LEGOfied

Seth has provided the preface for the recently published book LEGOfied: building blocks as media (New York: Bloomsbury 2020), edited by Nicholas Taylor and Chris Ingraham.

A draft of the preface, ‘An imaginary system,’ is here.

The book “offers a multi-faceted exploration of LEGO fandom [and] the role of hobbyist enthusiasts and content producers in LEGO’s emergence as a ubiquitous transmedia franchise […]

The major aim of this edited volume, and what makes it a compelling project for media scholars, is its rigorous, mutli-dimensional articulation of how LEGO functions not just as toy, as cultural icon, or as transmedia franchise, but as a media platform. LEGOfied is centered around their shared experiences, qualitative observations, and semi-structured interviews at a number of LEGO hobbyist conventions. Working outwards from these conventions, each chapter of the book engages additional modes of inquiry — media archaeology, aesthetics, posthumanist philosophy, feminist media studies, and science and technology studies — to explore the origins, permutations and implications of different aspects of the contemporary LEGO fandom scene.”

Connecting Culture

Dan Ashton and Seth Giddings are co-investigators on the just-announced ‘Connecting Culture’ initiative, a two-year project supported by a £75,000 grant from Arts Council England and involving a large consortium of arts organisations and child-focused services, led by the University of Southampton, to catalyse a new future in the arts.

Children and young people from across Southampton will be at the heart of the project, which will address the question of how the city’s thriving Cultural Quarter can enrich the lives of those aged five to 25. The aim is to enable young people to produce a Young People’s Manifesto and Map to be adopted by ‘Child-Friendly Southampton’ and create a sustained programme that reflects their needs.

The project will involve: 

  • over 350 participants, aged 5-25, and Early Years families in a city-wide artist-led consultation;
  • the recruitment of 10 new ‘Cultural Connectors’, a programme for young people aged 16-25 integrating ‘youth voice’ leadership and organisational development;  
  • the commissioning of a series of new public artworks led by young people;
  • the use of data gathered by the consortium, participants and partners to trial, develop and shape activities for children and young people – now and in the future.

The ‘Connecting Culture’ consortium includes Artswork, Art Asia, ArtfulScribe, ‘a space’ arts / God’s House Tower, Black History Month – Southampton, City Eye, John Hansard Gallery, Mayflower Theatre, Mayflower 400, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, SeaCity Museum, SOCOMusic, Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton Central Library, Solent Showcase Gallery, Southampton Music Hub, SÓN, Turner Sims, Unity 101, Voice FM, ZoieLogic Dance Theatre.

Strategic partners for the project include: Southampton City Council (SCC) Children’s Services (Children, Young People and Families), Southampton Youth Forum, Southampton Children in Care Council, Southampton Cultural Education Partnership (SCEP), Southampton Education Forum (HE/FE), Virtual School Head (Maria Anderson), Primary Heads Conference, Southampton Cooperative Learning Trust, Youth Options, No Limits (Young People, Young Carers), Diverse City (Dorset/Bristol), Creative Youth Network (Bristol); UoS: Public Engagement with Research Unit, Widening Participation Department, Social Impact Lab. 

Connecting Culture will commence in Autumn 2019.

creatures in Cologne

Seth Giddings was invited to give a talk at Beyond Humanism: cyborgs – animals – data swarms, the Cologne Summer School in Interdisciplinary Anthropology, a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School of the Humanities, University of Cologne September 23rd-27th 2019.

Entitled ‘AI and other animals: ontologies and ethologies of the cyborgian everyday’, the talk addressed artificial intelligence and artificial life in videogame play; forms of nonhuman agency that have transformed everyday media culture and could be regarded as harbingers of an emergent posthuman world. It took play with synthetic animals – zoomorphic videogame characters and robot toys – as an extended case study, bringing together two broad streams of critical posthumanism: technoculture and inter-species relationality. It argued that studying playful artificial animals offers insights into established and emergent cyborgian relationships between the nonhuman and human: relationships of play and being played with, of training and being trained, nurturing and being nurtured. And that the animality of AI and A-Life entities is real and not metaphorical, opening up ontological questions of AI: what kind of speciation gives rise to particular agents, what habitats and what kinds of behaviour characterise their existence? What anthropological or ethological methods might we employ to study these behaviours? And how is the status of both ‘animality’ and ‘intelligence’ achieved from the cyborg assemblages of code, digital hardware, animated imagery, bodies and minds in play?

posthuman creativity

The Transforming Creativity Research Group hosted a panel at the recent Cultural Histories Creative Futures conference at Winchester School of Art. The conference is the third in an ongoing relationship between WSA and the Culture Industry Research Centre at Nanjing University. A major international conference, it brought together scholars from the UK and China to engage with the past, present and future of scholarship in culture, history and creativity.

The ‘posthuman creativity’ panel argued for the significance and applicability of theoretical debates around critical posthumanism to contemporary creative production and cultural experience. Megen de Bruin-Molé, Danielle Sands, and Matt Hayler sketched out the key aspects of critical posthumanist theory and to their own research and industry networks, focusing on the real-world impact and potential of posthuman thought today. Dan Ashton interrogated assumptions and misassumptions about the role of automation and robotics in creative industries and work today, testing predictions for automation against the material and economic relationships prevalent in creative labour. Seth Giddings argued that everyday life has been posthuman since at least 1979 with the arrival of playful AI in the form of videogames – and that existing relationships with virtual animals offer insights into an emerging human-nonhuman culture.

Shock! and Rumble…

The Transforming Creativity group, in association with AMT, were thrilled to host two electrifying talks on technology, sensation, shock and haptics. David Parisi (College of Charleston, SC) presented on his very recent experience of testing the Teslasuit, a full-body haptic system, setting it in the context of his ongoing research into the archaeology and current developments in imaginary and actual haptic technology. Darshana Jayemanne (Abertay) explored the conceptual distinction between mimesis or semblance and shock in scholarship on Walter Benjamin. Both speakers made (reluctant) reference to Spielberg’s Ready Player One as a recent popular example of the technological imaginary of virtuality and sensation.

Darshana (l), David (r)