 3.0 the intention of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit became clearer to them and they know what has to be done to optimize the Silence Suit.

The second day they already had some refreshing ideas about the electronics. To make the system more stable they will look for new connectors. Among others the connection between the suit and the vest will be optimized. They will reduce the cables from all the analogue sensors to one cable. They will explore if you can connect the suit to the vest by connecting it at one point.

In two weeks we will meet again to discuss the progress of the project and to look how we can include the electronics in the Silence Suit.

Another highlight this week was the skype meeting with Vera de Pont. She is working on the design of the Silence Suit. We are working towards an image of a contemporary monk. Vera had great ideas about how we can make the suit more timeless, unisex and nevertheless stylish. She is working on a poncho-like idea of the suit which will make it lighter so you can meditate comfortably.

first design by Vera de Pont - poncho like suit

first design by Vera de Pont – poncho like suit

Maybe the bottom layer can have long sleeves so you won’t get too cold in the winter. To make it light enough for in the summer Vera will look at cutting out a pattern. Therefore she plans to use a laser cutter as well was for the cabling. She wants to include the cabling in the design of the suit by making it visible at the surface area.

hand weave pattern - noting down your personal progress

hand weave pattern

It could underline the modern innovative image of the Silence Suit. Vera wants to work with pockets for the sensors and box. She plans to work with graphic icons to show the user clearly the content of the pockets. A weave pattern at the front of the suit might give the user the chance to personalize it. By noting down the weekly meditation sessions in the hand woven agenda you can overview your personal progress.

Danielle really likes the idea of connecting the high-tech meditation session to a classy look of a contemporary monk with some analogue aspects like the hand woven agenda. In two weeks when we meet the students in Twente Vera will come too present a textile sketch of the suit. I am excited how it looks like.

As you can see, the project is going well. By now everybody knows his tasks and can start realizing it. I think it is a great relief for Danielle. Now, she can focus on her research regarding content because she knows everything is going well.

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Working on the sitting sensor

The most important step Danielle made this week is the formulation of the costumer journey. We distinguish four different kinds of users: The Plug-and-float, De-kleine-onderzoeker, the Lab manager and the QS-wizard. The Plug-and-float is the individual user who wants to improve the quality of her own meditation session. She focuses on looking at the data and improving the meditation through actuation. De-kleine-onderzoeker wants to do research about the environment. She wants to know which actuation has the most positive effect. She organizes experiments for herself or for a bigger group. The Lab manager maintains the suits for a bigger group. She is able to work on the sensors and the actuation by adding or removing sensors or actuators. The QS-wizard wants to make new applications by herself. For every kind of user, Danielle described the way how they have to use the software. This costumer journey is the starting point for the software.

On Monday Danielle went to ProtoSpace in Utrecht to meet the software engineer and the system architect to discuss the data server. We learned that the micro controller has to be programmed in a more modular way to make it future proof. This makes it more complex than we thought first.

Today we worked on the sitting sensor. The data we got from the old one where to unstable. The sitting sensor is the on/off button for the system. As soon as you are sitting it will be logging your session. But that also means that the whole session is interrupted as soon as the sitting sensor does not work. We knew that the surface of the sitting sensor has to be bigger so that it is no problem if you move a little. But the one we had was too big, so it was pretty expensive and not comfortable.

sitting sensor - conductive foil 15x7 cm

sitting sensor – conductive foil 15×7 cm

As you can see in our notes below the conductive foil was 15×7 cm first. Before sitting the
value was about 880 or 860. While sitting it was about 140. That is a big range which makes it possible that you can move while meditating without interrupting the session. We cut the conductive foil in half to test if it would work if it was smaller. You see that the range of the value became much smaller and the sensor was actually too unstable again. This might have also been caused by lack of conductivity. We cut off the tape as you can see below.

sitting sensor - conductive foil

sitting sensor – conductive foil 15×3,5 cm

notes sitting sensor - conductive foil

notes sitting sensor – conductive foil

But we thought maybe the conductive cloth we have conducts better than the conductive foil, so that the small one of 15×3,5 cm would be enough to get a bigger range. We just tried and as you can see our experiment was successful. With the conductive cloth from 15×3,5 cm we got the best values with the biggest range ever. For now this one is our choice. Next week we have to work on how you can include it in the suit.

conductive cloth

sitting sensor – conductive cloth 15×3,5 cm

notes sitting sensor - conductive cloth

notes sitting sensor – conductive cloth

I see how difficult it is to be the team leader. Danielle has the vision.
She wants to reach her goal, but sees how ambitious it is. It seems very difficult to me to stay true to your own vision if there are still organizational problems you have to solve. We try to formulate a common vision so that every team member knows our plans. This vision has to be the base everyone is familiar with so that every team member goes for it. But I am optimistic: Together we will get there!

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The start of realising the Meditation Lab

Hello, I am Meike Kurella. I am an art student finishing the final year of the art academy St.Joost, Breda. For the next half year I am doing my internship at Awareness Lab. I am going to help Danielle Roberts by blogging about the process and helping her with all kind of hands on tasks. For me, it will offer an insight in the daily life of an artist. I am really interested how a network of artists and scientists works and I would like to discover what technology could mean for my work.

I am really excited we can start realising the Meditation Lab together. I want to follow and to determine the whole process of the project. That is why I will give an overview in form of a weekly blog. This is how I experienced my first day at Awareness Lab.

In the morning, Danielle explains her plans and shows me the prototype of the Silence Suit. She gets the wearable on. “It has to become a ritual”, she says. It does not look very comfortable. So I ask her if she wants some help. “Oh no, just enjoy the moment, you are the public”, she says and goes on. She got it. Every sensor, every cable is connected to the microcontroller. To optimise the process of putting on the wearable Danielle has recorded an MP3 file so you can listen to her instructions by scanning a QR-code. Thus, putting on the wearable becomes a part of the whole experience. We start the system and it does not work. “You see, we have to work on it”, she says and laughs. She has no idea why it does not work. We have to test some options before it is fixed. She logs while we are sitting at the computer in her studio. But the session terminates every time she moves too much. We have to work on the sensor that detects sitting. The errors have to be eliminated. There are already some tests done to choose the right sensor. Danielle had three options for different sensors. By logging sessions with each of the three sensors she could make a choice. “You see, the blue one is the best.” That seems to be how it works: Trial and error.

meditation stool - testing the different sitting sensors

meditation stool – testing the different sitting sensors

sitting sensors - logging the three different options

sitting sensors – logging the three different options

Danielle already planned the project before she knew she could realise the Meditation Lab. She already knew who would be her mentor, who would help her realising the software system and who would design the wearable. She already had everything worked out before she knew the expectations of WEAR Sustain. After she won the call she learned about rules and limitations on spending the budget. That is why many plans have to be changed. It costs much time that she actually wanted to use to do some test en trials. These are organizational problems you have to deal with.

But as an artist Danielle wants to do research and create things. That is why she continues by doing research about the meaning of a habit. She wants to reform the design of the wearable. It has to become more classic so you get the association of a contemporary monk. Next week we will meet Léanne, the designer, to tell her about the new plans. Moreover, Danielle already spoke to Doshin, her meditation teacher. By connecting with inspiring people and talking to experts like Doshin she wants to increase the importance of the Silence Suit for your meditation session.

Doshin - trying on the silence suit

Doshin – trying on the Silence Suit

She plans to develop a questionnaire that you have to fill in before and after your meditation session. So you can quantify the quality of your experience. That is only one point of Danielle’s very long wish list for the Meditation Lab.

Introducing Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

For over a year I’ve been working on a wearable which will track physiological and environmental parameters during meditation. The idea was to improve the quality of your meditation by changing aspects of your environment e.g. light, sounds or temperature.

Silence Suit

In the spring of this year the opportunity arose to apply for an open call organised by the EU. The aim of that call is to generate knowledge about and new applications that address important issues concerning wearable technology today: data ethics and sustainability. Teams consisting of artist/designers and technologists were invited to apply for the WEARsustain open call.

I’m happy to announce here that my project is one of the 23 winners. For the next 6 months I’ll work with a great team of experts to realize this project. There’s what we’ll do.

DIY Science

We will create the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. This is a tool-set for studying, enhancing and sharing meditation experiences. The kit consists of a wearable and software. The main functionalities are:
1) Monitoring: A two piece garment, Silence Suit houses seven different biometric sensors and three environmental sensors.
2) Logging and analysing: A data server can store the data and allows the user to perform data analysis
3) Influencing: The wearable is part of an Internet of Things ecology allowing it to automatically optimise the environment for meditation
4) Sharing: Live or logged data can be used for to create custom output, in this case artistic visualizations for others to experience meditation.

The development will be staged around experiments. I will conduct 1-person meditation sessions in a controlled and customizable environment to explore the influence of light on meditation. Sensor data is combined with qualitative input about the session. The aim is to make 5 wearables. That way I can test the results in group experiments.

DIY Sustainability

I want to make sustainability as easy as possible for the user. The hardware consists of of-the-shelf, low cost and open source sensors. This makes replacement easy. The battery and micro-controller container will be 3D printed. This allows for easy adjustment and replacement. All schematics and patterns will become open-source. Users can keep working with the components and customize the suit.

Freeing Quantified Self

With regards to data ethics I believe that people have a right to own their data and that sharing should be opt-in only. That is why the software should function fully stand alone to protect the personal data. Basic statistical analyses let users explore their data. This makes it easy to independently make sense of the data. The kit democratizes doing scientific experiments and promotes data literacy.

Here’s a video I made together with Michel Gutlich about what we intend to do.

 

Don’t DI all Y

I realize that this is quite an ambitious plan for 6 months. That’s why I work with enthusiastic experts:
ProtoSpace will work on the dataserver.
Vera de Pont will design a new suit and sew the wearables in 3 different sizes.
Hans d’Achard will manage the system architecture and technology management of the software system.
Germán Bravo will provide expert knowledge and work on the machine learning.
Meike Kurella will be my intern for this period. She’ll be blogging about the process and help out with all kind of hands on tasks (sewing, soldering and help out with the experiments).

I’m very much looking forward to starting the project and learning how technology can support spirituality and health. Check this blog for the latest updates.

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