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Au’Guest’ Blog Post – Space Encoders: when frogs go digital

Written by CiCi Blumstein, FuseBox artist in residence as part of the Wired Sussex guest blog month

Image credit: CiCi’s FlowerFuse. Portrait © Ollie Gapper Photography 2013.

It’s a cold afternoon in December 2012, just before the frost sets in. I open the backyard door and shake out a dusty rug, blinking into the white winter sunlight. At the edge of my vision, I catch an extra sparkle, watery and rhythmic – waves in a deep bucket.

A frog.

Skinny and golden, a small jewel set in dark blue plastic. I scoop the frog up and out of the icy water, its smooth, delicate body so light, I’m not sure it’s really there, nestling in my hand, exhausted yet fiercely alive. As if under a spell, I turn from the barren winter yard and step through the door with my treasure, knowing exactly what to do next. I’ve never looked back.

August 2013: Nine months on, and I’m working as the first artist-in-residence here in the brand new FuseBox space, developing a residency pilot project, entitled Space Encoders: When Frogs Go Digital. My project explores bio-habitats as a model for the development of workspaces, creating innovative strategies for such workspaces to grow and shape organically over time.

Image credit: The Lucky Frog in his temporary habitat 2013. Photo by CiCi Blumstein. Smile by the frog.

The frog, now known as the Lucky Frog, or simply Froggle, survived the especially long and cold Winter and Spring of 2013 as a temporary lodger in my house. He has become somewhat of an ambassador for his species and now has his own Twitter account @LuckyFrogLog, croaking out for the over 40% of amphibians species worldwide who are under direct threat of extinction. We are collaborating on several new art works and are planning an Arts Council application.

We’ve built a wildlife pond in my backyard, had eight more frogs plus three newts move in, learnt about algorithms bio-inspired by the complexities of frog chorus, discussed the beauty of Big Data with data scientists, and had love letters sent to us by slugs. And coming up in September, our Space Encoders project will feature in the Brighton Digital Festival, having won a micro grant from the BDF’s appropriately named grassroots fund.

Image credit: Slug Love. Photo by CiCi Blumstein. Heart design by the slugs 2013.

The FuseBox gleams with sunlight and despite the summer heat, this huge, open space makes you want to leap up and dance. Which is what I intend to do in a moment. But first, there’s The Measuring Room to be installed. The guys & girls from Aerotrope, long-time collaborators and angel engineers extra-ordinaire, have dropped by with a specially adapted version of my interactive sculpture. We assemble the heavy, newly painted elements, moving in the smooth, almost-silent choreography of a well-honed team. It’s a great fit.

Image credit: The Measuring Room at the FuseBox, installation view. Photo: CiCi Blumstein 2013

Right now I’m happily ensconced and working behind the bright green of my Amphibian Oracle desk., and from the direction of the boardroom, I hear singing noises. That’s my fabulous Wired colleagues Tom, Lauren, Caroline, Rosalie, Kieron, Phil, Rebecca, Tom B. and Jesse, activating The Singing Boardroom installation.  Later on, a sound file arrives on my mobile “this is our chant” the message says. I put the file into the edit folder, smiling. This will go nicely with the whistling and purring I recorded the other day, when Margot the guinea pig dropped by the boardroom.

Image credit: Space Encoders - Guinea Pig City. Photo by CiCi Blumstein 2013. Perspective by Margot.

It’s time for Tom Nixon, Start-ups Curator at the FuseBox, to be the guinea pig. He’s up for the inaugural Measuring Room session and, although a little nervous under the eyes of the entire Wired team, he is excited and embraces the challenge. As with his own project – the FuseBox Amp innovators pilot program starting in late August – Tom knows about the power and magic of taking risks and simply saying ‘yes’.

Back in early June, he put out a call for ideas to help develop the FuseBox. My answer was the Space Encoders project, and Tom said yes. Clambering around in The Measuring Room, turning upside down and finding totally new perspectives on the space, I don’t think he regrets this decision ...

Image credit: Tom & CiCi opening the Measuring Room. Photo: Rosalie Hoskins 2013

Lunchtime, and over on the FuseBox Amp’s mentors’ page, my profile pic has just popped up among the other mentors. It’s the one in the red beanie, in which I seem to be channeling Jacques Cousteau, intrepid and fearless ocean explorer, conservationist and one of the documentary film-maker heroes of my childhood. Should I change this image to a sleeker, more business-like version of myself? No, I decide I like this one: taking risks and navigating uncharted waters, that’s exactly what I’m doing here at the FuseBox.

CiCi ‘Cousteau’ Blumstein. Self-portrait.

So what’s next? Well, the Brighton Digital Festival is just around the corner. The Space Encoders residency installations will be open to the public in the FuseBox space. During the festival, we will also be presenting at the Pecha Kucha Night Brighton, taking part in a 48-hour Big Data Hackathon and exhibiting at a gallery event at the University of Brighton. See our BDF event page for further details.

Oh, and the Lucky Frog and I are currently writing a short creative business guide, working title: Seven Hops to Happiness – an amphibian guide to getting yourself out of a deep bucket and never looking back …

See you there!

Image credit: Space Encoders – an apportionment of light at New England House. Study for a film installation series. CiCi Blumstein 2013

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