Category Archives: Art

messages to martians

Prof. Colin Pilger has died aged 70.

I never met him, though greatly enjoyed hearing him talk about Mars and space exploration.

I was lucky once to get into the press launch of an exhibition of the Beagle 2 lander at the White Cube, then in Hoxton. The colour calibration chart on the probe was a dot painting by Damien Hirst.

The Beagle 2 was a ‘cheap’ mars mission. It was piggy backing on a nasa mission to mars and support from the project was generated by Colin’s ability to get the likes of Hirst involved, as well as Blur composing the call sign.

I was working at the BBC and a colleague passed on the invitation, though I went totally in my own capacity, armed with a then state of the art Nokia camera phone.

Science and space exploration will miss him.

Walking Psychogeographic Sites of Scientific Interest (Project Proposal)

Being interested in landscapes, industry and technology and photography the idea of doing some walks to/from/around sites of scientific interest seemed like a good idea.

I have a vague list of sites and areas that I would like to visit on these walks, some more realisable than others.

I want to walk around CERN, but above ground, crossing the borders that below the ground the particle accelerator loop crosses. To examine the landscape above this great machine would be really interesting.

Closer to home, the plan is to visit Jodrell Bank and return to Dungeness.

Then there are the sites that attach to the idea of the military in the landscape, around Menwith Hill and RAF Waddington, the homes of ECHALON and the UK Drone programme respectively but also sites like Offord Ness.

Recording the landscape, the culture as well as the sounds (both audile and the electromagnetic soundscape).

Academic Online Publishing – Arts & Humanities

I am doing a small project looking at getting online spaces set up for art/design/cultural/humanities academic publishing. Basically using weblogs but making citation easier and making it easier for the authors to cite other documents.

Most material on this kind of space is focused on Scientific publishing, especially Bioinformatics. So I was wondering if people know of existing examples, tools that can be used or projects and calls for this type of tool?

If you know of anything can you either tweet me (@marksimpkins) or email me


Numbers Stations (Project Proposal)

Numbers Stations are the embodiment of spy culture in electromagnetic space. Unlike the secrecy, encryption, and other elements of espionage the numbers stations broadcast in the open, on shortwave frequencies. What the messages mean, why they broadcast what they do and what is encoded within those broadcast is a mystery and one almost impossible to crack.

No one owns up to running the broadcasts and of course where they are meant for impossible to know, they are just thrown out into the electromagnetic spectrum to be plucked out of the air by whoever has a shortwave receiver.

Project Description
The project will develop a shortwave broadcast ‘station’ as an object, that is sculptural and opaque as to its definite origins. The station will ‘broadcast’ works from selected contributors in the same / similar wavelengths as many of the more famous numbers stations.

The station will be installed in various parts of the UK and photographed in-situ.


* Numbers Stations
* The Conet Project
* The Conet Project – Internet Archive

electromagnetic noise

Working on Palindrone has opened up a whole new area of research and experimentation in playing with and listening to sound. I have been reading ‘The The Field – The Art of Field Recording‘ by Cathy Lane & Angus Carlyle as it is working with these found, recorded sounds (from the field) that currently interests me.

To work alongside Palindrone I am thinking about sound and landscape, especially the English Pastoral landscape and the sounds of light aircraft, the thrum of the distant yet always near motorways in the UK. When developing Palindrone I was thinking about the sound of light aircraft flying over head whilst on a pleasant walk in the English countryside, as well as harking back to the now Military-Pastoral sound of the Spitfire or Hurricane flying overhead in the south of England. Almost romantic notions of sound, technology and landscape.

There is another sound that pervades these landscapes though, we won’t hear it as we walk through the grass, but the sounds in the electromagnetic spectrum are saturated with noise of the modern and this is also the space for much of the modern Military Industrial Complex, with its Signal Intelligence.

Electrical currents generate magnetic fields, which have sonic properties. You can pick these up with a ‘telephone pickup coil‘. This will pick up all sorts of sounds.

This is the sound of my laptop:

As an experiment I am going to make some recordings of urban, suburban and rural landscapes using this basic set up, just to hear what is there.


A picture may often be worth a thousand words, but behind each picture is at least a story of a thousand words or more.

1:1000 is an occasional event where we invite one or two image makers to come and talk about one of their pictures.

To create a coherent narrative about the picture, its origin, its creation and its life afterwards can be quite a piece of work, so we will carefully select and support the image makers asked to take part.

If you are interested in attending the first 1:1000, in London then please sign up here, and we will get in touch with you once we have a date and location firmed up. Your support at this stage will help 1:1000 happen.


The Arts UnCouncil – The Provocations

To further the discussion on The Arts UnCouncil I want to come up with a series of provocations, statements, notes and ideas that are coming up when talking about this. These are just starting points for the discussion, a few small entries on the great grid that is the UnCouncil.

Provocation 1

‘I already pay my taxes, haven’t I already funded this kind of activity?’

Provocation 2

‘In doing this are we showing that there is an appetite for arts and cultural activity with the public?’

‘Is this a way of showing that funding by central government and local government need to, or are at least justified in spending money on this and the cuts that have been made should be re-assessed?’

Provocation 3

‘By doing this we show that funding by central government is unnecessary, as we are funding the activity that we want, so they can make further cuts?’

Provocation 4

‘But what actually is art, what counts as cultural activity, where are the lines drawn, if we draw them at all and who decides?’

The Arts UnCouncil

The board in front of you is empty, a grid. Rooms and times around the edges. How are you going to create something from this?

We have had unconferences for a while now, take the existing format and then blow it apart, allow the participants to create the content, to share, discuss and learn. It does work and once most people get past the initial shock of that schedule grid being blank to start with they soon learn that its there for them.

We need to find new ways to fund arts and culture. We can not rely on what has been there before, institutions do crumble over time, things do change and whilst I, personally do not agree with a policy being discussed or enacted by the current government and that we should fight, question and argue each and every one of them, I also believe that this is an opportunity to try other things.

Crowdfunding is a way to go, in fact on the, now many, crowdfunding sites you can find a number of art projects, short films, gallery shows etc. WeDidThis is dedicated to crowdfunding art.

Before I have proposed ideas around how we could look at funding journalism if we wanted to avoid the possible agendas of media moguls. Now, lets think about the cultural space around us.

We are already crowdfunding art works:

In Oxford, the city council have started running Create, a project where, once a month artists submit proposals, from which 6 are selected to pitch at an event. The event is open to the public, attendees are asked for a suggested donation of £10 (a minimum of £5) which goes into the event pot. The council match the donations in the pot.
At the event, the artists pitch and everyone votes for who gets the money.

The People Speak also run a similar event called Who Wants to Be…?, the audience created a fund and then spent the event deciding what to do with the money. Designed as much around a game show and audience participation event, this is also a performance in itself.

The Oxford model has been run twice now and seems to be working, and is something that could be used elsewhere.

You could also use the model similar to the one I suggested for the news foundation, ‘I agree to pay X amount once a month into a fund.’ As a contributor to the foundation I get to vote for the board that will be in charge of the dispersal of grants from the fund. In this model I would have less say over what specific art, events etc. would get funded, instead I devolve that to a curatorial board.

This could be seen as similar to the Awesome Foundation.

Now the Arts UnCouncil, we look at the board showing the balance available to fund the arts and at first glance it is bare.

Then we notice in the corner Oxford City Council’s Create is there. Other projects, such as the Nesta backed National Funding Scheme are currently on trial (disclosure: there is some of my code and technical architecture in the NFS project) also fall into our field of view but there are still a lot of blank spaces.

These are the spaces that we can fill, The Arts UnCouncil is the collective effort of us all to take part in the cultural landscape of our society. It is not a replacement for the Arts Council but as well as. We are not looking to close the funding gap but to participate in the creation of culture and art.

Very quickly the spaces on the grid fill up. You read some of the titles, some really catch your interest, others you glance over but thats ok. An idea springs into your mind, how you want to talk about something that has been on your mind for a while, an idea or project you have been working on over time recently. You want to share and listen. So you grab a pen and fill in one of the spaces.

This is just a note to ask us to start talking about how we might all actively contribute to our cultural landscape, how we might allow for challenging work to be developed and produced, how we can feel a part of the landscape.

The Arts Uncouncil might become a thing, run in trust for us all or maybe it is just an idea around which we can think and talk and do.

Help start the discussion.

The Arts Uncouncil.