Reviewing my practice in 2022

In this post, I share an overview of my art practice in 2022 – what I got done, where you can find it, and some of the stuff that happens that doesn’t lead to public outputs. Additionally, I share some thoughts on adapting my practice to new disabilities — in my case this is due to MS, but I feel far from alone in navigating this, as a lot of other people have had to do the same as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals itself to be a mass-disabling event.

Output

Websites / web apps

Audience interaction app developed with Squinky for play “Maybe I Will” with Sheffield Theatres Young Company, allowing the audience to cast votes and shape the story

New Neocities site for the Desperate Living archive of materials by and for trans people with Raju Rage (http://desperatelivin.com)

Minisite to display results of early R&D on mapping and microscopy of river and canal life in Parkgate, Rotherham (https://zoyander.cc/p/symbiosis/)

New Zonelets blog for rough ideas, interesting links, and late-night thoughts (https://zoyander.cc/zonelets/)

Also, I created a CSS theme that allows me to write slide presentations in html and host them on my Neocities site. I figured that this would reduce the faff associated with giving presentations, but tbh I’m not sure that this was borne out in practice, as I inevitably ended up doing something to break the damn thing right before I had to give a presentation. That said, I did fix it in time, and I like the fact that people can review the slides easily without needing to download anything.

Publications

Co-edited Sickness, Systems, & Solidarity book with Joey Eschrich at Arizona State University with Critical Distance (https://csi.asu.edu/books/sss/)

Carnage (2017) review in Imaginary Papers Issue 12, November 2022 (https://mailchi.mp/asu.edu/imaginary-papers-issue-12-nov-2022)

‘Essay Jams and Collaborative Writing as a Community Event’, Commonplace November 2022 (https://commonplace.knowledgefutures.org/pub/ww9grt9c/release/1?readingCollection=6d0221f4)

Digital Art and Activism Network zine (forthcoming)

Also, I edited part of my PhD thesis for an academic publication that has now been cancelled.

Displays of my work

My mini-site of microscopy and maps (http://zoyander.cc/p/symbiosis) was part of the SYMBIOSIS exhibition at ArtBomb Doncaster and ROAR

Cis Penance (http://zoy.itch.io/cispenance) was shown at Games in Action, University of British Columbia, Canada

Interactive Portrait Cushions (http://zoy.itch.io/iportraits) was shown at Bitbash / Chicago Humanities Festival

Presentations

Comparing the display of Pacman at different museums, for DiGRA 2022 Japan Game Centres workshop (https://zoyander.cc/p/pac-man/)

“Videogames as Social Art: or, why I hate explaining what I do” talk for Social Art Network Sheffield (https://zoyander.cc/p/why/)

Panellist at Multiplatform symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University

Game design and agency presentation at Brightblack workshop (https://zoyander.cc/p/games-limited-agency.pdf)

Panellist at Transforming and Activating Places workshop on identities, Sheffield University

Also, I attended Cultural Democracy Creative Conversation workshop at Wentworth Woodhouse as part of Rotherham’s Flux programme.

Access support for Arts Council England applications

I helped two people to apply for funding with Arts Council England, submitting a total of three applications in my capacity as an access support worker.

FWIW, I would love to do this for more people, so if you are someone who would like to apply for funding from Arts Council England but faces barriers in doing so, please get in touch!

Non-profits

Typeset CIC

  • Barnsley College work experience venue
  • Sheffield University Transforming and Activating Places venue: students organised three arts workshops and volunteered in the bookshop for 3 months
  • Several Rotherham Council RELOAD programme community events, including indie tabletop games, creative writing, and performance art
  • Hosted creative writing workshop with Workers’ Educational Association
  • WoW festival Rotherham stall holder
  • Secured funding for computers and podcasting equipment
  • Bookshop has been in hibernation since October, will return for at least a temporary pop-up this year

Critical Distance

Consulting and research services

As well as working as a games consultant for Sheffield Theatres Young Company, I did some research and consulting work for a VR theatre company and a AAA client.

Applications for funding and support

This year I applied for 8 things in relation to my own art practice (this doesn’t include funding applications for Typeset). I normally submit far more applications than this in a year – for example, I applied for at least 18 things in 2021, and received at least 13 rejections.

Part of this difference is simply due to significantly reduced work hours. But there are also more subtle costs imposed by my new disabilities. Applying for funding is very difficult when facing problems with vision, fatigue, and cognitive processing, so the time required per application was far higher when I was most impacted by these issues. Moreover, it was difficult to confidently commit to a specific timeline of work when my health was at its most unpredictable. Since starting a new treatment in September, these issues have been considerably easier to manage. Nevertheless, I’ve also found that when I look at calls for applications nowadays, I tend to scrutinise them for signs of low organisational capacity, because I have become wary of the risk of ending up in a situation where my access needs cannot be accommodated, or where the work required is likely to exceed the scope of the work being commissioned due to an unpredictable and chaotic environment. I can no longer afford to pull all-nighters or suffer a couple of high-stress weeks in order to make up for organisational shortcomings, because this can have lasting effects on my health. For these reasons, I self-select out of more programmes than I used to.

Despite all of this, when looking back over the year I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had a good success rate with the few applications that I was able to complete. In fact, my total number of successful applications in 2022 was roughly the same as 2021. This certainly gives me a glimmer of hope as I move forward on adapting to work with new disabilities.

Applications accepted

4/8 of my applications this year were accepted:

  • Bank Cohort, Sheffield Theatres
    (I think I probably actually applied for this at the end of the previous year, but I want to celebrate it here regardless because this was a really cool opportunity)
  • SYMBIOSIS, ArtBomb Doncaster
  • Theatre development programme TBA
  • Academic conference TBA

Applications rejected

4/8 of my applications this year were rejected. I feel a bit weird about naming the specific programmes or organisations, so I’m just going to give them short descriptions here:

  • R&D funding grant
  • Festival commission with mentoring
  • Grant for working-class writers
  • Two-year salaried position as a writer-in-residence

Quality rejections

Two organisations rejected applications I had submitted in December 2021, and then followed up in early 2022 with a constructive discussion highlighting other possible routes for funding or support. Both of these applications concerned the same possible future project about post-industrial waterways of northern England inspired by Kentucky Route Zero.

Personally, I think this kind of followup should happen more often, and it’s a shame that arts organisations usually don’t have the capacity to do this. I feel like it makes the process far less alienating, and contributes significantly to nourishing creative communities, which is presumably within the remit of most of the organisations that view applications for commissions or artist development programmes.

Developing my skills

Training received and webinars attended

  • New developments in trans theory, Gendered Intelligence GIANTS programme
  • Anti-racism, Sheffield University Transforming and Activating Places
  • Audio description for visual artists, Freelands Foundation
  • As part of SYMBIOSIS programme I learned about:
    • Material and cultural history of the river Don
    • River ecosystems, sewage, mudlarking, etc. when I went wading in the Don with Don Canals and Rivers Trust, learned about
    • Public databases of information about ecosystems
    • History of field recording as sound art
  • 2x Arts Council England training on Project Grants and DYCP applications

Tools that I played / worked with for the first time

  • Tiktok (@zoyzone in case you’re interested in following me there)
  • Empress ZOIA effects pedal
  • Tally.so (survey creation tool)
  • Zonelets (small blogging tool)
  • React.js (i.e. Squinky built our web app in React.js and I learned a little bit from working with them)
  • Ink/Stitch software for creating electronic embroidery files
  • Also, I moved onto a different Mastodon instance and became more active there (@zoy@merveilles.town)

Final notes

It feels a little gauche to share my year review publicly, but some people like to see the things I’ve made, and this gives a single place to list links to everything I finished this year. I certainly appreciate it when other people share similar lists of what they’ve done in the past year – please send me yours!

More importantly, I find it very very helpful to see this kind of thing on other artists’ blogs, because there is a lot of mystification about the practical reality of being a practising artist, and you don’t normally get much insight into it unless you basically live with someone who does this kind of work. The general silence about this can contribute to classist outcomes in the arts and creative sectors, as the publicly visible part of what an artist (or curator, or critic) does is unlikely to represent where their livelihood comes from – I seem to remember Josie Giles doing a fantastic piece on this a few years ago.

I have been on significantly reduced hours since the end of March 2022 for health reasons, so I was reticent about doing this kind of review of my year. However, it’s been a pleasant surprise to put all of this stuff down in one place and see that although I might sometimes feel pessimistic about what MS means for my career, I’ve actually been able to do a lot of things that I am proud of, even during the period of time when I was still awaiting treatment. A lot of this is due to kind people who have been proactive about finding ways that we can work together and coming up with practical accommodations; I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Joey Eschrich at Arizona State University, Tommi Bryson at Sheffield Theatres, and Jennifer Booth at Typeset.

Finally, a quick note about the financial reality of all this: by 2020 I had just reached the point where my art practice covered more than half of my living costs as a single person with no dependents living in South Yorkshire. Although I would normally supplement this with work as a freelance translator and researcher, I have been largely unable to do that since late March, and I have also had to considerably reduce the work hours that I spend on artistic work. My income protection insurance paid out just enough to save me from total financial catastrophe when I became too ill to work full-time, and I’m also now receiving benefits that help me to keep my head above water while dealing with the extra costs of being disabled. All that is to say that if you are reading this as an example case in the practicalities of art practice, you should bear in mind that the work I have listed here does not represent the full scope of what is required to pay the bills.

Advertisement

Climate playmakers focus group

I’m involved in a research project supporting the development of an episodic game about climate change, and we are looking for people involved in climate activism, research, and advocacy to participate in a focus group. For more details please see the full call for participants.

Purpose of the study
The study is designed to understand what experts in climate science, game design and climate activism understand to be the priorities for climate change communication and action, and how these ideas might be brought to life through a live episodic online game.

What would this mean for you
Taking part in this study would involve participating in a 60 minute online focus group held on Zoom. The focus group will be audio recorded. If you prefer, you may instead participate in a one-to-one interview.

Critical Distance Fundraiser

Critical Distance, a non-profit I volunteer for on the board of directors, needs help. We have been archiving and contextualising online games writing for 13 years. We are asking for help to allow us to continue operating, and perhaps even invest in building longer term resilience. I’d be very grateful for any help spreading the word:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/critdistance

This is one of my favourite organisations in general, not just because I got to be their Senior Curator for a little while. While so much of the games industry is driven by cynical profit motives, and games academia suffers from the same exploitation and classism that affect the rest of the sector as a whole, Critical Distance is one of the few things that keeps me passionate and hopeful. There are only a handful of other organisations that provide this kind of bridge between academic writing and popular writing, and almost none that offer a space to signal boost and contextualise online writing outside the realm of algorithms and influencer bullshit.

Critical Distance is basically the reason I was able to become a games person at all – when I was first interested in writing a paper on game design, Critical Distance got me up to speed on the thinking in the field really fast. To this day, whenever I am starting research on any topic relating to games, Critical Distance is my first stop, and it provides a perspective that no other resource can. If you’ve appreciated anything I’ve said or written about games, media, or arts criticism, you’ve indirectly benefitted from Critical Distance’s work.

Essay Jams and Collaborative Writing as a Community Event

Last year I worked with Joey Eschrich on a collaborate writing event with Critical Distance, and we recently wrote an article about it that has just been published. Here we consider how the essay jam, and Critical Distance’s larger editorial structure, capture productive tensions in community-led, community-responsive publishing. We also suggest future directions for structuring collaborative writing activities, from figuring out incentives for participating authors to creating a culture of dialogue around drafts and ideas in progress.

https://commonplace.knowledgefutures.org/pub/ww9grt9c/release/1?readingCollection=6d0221f4

Imaginary Papers Issue 12

I wrote a short essay in the “Science Fiction Frames” format for Arizona State University Centre for Science and the Imagination’s newsletter Imaginary Papers. Building on a presentation I gave a few years ago, it’s a discussion of how speculative wearable devices support the narrative of Simon Amstell’s 2017 mockumentary Carnage, including a quick comparison with Donna Haraway’s Camille Stories.

Check it out here:

https://mailchi.mp/asu.edu/imaginary-papers-issue-12-nov-2022

Fun side-note: until I rewatched Carnage, I have completely forgotten that Amstell had actually anticipated a global pandemic and written it into the timeline that leads up to a utopian future society where animal exploitation has ended. His thinking was that a zoonotic virus would challenge us to reconsider the harms caused by intensive agriculture, and lead to new laws banning the worst excesses of the industry. Why that didn’t happen in our timeline is a question that would probably take a lot of unpacking.

Interactive Portrait Cushions at BitBash Chicago / Chicago Humanities Festival

An installation of Interactive Portraits: Trans People in Japan will be hosted at BitBash Chicago’s event on 12th November as part of the Chicao Humanities Festival. This is the afterparty for The Social Mind, an afternoon of talks and discussion on big tech, algorithms, and mental health, created in partnership with The Verge. Find out more and get tickets from the Chicago Humanities Festival website.

Games in Action conference Vancouver BC

Cis Penance is on display this weekend at Heart Projector’s pop-up arcade at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. This is part of the Games in Action conference, the largest event organized on UBC campus focused on video games and their impacts on our social and political world. I can’t be there in person, but I will be attending the conference virtually online. For more details see https://gamesinaction.squarespace.com/

Desperate Livin interactive archive

This year I’ve had the pleasure of doing a little project with Raju Rage and Studio Voltaire, creating a web experience for their online archive of transgender health resources. They launched it this week, and you can check it out at desperatelivin.com.

They reached out to commission this after they had included Cis Penance in an online exhibition. Since their archive includes a lot of zines and artist-made publications, the rough DIY aesthetic of Cis Penance felt like a good fit. As well as thinking about how to make a website feel tactile, like a zine table in a community space, I was also thinking about Olia Lialina’s 1996 net art piece My Boyfriend Came Back From The War, which kind of feels like it sits at this intersection between personal memories and the structuring institutions of the state. I approached this project considering about how I might make something similar today using the kind of web coding that I’m more familiar with, while ensuring that the code is accessible to others who want to add more material in the future, without using a CMS.

The site is hosted on Neocities, which is a platform for hand-built, DIY websites that often have a retro aesthetic. If you’re a Neocities user, you can follow the site to see future updates. It’s such a delight to be asked to make something by people who are down with this kind of lo-fi “yesterweb” approach. It’s pretty liberating to make a web site that won’t have any pop-ups asking users to consent to cookies, isn’t built with proprietary tools that will be deprecated in the future, etc. The ethos of Neocities is about building community through self-made, low-cost pieces of media art, which seems pretty zine-like to me.

Massive thanks to Studio Voltaire for trusting me and going along with this unconventional way of commissioning and building a website! It’s a huge honour to play a part in a project that aims to contribute to ongoing access to community care for transgender people.

Bundle for Ukraine

A quick note that my book Delay: Paying Attention to Energy Mechanics is in the itch.io Bundle for Ukraine, which has already raised $5.5 million for the charities International Medical Corps and Voices of Children. The bundle includes content from 736 creators, making it an incredible way to get hold of a huge collection of indie games and other material hosted on itch.io, while supporting charities responding under the horrifying conditions of Russia’s senseless war. Please give it your support:

Sheffield Theatres Bank Cohort

I’m delighted to share that I’m one of a number of artists receiving support from Sheffield Theatres for the next year as part of the Bank Cohort! I’ll be building on some of the work I did last year, and trying out some new ideas, as well as finding new ways to do fun things with theatre and games. I’m incredibly pleased, and very uplifted by the warmth and openness of the folks at Sheffield Theatres. Huge thanks!

The Bank is a dedicated hub for talent development; this is the second cohort to be supported by Sheffield Theatres.

The artists will be offered bespoke support, training, artistic opportunities and professional development. The three directors are: Callum Berridge, Shreya Patel and Alexandra Whiteley, who will enjoy a host of opportunities including working as an assistant director on a Sheffield Theatres’ production. The three producers are: Beck Gadsby, Lydia Harrison and Katrina Woolley, who will receive mentoring, as well as seed funding to develop an idea, event or production using The Bank as their base, drawing on the support of the producing team at Sheffield Theatres. The three writers are: Nicole Joseph, Jasmin Mandi-Ghomi and Chloe Wade, who will benefit from masterclasses and mentoring as well as having the opportunity to undertake a research and development process with their writing. The four remaining artists each work in different theatre-based disciplines: Tommo Fowler is a dramaturg, Jennifer Jackson is a theatre maker and movement director / choreographer, Jose Guillermo Puello is a sound designer / composer and Zoyander Street is an artist-researcher and theatre maker. They will all receive tailored support in their fields.