Heidi Hinder is an artist-maker and researcher. She was recently awarded one of three pioneering Craft + Technology residencies, supported by the Crafts Council, Watershed Media Centre and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, giving her an opportunity to explore the ‘Internet of Things’ within her artistic practice.
Heidi’s Craft + Technology project, called Money No Object, questions prevailing concepts of value and suggests a new significance for physical currency in an increasingly immaterial digital age. She writes here about her residency experience, and the chance to fuse smart technologies with material making for the very first time.
I heard about the Craft + Technology residency programme when it was launched at Assemble, the Crafts Council conference in September 2012. To me, the scheme represented a very exciting proposition. It seemed to be an exceptional opportunity to research new ideas, and to gain insight into emergent methods and materials, alongside a supportive network of dedicated technologists, producers, academics and partnership organisations, who would be in a unique position to facilitate such an enviable learning experience. Cutting-edge skills, knowledge and guidance are often even more difficult to access than innovative machine processes or facilities, while this residency was offering both. Essentially, the Craft + Technology residency signified the occasion to work, for three months, in ways which I would choose to operate continuously, if finance and opportunity permitted; maintaining approaches which are predominantly conceptual and collaborative, as well as open, curious, free and playful.
As a result, I applied to the scheme with a proposal to explore the Internet of Things in the context of money and value, and the narrative potential surrounding these themes. I hoped to research a breadth of ideas relating to different types of economies and concepts of value in the broadest terms, including the supposed question mark over the future of material currency in an increasingly immaterial digital age. My intention was to reflect on a series of dilemmas, and to explore possible outcomes to some of the issues through the process of making, incorporating technology where relevant, and where (I anticipated) my manual and mechanical craft-making skills might limit my ideas.
Some of the questions I planned to consider included:
If material money becomes obsolete, and yet trading relies on trust, how can we trust what we cannot tangibly experience, what we can no longer touch, see, smell or hear?
What will we value in future, and how will we value it, if physical currency disappears, commodities evaporate and investment is largely in clicks, pixels and algorithms? How might this affect our perceptions and behaviour as a result?
How can creativity, ideas, art and culture be valued? How can human experience be valued?
What could affect or influence the creative value of a coin?
In what ways might digital technology embedded in crafted objects, mediate an emotional, sensory or narrative experience?
(Further to this edited list, I could have also asked myself ‘How much research can one person fit into three months?’)
My main aim for the residency was that any technology I incorporated should unite people, bringing them closer together by triggering some form of physical or emotional exchange between users. I hoped that the crafted objects I would design and produce, would not only raise questions conceptually about money and value, but also facilitate meaningful or thought-provoking human-to-human interactions, or sensory experiences, mediated by an appropriate form of digital technology, and embedded within a tactile, appealing and intriguing object, or series of objects. With this in mind, perhaps it was inevitable that my degree training in Jewellery & Related Products would influence my decision to develop wearable payment technologies.
Here is the short film produced by Watershed, which illustrates the outcome of my Craft + Technology research residency so far: Money No Object
The project outlined in this film represents just one concept among many that I began during the residency period. I am continuing with this research, and am currently in discussion with London agencies about investment to develop the work further, as well as to introduce the concept and test the technology within a museum ecosystem.
The chance to incorporate digital methods into my practice opened up completely new ways of working, and perhaps more significantly, new ways of thinking as I discovered in this opportunity, the ability to achieve some of the more experience-based ideas which I had long wanted to create through my artwork, but which my hand-making skills or access to mechanical technologies had either limited, or rendered inadequate. Acquiring a new understanding of digital technology and its creative potential has enabled me to see artistic opportunity, and fresh possibility which didn’t exist before, when pervasive media was not a tool, method or option available to me to use.
The experience of taking part in the Craft + Technology residency scheme will continue to have immeasurable value for my artistic practice, and for myself as an individual, from this unique process of creative professional development. It is difficult to measure and express – appropriately, where ‘value’ is concerned – just how much this exceptional opportunity represents, with its far-reaching, supportive and inclusive network of inspiring people and intensive experimental learning curves. The residency experience has already expanded my artistic horizon and provided me with a much greater scope and a more dynamic, collaborative way in which to work. In fact, this is a way of working towards which I feel I am most naturally inclined, but perhaps have regularly (although not entirely) lacked the opportunity to operate in this manner, through intermittent professional and financial support that together provide the necessary confidence. Without wishing to sound too effusive, the residency experience has been akin to finding my professional and artistic soul mate.