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How does the smartphone SIM card nurture networks of belonging and how might these precious networks be materialised?
Zeena Feldman from the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s and artist/anthropologist 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 interdisciplinary project ‘opens up’ the body of the smartphone to consider the significance of SIM cards in helping users forge a sense of security, identity and community. From its origins in 2019, as a collaborative art project inspired by dialogue with Syrian refugees on a UK resettlement programme, The SIM Project focuses on the smartphone’s role in fostering intimate relationships across time and space.
Image: SIM artwork prototype by Liz Hingley
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 microtech GmbH, Innovative Laser solutions are generously sponsoring the project with SIM scale bespoke glass materials.
GRAIN Projects commissioned the first chapter of the project and the artworks are in the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery collection.
Blog written by the project team
‘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
We view the SIM card as a precious yet overlooked critical infrastructure of modern mobile communication – a vital and fragile tool for unlocking transnational as well as local networks, user independence and imagined futures. (Hingley, 2022)
Interactive workshops with small groups of participants are at the core of the project and lead it’s direction. In a hybrid process consisting of various manual stages, early nineteenth century photographic methods and silversmithing are employed to disrupt the automatisation of the smartphone and create a unique wearable artwork. The dry gelatin emulsion process is combined with a modified 35mm analogue camera from the 1980’s to optically transfer digital screenshots onto the same 0.7 mm glass that is used for smartphones screens. Participants are then guided to finish and polish a delicate gold coloured frame to hold the 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 their pieces with a number of personal significance. Each project artist creates a minute SIM amulet to keep and another to add to The SIM Project internationally touring exhibition and collection.
Our workshop methodology attends to the meanings and materialities of personal digital ecosystems encoded through the smartphone. Employing a combination of artistic practice, community co-design, traditional academic research and arts-based research, with perspectives from cultural studies, and the anthropology and sociology of material and visual culture. The SIM 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.
Post for Refugee Week
‘The SIM Project’ exhibition, Science Gallery London, 15 September - 31 December, UK
‘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’ Paper and Workshop, Photomedia Conference, 31st March - 2nd April, Aalto University, Finland
‘The SIM Project’ workshop, Expanded Visualities: Photography and Emerging Technologies Conference, 17-19 November, Cyprus
‘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 S. Guidi, B. Ajana, J. Braga (eds.) The Quantification of Bodies in Health: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Bingley: Emerald Publishing, pp. 151-171.
Hingley, L. (2022) ‘A key to home: The role of the SIM card in refugee resettlement’. Imaginations Special issue: Migrations 13(2).
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