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Serving & connecting
How does the smartphone SIM card nurture networks of belonging and how might these networks be valued and materialised?
Zeena Feldman and Liz Hingley bring together their shared research around digital culture and belonging, in partnership with jewellery designer Sofie Boons and Frank Menger of the Centre for Print Research, University of the West of England.
This project ‘opens up’ the body of the smartphone to consider the SIM card as a vital, yet overlooked and fragile tool for unlocking transnational as well as local networks, user agency and imagined futures. (Hingley, 2022). Inspired by a collaborative art project with Syrian refugees on a UK resettlement programme in 2019, the SIM card is viewed as a precious and evolving portrait of intimate relationships - a minute piece of contemporary infrastructure that connects the vast majority of the world’s population across space and time.
‘When I first arrived my SIM card from Jordan stopped working and I felt totally out of touch with the world. When I got a UK SIM card I began to feel part of this country… All my family and friends were waiting for news. The first thing I did was call them and send them pictures of my new bedroom.’
– Project artist, Coventry, 2019
Interactive workshops are at the core of the project and lead its direction. Small groups of invited participants explore how the SIM card fosters and shapes their sense of security, identity and community. In a hybrid process consisting of early nineteenth century photographic methods, digital imagery and silversmithing, participants disrupt the automatisation of the smartphone and create a unique artwork, one for themselves and another to add to the project exhibition and collection.
The team's workshop methodology attends to the meanings and materialities of personal digital ecosystems encoded through the smartphone. The dry gelatin emulsion process is combined with a modified analogue camera from the 1980’s to optically transfer selected digital screenshots onto the same 0.7 mm glass used in smartphones screens. Participants are then guided to finish and polish a delicate gold coloured frame to hold their glass piece, the iconic size and shape of a SIM card. The manual stamping of a brass back plate, which features the project QR code, individualises each artwork with a number of personal significance.
The touring project installation showcases the wearable SIM artworks, which hold both a physical and virtual presence and respond to our increasingly embodied relationships with mobile devices.
Zeena Feldman’s interdisciplinary research examines the relationship between digital technologies and everyday life. She has published widely, including on visual culture, the sharing economy, online communities, digital detox and mental health apps. She is the editor of Art & the Politics of Visibility(IB Tauris, 2017).
Liz Hingley is a photographic artist and anthropologist. Her inherently collaborative work illuminates the systems of belonging and belief that shape cities around the world. Her projects, made in Europe and China, have been published as five monographs, exhibited around the world and received numerous accolades including a Getty Grant.
The Centre for Print Research (CFPR) is a distinctive centre of research excellence based at the University of the West of England. It is a unique, multidisciplinary group that combines knowledge and skills across traditional and digital techniques to reflect, innovate and find creative solutions for the future of print.
4JET Group, Innovative Laser solutions generously sponsor the project with bespoke glass materials.
GRAIN Projects commissioned the first chapter of the project and the creation of artworks, which are in the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery collection.
Link to project story for Refugee Week
The SIM Project exhibition, Science Gallery London, 15 September - 31 December
The SIM Project workshop, Expanded Visualities: Photography and Emerging Technologies Conference, IAPT, 17-19 November, Cyprus
The SIM Project workshop, ‘Rethinking Migration in Europe’ training programme with Kairos Europe, 19-22 October, Athens
The SIM Project workshops, Science Gallery London, 28-30 July and 14-15 October
SIM Card Belongings workshop, Centre for Digital Culture, 19 May, King’s College London
The SIM Project - Illuminating Networks of Belonging, Workshop, Photomedia Conference, 31 March - 2 April, Aalto University, Finland
‘Collaborative visualisation: the potential for visual anthropologists to support academics from other disciplines, to communicate and further their research using creative methodologies’, The RAI Film Festival 2023, Royal Anthropological Institute, 6-10 March, Bristol, UK.
Feldman, Z., 2021. Me Apps: Mental Health and the Smartphone. In The Quantification of Bodies in Health: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Emerald Publishing Limited.
Hingley, Liz., 2022. A key to home: The role of the SIM card in refugee resettlement. Imaginations Special issue: Migrations 13(2).
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