When I first stumbled across Rich Oglesby’s blog, Prosthetic Knowledge, it was like discovering a wormhole in the Internet. I’ve always liked reading about people experimenting with next-level technologies, but I really never knew where to look. His site became my little window into the world of what’s next: Future technologies, virtual art experiences, experimental apps and installations.
Rich is particularly interested in the intersection of art and technology; forward-thinking new media projects, on both the art and design sides of the spectrum. I’m really excited he’s agreed to be a guest contributor here; hopefully he’ll turn you onto some things that I would never have been able to show you. Keep an eye out for his posts (you can follow them all here), and bookmark his blog. Below is a short conversation I had with him.
Jeff Hamada: If you were to make a postcard for Oxfordshire, what would it look like and what would it say?
Rich Oglesby: Probably a view of the skyline of Oxford’s well known spires and historical buildings, entitled with ‘Over Rated’. I don’t disagree that it is an important academic capital of the UK, with its history, museums (including a MoMA), and even JRR Tolkien’s favourite pub, but a visitor could explore all these things in a day or two. Take this away and what is left is a very underwhelming place. Oxfordshire does have it’s recent local heroes: Radiohead, from Abingdon, and Journalist/Presenter/Writer Charlie Brooker.
JH: Do you watch Black Mirror (aka one of the best shows ever made)?
RO: Very much so! I’m a Charlie Brooker fan, and when I first heard about the show years ago I knew that it would be something that would interest me. I think the term “Black Mirror” could be adopted to contemporary cultural thinking about personal computing (ie “Black Mirror media” or “Black Mirror culture” etc.) As Charlie Brooker defined it himself, “The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
I think the definition can be easily expanded, with Black referencing style, the espionage Black Chambers that now fit in a hand, and the obvious connections to Mirrors and ourselves. A very well researched show, much more about the present than the future, but that doesn’t surprise me with Brooker’s smart eye.
I highly recommend a show he made with Chris Morris called ‘Nathan Barley’, a comedy about idiotic new media hipsters (far before that term reached any modern inception).
JH: I never thought about the significance of the name before – it’s perfect. I can’t remember the last time I watched a show where the entire time I was like ‘this is amazing, this is amazing, this is amazing’. It’s quite profound. I’m stunned it hasn’t become a huge hit (at least not in North America). I’ll definitely check out Nathan Barley!
Where do you think your interest in art and technology began? Did you grow up playing with LEGO?
RO: I did have LEGO as a kid, but to be honest 80’s home computers left a far bigger impression on me in my youth. To be honest, I think computers are very much LEGO-like machines, certainly the 8-Bit and 16-Bit era models, visually their experiences were very modular and piecemeal: Typing on them using fixed-width square fonts and symbols, games with graphics notably constructed with blocks, and music constructed with short sounds to replayed in an arranged order. When you start to look more deeply into computing at this time you discover that graphical and audio representations, or coding, are block-like constructions (a notable observation that appears in Douglas Coupland’s book Microserfs). Minecraft has taken this idea (unintentionally or otherwise) to the contemporary.
While 8-Bit games demonstrated that computers were a creative medium, for me one of the most influential computers was the Commodore Amiga (it gave a glimpse of what was to come). More specifically, art software such as Deluxe Paint (which was the equivalent of Photoshop in it’s time), messing around with gradients and image making. Also, the Demo Scene, where groups of independent creatives would create audio visual productions that would push what the computer would do. These were available usually via disks which you could order from Public Domain mail order companies. They were like a pre-internet info service reliant on postal service and magazine adverts; free information (though you paid for the disks). It wasn’t just Demo Scene productions, there were also various software and homebrew games, it all made clear how a modern piece of tech could be a creative medium.
I have to say though, all art is a product of technology and media. A paintbrush is a piece of technology, a pencil is a piece of technology, a camera is a piece of technology, clay is technology, etc. All of them have functional purposes yet there is always someone who will find a creative application for them, and it is no different for contemporary tech. I’m more surprised when artists don’t explore them. I’m waiting to see a project for Android smart watches (other than just displaying images).
JH: I love seeing technologies used for something other than what they were originally designed for, like the Fisher Price PXL 2000 camera turning audio cassettes into video cassettes. I think modifying existing things has always interested me. I remember the day my friends and I discovered you could take the bottle off of the Super Soaker 50 and connect the garden hose directly to the water gun; it was life-changing.
What part of running Prosthetic Knowledge is the most fun for you?
RO: PK is really just something to devote my spare time to (I’m not really a TV type of person). I guess it’s just an extention of my online habits. The most fun is discovering something that makes me say ‘HOLY SHIT! THAT’S GOOD!’ and then go into the process of putting something together which I hope will attract attention to the creators (mostly GIF making – a little creative touch). It is always good to present smart projects that could easily be lost under the radar, and that is what keeps me going.
JH: Can you think of something that really blew your mind but was largely unappreciated by everyone else?
RO: Defining ‘unappreciated’ is very much a relative thing, as some things which are not hugely resonant on my blog tend to find bigger responses elsewhere. Having said that, I find the subject of 3D video really exciting. An example is this. Okay, it has an academic title which may put many off, but it is noticeable as being the cleanest example so far compared to, say, this (although still impressive). For me it is clear to see creative opportunities here whether it is art, drama, sports or anything else, and the experiences can be manipulated on playback similar to this example here. Whilst this isn’t necessarily truly ready now for widespread mainstream adoption, it is certainly a new new media. Even when someone has developed a simple 3D video capturing app for desktop so that you can simply install, plug in a Kinect, and play around with, the response hasn’t been huge and I find that very short sighted.
JH: If you made a Prosthetic Knowledge app, what would it do?
RO: Two ideas come to mind, but both would be for future generation tech. One would be for something like the Project Tango structured light depth sensor devices, smartphones and tablets that can ‘see’ 3D form. The device would have to tour and examine your room / house, then reconstruct this 3D data into a copy, albeit a white space gallery version, which would then be populated with digital art works – a sort of augmented reality version of Panther Modern.
The other app would be for Adidas trainers which would have a colour E-Ink surface – you could select a colour scheme, pattern, or even take a picture on your phone and they would be displayed on the trainers, sort of photo-chameleon like, or Octocamo from Metal Gear Solid.
JH: Love both of those ideas! Can we maybe end this with something you’ve learned about yourself through running your blog? It could be a big or small realisation.
RO: Well, I started blogging as a form of personal therapy (not psycho-analytical but as re-acquainting myself to subjects or ideas that I found interesting), mostly due to devoting my time to work which didn’t really pay-off. I needed my own ‘thing’. I think it has paid off! I think, as long as you are persistent, forward thinking, and vigilant, there are always new ideas and directions for creativity out there, despite what appear to be perceptions of highs and slumps of inspiration.