In the Craft + Technology timetable, six weeks have already passed, and there are only six weeks to go. Fortified by Leila Johnston’s call to action, I recently vowed to ‘make things fast’ but now it feels as if I should just be ‘making things faster’. Time is quickly evaporating and time is money. Latency in stock market trading can lose a company billions in mere seconds, so naturally, with stark realities such as this tick-tocking in the background, I have become somewhat time-conscious. Apparently it takes the human hand 500,000 microseconds to click a computer mouse; the same time-lapse equating to a single financial transaction online.  Tick tick, click click, ching ching…. Better get on! Algorithms wait for no woman, as the phrase goes.

Speaking of time lapsing, it was my birthday last week (37 lapsed years) and I enjoyed the pleasure of celebrating it in fine Cornish style as we met at Autonomatic in Falmouth, for the first of three work-in-progress events. Fellow Craft + Technology resident, Patrick Laing, kindly made me this delicious lemon drizzle cake. Thank you so much Patrick!

After sharing [cake], project developments and interesting discussions focusing on making processes, the afternoon was also a great opportunity to tour the impressively broad range of facilities and workshops, which form part of the University of Falmouth campus.  Weaving looms and 3D printers, kilns and milling machines, inspired infinite possibilities for new adventures in textiles, ceramics, metalwork and surface design, let alone embedding some digital technology for virtual good measure and the Internet of Things:

Jacquard Loom

Dr Katie Bunnell, introducing the Jacquard Loom to Chloe and Patrick


And the Bridgeport vertical milling machine, like something from a James Bond film:

Vertical milling machine

The second work-in-progress event took place at i-DAT in Plymouth the following day, and focused on the potential of user experience and interaction where technology is concerned. Featuring as one such intense example of this, we were treated to an immersive visual experience in the University’s former planetarium, now a 270° projection screen, the Immersive Vision Theatre:     

  Interior of the Immersive Vision Theatre, Plymouth

As we speedily and visually vectored our way through the synapses of an astronaut (image above) and then out into a galaxy projected on-screen, somewhere in my own synapses, there triggered thoughts about the immersive experience of my research so far, and the challenge of effectively incorporating detail at the level of the metaphorical microsecond, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the time, the destination, how to get there and how long it will take. And this with only six weeks left, rather than the luxurious infinity of the virtual light years, which continued to unfold in graphic form on the giant screen above my head.

Like viewing a 270° image, the breadth and depth of my research into monetary themes can be difficult to assimilate and becomes unwieldy at times, as it collides with intriguing accounts of financial fraud, greed and corruption, emotive stories of social division, empowerment and opportunity, or ethereal tales of faith, belief, ethics and superstition. In addition to these shifting discourses of economics, theory and philosophy, I am rapidly learning about new technologies, their capabilities, potential applications and relevance to my project. The wide open possibility of incorporating some of these smart options into an appealing object, alongside designing an enticing interaction with them, and creating a compelling experience by which to convey the conceptual ideas of the project, is quite preoccupying.

Inherently, these are forming fundamental questions, yet I seem to have an equal measure of ideas and unanswered questions for the time being. For example, where do I go from here? What exactly do I wish to take forward from all the research so far, and what would be best to set aside for now? What is it that I wish to create ultimately, and what will the context be? What do I want people to experience and to feel, as a result of the work? And which materials, processes and technologies (if any) would be most appropriately suited to achieve the desired outcome? Perhaps the coin-like token, which Patrick shared with me in Plymouth as a point of interest, should console me here, with its wise words, ‘To thine ownself be true’:

AA coin token

So as the ‘Money No Object’ plot thickens, I feel like a sleuth with a comically oversized magnifying glass, trying to piece it all together. I do love a challenge, it’s true. And I can’t express just how brilliant it is to be part of this residency scheme, in all its pervasive glory! How do you assess that sort of value of opportunity, how can you articulate appreciation for something so nebulous, and yet so profoundly meaningful on a personal level? Not in financial terms certainly. For Bill Sharpe, researcher and futures strategist for public interest, ‘art is the currency of experience’, and an essential factor in any healthy culture. The process of artistic exploration and creative development cannot be measured against an economy of finance. Yet this is not to say of course, that art forms cannot generate money, quite literally, as I found out when I went to see ‘Money the Game Show’ at the Bush Theatre, London. During this ingenious show, the audience is divided into two teams, each competing for £10,000 cash, which sits in a (surprisingly small) pile of £1 coins on-stage, guarded by a burly security officer for added drama. As the audience teams bet short or long, and hedge at times, the play reveals the shocking reality of the financial crisis, and at the same time uncovers the powerful and moving story of the two protagonists, both former city traders:

Money the Gameshow

Incidentally, ‘Money the Game Show’ makes reference to the Bank of England’s high value banknotes, called ‘giants’ and ‘titans’, recently in the news: Giants are £1 million pound banknotes, and titans are the £100 million version. Ironically, these are not legal tender, so potentially could be considered ‘worthless’ if they were ever to be acquired, un-spendable as they are. Or perhaps simply possessing the giant or titanic piece of paper itself would be enough, as it seems it was for Gregory Peck in the comedy, The Million Pound Note:

As with all paper currency in the UK, the actual value remains elusive, always deferred, always elsewhere. ‘I promise to pay the bearer’ is an elaborate I.O.U only, a representation of the face value, but never the sum itself. Arguably, coins are effectively worth their face value and yet carry another dilemma. Above a certain sum, the same coin denomination issued in a single payment transaction, ceases to be legal tender. For the 1 penny coin the legal limit is only 20 pence. 

I wondered what would happen therefore, if I tried to withdraw £20 in one pence pieces from a bank. Would I be allowed to do this, if collectively, £20 worth of pennies is not legal tender? Or if it was possible, would the bank require advance notice, some counting time perhaps? I imagined a coin monkey carefully stacking the little metal discs into neat piles of ten. Could I physically carry 2000 pennies anyway?

The experience was entertaining. Making my withdrawal enquiry at a high street bank in an apologetic manner, the cashier assured me it would be no trouble. However, he first needed to fill out a cash issue form on paper. Then I just needed to sign a withdrawal slip. Could he see my debit card to verify the signature? Done. For added security, the paper-and-ink signature specimen was carefully counter-checked against the electronic signature stored on-screen with my account information. Next, the process became a two-man job. The cashier needed the assistance of his colleague who Had The Keys. Together they retreated to unlock the safe, the cashier taking a dramatic step backwards as the safe doors swung open, then his colleague duly stood aside while the obliging cashier hauled out the bag of money. Ready-prepared and counted, 2000 densely packed pennies were carried back to the counter, in their sealed transparent plastic sack, and swung into the safety deposit box for me to access on the other side.  As I struggled to lift out my sack of pennies, I realized I was foolishly unprepared for this significant withdrawal. It was lunchtime and I had to walk back to the Watershed, across the busy centre of Bristol, carrying 7.12kg of pennies in a transparent sack. The sack was printed with large bright-orange text, conspicuously declaring the amount of money I was carrying and sealed with ominous anti-fraud tape. I made it back to the Pervasive Media Studio with quivering arm muscles, and dumped the sack of pennies on my desk. Not legal tender perhaps, but so awkward and heavy that it’s probably the most secure withdrawal and storage of £20 I’ve encountered yet. There's definitely safety in numbers.