Chris Pinchen and Mark Simpkins work together at Lighthouse Studio
Chris Pinchen and Mark Simpkins work together at Lighthouse Studio

Lighthouse Studio - Reflecting on the first stage of prototyping, by Natalie Kane


09 June 2015

As the first phase of prototyping draws to a close, Storyteller and Technologist Natalie Kane talks to two of our inaugural residents about their time spent at Lighthouse Studio

Aral Balkan gives our November Monthly Talk as part of his residency.
Aral Balkan gives our November Monthly Talk as part of his residency.

It’s been an interesting few months for us here at Lighthouse, as we’ve just finished the first phase of prototyping of our interdisciplinary studio with residents Aral Balkan, Mark Simpkins and Chris Pinchen. Aral’s currently touring the world talking about his exciting experience-driven open phone, Indie Phone, a deeply empowering product that frees us from closed silos such as Google and Facebook, and let us regain control over our own data. We’ll catch up with him in the next few months.

I caught up with Chris and Mark to tell us a bit about their time here, what they’ve achieved and what they’re doing next. We’ll hear from Andrew this week about what’s in store for the second phase, and to introduce our brand new residents, Georgina, Philo and Joe.

Chris is an activist and organiser, who is primarily concerned with privacy, surveillance and censorship. During his time at Lighthouse Studio, Chris introduced a whole new network of people to us by organising several cryptoparties and Techno-Activist Third Mondays, events in which skills and knowledge on online privacy are shared and taught. Chris also organised Brighton’s very first Cryptofestival, where we heard from Aral Balkan, Smari McCarthy, the Open Rights Group and investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. He also made us think twice during his Show and Tell, where we were temporarily detached from our devices and made to reconsider our relationships to our personal technology. Chris’s network building has become increasingly relevant as we start to analyse the world, post-PRISM, in our own programme.

‘My time in the studio has been very useful, its been interesting for the opportunities provided, especially having the backing of an organisation like Lighthouse. Having a space to put events such as Cryptoparty on was very useful. The opportunity to spend time here opened doors in ways that, as an individual, I wouldn’t have had the chance to. I’ve ended up doing activities and events, and at some point I’d like to sit down, write about them, and see where to go from there.’

One of the relationships Chris has built over the last three months has been with fellow resident Mark Simpkins, and the two are working together to create a new, organic project, working on ideas and evolutions of the Smart City:

‘Mark [Simpkins] and I are working on a grassroots Smart City project, bottom up, smart cities created and organised by citizens. As we spent time together, we realised we’ve got quite a few things in common that we’ve been able to pick out and start working on, so that’s a relationship I’ve made here that will continue beyond the residency. Meeting Mark and sitting around having dumb conversations about things we were interested in, or excited about, was great. It was interesting to be given the opportunity to work with someone you don’t know, and just to sit down and work out, or not, what you’re working on.’

Chris is currently working on a number of projects, both as a result of his work in the Lighthouse Studio, and due to creating a larger network through his events.

‘I’ve gone from moving to Brighton and not really knowing anyone here, to making a big network and putting events on that bring them together. It’s been great to work with the Open Rights Group [ORG], as right here, right now, at this moment and space in time they are really, really important, so I’ve been directing things through them. I’m in discussion with ORG to create a Cryptoparty ‘template’ so that other groups can use it to set up their own events. I’d also like to simplify, and make more accessible, the guides and literature concerning online privacy, so that you don’t have to be particularly technically skilled to understand how to protect yourself online. I’ll also be helping create events for Open Rights Group’s next campaign, and other rather exciting events.’

Chris is looking forward to developing a new kind of learning experience or setup which takes place as an extension of cryptoparties, which teaches you where to go next and further tune your skills by exploring hardware, taking charge of your devices or purely just skilling up. He’s also helping out with Hidytweets, a project that aims to protect identities on social networks at time of upheaval, as broadcasting information can at times be dangerous for individuals, although necessary when not covered by media outlets.

Mark is an artist and researcher currently working from Central St Martins. At Lighthouse Studio he used his time to develop his emotional infrastructure diaries, prototype a brand new piece of sound art, and create a series of interventions for our SLR launch event that interrogate the notion of personal privacy. Mark’s Show and Tell asked us to think about the infrastructure around us, and how we feel about being watched.

‘I found my time in the studio really helpful in enabling me to form more of my own practice around certain projects. I came along with a few vague projects like the emotional infrastructure diaries and Palindrones, which only really happened when I was there. Being in that environment enabled me to actually start scoping and thinking about these projects in a different way that I would normally. It’s very different to when I’m at Central St Martins, so this was an opportunity to actually think differently.’

Working with Chris Pinchen proved valuable for Mark, as apart from working together on the grassroots Smart City project, they are looking forward to bringing Cryptoparties to Central St Martins:

‘Talking with Chris triggered loads of ideas, and it was actually talking with Chris that helped me to sit down and actually write what that grass roots/smart cities things should start to be. Before it was a discussion between me and a few others, saying ‘we should do something about this!’, now it’s something we’re working towards happening.

Even though we weren’t working on a project together during our time in the studio, it has been really constructive having somebody there who’s working on something as well, with has connections to my own work. Working with someone else there has helped me find all of this other peripheral stuff around my practice, through sharing links and discussions. Chris is someone who I would perhaps have ended up working with, so it’s great that we’ve ended up being in this environment together.’

The future for Mark involves future collaborations with Adam Greenfield, author of Against the Smart City, on an amalgamation between Mark’s Emotional Infrastructure diaries and Adam’s Walkshops. Mark will also be working on research bids for projects on access to protection and the history of privacy, as well as evolving the grass roots smart cities project with Chris and others. He’ll also be developing the Critical Infrastructures open access journal at Central St Martins.

We’re going to miss Chris, Mark and Aral. Keep tuned for our next post from Creative Producer Andrew Sleigh for his thoughts on the lastest round of prototyping, including an introduction to our new studio residents, Georgina Voss, Philo van Kemenade and Joe Tunmer.


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