This research project is an interdisciplinary project that interweaves data collection and performance. It speaks to environmental and social issues and how they connect to the potentiality of Digital Matters. It employs digital microcontrollers to collect data on temperature, humidity, and air quality and to use those data sets for a performance. In a way, the exhibition and performance present the work that I have done prior to coming to Utah and translates or transposes it locally. This is to heighten our sense of the immediate environment and sonify aspects of our surroundings imperceivable to the human ear.
However, I wrote the proposal at the start of COVID-19, with none of us truly knowing how long it would last. Now at the tail end of the fall semester, and vaccine on the horizon, the grant's opportunity to research and develop with the IoT sensors, while having to mainly work from home, has made considerable progress in an entirely different way.
Coincidentally, the obstacle of remote learning and remote sensing became a parallel. It became a productive constraint where I inspected air quality more thoroughly than if I had in-person. Air quality was the central point of interest that I wanted to understand more through microcontrollers. The semester's challenges and obstacles made me look at sensors, APIs, and data from other cities such as Doha, Qatar, as part of the project.
Digital Matters was one of the first places I found community at the university after arriving in the fall of 2019. It is also a space that I conjured in my mind before arriving in Salt Lake City, and I was delighted to find out that it exists. In my work, the design research is at the center, and there are branches in exhibition and performance, technology development, and writing. The way that Digital Matters is an incubator and innovation center is similar to this.
In particular to the grant, this meant further understanding microcontrollers in my own work, which I plan to integrate into my teaching as well as further research abroad. With COVID-19, the research and teaching became somewhat disjointed, and how much one could relay over Zoom. But it also allowed me to push who I collaborate with, and that's where I used the grant to start a data exchange with a colleague at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Doha. With this same toolkit, the work will continue to expand for my studio next semester.
The grant has allowed me to dissect my work in greater detail, as well as glance at the technology from a bird's eye view. Since receiving the grant in the spring of 2020, the world has experienced various growing pains. The intersections of those events and microcontrollers are where I want to create IoT experiences. And building on that, in this research and prototyping process, I've started parsing out the differences between passive and active data in my own work.
Passive data, in my lens, is when information is being collected without an individual having much say or agency. Active data is when an individual chooses the variables to monitor, configures the parameters, and disseminates that information outwards. These two modes are a simultaneity in our lives, and different groups from different cultures interact with each differently. The more awareness we have of distinguishing between the two, the more we can integrate IoT in ethical ways.
There are definitely short-term and long-term work towards this insight and research and how it fits in my own practice. I plan to present the technical insight of this during the research talks for the short term. And for the performance aspect, I've reached out to friends in Chicago at Experimental Sound Studio to partner up and showcase the output as part of their online Quarantine Concert series in the spring of 2021.
I would tell any future applicant to start in a feasible place, write it through their lens, and find what intersections it comes across. There was a lot of drafting in my proposal, and what ended up not ringing hollow was left behind on the submission. Once you start the project, run with it as much as you can until you find the edges of the project. The breakthroughs for me came around the halfway point in the semester. Digital Matters gives you that space and freedom to fail and succeed without labeling one or the other. I would encourage future applicants to present their strong suit on paper, and to then take the project to spaces they couldn't even think was possible after starting the grant research.
One question that seems to be sitting with me is if digital design scholarship pertains to what you are designing, or who you are designing with? I think there should be a greater emphasis on the multiplicity and diversity of research sources. This seems to be a strong way for correlations to come to the surface. My studio this semester braved designing experiences for digital literacy programs for the International Rescue Committee. This is a vast space in design that often gets mistaken as "social design" but in reality is product, platform or experiential design. Over the course of the semester and thanks to the grant, we were incredibly fortunate to work with three refugees who helped us design through their voices. This made us reconsider color, language, and interfaces such as the microcontrollers in a way that wouldn't be possible without them. In the spring, between Doha and Salt Lake City, I hope to push this further. Where we inspect geographical data that is out there and cultural or social aspects that can be connected to these sensors.
One question that seems to be sitting with me is if digital design scholarship pertains to what you are designing, or who you are designing with? I think there should be a greater emphasis on the multiplicity and diversity of research sources. This seems to be a strong way for correlations to come to the surface. My studio this semester braved designing experiences for digital literacy programs for the International Rescue Committee . . . Over the course of the semester and thanks to the grant, we were incredibly fortunate to work with three refugees who helped us design through their voices. This made us reconsider color, language, and interfaces such as the microcontrollers in a way that wouldn’t be possible without them.
–Milad Mozari, Fall 2020 Exhibition & Performance DM Faculty Grantee