We are super-happy to announce, that Hannah Perner-Wilson has joined the Spiel und Objekt team as a Professor for digital media.
Hannah’s work combines conductive materials and craft techniques to develop new styles of building electronics that emphasize materiality and process. She creates working prototypes to demonstrate the kinds of electronic artifacts we might build for ourselves in a world of electronic diversity. A significant part of her work goes into documenting and disseminating her techniques so that they can be applied by others. She is a frequent collaborator with artist Mika Satomi.
In order to get to know Hannah a bit better, we asked 4 questions relating to her practice and the performing arts:
S&&O: What is your current research interest?
HPW: My current work is leading me to explore making’s potential as more than a means of prototyping and production.
We blame our styles and systems of making for much of what we see to be wrong in the world today (environmental pollution, resource depletion, exploitation of human labor, capitalism and consumerism). Yet my own experience of making has led me to believe that it holds many other potentials. Making as an opportunity to re-imagine other ways of creation and being in the world. Making as a process of understanding the world and our current situation. Making as a means for re-making our relations with the world.
My style of research is very explorative, in the sense that I look for ways to make and experience things in order to involve and express myself in/through/with them. Here is some of the work I’ve been doing that relates to this this research interest:
In early 2019, I participated in a letter-exchange with educator and writer David Cole. We were both interested in how a material/making/craft practice with electricity leads us to understand the world through the materials and concepts we work with. This process of writing and examining my own practice lead me down a hole of questioning the origins of my ideas, and to realize the importance of community in framing and supporting my practice.
Getting Lost and Unlearning Certainty: Material Encounters in an Electronic Craft Practice by David Cole and Hannah Perner-Wilson, in the Critical Maker Reader, 2019
Order a free copy >> https://form.jotformeu.com/932436622093562018
In the summer of 2019 I worked together with Cedric Honnet and Paul Strohmeier to reverse engineer a technique for making our own conductive fabrics through a polymerization process. This work is a good example to show the value I see in figuring out ways to make things ourselves in order to understand how things work, and the importance I see in spending extra time and effort to document and share such knowledge in accessible ways in order to involve others in the process so that it becomes exposed to larger and diverse audiences.
The result of our work was a very academic publication titled PolySense, but it is also all shared in a Git Repository full of DIY instructions and links to the examples we made: https://counterchemists.github.io/
PolySense: Augmenting Textiles with Electrical Functionality using In-Situ Polymerization by Cedric Honnet, Hannah Perner Wilson, Marc Teyssier, Bruno Fruchard, Jurgen Steimle, Ana C. Baptista, Paul Strohmeier, CHI 2020
Download PDF >> https://counterchemists.github.io/files/PolySense.pdf
At the first Digital Naturalism Conference (DiNaCon) in 2018 on the island of Koh Lon in Thailand, I arrived with a single question. It was formulated as an image in my mind: a human underwater making something. What are they making?
Among the few tools I took with me was a crochet hook. I listened to some free-diving instruction on how to hold my breath for longer periods of time, and then went underwater to see what I could crochet. What resulted from playing through this scenario, was the idea for a short story about how human behaviour is shaped by our concept of waste, and what it could mean to undo this concept. But also, how does one even go about changing behaviour on individual and societal levels. You can read the story here:
Crocheteering – a tale of fishy innovation by Hannah Perner-Wilson, published in the Proceedings of the First Digital Naturalism Conference.
Download PDF >> http://pirating.science/dinacon/dinacon_2018_book.pdf
S&&O: What possibilities do you think, theatre might offer for your artistic practice?
HPW: I think theatre offers me an opportunity to take ideas (and skills), that I’ve developed for engaging audiences through teaching workshops, into realms that allow making to be freed from learned contexts of functionality and applicability. For making to be experienced as a dance between the material, the maker and the world. Dancing this dance I see as our opportunity to become aware of our actions in the world and to open ourselves up for a discussion and a re-imagining of how we want to be dancing with others in future.
Does this make sense?
Let me try to explain…..
During the Wir Alle Spielen Theater (WAST) conference that the S&&O students organized mid February, I was nicely surprised to discover that my own practice bears much overlap with a theatre field using new technologies to involve audiences in thinking and caring about the implementations of these technologies in the world.
Secretly, for some time now, I’ve been thinking that the workshops I teach have something in common with participatory theatre. Both look to enable the audience (participants) to have an experience through being an active agent in a system. Theatre makers and workshop leaders imagine, plan and create scenarios that require participants to learn something about how a system works – through a mix of instruction and open exploration. Participants try out what is possible, probing the limits of the system, testing their assumptions and their ideas by acting upon them – a process that leads them to generate new ideas that can again be tested.
Whereas my approach has been to reach audiences through engaging them in making technology themselves (teaching workshops, publishing documentation), I see these new theatrical experiences using methods of role-playing, game structure and the staging them in settings designed to allow participants certain freedoms to explore through making their own experiences within them. These theatrical systems (shaped by the questions posed by the producers of the piece) are explored not through engagement with materials and making techniques, but through observing others, interacting, discussing and collaborating to play something through together.
Thinking through the differences between a 2-hour production and a 2-day workshop:
context: theatre (experiencing) vs. education (learning)
participant expectation: suspension of disbelief vs. belief that one can learn something new
participant willingness: to attend to the presentation and content vs. to actively participate and okay to make mistakes
duration: the amount of time, and the kind of focus that participants commit
I would really like to explore a mix of these two formats. Making use of the longer-time commitment made for a workshop, with the willingness to suspend belief provided by theatre. Lets see where this leads me:-)
S&&O: What courses do you plan on offering?
HPW: Three ideas I have right now for courses are:
Taking parts apart and figuring out what we want
A course that starts with participants taking electronic components apart in order to understand how they work. Then introducing materials that allow us to make these parts ourselves, while at the same time challenging us to imagine exactly how these parts look and work now that we have more control over their design and function. What ideas do the materials, tools and techniques lead us to express?
During this hands-on process, we will inform ourselves through reading, listening, field trips and discussions about topics such as: the history of humans and electricity, production and exploitations by the electronics and textile industries, advertising and consumer behaviour, how is knowledge (and tacit skill) generated and shared and what aspects of these learning/sharing processes contribute to social equality and diversity within technology fields.
Hands-on workshops as participatory theatre?
Related to my response to your question what “theatre might offer me in my artistic practice”, I would like to plan a course that allows me to explore this idea together with students. I imagine such a course would start with students experiencing a 2-day “introduction to e-textiles” workshop themselves, to put them through such an experience and trigger ideas for the format’s potential to lead people to more than material/craft knowledge and skill.
How to get what you want
An introduction to electronic textiles and wearable technology with a focus on soft & stretchy circuitry, textile sensors and actuators, arduino, sending and receiving data over wireless communication, prototyping and interaction design methods.
This workshop would potentially have two tracks. After a shared introduction, students could choose to take one or both tracks.
Imagining track: One for students interested in the possibilities of these technologies and ways of prototyping these possibilities in order to work out ideas.
Craft track: for students interested in spending the time to learn the craft skills necessary for making this technology themselves. Making it well so that it fits, is comfortable, robust and also getting into aspects of tailoring and design.
But these are course Ideas that I have from my experiences prior to this new position. I want to take time to listen to and observe what interests and questions our students have. And experience what knowledge and resources I am able to provide them in order to come up with some more/new course ideas.
For sure, any course that I teach, I will want to plan as a hands-on making experience. Even if the dominant content of a course is theoretical, conceptual or political in nature, I’m always going to look for a way to enter into and experience content through making or manipulating something physical.
S&&O: What are you looking forward to the most?
HPW: After 10+ years of independent practice and self-employment, I’m actually really looking forward to becoming part of something bigger and longer.
I’m hopeful that this position will be an opportunity for me to share my own knowledge and skills in human-computer interaction technologies (such as electronic textiles, other craft and computing techniques….. physical computing….. interaction design), creative and artistic ways of pursuing research interests, and making one’s work accessible to the public through workshops, documentation and experimental forms of presentation.
But also for this position to be an opportunity for me to learn and explore my practice in the context of theatre, storytelling and performance based work. And for this new context to challenge me in my ideas and use of materials/technology.
Welcome Hannah! Very glad to have you!