Art & Culture

Wherein I write a rambling tribute to Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

Well, where to start when writing a tribute to this multitalented, brainy, considerate, funny, knows-where-all-the-coolest-stuff-is, amazing and strategic-thinking woman.

Hmm. Guess that list of adjectives was a tip of a tip of the iceberg, but one has to start somewhere.

I first met Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino in Singapore, at a policy summit on digital technologies and the arts. I was jetlagged like I had never been before and staying awake in the 100% humidity was mostly a feat of will. Then Alex started speaking and I sat straight up, captivated by her presentation on how she founded the design studio Tinker! in London and how she was evangelizing for open hardware all over the world. I have to meet this woman, I thought to myself. Fortunately, I did, and a few years later she’s now a partner at Really Interesting Group, working on high profile stuff for Mozilla, and working on a fascinating project about emotional robots for a major European Union funded research group. I also invited her to share her expertise on the Internet of Things and speculative design at my latest Blowup event at V2_. You can read her text, “Is this thing on? Identity, robots, and spying through everyday objects” in the free, downloadable e-Book that accompanied the event.

So yes, she’s a heavy-hitter and every time you chat with her, you’ll learn something. Chances are you’ll laugh, too. Her dry sense of humour comes out in many of her design projects, including this one, Curious Scarves, a way of advertising your relationship status and which gender you are seeking, because “it’s hard being single in the big city”:

Ada Lovelace Day or not, it’s just high time I wrote a little tribute to Alex, my friend and colleague, who is basically number one on my speed dial** when I want to know what’s what in the worlds of design, internet of things, robots, and future thinking.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. This is my contribution for 2011.
My previous contributions were:
2010: About Eva Schindling
2009: A little story about Anab Jain

** – OK, she’s not really on my speed dial, because I hate the telephone. (I really hate the phone… don’t call me. Please.) We need some kind of new way of expressing the symbolism of speed dial, but for email and Twitter DMs and whatnot. If you think of/invent/know of a term like this, lemme know.


About Eva Schindling

Eva with the Banff New Media Institute’s 3D printer.

It’s a little cheeky for me to title this post “About Eva Schindling“, because there are so many things that I don’t know about her, which makes it difficult for me to even scratch the surface of what she is “about”. I decided to forge ahead with this post when I realised that being intrigued by her was a good enough reason to write something.

Some of Eva’s circuit visualisations.

What I do know about Eva I have picked up by rubbing shoulders over the past month here at the Banff New Media Institute within the Banff Centre for the Arts. I’ve discovered that she analyses, visualises, and builds a wide range of things, often with visually arresting results (examples above). She works with and thinks about patterns, fluid dynamics, 3D printing, circuit design, coding, emergence, and complex systems. Despite her obvious technical virtuosity, she avoids a common trap of those with that high level of technical skill, which is to only engage with the surface of an issue. Instead, her project references show that there are many layers of thinking that go into each of her experiments.

On top of the fact that she’s thinking about the intersections between some interesting and timely areas, she’s also very charming company. I only wish I could stay here in Banff another month so that I could get to know her better!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. This is my contribution.

Art & Culture

A little story about Anab Jain

sign for the downtown yellow chair

The first time I met Anab Jain, it was in San Jose, California, during the 01SJ/ISEA 2006 festival. I was drawn to the yellow chair perched in a grassy square, and when I finally got close enough to see that it wasn’t just any yellow chair, but the Yellow Chair at the heart of a project that I had read about online and so admired, I was thrilled. I was doubly delighted when I discovered the creator of such a cool project, Anab, was there for me to meet.

The Yellow Chair Project is one of those beautiful projects that demonstrates many things. It is an elegant illustration of how wireless networks can be so much more than a soulless pay-for service, while also being a fun way of encouraging dialogue around sharing, and highlighting the evolution of social relationships in our urban terrain (where the proverbial ‘cup of sugar’ that we might borrow from a neighbour used to involve face-to-face contact, and now, the sugar has turned into wifi that we borrow and don’t even know which neighbour it came from).

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, giving the project away before really telling you what it is. I’ll quote Anab’s website, as the creator often describes their work best:

“”My Wi-Fi network is open for neighbours and passers-by. Free access from the yellow chair.” By placing this sign and a yellow chair outside my house, I conducted a live service design intervention and extended the boundaries of my home to encompass the boundaries of my wireless network. This ‘grass roots’ design approach illustrates how wireless technologies could become interfaces to recreate transient spaces for conversations at the threshold of the public and the private, the physical and the electronic.”

Anab produced a small advertising campaign to draw attention to the presence of the yellow chair and encourage people to share her wireless network. She solicited feedback from the users of her network, and received several positive comments (“It’s nice to sit in the fresh air and check my mails…”). This is already a project that has won over my heart, but then… Anab upped the ante by opening up the shared folder, and making it a curated space where she offered something new every day. Music files, a recipe for chicken tikka masala, an offer to have a cup of tea… All this at the humble yellow chair! See if you get that kind of service from The Cloud!

Anab describes herself as someone who likes “to tell speculative stories of possible near futures at the intersection of the technological and sociological”. The Yellow Chair project I’m telling you about is just the tip of the iceberg, she has gone on to do many more impressive and insightful projects (more info on that here), and what’s more — she’s curious and supportive and stays in touch. After that little meeting we had in San Jose at her yellow chair, I dropped her a line. I don’t set my expectations too high for further contact after these brief meetings at art events. Now that I know Anab better, it comes as no surprise that in addition to being a woman of exceptional talent, she’s a warm and supporting colleague who stays in touch.

In short, Anab rocks and if you want to know what the future of design will be, you should fix your eyes firmly on her projects!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. This is my contribution.