On Tuesday I went to Birmingham, to try out a protoype of Nikki Pugh’s developing project Colony. This mostly involved walking around derelict warehouses and along the side of a trolley-clogged canal, occasionally carrying a great big roll of bubblewrap.
It was pretty great.
Colony is a development of work Nikki’s been doing with GPS and maps, and in the next iteration the bubblewrap bundle is likely to respond to its environment. At the moment, though, it’s just a bundle – about the size of a small human – that occasionally vibrates. It has half a dozen different types of vibration (a central shake, for example, and a long ripple that moves from the narrowest end of the bundle to the widest). It decides when to vibrate, and what sort of vibration to make, entirely at random.
We went out in a group of four, and wandered around, occasionally passing the bundle between us – just to see what it was like, how the vibrations felt, whether people looked at us oddly or didn’t notice, whether we felt friendly and warm towards the bundle or annoyed by it. In the end we wandered arond for an hour or so, everyone taking a couple of turns with the bundle.
The first thing we noticed was that was that holding the bundle gives you an immense feeling of entitlement. Only you can tell when it’s vibrating; only you can interpret its whims. Is it happy? Which way does it want to go? Does it have a name, and if so, what is it? Holding the bundle makes you feel like these are your decisions to make, even when you know perfectly well that the vibrations are random and you’re interpreting them pretty much as you like. It invests you with power.
This means that the nature of the bundle depends a lot on who’s holding it. When I was carrying it, it wanted to keep on the move, go down slightly grimy alleyways, and – by the end of the hour – to waltz on the footpath. Other holders felt that the bundle was intrigued by indoor spaces, or keen to stay in one place for a while and “look” over walls. Conveniently, we all felt that the bundle wanted to head roughly in a circle, to end up where we started.
There’s something really lovely about the size, and the visibility, and the abstractness, and the space for interpretation, in this iteration of Colony. It’s a cross between a Magic 8 Ball, a personality quiz, a pet, and an emperor. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens with it next – but I’m also glad I got to carry it around grey cold backstreets while it’s still just a bundle.
All pictures by Nikki Pugh.