The SIM Project has evolved to combine artistic practice, community co-design, traditional academic research and arts-based research. It is a fundamentally interdisciplinary and participatory project, which employs perspectives from cultural studies and the anthropology and sociology of material and visual culture (Ingold, 2013; Lupton, 2018).
The project reaches UK and international audiences through a series of traveling workshops, an exhibition in The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery and a forthcoming exhibition of SIM artworks at the Science Gallery London.
How our collaboration works
Liz and Zeena came together around their shared interest in belonging. Zeena has spent the last 12 years researching and writing about belonging, and Liz has spent this time exploring the same themes through her artistic practice and ethnographic research on migration.
This collaboration is underpinned by Zeena and Liz’s shared curiosity about smartphones and how these devices and the material that they generate are made meaningful to people. Meaningful to how people understand themselves, to how they understand themselves in relation to others and the world around them and, ultimately, meaningful to how people actually live their lives.
We also seek to offer a counter narrative to the ways that smartphones are increasingly being talked about, as technologies of addiction, atomisation, disconnection and harm. Where today’s discourse routinely demonises the smartphone, we seek to make space for understanding the joys, pleasures, the comfort and the togetherness enabled by these devices. Through creative methodologies and conversations with smartphone users, we want to break down the pace of data exchange, to consider and respect the emotions fostered by our networked SIM card entanglements across time and space.
Fundamentally this project focuses on the materiality of the smartphone and of the visual culture of belonging that’s embedded in today’s little pocket computers. So often people position digital culture as somehow immaterial, as something hovering out there in the cloud, intangible and invisible. What might it look like to find ways of mapping and materialising this precious and highly personal digital data?
We have developed a generative workshop method for attending to the meaning and materiality of the personal digital ecosystems (Blanke & Pybus, 2020) encoded and enacted through the smartphone. Primarily, participants will be invited through our established networks with refugee and migrant groups and individuals in the UK.
As the project grows, the workshops will be open to a broader public to contribute personal experiences of translocally mediated relationships. In the workshop participants are introduced to the context, process and conceptual inspirations for The SIM Project. We also consider the pedagogical uses of a workshop. We then guide participants through a series of interactive activities where they can map and visualise their own trajectories of SIM card belonging. Participants are invited to share a ‘screenshot of belonging’ from their smartphone and use it to create a unique SIM-size wearable artwork to take away.
This last component of the workshop method involves an innovative ‘pop up production laboratory’ developed by Liz and two collaborators at the University of the West of England, Frank Menger and Sophie Boons. Drawing on their interdisciplinary expertise, the artists have developed a hybrid method employing 3D printing, analogue darkroom techniques and the craft of silversmithing, which enables participants to materialise personal exchanges, mediated by smartphones. The minute, multilayered pieces take the form of wearable pendants and incorporate photographs, stamps and QR codes that link all the pieces to a dedicated project website. Developed over years of collaborative research, these artworks hold both a physical and virtual presence and directly respond to our increasingly embodied relationships with mobile devices.
The workshops will be hosted by Science Gallery London in July and October 2022, before touring to Bristol and beyond. Participation in the workshops is free and all materials will be provided. The SIM Project exhibition and website will launch in September 2022 at Science Gallery London.
4JET microtech GmbH, Germany are generously sponsoring the project with bespoke glass materials.
GRAIN Projects commissioned the first chapter of the project.