SSW2 Session 01: Introduction / Personal Approaches

Site and Subjective Writing (SSW2)

16.01.2012 13 - 15 : SSW2 Session 01: Introduction / Personal Approaches

Exercise: Getting to know you

What are the goals:

  • To get people relaxed and talking
  • To break the 'ice'
  • To introduce some of each persons everyday context
  • To think about what context & experiences you are willing to share to a new group

Social matrix:

  • Pairs


20 mins


  • Pens and paper to take notes

Activity (10 mins)

Interview each other from a set list of questions
Questions to each other:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What background do you have?
  3. What were you doing at 10.30?
  4. Where were you doing it at 10.30?
  5. How were you at that time before?
  6. Who was around at that time?
  7. What are their hopes for this course?
  • You take notes and write them down
  • The interviewer re-presents what they have found out from the interviewee

Discussion (10 mins)

Pointer questions:

  • What kinds of things were shared?
  • What wasn't shared?


Expectations & Ambitions

Introduce strategies for writing (MA thesis) and other texts
led from and based on situated and subjective practice.


“local position”, the place or position occupied by some specified things. implying original or fixed posture or position” of a thing, “installation”, “website” - wiktionary


“a subject's perspective, particular feelings, beliefs, desires or discovery made from information pertaining to a personal experience” - wikipedia

I will not share or explore the philosophical or phenomenological theory behind subjective experience.

We will look mostly towards social sciences: ethnography, auto-ethography, anthropology, and the margins which cross over with performance arts, archaeology, auto-archaeology, artist's, designer's and practioner's writing, spatial writing, and art-design critical writing, and how these all might be augmented in the age of pervasive data recording and social media.

What are people's expectations in the class?

Overview of webpages & process

16.1. : SSW2 Session 01: Introduction / Personal approaches
23.1. : SSW2 Session 02: Ethnographic tales part 1
30.1. : SSW2 Session 03: Ethnographic tales part 2

13.2. : SSW2 Session 03: Introduction to reflexive & performance ethnography
20.2. : SSW2 Session 05: Auto-ethnography part 1
27.2. : SSW2 Session 06: Auto-ethnographical part 2

12.3. : SSW2 Session 07: Art and design relations with ethnography
19.3. : SSW2 Session 08: Site/situation writing
26.3. : SSW2 Session 09: Performative writing

02.4. : SSW2 Session 10: Borderline archaeology
16.4. : SSW2 Session 11: Auto-archaeology
23.4. : SSW2 Session 12: In the age of pervaisive data recording & social media

07.5. : SSW2 Session 13: Outgoing discussion / Personal approaches

Different theories, examples and perspectives from writers or academics
Creative writing prompt exercises

Personal reflection in exercises & diary related on ones own 'project/experience'


How have you been writing?

About your own experiences?
About other people's experiences?
Referring to others' experiences/opinions written in books/online?

Tessa Muncy, in her book Creative Autoethnographies, asks:

“I ask you to consider what particular kind of filter you are employing/used to seperate your own experience from what you are studying” (?) …
“It must be a very powerful one if you try to deny that the impact of your experience has no bearing on the way you conduct your own work.”

“Isn't it healthier to acknowledge the link and purposely build it into your work, or even more interestingly, make yourself the focus of the study?”

“Alternatively, you may be listening to the stories of your participants and finding that their voice is excluded from the dominant discourse of your particular discipline.”

Quote from Hilmann says, 'A single anecdote lights up the whole world of vision'.

Creative Autoethnographies - Tessa Muncy, 2010: p.2.



This will be a step by step creative writing exercise exploring a 'story spine'. This approach is created by Ken Adams as a warm up activity for Improv Theatre. It was found on Beyond Digital Storytelling webpage as a prompt for Story Frame ideas:

Many of the methods shared here in this course are relevant to my concerns with writing about practice and personal experiences among others. This course will also help me read and write about these topics.

I can tell a story about how I got to this point..

# I am narrating..

Involves variable roles of initiator, participant, author and curator, according to different collaborative and cross-disciplinary processes.

I used to say once.. [2005]

Within the field of media/socially-engaged arts
Specialising in mobile & collaborative interfaces/interactions
Understanding ‘art-work’ as a conversation, devised situation/workshop/event(s)

Now I say.. [2012]

Across the fields of media/ network/ environmental arts and activism,
pursuing a participatory arts practice through workshops, performative events,
and storytelling.

Creative strengths lie in hybridity, communications, organisation and network arts:
The ability to bring together and involve people in creative exploration, develop temporary communities,
gather unexpected elements and components, creating poetic connections and new sites for cultural activity.

I could add to my statement: new sites for pedagogical & research activity.

I am currently employed part-time by Pixelache Helsinki to coordinate & facilitate their around-the-year educational programme, called Pixelversity.
I am planning to write part-time my doctoral thesis manuscript this year also.

Although this text that I am reading was written in 2010 orginally, I have made some slight adjustments just yesterday, and am not repeating myself in teaching this course.

# Once upon a time..

[Going back to before 2005],

I was trained in visual fine arts.

I learned the techniques of printmaking, and how to work through (technical and visual) processes,
and the history of visual culture (at Glasgow School of Art).

# Everyday..

(Well maybe not every day) I would consider layers and collages of images to express ideas

# But one day..

I was give the opportunity to make a travel as personal research, which turned out to also be artistic-research.

In 1998 I was awarded a Peter Kirk Memorial Travel Scholarship to spend the period of 3 months in Finland. With a research plan reflecting my artist-research interests of the time, I followed an 'Isolation/Integration' theme.

I approached this self-defined theme in a broad way, initially investigating different aspects by travelling to Central Finland (Jyväskylä, Kuopio), Lapland (Inari, Rovaniemi) and Helsinki, in the formal way of research.

However I took some liberties in what is termed research, by going camping on my own in the forests and lakes, swapping music, taking many saunas, and never failing to be fascinated by the fact everyone had a mobile phone (this was 1998, when over 60% people in Finland already had one, and not yet myself).

The theme also inspired the media art-work I made while in residence at the Jyväskylän Centre of Printmaking and Creative Photography, and developed unconsciously from the benefit of people I either arranged to meet or met along the way.

In the end, I explored this dialectic (isolation/integration) both culturally and personally.

[Reflections in 2003-2004..]

Communication, socialising, networking, relating perspectives and experience are core aspects of the process of integration.

It was ironic that only in summary - writing the report - I realised these processes also applied to my literal lived time in Finland, which eventually spanned 5 months.

Beginning in a position of spending much time on my own at the workshop, slowly developing friends in the town I lived; Making journeys, plus further contacts around Finland; eventually collaborating with others; exhibiting the artwork produced during the time.

I learned the process of the transition from being isolated to being integrated within a community, and that these states are always relative.

Often meandering between reality and virtuality, networks and solitude in numerous forms, I concluded from my lived experience that neither of these categories are actual psychological points of geography.

Due to the mix of theme in both the personal and cultural spheres, I decided to make a report in the form of a personal-theoretical diary.

Although I had difficulties trying to pull together a report in this way, it did teach and inform me how to (and not to) approach and document what might be called 'practice-based research'.

# Because of that #1..

Experience I have looked favourable at including things that I have attempted as an individual and as a collective/collaboration in my idea of artistic research, and by extension, writing.

I started to write creatively (experimenting with poems) to describe sites or situations I imagined, rather than try to draw them.

This led me to an interest in virtual environments, and when I made a Master of Science in this subject, I decided to focus on authorship of audio (spoken word & sound samples), with spatio-temporal positioning.

I found support in archaelogical data recording methods and layering of contexts (stratigraphy)

I became interested in performance studies which mixed together archaeology and performance/theatre

Site-specific works which unfold over time with the agency of actors and audience (Mike Pearson)

# Because of that #2..

I decided to make doctoral studies (and research) as an artist at medialab within the then [2003] emerging scene of mobile & locative media.

Quite soon after I found myself reading & exploring ethnographic texts (Amanda Coffey) and realising what I bring to the 'field', and how as an artist, including myself in the texts, this was similar to how some more critical (and marginal) ethnography does things.

I have realised that from different fragments of media (image, audio, video) it is possible to create narratives and also perform memories (the past) using mixed media.

I have learned that there is a

# Because of that.. #3..

I have kept over the years an interest in different types of ethnographic writing,

in particular ones which relate to

observant participation,
and auto-biographical elements,
such as confessional texts and subjective perspectives.

This allowed me to successfully (how does one measure success - the students were happy?) a course called 'Site & Subjective Writing' in the Medialab.

Even though I have been a doctoral student since 2003, it was the first time I had been asked to teach.
And I had managed to negotiate to teach Site & Subjective Writing instead of Academic Writing, which was what I had been asked to teach originally

However, I reflected that over the years I have not written many academic papers.
And that there are more interesting approaches which don't get as much credit as strict technical scientific ones (often positivist: where this is the best way to uncover/understand physical and human processes).

Infact I have always struggled to find ways to explain and share what I do.

And felt more comfortable presenting my activities in oral form than written paragraph form.

Quite a lot of people know that I have been trying to write my doctoral thesis for years.

I still have many more notes & slide for presentations than I do have essays.

# Until finally..

I get to a point [this point now] where I am writing up notes again for the repeat of the Site & Subjective Writing course, about 10 months later.

# Ever since then..

I had hoped to have written more of my thesis, but practice, once again has a habit of taking over.. Affecting time & money & concentration.

The influence of social media has increased since last time.

I have waited for the process to begin again.

To engage with these texts again,
To invent new writing exercises related to them.

And for you to be sitting in front of me, to learn together in the process.

# The moral of the story..

That processes take time, but they can be worth it in the long run.


What was shared in this structure of a story?

The story spine structure includes..

  • A Base for the story (Once upon a time and Everyday),
  • Change: the reason or catalyst for the story to exist (But one day)
  • The narrative, the consequences that come from the catalyst (Because of that)
  • The climax (Until finally)
  • A conclusion (Ever since then)
  • A wrapup and summary (The moral)


Exercise: Story-spine

Your first exercise is to write a similar narrative about how you got to this point, where you wanted to attend this class.

Illustrate each part with 1-3 images.

Next week we start with some of these presented at random.


References shared in this session

Muncey, Tessa. (2010). Creating Autoethnographies. Sage Publications. London.

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