Maintaining my streak of making quick videos on a near-daily basis, here are two videos of impossible journeys on the Chicago L-train. Shot in 2016, now spliced into infinite (and impossible) loops in 2022.
The first features ‘transition moments’ from one place to another:
This is the quick film I should have made yesterday – very quick and simple, a looping set of wires – but instead spent too long fiddling around with layers and composition, etc. Shot on the same journey, it’s just slowed down, inverted, layered footage of the wires going past.
I set students the task of making short, daily films all the time, but I rarely post my own. Hoping to do more from now on.
This was a quick attempt at a video which is obviously an artificially constructed image, but that holds together if you watch it for a while.
I set myself the challenge of shooting and editing a video on a 25-minute train journey. I failed my challenge as I got too into the editing and had to shut my laptop quickly in the station, but finished it over lunch. The film is composed of segments of the same shot spliced together, looped, and overlaid, alongside a very quick soundtrack in GarageBand (so quickly edited that the noises that come on with the white fence only do it the first time).
In retrospect, this is based on a work I saw when I was 18, about a train journey, that has stuck with me ever since. It was in a gallery in Melbourne, and featured still shots of a train which updated vertical slice by vertical slice, each about 50 pixels wide, from the left to right on the screen, to make a composite film. Funny how those formative moments stick with you – what was one item in a gallery has become something I come back to time and again.
Anyway, hoping to do more small challenges like this in the future.
It doesn’t do a lot – just presents and reads aloud each letter of the alphabet in order. You can switch between uppercase and lowercase by clicking on the letters, and toggle auto-playing the alphabet. The colour changes with each letter thanks to randomColor by David Merfield, and the font is Manrope by Mikhail Sharanda. The source code is available on Github. I’m sure anyone with a little coding knowledge could improve it.
The audio on the site is the stock Mac voice Fiona, who has a Scottish accent. My daughter now copies Fiona’s pronounciation whenever she reads the alphabet from the website (despite having a fairly English accent the rest of the time).
If there is a small person in your life, here is a site you can safely leave them with. Just go to abc.olliepalmer.com, put your phone/tablet in locked mode, and let them click away.
Before I start this post, I just want to point out that I’m not a particular fan of emojis. I don’t use them that much, but I am curious to see how this strange fragment of culture evolves. Emojis are folded into the Unicode set by a consortium of representatives of largely California-based technology companies, who shape what we can and can’t represent with little symbols on our phones. The emojis are specified by the Unicode Consortium, then the icons we see on our devices are designed by software companies – so that on my iPhone, the emojis are designed by Apple, yet on my PC they’re designed by Microsoft (hence cross-platform changes in appearance).
In 2017 I started making videos with every emoji available on an Apple device. That was 2718 symbols, and the video looked like this:
I recently re-scraped the available emojis – now there are 3962. A good deal of these are variations of the same symbol, but with differing skin tones. The best way to represent this seemed to be as an explosion:
My PhD thesis, which describes my practice through seven built projects, their theoretical backgrounds, and methodologies, is now available in even more of an open access format – it’s a fully-searchable website at phd.olliepalmer.com.
It’s taken some time to convert and optimise for the web, but hopefully this means it’s easier to share any of the research with anyone, anywhere in the world.
And even better, I have embedded supplementary materials, which can’t be seen in the PDF version,, so that it’s easy to jump between a projects’ written and filmic documentation. Chapter 3, for example, has excerpts from the two films it describes, as well as photos of the projects in situ and their methodologies.
You might notice that there’s a new tab on this website which takes you straight to my thesis site.
If you’re interested in what’s going on under the hood of the website (or would like to implement something similar yourself), the thesis is written in MarkDown and hosted on GitHub pages (so the source is also open source). It uses MkDocs with the Material theme.
More open access materials I’ve made:
Scripted Design, an open-access, podcast-led course about designing and using creative constraints (directly built on top of Chapter 4 of my thesis)
Parallel Worlds, an open-access, podcast-led course about world-building in artistic practice
I just came across this article I wrote for the TU Delft magazine Bnieuws, back when I worked in the Architecture faculty. The magazine has a regular column where they ask a staff member to write about one of their favourite objects. I chose a small piece of folded paper. Here is the article (you can read the original in Bnieuws 52/2 here):
This article describes an object and a process. The object is a piece of cheap A5 paper torn from a notepad, and the process is the one I use whenever I have to define an idea, or communicate something complex to anyone else. I use this process for every presentation, lecture, lesson plan, syllabus, artwork, or article (including this one).
Limitations fuel creativity. A single small piece of paper is great for clarifying ideas. It fits in your pocket, it’s cheap, and there is always a piece of paper nearby.
I fold my piece of paper into eight segments, to make a little pad. Then I go for a walk, and think. I write down ideas as they come to me, putting each separate idea or theme into a new section of the paper. If I can’t think of anything to write, I’ll continue walking. If I have another idea, I’ll stop, and write again. Walking removes all my usual reasons for not starting, and all the distractions that usually stop me. I don’t plan a destination, but try to take a route I haven’t taken before. I just walk to enjoy walking, and thinking. When my paper is full, or I feel I have enough written to continue with my project, I go home.
So much of communication is about finding the hierarchy of information that enables other people, who don’t have the knowledge you have, to understand what you’re thinking. On my little piece of paper, similar ideas naturally cluster together, and soon enough an order emerges. I try to write everything that someone with no knowledge of the subject would need to understand it, but not too much. After all, I only have one piece of paper.
There are little folded pieces of paper full of notes in plenty of my pockets, my wallet, my sketchbook, books, and drawers. Finding them again instantly takes me back to the places I was when I wrote them, and the little journey I took to come up with an idea. Similarly, there are strange pockets of cities around the world inextricably linked to the ideas I had when I was there, writing scrawly notes on tiny pieces of paper such as this one.
Echoes of Disruption is video entry 11543.1 from the laboratory log-book of time-travelling researchers, with journal notes narrated by an Artificial Intelligence program. Having travelled back to the 21st century the researchers begin decrypting clues by exploring natural history collections, carrying out observational experiments and assembling interviews and content from scientific researchers, social scientists, cultural theorists, writers and poets. Their objective is to gain an insight into the turning point after which a dramatic change in the Earth’s delicate and precarious ecosystem leads to a catastrophic fracture in the future timeline.
In conversation with Deborah Wolton and Ollie Palmer
Voice over Aniruddha Das
Processing ant simulations Ollie Palmer
Soundtrack Dubmorphology and DSPSSSSD
More about the exhibition:
UnNatural History features 26 international artists working in Aotearoa New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Germany, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Singapore, Turkey, UK and USA. It includes four newly commissioned works responding to the Herbert’s Natural Science Collection by Frances Disley, Dubmorphology, Tania Kovats and Gözde İlkin.
The observational skills and techniques of artists, including their speculations, have enabled us to learn about plants and animals in drawings, long before the advancements of technologies such as microscopes and photography. Featuring drawings, paintings, sculpture, installation, lens-based, digital media and new technologies, UnNatural History will connect these valuable collections to the past, present, and future of our relationship to nature through depictions, scientific representations and imagined realities created by artists.
The exhibition is open from 28 May – 22 August 2021. More information here.
A video of footage I took back in 2011 of late-night journeys in Google Earth. This is my attempt to recapture the strange energy of that time: staying up all night, collaborating on projects, building things, spending all too long in subterranean spaces.