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Episode 0: Introduction

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Hello, welcome to Parallel Worlds. My name is Ollie Palmer. I am an artist and designer, and I am also the Core Tutor on the Situated Design Masters course at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures, within St Joost School of Art and Design, here in the Netherlands. This podcast you’re listening to is part of our Masters Programme - but it’s also a course that is free and open for anyone to listen to, participate in, and enjoy in their own time.

This is the introduction episode for the course.

The aim of this course is to enhance your own creative practice – whatever that may be – using the tools and techniques of world-building, both to better understand the world that you exist in already, and how this becomes an integral part of your practice; and in terms of finding ways to integrate fantastical, magically real, potentially absurdist elements into your work, and the way other people perceive your work. A lot of this is about finding new ways to frame your practice, to think about the ways in which people come into contact with it, and how you can take control of that connection and play with it, so that other people can enjoy escaping into your work and your world as much as you do.

We’re going to explore world-building as a creative endeavour, thinking about the worlds that you enjoys escaping to. Every work of fiction has to engage with world-building to a certain extent. One of the enjoyable things about consuming fiction is that you get to enter another world, you get to see how different logics behave, how different people in different circumstances might think or act differently, what it might feel like to be someone or somewhere else. That act of immersing you, the audience, in another place, that’s world-building. So, you’ll be looking at the worlds you like to escape into – whether they’re film, tv, books, theatre, music, visual arts, experiential street art, whatever it is you love to indulge in – you’ll be thinking about how they’ve been put together, how the mechanics of those places work, and how you can take some of those techniques and use them in your own work.

We’re also going to explore the worlds that you already inhabit. Every person listening to this exists in a very very specific time and place, you’ve had an unique set of experiences that nobody else has ever experienced.Whatever your creative practice is, you have motivations for doing it based on what you enjoy, based on what you’ve experienced – and you’re going to be looking at what those motivations are, which worlds you’ve already inhabited, and which of these worlds you’d like to invite audiences to inhabit along with you when they experience your work.

Ultimately this course is about self-awareness, but also finding ways that you can get lost, in a really positive way, in the work that you do, and how you can help others to get lost in that work and the worlds you build around it too.

So, let’s cover a few practical things.

This course is open to anyone. All you need is a podcast app, or to visit the course website at parallel.olliepalmer.com, and to have the time to listen to the episodes. If you’re a student at MIVC enrolled on Parallel Worlds as part of your masters education, we also have weekly meet-ups, where we run through a few activities, and discuss work, and we’ll also assess your work at the end. But the rest of this course is open to everyone.

Although this course is about your own work, whatever your creative practice might be, the main outcome at the end of this course will be an audio piece that jumps between your reality right now, as experienced throughout the time of this course, and a fantastical world that you build too.

There are a few reasons we’re going to be working in audio. Firstly, it’s a medium not many artists currently use, and it’s one that is cheap, very accessible, and very intimate. You can create audio journeys on a very low budget that you’d have to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into if it were a film. It’s also a complementary medium, so that later on, no matter what you do, there’s probably a way to integrate audio into it – be it improving the way you make films, how you talk about your work, creating soundscapes for exhibitions, and so on. But with audio as our exclusive medium, we can play with the relationship the audience has to the place they’re in. So, through audio fiction, you could design a work that has to be experienced in a bathtub, or that is best heard whilst walking, or anywhere else – but the audience bring their own surroundings into the story itself. And lastly, you don’t need fancy specialist equipment or any experience working with audio. If you have a smartphone made within the last 8-10 years, and a computer in almost any condition, you have all that you need.

There are eight weeks of podcast episodes. This year, I’ve tried to take into account that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed and stressed at the state of the world. I want this course to fit around your life and daily routine, to improve it, not to intrude upon it. So, the podcast operates in two modes: there are action weeks, which have a structured creative exercise every day, and there are reflection weeks, in which I’ll just put out a couple of episodes which are just there to be listened to and thought about. Action week episodes really need you to sit down somewhere and do something, but you could listen to reflection week episodes anywhere – maybe whilst washing up, or walking, or exercising, or sitting on the sofa, or anything else.

I’ve modelled parts of this course on a podcast I enjoyed myself, the writer Tim Clare’s ‘Couch to 80k Bootcamp’ on the podcast ‘Death of 1000 Cuts’. Tim is a fantastic writing teacher, and I highly recommend his podcast if you have any inclination towards writing.

One of the things Tim talks about is the idea of being ‘match-fit’. If you were, say, a boxer, you wouldn’t just jump in the ring for a big fight without practice. Or if you hadn’t run for a while, you’d be a fool to pop on some trainers and run a marathon. Instead, you’d train little and often, bit by bit improving your skills, your dexterity, your coordination and stamina, so that when the time came for the big push, you were ready.

During action weeks, we’ll be doing the same thing, testing and refining your creativity every day with structured and themed exercises that take you through elements of world-building.

Then in reflection weeks, we’ll be taking some time to think about things.

Some of the reflection episodes are examples of work that former students of this course made last year, some are essays, some are interviews. The final episode each reflection week will be from somewhere else entirely – maybe it’ll be an audio news article, or a podcast episode from someone else’s podcast. On the website there will be a few questions to think about whilst listening to that episode.

So, action weeks, with daily activities, and reflection weeks, with things to listen to and think about. They’ll be marked in each podcast title, so you won’t be caught out.

One more thing to mention about the podcast – the episodes are nearly all transcribed. If English isn’t your first language, or you understand things better when you read them, just go to parallel.olliepalmer.com and find the episode there. There are often extra links to additional resources too.

You can also leave voice messages for the show. If you’ve made something you’re proud of, or if you have a question you’d like to ask, please share it! Last year there were a few bonus episodes of the podcast where students had asked questions or shared their work, and it felt so nice to be part of such a generous community. There is a button on the podcast homepage, on each episode page, and in the notes for each podcast episode. If you look at the notes for this episode, the very last part says “Send in a voice message” – just tap that link and you can send a message.

One final thing – I’d like to thank the Situated Art and Design Research Group in the Centre for Applied Research in Art, Design and Technology, which I am a member of, for the ability to put my own artistic research into practice in the creation of this digital syllabus. I’m very grateful to Michel Van Dartel and the steering committee for supporting this project for a second year.

That is it for today. Thank you for listening so far. I hope you’ll stick around, this course should be a lot of fun, I’m excited to be here with you.

Welcome to Parallel Worlds.

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Copyright © 2020 Ollie Palmer. Site content distributed under an MIT license (you are free to reuse content as you like); student work remains their property.