Smallworld revisited - Kube blog


In the autumn of 2009 several artists in the loose association called 'The Salon' took part in an exhibition, performances and residencies at the Kube gallery in Poole. Not long after this, a decision was made to close down this remarkable and increasingly important venue. The blog below records Bell's experience of the short time that he spent in residence.

"This area of England needs more venues and opportunities for artists like Kube. I was very fortunate to enjoy a residency when it was still open."

The blog entries for the three days are in reverse chronological order. start


Friday 2nd October


Last day of the residency. Did I get everything done that I hoped for? Not really, but then I was, as I usually am, overambitious. This morning I spent time trying out the partially functioning program and talking with visitors. Unfortunately I have not yet got a version of the program running that can be installed in the exhibition on the ground floor. I am hopeful that I will get something installed before the end of the exhibition on October 24. Definitely* by the Second Salon Debate on October 22. If anyone is interested in when knowing when it is installed please email me.

Trying out the program I began to get involved in the composition of work again. It reminded me of the maxim that I recommend to others developing interactive work that one should follow a cycle of making and using, splitting time spent equally between the two activities. And this is the point: even though it is not working properly yet. Otherwise it is a bit like painting blindfold or playing music with your ears plugged (hey that’s a neat idea I bet it has already been done though ;)

kube residency

So I spent today’s time using the program - placing individual ‘animals’ of different ‘species’ in patterns and observing how the compositions made by their paths grew as they interacted. It was really neat watching it happen on a large scale on the wall rather than on a small laptop screen. When it is working I will definately be looking to do some large prints from these shapes. I saw a poster the size of a building the last time I was in Glasgow really gave me something to think about.

Conversations this morning made me think about the relationship between directing plays and using Smallworld (having talked with a visitor who directs plays) and reflect on how the shapes generated do look good (prompted by remarks by another visitor). A broader discussion was raised by the director’s question about what peoples’ relationship to the work is intended to be – do they use it to make their own art? My answer is that when the program is running and people can interact with it, it is similar to the situation where people perform a musical composition.

I would just like to finish this entry by saying that although it was only a few days it was time well spent. The key thing about residencies like this from my point of view is what new input one gets from visitors and the environment. The environment is great – Kube is in a wonderful building, what a great place to exhibit, work and meet people! (Yes, okay, I would like to do the same again) The folk who run it were very helpful – thanks to Ania and Denis in particular. The visitors were also really interesting to talk with. I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Although I have finished the residency I may add more material as I continue with the project for the duration of the exhibition.

*(As definitely as I can)

Thursday 1st October


A good day - with some interesting comments from visitors. Ranging from interest in the way the slowly rotating shapes overlapped each other to the projection of patterns onto things aspect. This was particularly interesting in relation to the notions of anarchy and sexuaI sociology.

The subject of entoptics - which I will definately have to read more about - came up and reminded me of Stan Brakhage's talking about 'hypnogogic feedback'. Another visitor mentioned Stephen Mithen's work, which I have read a bit. When I look at some of the other work being exhibited in the show, like Jeannie Driver and Mike Blackman's 'WHIM' work, conversations I have had with Olu Taiwo and sort of cross referenc this in my mind to what I see on a link to information about work by Esther Polak that Sarah Thompson pointed me to this week then also take into account other artist's work that I have seen that share at least a visual similarity it all gets very zeitgeisty.

I did get a bit of work done - but I am still not happy with the slow progress. My 'work for today' mentioned below not done. I hope to get something working by tommorrow afternoon that will allow people to get at least a taste of what is to come.

A really positive experience though - the partially translated program is making 'Smallworld' imagery. It feels like it does using the old version on my ancient yet still performing Silicon Graphics Personal Iris. So there some support here for the idea that if you program work as an artist, as long as it can be reprogrammed as the technology changes it can have a longer existence. How to describe that as a work though? It is a bit like a musical manuscript. I could go on a long time about this aspect with reference to the work of Yoko Ono among others but it is time to stop.


Last night was the private view. A really quite busy event with lots of familar faces and a few new ones. There were some very interesting inputs from people ranging from the technical - why change the way I was programming if the old C programs had worked? (As the program was horribly buggy and embarrasing to show this really made me wonder about my daftness) to the more philosophical - where is the art when one is working like this?

Some positive comments on the Bees and Ivy video. Though I had forgotten to record it in looping mode so it stopped every 15 minutes and someone had to keep an eye on it to restart it. I have written a looping DVD this morning!

It would have been good to stay on later at the opening but I was exhausted by the day and a bit miffed at having so many technical mistakes in my work.

Early this morning have managed to fix the problem with the graphics display. I have also homed in on where I am getting an error in the logic when running the code - but yet have to work out why it happens or how to fix it - that's my job for the day.

Wednesday 30th September


The projector has a wierd lens on it so I spent alot of the day working out how to place it in a way that would make the projected images okay and positioning various large podiums to try and shade an area to project into. Also had a go at projecting onto some of the podiums to break up the image (inspired in this by the way images are painted on the cave at Pechemerle.).

Unfortunately I didn't get time to refine the code (read debug it) so nothing interactive tonight :(

I did get to see how the Smallworld-type shapes looked projected large - I may show something of them just so people can get a feel for what I am after.

Apparently I can expect a visit from a group of architecture students tomorrow - hopefully more to see then.


What will I be doing?

In the morning I have to get the final bits installed for the part of the show that is based on the ground floor. I have a DVD of a video of bees on ivy that I hope to show on a plasma screen for Wednesday/Thursday/Friday.

By Friday I hope that I will have worked out a suitable interactive piece to use with the plasma screen and the bees and ivy video will be accessed on one of the gallery's Mac's opposite the entrance to the exhibition.

During the rest of the day, before the opening, I will be seeing how the work in progress looks projected onto the walls on the first floor, which has been blacked out so that I can try projecting my interactive work - something that strangely I have not done before.

Work in progress on what? - Well over the summer I have been taking the code for a piece called Smallworld that I developed back in the 80's and 90's and converting it to run on a Mac. I developed it on what were then very expensive computers that cost tens of thousands of pounds. It isn't quite working properly yet, so during the residency I will be working on the program to get it into an exhibitable state. The work in progress will be showing on the first floor gallery.