I’ve just been digging around some old hard drives and came across this screenshot from a project I did for Krieder O’Leary back in 2012. It was an experimental camera that moved back and forth along an aluminium track, writing small changes in the space over the top of its existing images. Unfortunately the prototype suffered an electrical malfunction when I installed it in the Tate Britain (entirely my fault) and so it never got a change to take slow pictures of people moving around space.
It’s funny how ideas ricochet around inside one’s own head, morphing over time and through practice – nine years later, I’m mid-way through a project that collates audio in a similar way, with an almost identical tendency to fail at the critical moment.
Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s annual lists of 52 things that he read in any one year (see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020), I decided to make a list of interesting snippets from articles I’d read this past year, one for every week of the year.
a selection of the accidental photos of my foot taken this year
However, my 52 things list, like most of the extra-curricular projects I had planned to work on, was 2020’d, and currently sits at a meaningless and un-symbolic thirty-two things. Still, I think this wouldn’t be writing that emerged from the past year without acknowledging that I am lucky to have had the time to read these articles (and countless others that I didn’t take notes from).
So, without further ado, here is a bag of interesting facts I read in the past year.
The novelist John Steinbeck was an observer during the US’s attempt to drill the deepest hole during the cold war. Their attempt took place on the floor of the Pacific near Guadalupe, Mexico. Source: The Deepest Hole We Have Ever Dug by Mark Piesing for BBC Future
The preference for scarce objects begins at age 5. Source: The Development of a Scarcity Bias by Matar Ferera, Avi Benozio, and Gil Diesendruck. Child Development, Volume 91, Issue 5, Sep-Oct 2020, pp.1698-1708.
The first animals proven to have stereoscopic vision (the ability to interpret three-dimensional shape and form from visual inputs) were – unsurprisingly – humans in 1838. It then took 132 years to prove any other animals also had stereopsis. Cuttlefish were added to the list of stereoscopic animals in 2019. Source: What Scientists Learned by Putting 3-D Glasses on Cuttlefish by Ed Yong for the Atlantic
“the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive today on Earth lived only around 3,400 years ago […] [with new, more conservative variables] the age of the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive went up to 3,600 years ago.”Source: You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else by Adam Rutherford for Nautilus Magazine
Giraffe populations have decreased by 30 percent over the past three decades. Only 111,000 individuals remain. There are at least four African elephants for every giraffe. Source: How to Tackle a Giraffe by Ed Yong for the Atlantic
The French Revolutionary (or Republican) Calendar was the official calendar of the French First Republic from 1793-1805. It promoted a “non-hierarchical and secular system of ten-day weeks (or décades) in thirty-day months, without days of religious or royal significance”, whilst “each day of the year also celebrated a different item of everyday rural life (although their precise distribution can vary), whether a herb, a foodstuff, a livestock animal, a tool or a utility: wild thyme, rhubarb, goat and beehive are just a handful of examples.” Source: The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White (book)
There are still 158 toll collectors working for the Port Authority in New York. Source: The Last Toll Collectors by Winnie Hu for the New York Times
The rivalry between three towns in North Dakota competing to be recognised as the ”Geographical Center of North America” (a trademarked phrase) has led to one of them creating the “International Center for Determining Centers”. Ironically one of the towns is actually named Center, and was so before this dispute – because it was deemed the centre of the state, not the nation. Source: Journey to the Geographical Center of North America by Kathering LaGrave for AFAR Magazine
In the USA, rehabilitation centres can bill insurance companies up to $5000 per urine test – and frequently coerce patients into daily tests. Source: #121 Pain Funnel by Reply All
In 1951, Dr. William L. Davidson invented a “golf ball that can’t get lost”. Its secret was the radioactive material embedded under its surface – so that with the aid of a portable Geiger counter, the Bali could easily be found. Source: Atomic Golf Ball, Modern Mechanix story from 1951 – found via We Make Money Not Art
The USA’s first water park – the Wet N’ Wild – opened in 1977 in Orlando, Florida. Source: Disney’s Empty Promise by Kent Russell for the Paris Review
About 56 million Americans believe they have seen a UFO; 33% of Americans believe that aliens have visited this planet, and 60% believe that the US goverment is “hiding something”. Source: How UFO culture took over America by Stephen Rodrick for Rolling Stone
There is only one known Maltese serial killer. Source: Wikipedia
The widespread fear of clowns was sparked by the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, leading to the coining of the term coulrophobia in the 1980s to denote a fear of clowns. Source: Having a laugh: is this the end for clowning? by Mark Wilding for the Guardian
Winning the Nobel prize adds an average of 1-2 years to your lifespan but confers no overall financial gain (or at least, this was the case for winners in the 19th Century). Source: Mortality and Immortality by Matthew D. Rablen and Andrew J. Oswald
The first Arabic novel was written in the 12th Century by Ibn Tufal, and is about a lone child on a remote island who is raised by a gazelle and has no access to human culture until he meets a castaway. Source: This is the Muslim tradition of sci-fi and speculative fiction by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad for Aeon Magazine.
“[…] three conditions are essential to making friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in others.” Source: Death of the Neighborhood Bar by Gabriel O’Malley for Boston Magazine
The number of inmates in solitary confinement in the United States is equivalent to the entire general prison population in the UK. Those who are in solitary confinement “frequently experience psychological distress, with symptoms including perceptual disturbances, hallucinations, anxiety and panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, revenge fantasies, diminished impulse control, hypersensitivity to stimuli, paranoia, and self-mutilation. More recent reviews of the California, Alabama, and New York City prison systems demonstrate that people in solitary are many times more likely than their incarcerated counterparts to commit suicide.” Source: The Solitary Garden by Anya Groner for Orion Magazine
A man dressed as a clown on a cruise ship sparked a “mass brawl” on a P&O cruise ship in 2019, as another passenger had “specifically booked a cruise with no fancy dress.” Source: Simon Murphy for The Guardian
Here’s the video of the talk I gave yesterday at Central St Martins as part of their Hybrid Futures series:
It was great to be able to present work from my PhD (which is now open access!) and my residency at the Palais de Tokyo. Many thanks to Betti Marenko for inviting me to talk, and posing insightful questions and comments, to Jacob Watmore for excellent technical support, Kaye Toland for fielding questions to ask, and everyone who watched, for your time.
Well, it’s finally happened! Three and a bit years after submission, my PhD thesis is online. I’m very happy about this – I believe that publicly-funded research should be open access, and mine is now available for anyone to read.
The thesis introduces the idea of scripts in computation, psychology, and performances, along with the philosophical absurd, and describes seven projects that I made which each explore different ideas about script, performance, and computation. It’s designed to be printed at A3, but at some point I’m hoping to make a website that houses all the same information in a more mobile-friendly and searchable manner (but don’t hold your breath, this might just be a pipe dream).
‘Scripting’ in architecture is usually associated with computer-based design programming. However, this narrow usage belies a rich vein of concepts intrinsic to architecture and authorship. This thesis frames scripting as a critical mode of computation, performance, and design process. It does this through seven projects that explore relationships between technology, society, and the philosophical absurd. Works include films, performances, programmes and installations produced independently and collaboratively with experts from scientific and artistic fields. This thesis asks: how might an expanded definition of ‘scripting’ act as a critical methodology for performative architectural design?; how can this methodology mediate between, and comment on, technology and society?; and what is the relationship between scripting, authorship and agency? Computational scripting has been explored in depth by a number of practitioners and theorists; performative scripting has been examined within the context of theatre and artistic practice; this study adopts an expansive definition of scripting that embraces each of these approaches whilst simultaneously proposing scripting as a critical design methodology. Furthermore, the thesis introduces the philosophical ‘absurd’ as a framework for critiquing emergent technologies and their impact on society. In chapter 1, two projects (Ant Ballet, Godot Machine) are discussed as modes of diagramming absurd theatrical scripts. The ‘framing’ of these projects provides direction for further work within the thesis. Chapter 2 introduces two dance pieces (Nybble, Scriptych) which represent scripted performances and a novel computer-scripted feedback mechanism. Both are diagrammatic modes of presenting contemporary computing mechanisms. Chapter 3 then discusses two experimental computationally-scripted absurd films exploring the practices and impact of contemporary technology companies (86400, 24fps Psycho). Chapter 3 introduces a film (Network / Intersect) created through a novel design process imposing strict rules on the creation of work. It concludes by naming this practice ‘reflexive scripted design’, proposing it as the thesis’ main original contribution to knowledge.
No research happens in isolation, and I think that it’s only right to reproduce the thank-you section here for everyone who helped.
It would like to thank the many people who have, directly or indirectly, supported my work over the past few years.
Firstly, to my supervisors, Professor Stephen Gage and Professor Peg Rawes, both of whom have taken my research in wildly different directions, enriching and informing the way that I work. I owe much of the way I see the world (and make objects in it) to Stephen, and I consider myself fortunate to have been one of his students for longer than most. At the same time, this thesis would not be where it is without the compassionate, rigorous, and always enjoyable conversations with Peg, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to nurture this work. I am truly grateful. The Bartlett has been a wonderful place to inhabit for the past eight years. I would like to thank the PhD faculty who work so hard to make it such a vibrant, inspiring, and intellectually rich environment – especially to Professor Jonathan Hill, Professor Barbara Penner, Professor Penelope Haralambidou, as well as Professor Adrian Forty, and Professor Murray Fraser.
I would not have been able to produce this thesis, or the project featured in chapter two, without the Arts and Humanities Research Council: long may they support experimental practice.
Thank you to everyone who I have collaborated with over the past few years. It was a privilege to have worked with such wonderful people as Simon Valastro, Dr Seirian Sumner, Professor Jim Anderson, Max Colson, Heechan Park, Helen Floate, and Cesar Harada. And, of course, Abi, whose input can be subtly found woven throughout all of my work.
Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends: to David Roberts and Amy Butt, for rescuing myself and my work more than once; Danielle Willkens, whose talent and generosity knows no bounds; Bernadette Devilat and Felipe Lanuza, for so much help; Anna Ulrikke Anderson for consistently championing my work; Craig Nunes, for introducing me to the absurd many years ago. Thank you to my family, for their consistent support. Mum, although I don’t want to admit it, you were right. Maybe I will be an artist after all.
And finally, thank you to Amy, for inspiring me – and making it all worthwhile.
I’ll be presenting some of my work at UAL on 9 December as part of the Hybrid Futures lecture series at Central St Martins, curated by Betti Marenko. It’s online (of course!) and open to all. It will be streamed on YouTube, and afterwards I’ll post it to this site.
Scripted Performances: Or, the Absurd in the Man and the Machine
‘Scripts’ in design and architecture are usually associated with computer-based design programming. However, this narrow usage belies a rich vein of concepts intrinsic to design and authorship.
This presentation poses the script as a useful critical and methodological tool within design, absorbing and reinterpreting ideas from behavioural psychology, computation, dance, immersive theatre, the Absurd, and the Oulipo. The talk is illustrated through a series of projects completed during Palmer’s residency at the Palais de Tokyo, PhD by Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and independent work, spanning dance, film, installation and data manipulation.
I haven’t spent a day in the studio just doing studio-ish meandering things for ages, despite this being part of “the plan.” Today I was able to head in, finish production on three podcast episodes for my students, and then spend some of the afternoon exploring my video archive, making some sound and images work together. Ironically, I’ve been teaching video production recently and the importance of experimentation, yet hardly manage to do it myself.
I shot this video in Iceland in the early 2010s, which seems like a few lifetimes ago. It was the first week of real snow as autumn turned to winter, and my long-suffering friend and I drove over this particular bridge quite a few times holding various tripods and cameras on the roof of our rented jeep in order to capture the video-game-esque single-point perspective, emphasised by the fog in the distance, and bitmap-style textures of what I presume is normally a riverbed below the bridge.
I’ve been wanting to do something with this video clip for a while. This isn’t the thing, but it’s something – sketch to re-acquaint myself with the faders and dials as I ramp up towards more audio / video / game production for the All the Worlds project, among others.
Of course, anyone who came of age and got into making videos at a similar time in the 2000s will recognise this as the inverse technique from Michel Gondry’s video for Star Guitar by the Chemical Brothers:
The Creators Project DVDs, featuring work by Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Jonathan Glazer and Chris Cunningham were cult-like objects whilst I was an undergraduate, and still prove to be strong influences on me today. I obsessively watched and re-watched Gondry’s process for making this video. My favourite bit is with the shoes:
And here is the same Icelandic-shot video as above, with a second layer and infinite loop:
Testing breathing equipment for the Ant Ballet project, nearly ten years ago
It’s been a while – actually a few years – since I paid any attention to my website. I’ve been off doing other, non-updating-my-personal-website-y things, like teaching at the Master Institute for Visual Cultures (where I’m pathway leader for the Situated Design masters course) and being a researcher at Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology. In the Coronavirus lockdown, I made an open-access podcast course which is about to publish students’ work, and I am just about to release another open-access design/podcast series which merges themes from my PhD with modes of artistic practice I’ve been working with for the past few years. And also, in the past few years, I finished said PhD, worked at a few places, wrote some courses, moved country a couple of times, renovated a house, had a baby, am about to have another, and move house again. None of these things count towards the traditional metrics of an artists’ career as much as having big shows in galleries or residencies at some prestigious location or being given an award or whatnot, but they have all factored in to the way that I practice, and my identity as a creative practitioner.
But alas, the long and the short of it is that I have failed to maintain any semblance of an up-to-date website, never really using this self-owned platform to inform or update, nor capture thoughts – only to belatedly push something I am doing, usually months after it has elapsed.
This post is a sort of apology for that, and a vague commitment to use this site to keep track of thoughts and ideas in a more public way, and generally to keep more up to date. I had a great conversation with my sister, artist Abi Palmer, earlier this year, in which she expressed how framing her entire creative practice as an experiment enables her to be more free to make mistakes, and carry others along for the ride:
Back to this blog: I talk about performing work in public with students all the time, but like so many things, don’t drink my own medicine. My work is always sailing close to the wind – there isn’t a project I’ve enjoyed where there hasn’t been the potential to fail. Ant Ballet was supposed to have four experimental phases, and relied on weird home-made technology and experimentation with synthesised pheromones and actual ants, but never got beyond Phase I; 24fps Psycho was a performative film which was in part live-coded whilst the performance was running (not intentionally, either); Network/Intersect was a film about Russian Troll farms from 2016, before we knew what the Internet Research Agency was really working on, made in Paris but supposedly set in Seoul, where none of the actors knew the whole story (like the people working in the troll farms themselves); Scriptych was the first vector-space-word-embedding / dance performance that I’m aware of, and could really have gone wrong very publicly. The new project I’m working on, All the Worlds, has been slowed down drastically by COVID-19 measures, but still has a lot of things that are new and experimental and feel like they’ve been gaffa taped together and could definitely fail.
I like the danger of failure. I also like writing. Yet for some reason I haven’t combined the two on my own website for quite a while.
So here I am, taking inspiration from the blogs I know and love, such as Matt Webb, Tobias Revell, Shannon Mattern, the New Shelton wet/dry, we make money not art, BLDGBLOG, and a lot of others. I will be attempting to revive the silly, experimental, fun, ideas-based version of the internet and social media that I’ve been missing for a few years. Of course it could fail, but what’s the worst that could happen? Probably that I look a bit silly. But then again, I have always looked silly (see below, and see above).
With the recent turn to online education, I’ve reformatted the Parallel Worlds course I run at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures to be an open access podcast – so anyone can listen and take part. The course is about using practices from world-building to augment and enhance your existing creative practice.
There are a few weeks’ worth of daily activities, as well as interviews with strong voices from within the field (Sarah Lugthart, Amy Butt, and Abi Palmer). The daily activities take about 20 minutes, so (hopefully) you can fit them around whatever else you do.
I’ve also transcribed all of the episodes so that they’re accessible to people who find it easier to read, or use a translation tool to convert to a non-English language. All of the transcriptions are available on the course website at parallel.olliepalmer.com/podcast
We received a grant from the Stimuleringsfonds and Film Fonds to develop the concept, technology, and stories to a proof-of-concept stage. Over the coming months we’ll be making things and testing them in and out of the studio in Rotterdam.
Selected excerpts from my work Hawaiian Wisdom have been published in the book No, Robot, No!. The introduction to the work is a merging of narrative – describing the project in a speculative project – but also functioning Python code which can be used to generate your own “Hawaiian Wisdom”:
There are great authors and poets included in the book – it’s nice to share company with Rowyda Amin, Andre Bagoo, Clive Birnie, Theodoros Chiotis, Angela Cleland, Iris Colomb, Joey Connolly, Ria Dastidar, Rishi Dastidar, Sarah Dawson, Harry Giles, Matthew Haigh, Cliff Hammett, Tom Humberstone, Yvonne Litschel, James Midgley, Gabrielle Nolan, Astra Papachristodoulou, Abigail Parry, Flo Reynolds, Adam Samson, Ruth Stacey, Alex Stevens, Becky Varley-Winter, Katy Wareham Morris, Rebecca Wigmore, Chrissy Williams, and Cat Woodward!