Thursday, May 31, 2012

Life Friendly: Pascal Venier guest post

Àgata Alcañiz is a Catalan Artist whose art practice is informed by her commitment to the environment. She has been focussing since 2004 on developing her Environmental performance art project, exploring the human impact on the natural environment. My meeting with her was undeniably the result of a serendipitous effect. It so happens that I was in an online chat conversation with Fred Garnett, He of the Heutagogic Archives, 9 After 909, and many other things, when he forwarded an email invitation for an event which was to start the following day in Manchester, which involved Mind-Mapping. I immediately commented by saying that I would definitely would be attending the event, being myself very interested in Mind-Mapping, which I have practiced for years and on which I even run workshops for doctoral students at the University of Salford. It so happened that Fred was, at the same time, speaking with Àgata and told her about my interest. This is how Àgata expressed an interest in meeting up as she would welcome advice on Mind-Mapping and I went to the Chinese Arts Centre to discuss the use of Mind-Mapping in her project.

The Life Friendly Residency at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, which took place from 24 April to 5 May 2012, involved a group of artists who explored the theme of How Life Friendly can the Arts Be? All this is based on the Life Friendly concept developed by Nadine Andrews from Culture Probe. In her own words,

“Life-friendly means to live and work in ways that support life - all life – to flourish, to create a world that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling. Rather than going for the usual ‘less bad’ approach of reducing our negative impact on the world, which doesn’t solve our global problems but just ekes things out for longer, life-friendly re-frames it in the positive. It seeks to have an actively benign or restorative impact on ourselves, on other people and on the rest of the natural world: win-win-win.


The aim of the residency was to try and "grasp how the Chinese Arts Centre and artists can make their practices friendlier". In the first week, the program Àgata Alcañiz defined for herself involved exploring the Life Friendly concept, by conducting research. Firstly, this involved conducting a series of interviews with Nadine Andrews, who has developed this concept, but also asking the staff of the Chinese Arts Centre to provide their insight into what they were looking to improve, the artists involved in the residency, but also, and perhaps foremost the “centre's audience, who are also a primordial part of the centre's experience.” Such videos were screened during the residency’s first week opening and made available online.

In the second week, Àgata had been looking at how the Life Friendly concept could be developed. After listening to the interviews she had conducted in the first week, she decided to create a mind-map which would synthesize the views elicited and to which everyone would be invited to contribute during the Open Studio Days on 4-5 May 2012. The idea was for the mind-map to be exploring how to go about making the Chinese Arts Centre a friendlier space, "how to improve the well being of the staff and artists working in it and its visitors" and "how it can be friendlier with the wider environment". In keeping to her environmental commitment Àgata had decided that the mind-map which was to be drawn on a wall at the Chinese Art Centre would be only using sustainable materials such as locally sourced charcoal and once finished the mind map would be washed with water and a bio-degradable cloth.


When we initially met on 3 May, Àgata and I discussed her project and the different possibilities for creating a digital version of the collective Mind-Map which would be drawn on one of the walls of the studio. We agreed that I would be coming to assist during the two days of the open studio and would try to capture in digital form the Mind-Map as it would evolve.

I spent two days at the Chinese Arts Centre on 4 and 5 May 2012, to assist artist Àgata Alcañiz, as she worked on the mural Mind Map on the theme of How Life Friendly can the Arts Be? It was for me a most fascinating experience to spend time with artists of the collective, in particular Maya Chowdhry, Penny Skerrett, Jessica Mautner and James Brady.

Àgata started the map which progressively took shape. Members of staff at the Chinese Arts Centre, other artists, as well as visitors to the Life Friendly open studio event also contributed. In the meantime, Àgata also interacted on Twitter to try and elicit contributions beyond the walls of the studio.

The Life Friendly Residency Mind Map

It was extremely exciting to see how the map progressively came into being, as contributors' ideas started flowing on how the Chinese Arts Centre could be made to become a friendlier space, how its staff, artists and visitor could be made to feel more confortable, but also how it could become more environementaly friendly.

The Life Friendly Residency Mind Map

My role during this two days was to transcribe the nodes of the mural map in a digital format.

Life Friendly Residency Mind Map 5

During our initial conversation, Àgata and I discussed how it would be possible to create a digital version of the Mind Map. It was felt that the best option would be to allow people to contribute online to the map. However, as the logistics of such a process were difficult to set up, at what was a very short notice, we decided that it would be unpractical to create the sort of wikimap, I had for instance used in my little visual mapping timeline experiment, using MindMeister. We decided instead that the best option would be to use dynamic Mind Mapping software TheBrain.

Life Friendly Residency Map 6

A most fascinating feature of TheBrain is that it is possible to animate any map using the wander function and display it on a screen. Here is a screencast Life Friendly Residency Mind Map animation created with TheBrain.

This screencast is also available on Vimeo

Another invaluable benefit of using TheBrain has been that it was possible to upload an online version of the Mind Map, using TheBrain Cloud Services.

thebrain snapshot

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