by Hind Al Saad, designer and student of SFPC Summer 2019 in Yamaguchi
I’m Hind Al Saad, I’m a designer, maker, and creative coder based in Doha. I create emergent graphical forms, both physical and digital, using procedural systems, that explore the endless ways finite rules can come together to create infinite results. I wanted to experience SFPC when I found out about the school. It looked like the perfect environment to meet amazing, diverse creatives. The structure enables connections and allows deeper conversations to develop from continuous practice of questioning things and experiences.
I’m grateful that SFPC collaborated with YCAM to bring this experience closer to the other side of the world and made it more accessible for us to experience it. I hope to discover new ways to navigate my creativity and thinking and create new connections from all the amazing people I met here.
Morning Workshop: “Gestures Inspired by Hand Signs”
We started off the day with a collaborative expression workshop that slowly built up the level of interaction and level of improvisation and creativity involved. It was a great transition to mentally (and physically) move into a more creative space. We started off with walking around randomly, and acknowledging one another through eye contact, to smiling and a simple greeting, and progressed to greeting each other with handshakes.
The next part of the workshop was mostly about improvising, and reacting or adding to the actions of the person before you. We first passed along an imaginary box, and at first, it was imagined as the same box and weight and was passed along in a repetitive ritual-like form. When one person broke that cycle and pretended that the box was really heavy, it set a chain reaction and created an environment for everyone to experiment with what the box could be. These improvised expressions were amplified in the last part, where we opened up amazon shipping boxes and acted out the form of the box, and it’s content. It was inspiring to see all the different things people thought of from the same simple prompt of an amazon box.
Handmade Computer: Poetic Hardware Fundamentals
We walked into our first class Handmade Computer and Electric Relaxation by Tribe Called Quest was playing, the title of the song felt like a poetic way to describe the class we were about to start and allowed us to let go of any stress we might have had. The act of making the circuits was therapeutic and relaxing because the process was somewhat repetitive: cutting the tape or wire, soldering, connecting, testing and then repeating for the other iteration, since the process was made of essentially simple steps.
We started with making a simple circuit with a battery, a resistor, and an LED light. Then added another resistor, a transistor and a single pole double throw switch to be able to turn on and off the led light. The skateboarding analogies that Taeyoon used to explain each process was really helpful, I knew the basics of currents and voltages and circuits before, but I would sometimes get confused or switch them up, but when he visualized the actions of these abstract ideas, it helped solidify some of my understandings and helped me move along the instructions smoothly.
Before getting into building the circuits though we were shown multiple images and were asked to think of poetic metaphors for electric circuits.
I saw the connection between the circuits and cities from the images that were shown, and the main metaphor that I thought of was how the tension and transition between simplicity and complexity creates this nested/spiral relationships: within the quantum world (atoms) to our physical world (reality), and from our physical world to the universal world (galaxies). How by starting from the smallest possible scale (atoms) and zooming out, you see nested relationships and these repetitive and recursive patterns emerge from changing the scale of what you are viewing, kind of like the Power of Ten video by Charles & Ray Eames. When everyone shared their metaphors really interesting perspectives came out: circuits as shadows, as roller coasters, as a bank, as a human respiratory system and as natural water movements in nature.
Office Hours with Taeyoon
During the break, I joined the office hours with Taeyoon with several other students. We discussed how we could balance experimental work with social work, our five-year plans, and Taeyoon shared some insightful tips on how to structure/finance collaborative businesses with us. The discussion made me look forward to joining other office hours during the week!
Peer to Peer Folder Poetry with Melanie
In Melanie’s class, we were introduced to the practice of folder poetry which she describes as: “repurposing the common practice of computer folder organization as a new kind of poetic form. by naming and nesting folders and files, we can create unfolding narratives rhythmic prose and choose your own adventure poetry.” It was really interesting to see a function that is usually invisible in the sense that we never really think twice about, and mold it into a medium that is capable of becoming something really poetic and considered in a deeper way.
We then went around the room telling the stories of our “folder” name, and it was really interesting to hear how everyone got their name, and how different cultures/families consider the process of choosing a name and all the elements that go into that decision. Some were based on the sound of the name, some were based on how the name is written in their native language, like how the combination of kanji characters.
We then started up the terminal and learned a few commands to navigate through it and to familiarize ourselves with the environment. Then we opened up nano to edit our bash profile to customize the way our prompt looked like.
This quote from Melanie’s presentation explains how the back end of software and tech, in general, is usually viewed: “technology is usually made available to us after many layers of abstraction have been imposed. In the process of abstraction, it’s inner workings are obscured and most people are excluded from understanding it.” And a part of the workshop was us personalizing the prompt line, which was a small transformation from a technical and serious-looking prompt (that probably could push people away from trying to experiment with it) and we were able to personalize it by adding an emoji, and by seeing how easily we were able to tweak this aspect, I feel like it makes it less intimidating, and more welcoming for someone to play around in that environment.
It was also really interesting to experience the folder structure through the terminal — it makes you aware of the deeper steps that are actually taken when you would usually just press a button, and you view the structure very procedurally (and game-like which I guess is where games take the structure from). And to travel within the garden-of-forking-paths, and discover all the different garden patches and rooms and at the same time becoming more familiar and comfortable with working in the terminal.
Connections: Fundamental Elements + Metaphors
I also found some connections (and opposites) between the two classes. In Taeyoon’s class, we discussed the hardware of a computer and defined a computer as the combination of a clock + arithmetic + memory.
Whereas in Melanie’s class we discussed the software component of a computer, and how a computer is made up of commands and data.
In both classes, we saw how abstract these concepts and components really are, how the computer is a combination of abstraction and repetition, and how folders are actually very abstract things that don’t exist within our computer. We also discussed how these components can be metaphors for other things, how conceptually circuits can be train tracks, and how folders can be purses. Both classes also reframed two very pragmatic elements of computers, circuits and folders, into a medium for poetic storytelling and artistic expression.
YCAM staff Takuya cooked homemade curry for everyone. They also kindly considered the dietary requirements for some of us, and prepared a salad meal so I was able to join the family dinners and still feel included — I really appreciate all the thought they put into making sure I don’t feel left out. After everyone settled down around the table, the room was buzzing with conversations and you can feel the energy of everyone being excited to learn more about and from one another. I got into a conversation with Yufei, where we talked about where we studied, what our interests are and what kind of work we do, and that developed into a deeper conversation about the complexity of time, and we connected on how we really don’t understand what time means. We then joined other people’s circles where they were sharing their work like Masaya’s awesome video he made for NIMS!
These interactions were one of the reasons I joined SFPC: to share our process and work with other creatives and to connect and have deep conversations with them.
Impromptu Origami with Robby
After Family Dinner, Robby initiated an impromptu origami session that was a great energy booster after a long day! It was my first time trying origami, and it was really interesting to learn and discover the procedure and the reasons behind which step to take next from the crease pattern.
The room had great energy, some people got the hang of it and got excited and completed the origami of the bird, and that made us want to find the next step faster to catch up, some got frustrated when they couldn’t figure out the next fold, and then got excited when they got the right fold, and everyone was helping one another, and working together to make the last fold and see the bird come to life!
Photo: Naoki Takehisa
Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]