“Last week I followed somebody else’s road, and this week I had my own…”

Hanna, Art Mapping participant

Earlier this year, we held our Art Mapping workshop, a public programmes event that ran over two consecutive Saturdays. Public programmes offer events that enable people to experience the Tate collection and its interpretation in new ways, to gain insights into artists’ practices, understand the contexts for the production and consumption of art and actively participate in the debates that further this knowledge. Art Mapping was both an event and a research opportunity.

We were looking to see how people would use the technologies on their smart phones, how they would respond to the art of place – and the place of art - and how people learned with each other, or alone. Both days were filmed and all participant interviews and discussions were transcribed. Gabriella Giannachi’s earlier blog, gives more detail on how the two days were structured.

This short film, compiled from both days, gives an idea of the participants’ experiences.

Examining the different ways people chose to work revealed a number of distinct modes of participation, that could help in developing the design and capabilities of the app as well as offering insight into people’s motivations.

In this mode people chose to seek out clues, to search for art works or locations, to follow trails or instructions. In week one we set these up as tasks to be completed, but in the second week, though they were optional, there was still a desire amongst a number of participants for this type of engagement. The structure this provided, both in terms of time-frame and a clear goal, was evidently appealing. 

In this mode participants set their own search terms, determined their own route (or let their train of thought determine it) and collected their own data. They selected the art work(s), references and mobile media functions that were relevant and posted their media to the site. A number of people mentioned they liked the freedom of making their own journey but they also liked the process of posting en route (as opposed to uploading via computer later), so that they were less precious about their work.

This was really an extension of the gatherer mode, which involved further online research, additional physical visits – to both Tate and to other galleries – and editing of their initial blog postings. For some, this mode appealed for the opposite reason to posting en route, namely that they could edit, refine, remix and add further references to create a more ‘finished’ piece.

This action was employed by one or two participants in hunter, gatherer and cultivator modes, using a range of social media tools. The motivation here was to share ideas and practices, in order to see what others were doing, to get responses and also, perhaps, to spark similar activities in other distant places and possibly even to build a sort of community based on the practice, where ideas could be traded and variations developed.

The agrarian metaphor I’ve used to categorise these modes may not prove robust in the long run but for this first event, it usefully encompasses goal-oriented, process-based, reflexive and social models of learning. We found that people didn’t necessarily opt for and stick with just one of these modes – some people utilised two or three, while others said how they chose to engage would depend on contextual factors (e.g time constraints, unfamiliar location, limited battery life or data allowance).

An app or suite of apps, plus a desktop interface that had the flexibility to offer each of these modes might be ideal. But might it also be too complex?This is something we’re continuing to investigate. One of the issues that came up during the event was to what extent the technology enhances or impedes the experience.

In short, why would people want to use mobile technology to look at (or create) art?