Blog

Inside The Bradfield Centre Podcast Episode 39 - Collusion

In our final podcast of 2021, Rachel Drury joins us from Collusion, a not for profit company, operating at the intersection of art, technology & human interaction to create projects with artists & communities.

Transcript

James Parton:

Welcome to inside the Bradfield Center, where we tell the stories of the companies, the partners, and the staff that make the Bradfield Center community so special. I'm James Parton, the managing director of the Bradfield Center.

Adelina Chalmers:
And I'm Adelina Chalmers, I'm known as the geek whisperer.

James Parton:
Joining us on today's episode, is Rachel Drury, whose creator and director at Collusion.

James Parton:
Welcome to the final episode of 2021, it's hard to believe we've now got nearly 40 episodes recorded of the podcast. It's certainly been an enjoyable process over the last 18 months, and we've certainly learned a lot doing it, and there's a whole bunch of really interesting conversations to look back on if you get some time.

James Parton:
So Rachel, thanks so much for taking the time out today to come on and have a chat with us. Why don't we start off with the easy stuff, why don't you kind of introduce yourself and give us a little colour on your background?

Racheal Drury:
Hi, James. I am Rachel Drury, I'm the founder and co-director of an arts organisation called Collusion. We create and produce new public artwork, so our own and other artists' projects, that explore the creative use of technologies, and also the impact of emerging technology on society. We're really supporting artist talent development, so we're really trying to provide opportunities for artists to try new creative technologies in sort of risk-free, or latter risk ways. And also to support place making, to deliver dynamic and imaginative new experiences for the public.

Racheal Drury:
I have been working the arts for about 23 years, and mostly on the policy and strategy side, working for Arts Council England. And I was really involved there in place making and partnerships, and I started to get involved in thinking about how artists and organisations were using technology in their work. And it really struck me that there was a gap strategically in Cambridge, why wasn't there more innovative risk taking new artwork, involving creative technologies coming out of Cambridge, when that's certainly happening in places like Manchester, and Brighton, and Bristol?

Racheal Drury:
So I did a sabbatical at the University of Cambridge computer lab, exploring this issue and talking to lots of people here and in other places, and kind of really, it was based on this gap opportunity, it was on that basis that I started Collusion.

Adelina Chalmers:
Would you be able to give us an example of a favourite project, or something impactful that you've done?

Racheal Drury:
We've been operating since about 2014, and over that time, we've developed a whole range of interesting projects. One of the ones I think a lot of people in Cambridge remember us for is, Data Shaday working with a young artist called Mark Farred. It was inside a big blue shipping container, and as you approached a window popped up to put your login for iCloud, but it was actually a fake. And basically, as you walked in the container, you signed a disclaimer signing your rights away. We told everyone what was going to happen, but obviously people don't read these things.

Racheal Drury:
And as you went into the container, it's stolen your text messages and photos, and in the container there two connects that were two shadows of you, two moving images sort of reflecting back at you your own text messages and photos. And obviously showing how easy it was for people to access your personal data and the true value of that. And this is before all the kind of Cambridge analytical scandal in 2016, so we were quite early off the bat with that.

Racheal Drury:
More recently we've worked with an artist called Jaime Gladhill this year, on a project called the Multitude, which actually again used the connects, but to create a kind of two-player, socially distanced experience that was like a modern fable, for people essentially to kind of collaborate to save the world as part of this storytelling, an interactive story. And we've worked with a lot of tech companies as well.

Racheal Drury:
One of the exciting projects we did with Cambridge consultants a few years ago, was called DATACOSM, and worked with an AI they were developing internally, and an artist called Joe Lawrence. And ultimately created a multi-layered film, sort of a choose your own adventure film, but essentially the story was driven by a live pianist who depending on the style of music they were playing, the AI would define that music and it would play different layers of the film basically. So the kind of experience of the film would change, depending on the music.

James Parton:
So I just really love that kind of mashup between art and technology, and obviously, Rachel, we've known each other for a few years now and we've always been coming along to the stuff that you're involved in, and taking a look at the exhibitions, and we'd love to figure out a way to do something at the Bradfield at some point in time, or some kind of tech art festival in Cambridge and get involved in that. I mean, where do you get the ideas from? I just love the way it kind of brings nebula ideas to life, and makes them real, and tactile and hands on. Has that kind of really sparked the imagination and engagement with the general public?

Racheal Drury:
Yeah, it does. I mean, I think what we're looking to do, is facilitate I suppose, the relationship between artists and technology, and technologists as well as higher education. So by introducing artists to technologies and technologists, you kind of find this real creative sparking of ideas, because artists can't develop projects about technology that they don't understand anything about. And actually, by introducing them, what usually happens is, you start to have this really interesting exchange of ideas.

Racheal Drury:
Artists will tend to look at things in a slightly different way from the technologists, who obviously are very market driven. And that has produced some really interesting kind of responses to ideas and projects. And what Collusion are good at is, developing those relationships and partnerships, and encouraging out the kind of seeds of those ideas into a project that can work in a kind of public experience.

Racheal Drury:
And as we develop it, we're very much thinking about who the audience is for something, and how they can engage with it, and what they're going to get out of it. We're very clear about what makes a good Collusion project, and also, we're starting now to really think about how when we do develop something, is it something that we could take around and tour to other places, obviously subject to funding, but extending the audience for things as well.

Adelina Chalmers:
Could I ask you, who are your clients then? Are they tech companies, are they audiences observing this merger between tech and art? I'm really interested to understand your business a bit more.

Racheal Drury:
Okay. So Collusion is a not-for-profit organisation, and generally the vast majority of our income is grant based. So we will apply to funding bodies for funding, to deliver specific projects. But into that mix also comes direct funding from other art organisations, or artists who want us to work with them, either as part of our plans, or specifically to support their work.

Racheal Drury:
And we have had sponsorship from tech companies in the past. I'd say that one of the outcomes from the last two years and COVID, has been that we've not been able to be on the ground chatting to tech companies, and talking to them that's how we've built our relationships and found new organisations to work with. So that's been a real issue for us.

Racheal Drury:
Yeah, we don't have clients in a traditional sense, we're not a consultancy who someone can just decide to work with us. We lead projects, and develop projects, and also, other artists will approach us about working with them on projects. But we're quite selective about the things we want to do, and I guess there has to be something of interest for us creatively within those projects.

James Parton:
Okay, so you mentioned COVID there, I mean, why don't we kind of move onto talking about the impacts of COVID on the business. I mean, I think it's well-documented just how damaging COVID has been to the kind of creative arts as a sector, when you think about how many people are freelancing in those kinds of roles. And I'm guessing a lot of your work is around public exhibitions, and events, and as you say, being out there in the actually community. So it must have been a pretty stressful 18 months for you guys?

Racheal Drury:
Yeah. I mean, the key thing when you're project funded, all of your funding is to do something specific that's generally in public. So the first thing that happened in March 2020 was, we realised we didn't have any money really. So we had a significant amount of money, but it was all to do with very specific things, and if you can't deliver those things, that's quite a scary position to be in. The next thing that happens, is obviously a lot of work got postponed, which again, if you're working on a project basis, means that you're just pushing the delivery down the line rather than when you really need to be earning new money.

Racheal Drury:
So that was quite an issue as well. And as I say, the other thing was not being able to network, particularly the tech sector but others as well, to kind of build those relationships in person. Fortunately, we were able to access the culture recovery fund, and have now had four grants as part of that program, which has really been a lifesaver in terms of supporting us to continue to exist, and to allow for the changes in the project activity we had planned, and to modify it to make sure we can deliver it in different ways. But every time we've written a bid, circumstances have changed.

Racheal Drury:
And most notably for example, we had a project that was due to be delivered last March, that we'd postponed to this March, and up until Christmas it looks like that was what was going to happen. And obviously then right before Christmas, a bid delay announced which had a kind of huge impact on our work. It had to be pushed back to October this year, because it was an outside projection based project, so obviously it has to be dark enough early enough for people to participate. And so every time you're constantly trying to replan, and replan, and replan.

Racheal Drury:
And I should say, there's two of us in our organisation at the core. We've got another post through Culture Recovery Fund, and have two kickstart posts. So there's not a lot of capacity to kind of keep replanning this stuff. But we were able to flex our model, we started doing more work online, including full mentoring programs, workshops and a lot of the development for the project I just talked about being delayed, which is a very large public artwork. We did a huge amount of that online, including all the work with the lead artist. So we definitely found ways to adapt, and actually, some of those ways are certainly things that we'll continue with.

Racheal Drury:
But I mean, overall, it's made growth very hard, so it's much more about sustaining the organisation in terms of what we've got. It's made it very difficult to plan, we've had to be very responsive and not strategic. And it means because of all that extra effort, we're very behind on our fundraising for sort of April '22 onwards, because we've still kind of been wrapping up all this delayed work from the last two years.

James Parton:
Return to the office with confidence. At the Bradfield Center we offer a range of flexible membership packages, which put you in control of your office and home working mix. We have a range of high quality meeting and collaboration spaces for hire, and for event organisers, our auditorium, Lakeside Pavilion and atrium spaces are all back to full capacity, and dates are filling up fast. If you are looking to run an event, get in touch to discuss requirements including live video recording and live video streaming options, visit bradfieldcenter.com for more information, or call 01223 919 600.

Adelina Chalmers:
I have a question that might put you a little bit on the spot, what would you say are the top three things that people say the most about your projects once they've been a part of it and experienced it?

Racheal Drury:
Well, I suppose the first thing people would say is that, they're unexpected. So the kind of work we create, tends to allow people to engage with the arts and interact with it, in a way that they hadn't expected. And often, they're in places they don't expect either. So for example, we recently delivered a project that included a two-player video game, on a 28-foot grade one listed tower. We had experiences with that, where you had... Well, my three-year-old daughter at the time, played it with my 71-year-old dad, so it was a very inclusive process. So unexpected is one of them.

Racheal Drury:
I think that the kind of other area is that, the artists that we work with, feel that we work in a very supportive way. So often what is happening, is quite a risky process for them in terms of the things they need to do to develop the work, but we provide a very supportive environment to that, and we've got really good experience of working with people to find solutions that ensure that project activity is delivered in a way that is kind of sustainable and robust, and effective, and that tries to make the technology almost invisible so it's about the experience for the audience member.

Racheal Drury:
Maybe the third thing would be, dynamic and vibrant. I mean, we're trying to create experiences for people that just take them out of themselves, and their lives, and kind of immerse them for a period of time. The last project that we did in Kings Lynn, was called The Intergalactic Hanseatic League, and it posited that in the future, climate change had been solved but there was a problem with the timeline, and they had to come back in time to find out what the people of Kings Lynn did to solve climate change. So in that case, we were kind of painting a very positive spin on something, really putting the people of the town and the children of the town in particular, in a position of starting to think, "Okay, so what did we do? How did we find solutions to climate change?"

Racheal Drury:
And obviously, culture and the arts are really kind of open and sort of a great way for all kinds of people, young people included, to kind of talk about the world and think about their role in it.

James Parton:
Yeah, that's really interesting and you've kind of triggered another thought in my mind. I mean, you guys have experimented and used loads of different technologies, and VR, and AR and all that kind of stuff, what's your take on Metaverse and all that kind of stuff? Because it strikes me, the stuff I really love about your work is, as you say, it's the inclusive nature of it and it's almost that kind of participation within the actual project. Whereas, much of what I see from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and folks like that, it seems to be quite singular. You might be collaborating or playing a game in a virtual environment, but you're not doing it socially, actually physically together, do you know what I mean?

Racheal Drury:
I do, yeah. I mean, it's notable that most of the work we do is not digital, it's physical. So we've done relatively little, I can't think of any artwork actually that's just been online, because we think that people want to experience things in real life. The kind of scope of what you can do online, is relatively limited compared to what you can do as a kind of physical experience. And I think things like Metaverse have enormous amounts of investment in trying to kind of make these sort of routine things good for everyone.

Racheal Drury:
But I mean, already the art sector are asking question about this and the kind of theories, the kind of dominance of single players in the market, and what that means in terms of your ability to opt out of it. Obviously the question of your data and who owns that. They're all sort of concerns for the art sector, and I'm sure we'll see some interesting projects emerge out of this consolidation I suppose, of these ideas. I think no-one disagrees that these things are valuable and useful, but the lack of competition means that it forces everyone down a single route.

Racheal Drury:
And you take the VR headset for example, and the fact that until now, and I think it might change, Facebook have forced you to have a Facebook account. And there's no way we would do a project with a technology that forces people to have an account like that. So we would rule out using certain types of technologies, if it relied on people personally having to go down a certain route with an account.

Adelina Chalmers:
What sort of plans do you have for 2022, if, or we're assuming some sort of return to normality, because I know you said that you were a bit behind with projects because of what's happened in the last two years?

Racheal Drury:
Yeah. I mean, we have actually caught up with projects now, which is great, we've got some final reporting to do. The challenge is, we've got behind on fundraising, because we were doing projects. But we do have a very big project planned for between January and May '22, which is called Manifesto, and it's the third of our climate change series in Kings Lynn. We're going to be working with older young people to develop a climate change manifesto for the town, and we're going to be using software called Pol.is, so P-O-L.I-S, which is a democratic voting software to help people develop shared ideas, and sort of move away from this idea of cancel culture and kind of disagreeing on the basis of their starting point. And that will ultimately lead to a number of different public art projects, and a big show and parade in May.

Racheal Drury:
We've also got a big new program of art/tech play activity, which is our sort of tech development program for artists. We need to put in a funding bid for that, and get the funding before we can start, but we're certainly interested in finding technology partners who might be interested in supporting or working with us on elements of that. We also work with a lot of other artists, who tend to bring their projects to us, so very much interested in whose around in Cambridge and what they might do. And I think for anyone thinking they might be interested, working with artists does give you the chance to test and explore your technologies in new ways, provide really interesting opportunities for your staff to develop and grow, working on arts projects as well and to think about things from different perspectives.

Racheal Drury:
We're also planning a really big bid to the Arts Council for revenue funding, which is the holy grail of arts funding. So that has to be I think in the middle of April, so building really strong partnerships particularly with the tech sector, is something we'd really like to put into that bid to show that they should back us, and make sure that we're putting a solid gold bid in really. So yeah, there's some activity, and some of it very much relies on fundraising.

James Parton:
It sounds like there's a lot going on. So if you're listening to this, then where can people find you, how do they learn more about what you're up to?

Racheal Drury:
Well, you can find out more about our work on our website, which is collusion.org.uk. And if you want to get in touch with me, my email address is rachel@collusion.org.uk.

James Parton:
Amazing. Well, thanks so much for taking the time out to chat to us, as you know, a big fan of what you guys do so can't wait to see what 2022 holds.

Racheal Drury:
Awesome, thanks, James and Adelina.

Adelina Chalmers:
Thank you as well, Rachel, really enjoyed speaking to you.

Adelina Chalmers:
Thank you to Rachel for coming on the show today.

James Parton:
Today's show was produced by Carl Homer of Cambridge TV, and you can listen to previous episodes by searching for Inside the Bradfield Center on Apple podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher and Amazon Music, or by visiting bradfieldcenter.com.

Adelina Chalmers:
If you have two spare seconds, please give us a five star review, it will really help other people discover the show.

Bradfield Centre Brochure

This short PDF provides a complete overview of The Centre, our ethos, the benefits of membership, membership options, floorplans, and travel information.

Download

Stay up-to-date

Get notified of upcoming events and news from the Bradfield Centre community, straight to your inbox.

Read our Privacy Policy