Although TiM’s Circuit Training was launched as part of our Covid-19 response package, it’s part of a load of stuff we’ve been wanting to do around technology and creativity for a while. This new landscape has created a load of new space in which to try ideas like this out and try to be more generous and open with resources we can’t put into live performances. So why is TiM interested in getting people familiar with Arduinos? What is an Arduino? How is it relevant to time based arts?
An Arduino is basically a small circuit board (or ‘maker board’ as they are often known) designed around a micro controller, that allows makers of all abilities to connect technology to the real world in some way. It provides the ability for someone with relatively little coding experience to write code to control or interact with electronics in an accessible way and is a gateway to all sorts of connectivity or ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) applications. In the wider world these maker boards have the potential to unlock a world of cheap and accessible making and hacking, but in terms of performance and installed art, they have a relevance that touches on a couple of TiM’s core values – Inclusion and Innovation.
Too much of the technology supporting creativity and the knowledge that goes with it is secret, opaque, inaccessible. It’s often the preserve of a limited demographic. Technology that allows control of lighting, sound, video, movement has been expensive and exclusive. Traditionally phrases like ‘tech week’, or ‘teching a show’ have been indicative that the technology was somehow apart from creativity and making. The ‘artist’ has been reliant on a ‘technician’ or technical professional to bolt technology onto an already existing piece. The lack of insight into the tech toolbox has limited critical interrogation, rigour and innovation in the technology of the arts.
The Arduino (or any other micro controller board), is cheap. It’s simple enough and there is enough of a community to allow anyone to get started with it. By it’s nature, it’s inclusive. It’s part of a great democratisation of digital technology. In terms of creative practice, this kind of technology can allow you to control lighting with sound, or sound with gesture, or turn temperature changes into movement and at a fraction of the cost of asking the equipment typically available in a venue to do the same. These devices can drive innovation in artistic practice rather than stifle it. It’s all small, portable, adaptable and recyclable.
TiM’s Circuit Training is participant led. There is no teacher as such. We’ve not set out to be experts or to offer tutoring but to share knowledge, play with the tech and to have fun. Everyone received an Arduino development board and a box of components. We post a simple challenge or example every week or few days and we collaboratively work on it. Each ‘lesson’ is just an practical example of using a particular component, it often leads to a discussion about application. We’re on ‘Lesson 7’, give or take a few ‘bonus side missions’. We’re already talking about projects we want to work on using this tech. Examples include – focused sound projection using ultrasonic transducers, kinetic sculptures that respond to environmental stimuli, solar power for digital art in the wild, and a whole range of simple solutions to more domestic problems. Half the group doesn’t belong to the demographic that typically gets to play with digital technology.
If people use the skills they’ve learnt with us and the kit we’ve given them to make art then that’s great, but we’re equally happy if people use the experience to solve a real world problem or just to play. If people signed up just to get some free tech then that’s also cool. We have two hopes at the moment for this current group. Firstly, that some of us become the core of a new Bradford based maker/hacker community. Secondly, that members go on to share the knowledge and become evangelical for building and hacking DIY digital solutions to problems, creative or otherwise.