A new collaboration for me – my sister’s designs for Technobiophilia

A de Vos family outing some time in the early 60s
A typical de Vos family outing

It’s interesting how family relationships evolve. I am the eldest of three kids. I was quite the loner in the family but my brother and sister were very close and shared a lot of interests, like fishing and messing about outdoors. I preferred to stay in my bedroom and read. This picture shows a typical family outing: that’s my brother Steve in the foreground, he’ll be trying to spot fish in the river. Next to him is Carolyn Black – she looks like she’s grubbing around for insects or whatever. And in the background is me, bored stiff and gazing in desperation at the photographer (Dad, no doubt), and probably moaning ‘can we go home now?’.

Some evenings the whole family would sit together in front of our tiny TV watching those marvels of early nature programming – Hans and Lotte Hass,  Armand and Michaela Denis, Jacques Cousteau, and David Attenborough of course. But me, I hated those programmes. Even though they were in black and white, in my eyes every single one was stained with blood as one species relentlessly hunted and devoured another. I could not see how this was suitable family entertainment. Of course looking back now, I realise these programmes were huge technical achievements which shared the natural world in ways that had never been done before, but at the time they just felt plain wrong, not to say deadly boring, and they only served to reinforce my status as a family outsider who had absolutely nothing in common with the rest of them.

The years passed. As we grew up, my sister Carolyn and I had virtually nothing to say to each other. She was 5 years younger and we attended different schools. I do remember a brief interaction around 1966 when I was 15 and she was 10 when I advised her to give up Sunday School and embrace Communism instead. This she duly did (temporarily anyway). As a result, I was severely reprimanded for my act of cultural and family sabotage, and perhaps that put us off talking to each other for another decade or so.

We both married and each had two kids, but we lived a hundred miles apart and seldom saw each other. Then things started to change. I got divorced, and discovered that she was always there for us no matter what the difficulties. As we spent more time together we started to get to know each other in different contexts but culturally we remained very different. She lived in the countryside and still grubbed around in the long grass, except by then she was making art from what she found. I lived in the city, and I still stayed at home reading books and (by then) playing with computers, except that I was writing books about what I found.

However in recent years our professional and artistic interests have gradually started to grow together. Always an artist and maker, she began applying those sensibilities to curating and managing large outdoor public art projects, often with a technological slant – she taught herself html and made websites, for example.  For several years she worked with the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, then in 2012 she managed ExLab, a large Dorset-based public art project, before setting up her own business Flow Contemporary Arts which partners with other organisations to provide encounters with art in unusual places.

Plate, Chapter 3. Photo: Carolyn Black
Plate, Chapter 3. Photo: Carolyn Black

At the same time that Carolyn’s outdoor art projects were opening new conceptual territories I was busy writing Technobiophilia, and our conversations about nature and technology converged more and more until I decided to ask if she would consider creating some chapter plates for the book. I wanted the design to have some natural texture and I thought that images drawn from her knowledge of both art and technology would be perfect signifiers for my writing. After all, during the eight long years it took me to research and write Technobiophilia, she was the main person I discussed it with, and it was certainly influenced by her insights. I wasn’t sure if she’d agree, though, and I probably wasn’t sure if we could collaborate in that kind of way. After all, sisters always have their own agendas! Plus, she’s very busy, and creating 6 images which complement a long and very transdisciplinary book is not an easy job. But I’m pleased to say that she promised to help. Her account of how she made the images can be read on her blog Chapter-plates for Technobiophilia, drawn by me. A fascinating mission of mind-bending & re-thinking image making, and I recommend it as an intriguing account of the creative process in action. Since completing the chapter plates she’s also helped me by taking a set of publicity photos. Over the years I’ve had pretty uncomfortable experiences with photographers, but I don’t mind making a fool of myself by lying down in a damp bluebell wood if it’s only my sister behind the lens.

Bluebells in the Forest of Dean. Photo: Carolyn Black
Bluebells in the Forest of Dean. Photo: Carolyn Black

The chapter plates are in black and white, which somehow links us back to that old photo of the three of us together and to those grainy TV nature programmes which divided us. I like that synergy.

And our brother? Sadly, I see much less of him than I might. He lives a long way away now and has a very different life, but he still goes fishing.

One thought on “A new collaboration for me – my sister’s designs for Technobiophilia”

  1. Reblogged this on Flow Contemporary Arts and commented:
    Enjoyed reading this and am finding the cross-referencing intriguing. I also wrote my MA Fine Art thesis about virtual body and used digital video to make work, so I feel as comfortable with technology as I do with nature. And it is true, I still like grubbing around in the long grass exploring!


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