The Ridgeway Project

The Ridgeway Project 2012 : installation/website/social media/app

The Ridgeway Project is about people, photography and landscape.  An installation brings together photographs by Fay Godwin and a live social media feed from the website. An app links to the website and the Ridgeway itself. The app is designed to provide walkers with another level of experience and to encourage further contributions of content. The project links cyberspace to a gallery space to the ‘real’ world of the Ridgeway. It seeks to bring new audiences to classic landscape photography, raise visitor awareness of assets owned on their behalf by Wiltshire Council and encourages them to explore the Wiltshire landscape and contribute more to this ongoing project.

http://ridgeway.creativewiltshire.co.uk/home.html

 The Commission

The project was commissioned by Wiltshire Council as part of the refurbishment of County Hall in Trowbridge.  From the outset the project was conceived of as one which would provide an interpretation of Fay Godwins work and celebrate local landscape using a participatory approach.  

 Fay Godwin

As well as being a photographer, Fay Godwin was a walker with a passion for the land. This provided a platform for the project to engage with walkers and visitors to heritage sites as well as creatives.

 The App

The app, The Wiltshire Ridgeway Walk, was developed on the App Furnace platform using assets curated by Richard White, hot spots at locations where Fay Godwin may have worked were ‘populated’ with sounds and images triggered by GPS. Music Technology students created soundscapes in response to the Godwin images, some using sounds gathered from those locations. In addition to there is some short speech content from an archaeologist, a local farmer and school children . Online research uncovered recording of sounds from replica ancient instruments, these were located, cleared for use and embedded close to the points where they were recorded. To date, Soundcloud has not been widely used, the plan was to use the app to gather sounds of the locations sourced at different times of year is as yet unrealised

The App Furnace platform enabled repeated pre-publication testing and offers access to a supportive community. An early problem was the lack of 3G signal at Avebury this forced an early development of what became the ‘armchair’ version. The transition in and out of GPS linked mode is still somewhat clunky. Once up on The Ridgeway, however, GPS kicks in.

User feedback was positive although some felt that the distance between hot spots was too great. Related to this, although walkers liked the fact that most of the content was audio some were reluctant to wear headphones and experience the magic moment when the sample was triggered.

The Website

The website was designed and built with a Modx content management system by Aneta Gorka as an online orientation to the entire project. The site also provides links to the App Store and Googleplay for downloading the app and offers invitations, information and advice on engaging with the social media elements of the project. The slide show, a Flickr linked module, used by the installation is hosted on the site.

The Installation

The installation consists of the formally framed Fay Godwin prints alongside a large monitor screening the curated social media feed. The feed is monitored daily and can be edited remotely via the back office of the website and Flickr accounts. At the launch event the installation was augmented by a lap top showing the whole site, 3 iPads on stands showing the app in armchair mode ; in addition to this,  the soundscapes were edited to a loop alongside some video footage by Richard White. This proved to be very popular with over 150 people viewing the installation and exploring the app over a 5 hour period.

Development Process

Walks

A series of walks were organised to develop the idea, gather images, check locations, check 3G coverage and ultimately test the app. It was a social process and the notion of ‘crowd sourcing’ the installation in much the same way as the Ridgeway itself had been walked into existence evolved. The concept developed during the walk and was tested through many iterations, starting with creating hot spots at key locations where Fay Godwin might have made work. The final series of walks came into Wiltshire from the Uffington White Horse and connected with Ali Pretty’s work (Walking Wiltshires White Horses). 

Online development

The invitation to engage in developing ideas and test locative media technology was extended using social networks, a collaborative workspace and test zone was set up  on wikispaces: http://wiltshireridgeway.wikispaces.com/

Following research on image platforms, a Flickr group was established and promoted. One Flickr member initially posted images to the project group but took the images down as he was unhappy about possible live screening quality and context and the work being seen alongside ‘amateur’ work. Whilst social media development activity was ongoing new images were being added with some frequency but when the focus of animateur activity changed the supply of images slowed.  

Evaluation:

The entire project has been greeted with great enthusiasm but informal engagement in the interactive and social media element has been inconsistent. The organised walks were successful in overcoming this and the walks were essential to the development of the project but most walkers were happy for an animateur to do the ‘work’ of loading content.

The ‘finished’ installation has been very well received and works well in the space. Curating the feed ensures that a good mix of images are shown, the Flickr feed itself appears to be self policing in terms of quality and the concerns expressed by the Fickr member appear to be unjustified. There are however issues concerning the sustainability of the feed and the integrity of the project if it passes out of the hands of the artist/curator/producer. It may be at this stage that the Flickr feed will be locked. There are ethical questions to be explored around the issue of curating user generated content, particularly stimulated by the decision of a photographer to withdraw his content because of his inability to control the viewing context.

Conclusion

The work has certainly brought a new audience to the Fay Godwin images and encouraged  new interactive engagements with the work and the landscape. As a participatory work the installation offers an aesthetic challenge juxtaposing new user generated digital images on a screen with the framed photographs of a professional photographer. Once briefed about wet photography processes school children in the development phase viewed the prints almost as holy relics. The immersive interactive experience was however a fleeting one and the key social media elements have yet to become fully self sustaining. The project demonstrates the potential of a participatory arts projects to engage with social media and the role of a network aware participatory producer/animateur  to connect individuals on those networks, build confidence and skills, bringing energy to the project at key moments. There is potential in participatory arts work with new audiences in a social media context  but there is much work to be done in developing engagement strategies regarding the technology and its  users.

Richard White April 2013