In the run up to Future|Journeys on 21st May, we thought we’d do some quick takes with the various artists and hackers who will be joining the event. James Medd is an interactive artist who has been helping AfroFutures_UK since our first event in October 2015 and we’re really pleased to have him with us as part of Future|Journeys. The definition of an Arduino adventurer, he’s known for creating nifty projects with his not-so secret powers of creativity, dedication and a dab hand with the micro controllers!
AfroFutures_UK: As it only right and proper, I’ll let you introduce yourself in your own words!
James Medd: My name’s James Medd, I’m an artist, musician and educator. I’m originally from Nottingham, but have been based in and around the North – predominantly Manchester – for the past 8 years. Right now, I’m building an experimental videogame arcade – http://awkwardarcade.co.uk – at Manchester Digital Laboratory.
AF: How did you learn how to Arduino? What’s your journey as a Maker?
JM: While studying music technology, I got the itch to creative my own interactive tools for music and media performance. I took one module in interactive technology during my second year, and let it roll from there. I’m largely self-taught, and learned and utilised various programming languages and electronics while creating interactive work as part of my art & design MA. After a period working as a creator and facilitator of technology workshops, I worked full-time as a technical ‘innovator’ – a word I love and resent! – for a design agency, before finally revisiting my passions and dedicating myself to creating more personal work.
AF: I’m really intrigued about your interest in Afrofuturism, especially as a young white guy growing up in the UK. How did you hear about Afrofuturism? What do you think is most relevant about it today?
JM: My first real experience of Afrofuturism was through the music and mythology of Sun Ra. My friends and I used to spend hours listening to his music and became fascinated with everything that surrounded Ra. Years later, I joined a Sun Ra tribute group ahead of his centenary year, and once again fell under the spell. As a white male living in the 21st century, I can’t really begin to identify with a black musician rising to prominence is late ‘50s, early ‘60s America, but his music never fails to move me. For me, the relevance of Afrofuturism today stems from the same notions of cultural alienation: over 40 years since Space Is The Place, people of colour remain under-represented in popular science fiction, and the current social and political climate in the US is bleakly reminiscent of that time.
AF: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made?
JM: That’d either be a kettle that was aware of my GPS location, a tweeitng letterbox, or a robotic mask that follows your face around. To be honest, I don’t make anything that isn’t weird.
AF: What project are you most proud of working on?
JM: Anything that puts smiles on the faces of the people that see my work makes me happy. I made an audio-responsive drawing machine a few years ago that I recently showed again at the National Media Museum. It generated so much playful energy I couldn’t help but laugh watching people interact with the work.
AF: Tell us about your workshop and what we should expect?
JM: I like to offer people several routes of entry to working with Arduino, so whether you feel like writing 6 lines of code or 60, I’ll do my best to pass on the building blocks of what I do on a daily basis. Coding concepts can be difficult to wrap your head around, and just viewing text on a screen can turn a lot of people off. Arduino is a beautifully simple bridge between physical and digital worlds, and who doesn’t love buttons and lights?
AF: What do you look forward to the most about Future|Journeys?
JM: As with any event where I get the opportunity to show people new tools and ideas, I love to see the imaginations of people run wild with the possibilities of what they can create using the technology; I plan to illuminate as many mental LEDs as I do real ones!
For more information, check out James’ website here. The Arduino Maker workshops will be on all day and are totally informal and suitable for all ages. Feel free to drop in, ask questions and get to making!