We Are 2!

So, Caper turned two this month and we celebrated by saying a big “thank you” in party form to everyone who’s been part of the Caper journey so far and helped us to achieve so much – our brilliant in-house team and our network of amazing collaborators, clients and funders.

The event included a ‘hack circus’ curated by Caper Associate, Leila Johnston, with contributions from Sarah Angliss and her theremin, James Larsson and his pressure controlled Pong game, Alex Deschamps-Sonsino showing off her internet-connected Good Night Lamp, and Leila’s and James Jefferies‘ internet-enabled thermal printers.

Moving into our third year (I *know*!) and the Summer of 2013 at Caper, we’re on the look out for interesting new commissions to get our teeth into – so let us know if you’d like to collaborate! Get in touch at hello@wearecaper.com

IMG_2790IMG_2989IMG_2822IMG_29842nd birthday cakeIMG_3073IMG_3003











Photos by Claire Barker.

Arts & the Digital Creative Labs with King’s Cultural Institute

BLOG 1What happens to nostalgia in the digital age, when shoeboxes of photos and mixtapes are replaced with iTunes and Instagram? Can digital be more than just a bolt-on to a live theatrical experience? What would a visit to a museum be like wearing Google goggles?

‘Arts and the Digital Creative Labs’ produced by Caper and King’s Cultural Institute, as part KCI’s ongoing commitment to facilitating collaboration between academia and the cultural sector, comprised of an Open Space event, an Ideas Lab and a number of digital prototype commissions.

ideas labThe Open Space brought together King’s academics from across the nine schools with representatives from the cultural sector, including Coney, Crafts Council, Wellcome Collection, London Review of Books, Fuel Theatre, and Natural History Museum. The initial facilitated Open Space event allowed participants to identify challenges that could be turned into provocations, to be explored further the Ideas Lab. Cultural organisations wanted to answer key challenges for their sector around developing and sustaining audiences or innovating the experience for existing audiences. Academics were looking for ways to develop their research in new contexts, to gather information, or to enter into fresh dialogues. Others were trying to unite their passions for the arts and for sciences, which are kept artificially separate through stratified universities and museums.

BLOG 3The subsequent Ideas Lab introduced creative technologists and businesses to the mix, bringing in the skills needed to develop solutions to some of the Open Space challenges. There was just one rule: each team must have at least one academic, one member of the cultural sector and one technologist. The teams spent a morning brainstorming their chosen challenge. Throughout the Lab, these questions were explored, tested by other teams, refined and finally pitched for the chance to win a digital prototyping bursary from King’s Cultural Institute.

BLOG 5The commissioned digital prototypes are wide ranging in their ideas and technology use. One will be a prototype robotic glove that allows users to virtually feel priceless objects that would usually be locked away in galleries, developed by a team including King’s robotics experts. Another will be a web app that gives users personalised cultural recommendations, depending on their social media usage, in the same way that will behavioural marketing works. Coney’s production Early Days of a Better Nation will be brought to life online with an interface which allows users to set the parameters and change the course of events during a live theatre performance. The final prototype will create user-generated digital graffiti within museums, a playful tool to instigate a critical response from the public and subvert expected behaviours in cultural institutions.

BLOG 4The teams now have six weeks to turn their plans into working prototypes for presentation at a sharing event on 3 July.  We’ll share the results here in July. To find out more about the Creative Labs workshops and the process the participants engaged in, check out the Storify of the event.

Photo credits: Tim Mitchell

Call for Creative Technologists – Ideas Lab with King’s Cultural Institute

IdeasLabKing’s Cultural Institute and Caper are looking for creative technologists to take part in our Arts and the Digital Ideas Lab, as part of KCI’s Creative Futures programme.

The Ideas Lab takes place on Thursday 23 May, at King’s Anatomy Museum, from 9.30am to 5.30pm, followed by drinks.

This Ideas Lab will bring together leading arts and cultural organisations with academic researchers and creative technologists to debate, discover and experiment.

Technologists will benefit from opportunities such as networking and collaborating with cultural organisations, insight into the needs and opportunities around working with arts and culture, and a view of current academic research.

The Lab will conclude with the opportunity for teams to pitch to a selection panel to win one of three £2,500 bursaries, to turn ideas into a working digital prototype.

The event is free, but places are limited, and you’ll need to apply to take part. You must be a designer, software developer, user experience expert or a content specialist.

To register your interest in attending the event please email beckie@wearecaper.com by 10am on Tue 14 May with:
– a short description of the work you or your organisation do
– why you have an interest in working with cultural organisations
– what you hope to get out of the Ideas Lab

For independent technologists, we have a small number of £400 bursaries available to cover your time – please let us know if you wish to be considered for this.

We hope this event will serve as a creative catalyst for new ideas, will enable new collaborations and will seed approaches to and thinking around Arts and the Digital.

Be a Beta Tester!

If you like going to gigs and concerts with your friends and talking about the experience afterwards, or if you listen to live music online, then we’d like to hear from you.
We’re making a new website with BBC Radio 3 that will launch in May 2013. We can’t say too much about it now, except that it’s an experiment in social listening. Before we develop it further, we want to find out what people think about the experience and how we can make it better.

To take part, you’ll need Internet access during May 2013. During that time you can use the site as little or often as you want to, but you will also need to be available in early June to take part in a short online survey to let us know what you think.

If this sounds like fun click here to sign up, and we’ll send you an invitation soon.

This prototype is being developed with funding from the Technology Strategy Board‘s IC Tomorrow programme.


Culture Hack East developments

Since the start of 2013 we have been developing a strategic plan for Culture Hack East, in partnership with CoDE and Creative Front at Anglia Ruskin University, as part of our ongoing development of Culture Hack nationally.  We have been working with the arts, creative and technology industries in the East region to explore and define the strategic development of the programme for 2013 and 2014, with support from the Arts CounciLTMitchell_130226_9253As well as strategic development, we have produced a Toolkit (available online later in April) to share our methodology and learnings so far from Culture Hack.  This free resource includes information on the process and ethos of the Culture Hack programme, as well as resources, such as signposting to funding opportunities, and real lift case studies including Hoipolloi and the London Review of Books.  The toolkit includes information on what motivates people to take part and how participating in a Culture Hack event can support legacy projects and long-term organisational change.

Back in February we ran a Culture Hack East Ideas Lab with our regional partners at Anglia Ruskin University.  The aim of the lab was to bring together cultural organisations, technologists, designers and developers to experiment with rapid ideas generation. We had over thirty attendees including The Junction, Wysing Arts Centre, ADeC, CRASSH, Hoipolloi, Cambridgeshire County Council, Tribal Labs and Stride Design.TMitchell_130227_9482Over two days, they created user journeys, developed paper prototypes and pitched ideas. Our panel – made up of Georgia Ward (Arts Council England), Zoe Svendsen (Metis Arts), Rachel Drury (Arts Policy Researcher in Residence, University of Cambridge), and Daniel Jones (Erase) – selected two prototypes to receive development bursaries, taking the ideas beyond paper prototypes to digital prototype stage.

Developed by Specialmoves, Parrabbola, DanceDigital and firstsite, Art Buddies is about creating opportunities for audiences to take risks, facilitating group attendance to artistic exhibitions or performances. They could be novices who have an interest in the art form, or knowledgeable enthusiasts keen to share. The Art Buddies team have tested an early stage prototype with target user groups, and through this they have refined what a successful and engaging experience would look like.TMitchell_130227_9353University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Cambridge Cabinet contains nearly 160 artifacts found in the Cambridge area that originate from the Medieval, Roman and Prehistoric periods. Developed by the museum with Atlas Live, the Wall of Cambridge Archaeology iPad App presents the visitor with a representation of the cabinet, maps of the Cambridge area, and the objects themselves. MAA is keen to develop the prototype to a second phase period, involving user testing in the gallery.  Off the back of this initial prototype the group have located additional funding to enable this future development.User-3As soon as the prototypes are available to the public we will share the links with you!

Photos: Tim Mitchell

New opps: administrator & freelance producers

Administrator (part time)

Caper is looking for an experienced, tidy-minded administrator to work one day a week. Work will include bookkeeping, organising logistics around projects, updating service agreements and maintaining up-to-date web content. We’re happy to be reasonably flexible if you’d like to break up the time into e.g. two half days to fit other regular commitments. You’ll be based in the Caper studio in Shoreditch and we are happy for some work to be done from home.

Freelance Producers / Project Managers

We would love to hear from you if you are an experienced producer or project manager, with digital experience. You must be unflappable and flexible, and interested in the wide range of projects that Caper produces. Experience of working with arts, cultural and heritage organisations a bonus, but not an essential.

Please apply to sophie@wearecaper.com with your CV. Caper is an equal opportunities employer.

Team Caper – the new additions

We’re pleased to announce that the team at Caper has rapidly been expanding. Check out our amazing new team.

Sophie SampsonSophie Sampson has taken on the role of Lead Producer, as well as being our project management hub, she’s running our BBC Proms / Technology Strategy Board prototyping project.

Beckie DarlingtonAfter successfully project managing Happenstance for us in 2012, Beckie Darlington is working for us as an in-house Producer on University of Cambridge Museums’ digital audit and Culture Hack East.

Lauren ParkerPreviously Head of Contemporary Programmes at the V&A Museum, Lauren Parker joins us as a Director (Associate), currently leading on strategic work with University of Cambridge Museums and writing a new two year strategy for Culture Hack East.

James JeffriesWe met James Jefferies through the Happenstance project and now, as our Technical Director (Associate), he helps us with developing prototypes and technology scoping for projects and internal infrastructure.

Natalya BuckleyWe worked with Nat Buckley on many Caper projects in 2012, including websites and prototypes for Fuel Theatre & Southbank Centre, BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms, RSC, and Brighton Museum, so we’re very pleased that she’s now part of the team as Creative Technologist (Associate).

Leila Johnston Leila Johnston joins the team as our Writer (Associate). Her most recent article for us featured in The Guardian Culture Professionals Network on the rise of hack culture.


Want to join us? Check out our current available posts.

Alarum. Here Another Skirmish! Digital Commissions with the RSC

As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, we’ve developed three digital commisions for the RSC that explore aspects of “Shakespeare’s Digital Heartbeat“.

Each commission focuses on a different part of the theatrical experience – from the actors and the audience to the plays to the performance schedule – and we worked with three different developers to see how different technologies and approaches would affect the outcomes.

The first of the commissions – Alarum, created with Nat Buckley – launches today. Alarum monitors sound and light activity around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, capturing the changes that take place in the theatre as the focus changes from backstage to front of house and back again.

Whether a quiet moment between performances, the hustle and bustle of the wigs and wardrobe department in the run-up to curtain-up, or the hush of the auditorium as the house lights go down, the theatre has a pulse of its own. Specially built sensors placed at key locations around the site measure light, sound and motion, animating the display with every change they detect. What you see here is happening right now in the theatre.

sound sensor

rsc sensors

A sound sensor – from build to the Swan Bar (Photo: Nat Buckley)

By exploring the changes in sound and light around the site, we can measure the heartbeat of the building. And by displaying those changes live on the internet, we can connect people around the world with Shakespeare, his plays and the main theatre in the town of his birth, every minute of the day.

We have used stage directions from Shakespeare’s plays to indicate the intensity of noise and activity, or, as a sixteenth-century bard might have put it, “alarum”. For a full list of these, see the glossary of terms.

Nat built prototype sensors using Arduino Ethernet boards that send data to Cosm. She’s blogged about her process and published the data.

The other two commissions have been developed with Tom Armitage and Matthew Somerville, and will be launching later in November. The project was managed by us for Kat Sommers, and by Sarah Ellis for the RSC.

There’s also more information about the project on My Shakespeare.





Summer Update

We’ve spent the summer working on all sorts of projects that we’ve totally failed to blog about, so we’re making up for it now with a special back-to-school round-up.

As well as a number of strategic and policy projects, during the summer months we’ve delivered the following:

A content and communications strategy for the British Council Architecture exhibition Venice Takeaway, part of the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale

For the BBC Proms celebration of John Cage’s centenary, we created a website, a participative phone line (call 020 3322 4687) and a slightly uncanny Twitter bot.

We helped the RSC celebrate the Olympic Torch relay by creating a one-day Shakespeare-themed Alternative Ping Pong Games, featuring a dozen specially devised games and activities (including Shakespearean bingo – “Hal and Poins. A pair of drawers – 44” – and Pin the Ball on the Bard) …

… while also developing a series of digital commissions, helping the RSC to explore “Shakespeare’s Digital Heartbeat” for My Shakespeare, part of the World Shakespeare Festival. The commissions will be launching throughout the autumn, but you can see the first hint of what we’re up to in this post from Nat Buckley, which documents her experience of placing sensors around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in preparation for the first commission.

Picture by Nat Buckley

We programmed the last of the BBC Academy/Arts Council England Digital Capacity seminars, this one bringing to life the tricky subject of Rights and IP. Speakers included the John Peel Archive, London Review of Books, Imperial War Museum, the V&A, and South London Gallery. A podcast of the event is available to download.

The pilot phase of our NESTA/Arts Council Digital R&D project Happenstance project came to a close in June. We’ll be writing about this in more detail, but if you’re keen to hear more, then do come along to our event at NESTA on 24 September – sign up here. In the meantime, you can see one of the outcomes from the project in this lovely film by Anne Hollowday, which documents James Bridle’s project “This is a Working Shop”.

Work is being done here from Anne Holiday on Vimeo.

And of course, our summer started with Culture Hack East – two amazing, collaborative days in Cambridge that saw nearly 80 developers, designers artists and art managers work together to create digital prototypes. This event was the result of an almost year-long programme in the Eastern region – the next steps for which will be announced in at an event in Cambridge on September 28th. Register your place here. We captured most of the activity of the day on Storify, but there will – we promise – be a full report very soon!

We’ve also been out and about, giving talks and delivering workshops at, among others, Shift Happens, the TENSO International Conference and the REACT Heritage Showcase at Watershed, as well as working the Crafts Council on their annual conference Assemble.

Looking ahead, we’re currently pairing technologists with academics for a short Creative Technology Lab with Leeds University (apply here, if you’re interested) and developing a next release of Map the Museum, with Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Art Gallery.

We’ve also worked with some great people to deliver these projects, including Nat Buckley, Dean Vipond, James Bridle, Kat Sommers, Beckie Darlington, Natalie Shaw, Tim Wright, Anna Bewick, Tom Armitage and Matthew Somerville.

And that has been our summer! If you’re interested in working with us, then do get in touch – we’re always interested to talk about new projects and opportunities. Email us at hello@wearecaper.com.

Shift Happens: Through the Looking Glass

This is (more or less) the text of a talk I gave at Pilot Theatre’s digital conference Shift Happens in July. It’s about the potential of using technology as a material, rather than simply as a mirror. 

One of the things we do at Caper is run Culture Hack, an international programme that encourages people to make things quickly with cultural data. This means I spend a lot of time thinking about the point at which art, or culture, and technology meet.

In particular, this has led to me think about using technology as a material. Like clay or wood, it’s a material with its own affordances and limitations. It can be made into everyday, ordinary objects or crafted and shaped into beautiful things.

If you speak to a potter or ceramicist, they’ll tell you that each piece of clay has a personality of its own: that it almost knows what it wants to be, and that the hand on the wheel is just helping it to become a better version of itself. And to do this, the potter has to treat the clay with care, respect and confidence.

We tend not to do that with technology. Instead, we often seem to concentrate on bending it to our will. Rather than allowing it the freedom to become itself, we mould it to fit endless lists of needs and requirements.

For example, we’ve heard a lot recently about how video is the saviour of the arts. That filming things and putting them on the Internet will make it all okay – that this is what digital was here to do.  Make the TV all over again, but even better.

But sometimes putting a camera in front of things is the path of least resistance – it’s simply allowing a chink for technology to see through, not allowing it a way into the process, just offering it a hole in the wall.

Which is an opportunity for a cautionary tale. In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, two young lovers who lived next-door to one another. When their parents refused to let them marry, they whispered to each other through the wall every night, their faces pressed up against the bricks. And one day, they escaped and attempted to meet – but they encountered a lion. And to cut a long story short, it didn’t end well.

The lesson being, I think, that the more time we spend simply poking video cameras through the chinks in the wall – rather than scaling the wall and trying to get a better look at what’s on the other side – then the more we’ll come to rely on the wall being there.  And then, eventually, looking over the wall (let alone, going outside and confronting the lions) will seem too dangerous and we’ll stop even trying. There’s the danger that we’ll become complacent and simply stick to what we know.

And I don’t necessarily think that people in the arts should try to be at the forefront of creating new forms of technology – because there are others who can do that much better – but we can lead in the way that we implement. We can use our imaginations and our foresight and our bravery to make brilliant things with the materials that are already there.

Central to this is an increase in literacy and understanding: if we can become like potters, who can intuit the best uses of a piece of clay, then we will inevitably use technology to make better things. But we need to focus our understanding on the right things.

Now as far as I know, no one who’s ever written a novel (or even, printed a marketing brochure) has thought they would learn to make paper first. They may have agonised over many other things, but they’ve probably left the papermaking to the papermakers. After all, paper isn’t the material that novels are made of: they’re made of that space between one imagination and another. And so with the Internet. A really good digital project isn’t made up of screens. The devices we use are instrumental. A book is a book if I read it on paper, on my iPad, on my phone. It persists apart from the means of delivery.

And while knowing how to write a line of code (or thousands of lines of code) is a brilliant thing, the sort of literacy we need the most of is the sort that makes us ambitious and confident and creative. The sort that turns into works of art.

In the recent Invisible exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, and there was a photograph of a piece by Yves Klein. The caption said, “In May 1957 … Yves Klein presented an empty, white-painted room filled with the artist’s sensibility.”

Yves Klein in the Void Room (Raum der Leere), Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, January 1961. via www.eflux.com

And people queued to come into the room and experience the sensibility, the pureness of the idea.

What would happen if we concentrated on filling a different kind of space with a sensibility? If rather than worrying about making apps and Facebook pages and video players, we started to fill the digital space with our sensibility and waited to see what happened?

For instance, think about what theatre is, how it can linger and persist and fill the space that we make available to it. How can we make a theatrical experience that is natively of the Web, that uses and adapts to its materials? One that pings around the networks like electric thoughts.

And it seems that we’re approaching the stage where that becomes possible.

Has anyone here ever used their iPhone as a mirror? You see a lot of teenage girls on the tube doing it. They’ve flipped the camera function round so they can do their make-up, and it looks pretty weird – like they’re gurning at their phones for no reason. But in reality they’re using it to look at themselves. Using it as an actual mirror.

And that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been using technology as mirror in which to see ourselves.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan had a name for this phenomenon in children. Apparently a baby can recognise itself in the mirror from as early as 6 months old, but there’s a mismatch because the child’s relative lack of control over its body makes it aware of a division. It becomes aware of a primordial, ideal being in the mirror, and – to allay the threat of this other, perfect being – it subsumes it into its identity.  Lacan says that this gives the child a fleeting sense of mastery – as if it has tamed itself – owning and mastering rather than setting up a more playful, and possibly more productive, relationship. And Lacan says that this “situates the ego … in a fictional direction.” In other words, it shows us that we look like one thing, when we in fact look like quite another.

image via http://lumpenprofessoriat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/mirror-stage.html

So the cultural world is at quite an amazing stage with regard to digital technology. We’re like toddlers, forming our digital ego – working out who we are, what we can be. And we could take the obvious path and continue to recreate ourselves in this image, take the digital materials we have to simply remake theatres and TV stations and art galleries. Or we could take advantage of our growing maturity to be more innovative – explore the materials at our disposal, see what they can do – and create something radically different. We can take some inspiration from Alice and go through the looking glass, rather than stand considering our own reflections.

And if we do that, we can we start to view technology as a material for exploration and innovation – the sort of thing we can build our dreams from – rather than merely an aid to recreate what we see in the mirror.

From Alice Through the Looking Glass. Illustration by John Tenniel.