Touch Symposium, 9-10 Dec 2020
At the end of a strange year, marked with a growing awareness of touch hunger due to pandemic-related restrictions on close contact, it was very apt to have a symposium that focused on what we crave. The Touch Symposium was presented online from 9–10 December, jointly hosted by the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) and the Crafts Council (CC).
The outstanding difference of the symposium was the use of a digital interface called Remo. Remo encouraged the delegate to be independent and explore the virtual space. Much like a natural conference environment, delegates could join tables of six and chat to others there, or enter into private conversations with one another, or relax in the break space. Presentations brought everyone together in the conference hall; once they had finished, delegates were randomly assigned a table with a group of new faces to meet. Numerous break times were woven into the programme, allowing networking to happen naturally.
Research Associate at the CFPR and Crafts Council Fellow Sofie Boons shared some of the excitement and challenges of creating this event alongside Alma Daskalaki at the Crafts Council. Research Associate Wuon-Gean Ho reports on the event.
That was the best online conference I have ever experienced! It was fast-paced, thoughtfully curated and had an outstanding interface! How did you come up with the idea of having people meet on the palm of the hand?
Our handprint is unique. My hands are the instruments bringing my ideas to life. My appreciation for objects as a jeweller is not just visual, but also a positive sensory appreciation: simply looking at something leaves my fingers tingling, and yearning to touch.
When thinking about digital conferences, I asked myself, if a digital conference could enable us to meet anywhere, where would I like to go? What would it be like if we could zoom in and have a conference on the palm of a hand? The final lay-out of the plan was inspired by fortune-telling charts: how they are divided into certain zones. The final artwork for the hand, which you – Wuon-Gean – so beautifully crafted, enabled all of us to be transported during the event to our very own makers’ universe.
What did you aim for with the conference programme? The Maker Breakfast was a new concept for me, but very enjoyable because the presentations were each only ten minutes long, which kept them very punchy. I like the way you and Alma Daskalaki seamlessly introduced each speaker, giving us a sense that you had curated a very tight line up. It provided a nice contrast with the longer talks which were inspiring for their depth.
The final programme was maker-breakfast morning presentations followed by workshops and longer talks in the afternoon, interspersed with time for general chat throughout. It was a combination of tried and tested digital programme formations with experimental extras. We did keep adding things because there were so many interesting submissions. In fact, Alma Daskalaki, my colleague at Crafts Council, kept saying, “Sofie, our time is limited!” So the final programme ended up being snappy and content-heavy because we agreed this was what was needed to represent the topic fully.
It was also very much our intention for participants to have the opportunity to discuss, network and meet. The maker breakfast is an event the Crafts Council have run before in the real world. These quick presentations deliberately had no time for questions because speakers would be mingling in the space afterwards, so delegates could approach them directly in the tea breaks.
It was quite risky to run workshops in a digital platform, but I think they were very successful. Shelley James’ conversations about light, and Niamh Fahy’s workshop on real and imagined landscapes were enjoyable. I found myself roaming around my apartment with a small group of new delegate companions, looking at the world with fresh eyes.
When we discussed the topic, we knew we needed to find ways of injecting tactile activities into the digital format. It would be a shame to have a conference on touch and have us only touch our keyboards and screens. With digital conferences there is room for creativity. Our workshop leaders delivered wonderful sessions that hopefully enabled all participants to explore tactility through a range of ways.
Creating and curating this event was a very big task! I wonder if you had a chance to relax and enjoy the event as well?
What I was most pleasantly surprised by was the use of the general chat during the workshops, as you could see the experiments that delegates were creating in real time, as they made them. I could see how people were engaging, and the conversation was full of laughter and fun. Even though we weren’t in the same room, this was one of the highlights of the event and gave me immense joy.
You brought together a lot of people with this symposium, including many who work at the Centre for Fine Print Research. We learned about each other’s crafts’ skills from a tactile point of view and made connections with artists and crafts people working in glass, ceramic, architecture and textiles. What was the feedback for the conference?
Of the 40 people who have filled out the feedback form, 100% said that the overall event was good or excellent, and 94% said that it exceeded or far exceeded expectations. The digital platform was also praised and rated very highly, and I certainly hope we have created a showcase for colleagues at the Centre for Fine Print Research focusing on the haptic nature of their practice. We took risks, that I think showed the digital world can provide a space for discussion, contemplation and joy for makers.
I’m grateful for working with Alma Daskalaki. She understood and polished ideas and allowed space for it to grow. I’m proud of what we as a team achieved, from the speakers, exhibitors and support team to the participants – I believe we all invested a lot, and maybe provided some light in the dark months of a challenging year.
Touch Symposium was hosted by Centre for Fine Print Research and Crafts Council and ran from 9–10 Dec 2020.
The CFPR digital Showcase for the Touch Symposium can be viewed here.
The Touch Symposium Padlet can be viewed here.
Snapshots of work by CFPR staff for the digital showcase.