Folk-Art, Storytelling and Technology: An Interview with Becca Rose

Becca Rose is an artist, designer and educator based in Bristol, UK.  She has a Master’s Degree in Design Education from Goldsmiths College, University of London and she works as a lecturer in media art and design at the University of the West of England.  We sat down with her to chat about her background, why puppetry appeals to her and how handcrafts and electronics can produce innovative new artworks.


What is your background? How did you get involved in puppetry? 

I would say that my practice ibecca_roses interdisciplinary. My work includes and involves puppetry, but also has many other cross-overs. I find it hard to pin down my work into a category.  I studied Literature and Art in Leeds, and about 6 months after I graduated (in 2009),  I started to develop work with Corina Bona and Roseanne Wakely.

Together we started a participatory and interactive puppetry company called “Gongoozler”. Our work was part performance, part storytelling, and part workshop and we made shows mostly in Bristol (at the Cube, Wardrobe, for the Harbourside).

 

Gongoozler at the Parlour Show Rooms_before it was the parlour showrooms_nocredit needed
Gongoozler at the Parlour Show Rooms.
gongoozler_interactive puppetry at the wardrobe_nocredit needed
Gongoozler interactive puppetry at the Wardrobe Theatre.

One key way in which puppetry has been transformative to my practice was through a research trip I made to India. In 2012, I received an international development fund from the Arts Council to travel to India. I thought I was going to explore Keralan shadow puppetry. But what I ended up learning about was the breath and diversity in the artefacts people used to tell stories visually there. The trip helped me to understand that puppetry is one way of telling stories through objects, and since I have been exploring the connections between stories and the way we engage with their physical artefacts in a number of ways.

Odisha Shadow Puppetry_no credit needed
Odisha shadow puppetry.

 

Your practice is strongly aligned with educational processes. What led you to connect education with puppetry?  What insights have you found?

I started teaching arts workshops at the same time as making artistic work, so for me, teaching and creative practice are intertwined. Saying that I have started to think more broadly about my role as an educator in recent years. I think there are huge issues with the education system as it stands, and in 2015 I spent a year doing an MA at Goldsmiths in Design Education. I did this because I wanted to learn more about learning, and about how we design learning. My understanding of how people learn was based on tacit knowledge I gained from teaching for 10 years. And on the MA I was able to underpin the knowledge I already had through practice with a theoretical framework.

 

You also describe yourself as working on projects in crafts and electronics. How does the handmade relate to electronics? What have you discovered?

In about 2011, whilst making interactive puppetry with Gongoozler and teaching, I started working with David McGoran from Rusty Squid.  I participated in one of their Arduino workshops. For me, this was so amazing. I discovered that objects could be interactive on a whole new level: through automation. I started to explore what this meant when it came to storytelling, and how objects that tell stories could come to life in new ways. I explored books, and shadow puppets, and illustrations, and interactive all sorts of things… And I am still exploring!

Expereiments with books and automated animation_ no credit needed.jpg
Experiments with books and automated animation.

It turns out the world of interactive books is quite small, and it wasn’t long until I started collaborating with computer scientist Natalie Freed and Engineer Jie Qi (who are both brilliant practitioners in that field and I feel very privileged to have worked with them.) I was part of Jie’s research project at MIT, and developed a bookbinding class called
“e-lumiated books” with Natalie.

 

What are you currently working on?  What would you like to explore next?

I’m currently developing a mobile platform that allows creators to make stories across digital and physical spaces called “Bear Abouts”.  I started working on this a few years ago as a way to explore the crossover between physical artefacts and digital storytelling. I was interested in the embodied nature of storytelling, and how to bring this to digital space. And although I am exploring the human-commuter interaction side of things, there are still a lot of links with the puppetry (craft, animation, bringing inanimate objects to life, video games, interactivity.)

Bear Abouts_Photocredit-Ben Peter Catchpole
Bear Abouts. Picture: Ben Peter Catchpole.

 

I suppose due to my interest in learning, the project has grown more into a way of connecting people, and learning from each other through the stories that are told with the platform. This has taken me down an education route. I also went to Bett a couple of years ago and was shocked by the number of educational apps that were grounded in Behaviourist learning methods. I was horrified by the direction of mobile apps for learning -many of them were based on reward systems, rather than engaging in creative learning experiences. In Bear Abouts I’m trying to explore a way to bring some of the learning experiences I developed whilst teaching with puppetry to a digital framework.

Currently, I’m working with a Unity developer to develop Bear Abouts further. I’m being supported by Innovate UK, and about to start a 2-month residency, where I am inviting three artists (puppeteers, interactive story makers and illustrators) to develop stories with the platform. I’m also partnering with a school in North Bristol. This all kicks of in early April, so watch this space for more details.

We’ll be looking for people to test out the platform as it develops so please get in touch if you are interested or have any questions – hello[at]beccarose.co.uk

 

Interview by Emma Windsor


To find out more about Becca Rose and her work, visit her website at http://www.beccarose.co.uk, Twitter or Vimeo Channel.

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