And so, right at the end of the year 2014 I made the trek to Johannesburg to present at the Fakugesi Digital Africa Festival conference which was the final event in a year-round program that looked at digital creativity in the African context, with collaborators from all over the world.
The Digital Africa Conference, lead by Tegan Bristow, had managed to secure Roy Ascott as the keynote speaker and honoured guest. If you don’t know about Roy – he is probably one of the most out-there artists/theorists that still maintains credibility across technology and arts domains.
It was liberating to engage in a space that allowed for a very broad spectrum of academics – from the most conceptual art practice, to pragmatic computer science. It was a total pleasure to see my name next to some of the most bleeding edge researchers and artists in the country today.
Here follow an overview of my talk:
Hacking Design: creative participation and mobile technologies
MOBILE // VISUAL DESIGN // RESOURCE-CONSTRAINED // MEDIA ECOLOGY // PARTICIPATION
As computer-based design tools, online networks and digital resources de-centralize the institutions for learning in the global North, we look at how mobile technologies are playing a similar role in a local South African context – where as little as 1% of learners have access to visual arts and information technologies as matric subjects. These formal holes in experience and training, as well as limited access to technical resources, place young aspiring visual designers at a severe deficit when it comes to following the formal avenues for a career in visual design – perpetuating a local culture of privilege and exclusivity in one of the fastest growing economic industries in the world.
However, a study on the media ecologies of 60 students from resource-constrained backgrounds enrolled in extended curriculum programs in Cape Town, start hinting at the role mobile technologies play in encouraging, facilitating and networking creative production and participation among this group.
These findings include the emergence of amateur ‘kasi’-inspired fashion brands, networked and crowd-sourced over social networks such as whatsapp, BBM and Facebook; the utilization of free image editing tools to produce promotional materials and decorative images; and mobile photography as a means of documenting, editing and sharing work. These designs are providing new social, emotional and creative cartographies for young people who seek agency and a means of personal expression – cultivating a ‘first touch’ of instrumental visual design.
Based on these findings, we have adopted participatory design methods to start the Microsoft-sponsored development of ‘Molio’: the mobile portfolio – a design tool, portfolio-based community of practice and learning tool for low-cost smartphones. Our aim with the development of this application is to encourage the empowerment of functional, if not accredited, visual designers. We seek to extend and develop capabilities along existing platforms in lieu of access to expensive technical tools and Internet data.