Dislocating The Woods

Seattle-modelOut of the Wired Woods research project with HP Labs came a further expansion of The Woods project when a few of the images, at reduced scale and in rollable format were taken to a wearable computing conference in Seattle in 2003. Here the relatively new wireless technology developed during the Wired Woods project was demonstrated to useful effect; I didn’t see the installation in Seattle but above is the model I made to show how the layout could be and below is a photo I was sent of what it actually looked like in situ…

Seattle-wearable-computing-installation…it was a surprise to see my images in this context after the original design that aimed to recreate a walk through the woods, so I wrote about this process of  transformation that my images had gone through for an online project at Watershed in 2004 called Ideasmart in the section called Beyond the Computer screen. The website is no longer available but below is a gallery of screenshots followed by the text about the Seattle display and the effect it had on my thinking about context, archives and the experience of place.

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[In 2003] I was invited by colleagues of HP Labs, the Bristol Wearable Computing Group at Bristol University, to prepare an even more edited version of the exhibition that could be packed into tubes to take to a conference on wearable computing in Seattle. It was gratifying to know that my images and our soundscapes would be seen and heard by people from all over the world but curious to imagine how visitors would engage with this scaled down woods’ experience.

“A formal evaluation of the prototype installation reinforced our belief that it is possible to create a convincing and compelling experience with the kind of technology that we can expect to become ubiquitous over the next ten years”.

This was from a web site about the conference demonstration with a photograph of the display (in a low-ceilinged, windowless, polystyrene-tiled, fluorescent-lit room). Seeing my photographs in this remote way made me realise that the body of work I had started out with had become gradually transfigured through it’s new application as an interface for researching wireless technology – my images had evolved into a set of seductive tools, perhaps losing a little of their resonance at each stage of this ‘techno-journey’.

This is no criticism – I knew the bottom line was about research and development, ultimately to find ways of increasing sales or developing further research; I’d enjoyed the project and this process also paid me a fee. I was just surprised by how the same set of images had become, through a series of re-presentations, enjoyable as a technical innovation but several steps removed from my original concerns with re-presenting the experience of being in the woods.

The stages of this project have led me to become intrigued by the idea of the archive and how the same material can be re-interpreted within varying contexts – the emphasis changing, intentions realigned, the potential for manipulating both meaning and the reader a strong possibility. Meanwhile, I’ve tentatively begun some new experiments, making work – photography and some video (and dreaming of animating some sequences of still photographs) – that’s rooted in digital media from the start, wondering if I can find ways to present it that will have the same satisfaction, meaning and engagement for me as devising the original Woods exhibition. I’m left with the paradox of feeling compelled to re-create, re-present or try to share a mediated form of my own sensory experiences of a place, when I know that sense of completeness will only ever come through being there.