Stupid Cities

Digital Placemaking Category

Art, Technology and Engagement in a Time of Isolation

by Little Lost Robot Studio

We are Little Lost Robot Studio. We make sensory, immersive, 3D artwork that amalgamates robotics and automation with humaneness and well-being. We present a vision of the future that is gloriously humane in all its messy domestic parts and we have been commissioned by the Bristol + Bath Creative R+D programme to make our prototype, Stupid Cities.

Stupid Cities is a Digital Placemaking prototype which aims to improve the social equality of our cities by using placemaking tools to highlight how their current design creates disability and environments full of micro-aggressions which stop people engaging in society. We will be creating tools initially for wheelchair users to record their experiences journeying through public spaces. Using this placemaking data to find new ways of seeing our public space with respect to access. Creating physical sculptures, street art and advocacy events that give visibility in public spaces of the invisible obstacles in our cities.

So how has the outbreak affected the project?

The question is almost too big to easily unpack. It feels like the space before a birth or after a death. An unexpected, life shattering pause. An ambivalent moment. We worry about those who are vulnerable, about the cultural impact of isolation, will it lead to more empathy from society towards those who are permanently more isolated due to poverty or disability? Or will the culture of competitive isolation reign supreme? Will people sneer at those unwilling to Zoom? Who haven’t "given enough" during the crisis, or who are still isolated and unable to "contribute" to society via paid employment afterwards.

There are big questions to be asked about class and the impact a sudden, vicious recession will have on the most vulnerable.

We are each sat on our own little pile of broken dreams and dismembered plans. As artists it is our job to reflect this, to create room for communities to grieve but also to offer hope.

Technology has offered many mitigations to the current crisis - Zoom parties, Hangouts, Houseparties, live streams of absolutely everything, but it has also fed the illusion that we can just continue as we are, which has an intense personal cost of feeding the pressure we all feel to continue to "produce".

Perhaps what is needed for us all is less productivity and more reflection, focus on the artist not the object.

Practically, for us at Little Lost Robot the interest lies at looking at ways in which those isolated can interact with and have some power over the outdoor space, be that remotely being able to interact with and effect the movements of our robots or digitally mapping pathways through the outdoor space from the safety of home.Our feeling is that now is a time to react slowly, to find space to grieve and to think about intent and our impact on the world.

Our intention is to make empowering work with minority groups by democratising access to digital creativity. We prioritise young people and people with disabilities, because that’s closest to our hearts. But really we prioritise the individual. We make work that takes time to consider the experiences of everyone. That’s not to say that we expect everyone to like what we do, but we do like to think about accessibility, relevance and longevity when we undertake our creations.

This seems more important than ever right now. The whole world is rapidly reacting to an unfolding situation and as individuals we find ourselves required to work as a global collective to overcome the threat of Covid-19.

We recognise that isolation has the potential to be very harmful for our health and well-being. However this is something that far too many invisible citizens have already learned to live with. There is a spectrum of reasons for this. But much comes down to lack of access and because there just isn’t enough public space that is well-designed with everyone in mind. And sometimes it’s because of a bad attitude from other people. Perhaps we are all finding empathy with this easier to understand, now that everyone is forced into the same situation? Which gives us all the more reason to share our stories.

We were ready to showcase the project in summer 2020. As you can imagine this will now be delayed, but we are fortunate enough to have codesign and sustainability within our principles and as such we are more than ready to continue working remotely with a determined network of project champions. Our core values are to sustain individual creators and work together for a greater outcome.

We believe that no one is too small to change the world. As challenging as this moment in our history is, we believe that our global culture has the tools to make the world a far better place to live and work after this strange and other-worldly episode in our lives. All we need to do is bring this access and knowledge to people living their daily lives. No one knows more than you about what would make your everyday world a better place. So we want to take the power of design out of the hands of the mighty few and hand it neatly to one other. This is a democratic space to create and influence our immediate futures.

We will distribute remote packs which can either be delivered or collected locally, so that our followers can be involved and connected from home. During these sessions you will learn about soft robotics and programming. You will be welcomed to contribute your skills and expertise as an experienced humanoid, into what will become an interactive sculpture. This ambitious work will showcase publicly when lockdown comes to an end.

This possibly all sounds a little fantastical but we need to think ahead. Beyond the necessary protection of all of society. What happens for those living in isolation unrelated to Covid19 when quarantine comes to an end? It’s unfair that they be expected to return the exclusionary state that society has placed on them.

Stupid Cities has offered small grants for submissions of creative work in response to the Covid19 crisis.

We feel that it is critical to offer support and share our resources as widely as we can to sustain the work we have already done. It’s not a huge pot of money to draw on, but successful applicants will receive £300 to create work that discusses:

“The feeling of not belonging because of poor design when journeying through public space. The feeling of having to risk personal safety to participate. A sense of friction or weight left in the mind that affects the desire to move through public space."

We are commissioning artists who identify as disabled and have experiences of difficulty navigating through public space due to mobility issues, and related experiences of social isolation.

And we’ll be sharing their work as part of our project here.