Skip to main content

Skip to contrast setting

Gemma Copeland

Tag “learning”

 — Dissenting Ephemera

Some of my notes from the Dissenting Ephemera workshop at MayDay Rooms a few weeks ago:

leftove.rs is an online archive of radical political ephemera, built in collaboration between MayDay Rooms and 0x2620 Berlin.

They’ve spent the last year digitising the MayDay Rooms archive and scraping other archives and now have a substantial body of material to work with. They’ve been experimenting with different ways of structuring, distributing and expanding upon this archive. For this workshop, they invited a range of people working in similar areas to share their experiences and contribute to the development of the platform.

Read more

 — From pages to performances

This is one of the posts I wrote for the Core Languages blog last semester, as part of a course at Central Saint Martens that introduced graphic design students to the digital design mindset.

What is unique about digital design as a medium? How can we approach design for screens in a way that is natively digital, rather than an appropriation of print design?

In this essay, Cory Arcangel suggests that the term “web performance” is more appropriate for describing the digital medium than “web page”:

The term that really drives me up the wall, though, is web page. Page connotes something stable, unchanging, and definite. A book page exists. A book page is. A web page, on the other hand, is a vastly more complicated structure. It is a set of instructions blasted from a server farm across the globe through fiber-optic cables, then interpreted by a computer’s hypertext transfer protocol browser and displayed by a light-emitting-diode screen. All this, by the way, is happening in real time—reconstituted at each millisecond through a unique and contingent tangle of systems—and is supported by the constant churn of the power grid, itself (incredibly) still commonly powered by burning coal. So instead of web page, I’d prefer the term web performance, which would remind us that this information is both immediate and ephemeral. In a sense, it is thousands of coal-powered virtual Rube Goldberg machines — lined up from end to end — that power our Facebook Paper apps on our iPhones.

Read more

 — Teaching digital

Last semester I started teaching Digital as part of BA Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins.

My class was part of the Core Languages course, which included other classes like Typography, Print and Production, and Photography. The idea behind this was to introduce second year students to foundational concepts and skills that could then feed into their wider graphic design practice and the longer term, research-based projects from their other classes.

Read more

 — Community is a Garden

I came across this toolkit when searching for examples of community-led design practices for a workshop that Sonia and I are currently running (more on that soon).

It explores how artists and communities can work together towards climate justice. It has a few interviews and case studies, accompanied by a few prompts and reflective exercises centred around building collaborative relationships and spaces for dialogue.

I really liked the list of practices at the end, particularly Ambiguity:

Moments of disorientation create space for unpredictable discovery. How can you challenge existing narratives, leave questions unanswered, and introduce new lines of inquiry? Through open-ended practice, how can you create conditions that scaffold communal discovery? How can you begin with questions rather than answers?

It references a few of my favourite writers, adrienne maree brown and Donna Haraway, and has prompted me to finally read Braiding Sweetgrass, which I’ve wanted to do for a while.

I’m collecting more examples of Community-Led Design Practices on Arena.

 — Exploring maps

A collage made from LiDAR imagery of the Amazon rainforest, a map of the video game Subnautica and a Micronesian navigational chart

Maps seem to be the most consistent thing that people ask us to do at Common Knowledge. We don’t know entirely what it is, but people love maps. Not only do organisations love them, they seem to test really well when we do usability testing as well.

We have a couple of particularly interesting mapping projects on at the moment, so while I’ve been ambiently researching interesting maps on Arena for a while, I’ve recently started doing more reading about cartography as well.



Shannon Mattern’s wonderful article How to Map Nothing seeks out the gaps in the map: cartographies of erasure, absence, refusal and exclusion. For something about nothing, it is overflowing with references, projects and ideas. Lots to explore!

We have plenty of maps and data visualizations that trace the macro-scale public health and political-economic forces that precipitated the “Great Pause”; but we have relatively few that show all those under-appreciated agents that are making it possible — all the something anchoring and abetting that nothing, all the pulsing activity powering the pause. So it’s worth exploring the ways in which maps and other forms of indexical spatial data are registering the ambiguities, contradictions, and inequalities inherent in this geography of suspension — an ostensible pause that instead merely extends, and in many ways exacerbates, the injustices of our society and the inadequacies of our ways of conceptualizing and modeling city life.

Mapping’s Intelligent Agents is another great essay, this time focusing on Other approaches to cartography:

Ideally, we should balance or juxtapose different modes of knowledge and production: Western scientific and indigenous epistemologies, human and other-species ontologies, mechanical and organic means of experiencing and representing place, cartographic rationalism and empiricism, projection and retrospection. No single über-map can encompass all such subjectivities and sensibilities. Instead, we can aim for an atlas, a prismatic collection of mappings, that invites comparison and appreciation of the ways in which our world is both known and unknown.

Mattern is currently teaching a class called Mapping the Field, which I wish I could take. Luckily, she’s put the entire syllabus, presentations and reading list online.

In Here Be Dragons, Lois Parshley explores the unknown places that we’re still trying to map: the Arctic, black holes, the ocean floor. She also considers how mapping intersects with health, deprivation and natural disasters. She references Missing Maps, an open, collaborative project where anyone can volunteer to help map areas that are at risk of disaster or crisis.

I also found this offline-first, open-source tool called Mapeo. It allows communities to document, monitor and map data, and was co-designed with indigenous partners in the Amazon.

For a completely different viewpoint, I really enjoyed reading about literary maps and the design of open world video games.

Next, I think I’m going to read Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

I’ve recently started using Storygraph (thanks Sonia) to track the books I’m reading. It’s a not-Amazon alternative to Goodreads.

When you sign up, you’re asked you a series of questions about the kinds of books you like. It also analyses the mood, pace and genre of the books you read, and then recommends more books based on this. I never actually used Goodreads (I had some low-fi Arena channels for tracking books instead), so I’m really enjoying these kind of features. Apparently I mainly read “slow-paced fiction books that are reflective, informative, and adventurous”.

It seems quite hard to find people you know on the platform, so follow me if you have it (@gemcopeland)!

 — Unravel from toxic individualism

A few months ago I spoke at a panel discussion for CSM students. It was a partnership with Thames & Hudson and Design Observer to accompany their new edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay, Self-reliance. The event aimed to explore what it means to graduate during a crisis after 1+ years of disrupted education.

While I totally agreed with this premise and wanted to contribute, the essay itself and the choice to republish it really grated on me. Of course, it was written in the 19th century, so I can’t really blame Emerson for being a few centuries behind the intersectional feminist, post-colonial and post-humanist thinking. Still, it feels strange to me that the publishers are pointing to the power of individualism as a way to deal with social, political, economical and environmental upheaval. This idea that we’re all individuals and that there’s no such thing as society has been one of neoliberalism’s greatest triumphs.

I wrote a somewhat ranty post about the essay to sort through why I had such a problem with it. I didn’t publish it at the time, but I find myself still thinking about this question of individualism a few months later, so figured I may as well.

Read more

I’m going through all my Pocket articles that I’ve favourited by not archived, which means that Past Gem thought they were important enough to revisit. Let’s see what I find…

Statements Towards the Establishment of a Proof-of-Rest Protocol

A response to the senseless wastefulness of proof-of-work cryptocurrencies, which use up energy to generate artificial scarcity and profit.

Rather than burning ourselves out in bullshit jobs, why don’t we rest and do nothing? If anything, we need to be saving our capacity for transitioning to a post-capitalist society.

A sustainable way of life will necessarily require us to be more in balance with the natural rhythms of our bodies and the world around us, leaving time for rest, repair and regeneration.

An animated gif of a tiny white cat. It runs across the screen and then curls up and falls asleep.

Who Taught Me

I found Aimi Hamraie’s work via Futuress and really liked their take on an “About” page. It’s an incomplete list of all the people, stories, lessons and situations that have shaped them and their world view. It made me wonder what I’d put on my own list.

Indigenous World Views

Super interesting critique of permaculture and regenerative agriculture from an indigenous perspective.

Indigenous cultures often share the view that there is no good, bad, or ideal—it is not our role to judge. Our role is to tend, care, and weave to maintain relationships of balance.

The Strategic Independent

I’ve been gradually working my way through all of Tom Critchlow’s essays. To the point where it has become a joke within the co-op.

He’s writing a book (also available online) about how independent consultants can work in more strategic and effective ways. Basically: working smarter, not harder – being curious and spending more time understanding the broader context of one’s work.

Developing our new Systemic Design Framework

An evolution of the divergent and convergent thinking Double Diamond. It recognises the non-linearity of complex problems and the invisible activities that support and interact with the design process. Really interesting explanation by Cat Drew of how the framework emerged and the thinking behind it.

A diagram of the systemic design framework. It's a circle divided diagonally into quarters, to represent the invisible activities that underpin design: Orientation & Vision Setting, Connections & Relationships, Leadership and Storytelling, Continuing the Journey. In the centre of the circle is a double diamond, illustrating the four stages of the design process: Explore, Reframe, Create, Catalyse.

Community Tech in Action

Rachel Coldicutt and the team at Promising Trouble / Careful Industries have been producing some really interesting work. In this series, they explain the research they’ve done into the motivations behind and potential for community tech projects. Tools that are custom-built, rather than just stringing together off-the-shelf consumer tech that aren’t fit for purpose. Basically Common Knowledge’s reason for existence!

What does Community Even Mean?

Short essay on how we need to update our conception of community. They suggest this a new definition, in which care, belonging and shared identity is key:

Community = a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together.

They argue that only sharing a common goal does not a community make:

I believe that every community needs to have an internal purpose first to truly function as a community. Without trust and relationships, it becomes a project, an initiative, a movement.

I liked the look of the open source Community Canvas linked at the end.

The Intelligent Forest

An excerpt from Suzanne Simard’s book Finding The Mother Tree. Forests are complex, emergent, ever-changing, self-organising systems – somewhat like a society, an orchestra, a family or a brain.

Recognizing that forest ecosystems, like societies, have these elements of intelligence helps us leave behind old notions that they are inert, simple, linear and predictable — notions that have helped fuel the justification for rapid exploitation that has risked the future existence of creatures in the forest systems, like us.

Mind in the Forest

More forests! A lyrical essay on meditation, animism, impermanence and meaning.

Only cosmic arrogance tempts us to claim that all this reaching for sunlight, nutrients, and water means nothing except what we say it means. But if it bears a grander significance, what might that be, and what gives rise to such meaning? What power draws the elements together and binds them into a spider or a person, a fern or a forest? If we answer, “Life,” we give only a name, not an explanation.

A LIDAR scan of a forest.

Conversation is Not a Master’s Tool

An interview between Scalability Project and adrienne maree brown. I was drawn to the question about citations, relations and conversation:

SCALABILITY PROJECT: Reading through your texts, we were inspired by how generously you use citations. What you describe above reminds me of your adoption of the Mervyn Marcano quote “Move at the speed of trust.” You also quote Farhad Ebrahimi: “An ecosystem is not just a list of living things … It’s the set of relationships between those living things.” Could you expand more on this nonlinear process of relations, especially in connection to conversation?
BROWN: I love this question because that quote and the practice of citation are the same. I am not a solitary thinker, solitary learner, or solitary channel of these universal wisdoms and universal truths. I’m constantly learning from other people. And I weave. We all weave in different ways. What is the tapestry of lessons and wisdom that is unique for me? Each person ends up with a different tapestry, but you start to see patterns amongst them. And the pattern for me is something infinite.

 — Warp, weft

I did a weaving workshop last week and really loved it. I’ve been on the lookout for a new tactile hobby for a while. Tried pottery a few times but just didn’t enjoy it that much – just couldn’t get the hang of the wheel and never enjoyed the process very much. I think weaving could be the one. I’m recording some of what I learned here so I don’t forget them, but this is by no means a how-to guide. I have no idea what I’m doing!


The warp is the strong vertical threads that provide a structure for the weaving. The weft is the threads that you weave through the warp horizontally. We were using lap looms in this workshop, which seem to be the easiest type of loom to learn.

A black and white diagram illustrating warp and weft threads.

Begin by warping the loom: wind strong, plain cotton thread around the notches at the top and bottom. We added a folded piece of cardboard across the bottom of the warp, to keep from going too close to the edge of the loom.

If you want a fringe at the bottom, start by adding that. Cut some even lengths of thread and lie them on top of two warp threads, then loop them under so they’re hanging off the bottom of the warp. Repeat along the whole row.

In the workshop, we just did a tabby weave, which is the most simple weaving technique. Pull the weft thread over the first warp thread, under the second, over the third, and so on. Once you’ve reached the other side, go back in the opposite direction.

I hadn’t realised how grid-based weaving is – the warp provides a regular but invisible grid of columns. Build up shapes vertically with the weft, beginning at the bottom and working upwards. Add variation by changing how far along the columns you weave the thread.

Change threads to switch up the colours and textures. You can even alternate and blend colours within the same row. I love how this looks! You can use a photo for reference, or else just create an abstract composition. I find the abstract compositions much more appealing and really want to try to make something as freeform as this.

Make sure to tuck the ends of the threads back into the weaving. Otherwise, they’ll hang out the sides of the finished piece. Don’t pull the thread too tight at the edges or else it will start to become an hourglass shape.

Once you’ve finished your composition, cut your warp from the loom and double-knot the thread at the top and bottom. Attach a dowel to the top so you can hang it.


Afterward I immediately went and found a bunch of amazing textile artists, of course. I really like weaving as a concept and a metaphor as well. It feels like a feminist practice in more ways than one! 🕷


I learn more with each weaving I make.

A close up of a handwoven composition. It's quite freeform and the angle shows all the different textures.

This one is particular favourite of mine, made last month for H’s mum. It’s inspired by the colours and textures of the Welsh landscape: green hills, purple and red heather, mountains, lichen. I bought some roving from a local shop in Dolgellau – it’s incredibly soft, hand-dyed in purple, green and yellow. I also found some wool on our hike and added that in as clouds.

The same weaving, front on. It's made of green, purple, yellow, grey-brown and white wool.

Read more

 — The Forest Multiple

The Smart Forests Atlas is a living archive and virtual field site exploring how digital technologies are transforming forests. It provides tools for researchers and other stakeholders to explore, analyse and reflect upon smart forest knowledges and technologies. The Atlas is designed to allow for multiple entrypoints into the research content. Visitors are encouraged to wander through the site according to their own interests, guided by the four wayfinding devices (Map, Radio, Stories and Logbooks).

Alex and I had the pleasure of going to Cambridge to launch the Smart Forests Atlas at The Forest Multiple in October. We’ve been working on the Smart Forests Atlas for a good part of last year, so it was great to publicly launch it.

Read more

 — Centre for Alternative Technology

Wales is absolutely beautiful at the moment (and always). The autumn leaves and soft sunlight turn the whole landscape golden and warm.

A photo of the Centre for Alternative Technology taken from the hill above. There are a number of usual building structures poking out from amongst the trees, as well as a windmill and a large wind turbine blade on its side. In the background there are hills covered in forest.

We visited the Centre for Alternative Technology last weekend. It’s an amazing place, built on top of a mountain of waste slate from a nearby disused quarry. The Centre was started by a group of people who moved there in the mid-70s. Their goal was to provide a space where people could test things out and learn how to live more lightly on the earth.

The conservatory of the "Whole House" building. It was constructed in the mid-70s to demonstrate insulation techniques like super thick walls and small windows, which are a bit outdated now.

It has examples of different renewable energy technologies, a collection of buildings demonstrating innovative architectural/construction techniques and a few different gardens. It’s all completely off grid, including running its own water and sewage systems.

It was so inspiring to spend time somewhere like this. You can feel how many different people will have contributed towards building the centre and its vision over the years. It really gave us the sense that most of the ideas we need to transition to a zero carbon economy are already there, tried and tested…

A geodesic dome greenhouse next to a tree-lined pathway. In the background is another windmill.

 — Less like an object and more like the weather

It’s so nice to be in north Wales as the seasons change. The beech trees still have the most amazing orange-yellow-red leaves, but now there’s snow at the top of Cadair Idris. It’s wild to think that just three months ago we camped on top of it. There’s a legend that says anyone who sleeps on Cadair Idris’ summit will wake up as either a madman or poet. Three months on and I’m still no better at poetry so…

A sketch of Cadair Idris from 1819. There are two small houses in the foreground with the mountains rising behind.

I’ve been trying to get better at identifying fungi, trees and birds while we’re here. I saw a bright yellow bird the other day which I think is a siskin. There are so many robins around too — I love listening to them sing. I found a database full of recordings of British birds.

I’m also thinking about water a lot, it’s so incredibly wet here. On the weekends when we go hiking the ground is completely saturated and boggy. The Afon (River) Wnion was the highest I’ve ever seen it a few weeks ago.

Really enjoyed this article What does water want? Most humans seem to have forgotten:

Slow Water mimics or collaborates with natural systems, restoring space for water to slow on land in wetlands, floodplains, mountain meadows, forests, tidal marshes, and mangroves. Slow Water is distributed, not centralised: think of the wet zones scattered throughout a wild watershed instead of a big dam and reservoir. It is also socially just: Slow Water doesn’t take water from some people to give to others, or protect some communities while pushing floods on to another. Slow Water gives communities agency to restore resilience to their local landscapes and revive local cultures. And in taking a systems-oriented approach, it simultaneously supports local water availability, flood control, natural carbon storage, and other-than-human life.

An intricate map of the Mississipi River, with layers and layers of the river superimposed in different pastel colours.
A meander map of the Mississipi river by Harold Fisk, 1944

Just west of here the river feeds into the Afon Mawwdach and enters a huge estuary that feeds into the ocean. Fairbourne, a town at the end of the estuary, is the first place in the UK that the government has announced it won’t defend from sea level rise so it’s due to be abandoned by 2054…

c,o,n,t,i,n,u,o,u,s and c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d

In Are you the same person you used to be?, they suggest that some people divide their lives up into discrete chapters, constantly reinventing themselves, and others see their lives or identities as one continuous narrative.

I can’t decide which category I belong to. I mostly divide my memories depending on which city I lived in at the time, but I can also see the broader patterns that continue through all my experiences and interests. I guess it’s both.

The article describes research conducted in Dunedin where they studied over a thousand children from the age of three, meeting with them every two years until they were forty-five. They categorised the kids according to their temperaments and watched how they developed over time. How much of our identity is innate and how much is the product of our environment?

Human beings, they suggest, are like storm systems. Each individual storm has its own particular set of traits and dynamics; meanwhile, its future depends on numerous elements of atmosphere and landscape.

A greyscale satellite image showing swirling clouds. On the top and bottom is grey static.
▲ An image from open-weather, capturing transmissions from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite

They suggest that although there are some patterns and cycles that are evident from an early age, one way that people can break out of their patterns is through close relationships with others. It reminded me of a bit in The Mushroom at the End of the World, where Anna Tsing talks about indeterminacy:

Fungi are famous for changing shape in relation to their encounters and environments. Many are “potentially immortal”, meaning they die from disease, injury or lack of resources, but not from old age. Even this little fact can alert us to how much our thoughts about knowledge and existence just assume determinate life form and old age. We rarely imagine life without such limits – and when we do we stray into magic. Rayner challenges us to think with mushrooms, otherwise. Some aspects of our lives are more comparable to fungal indeterminacy, he points out. Our daily habits are repetitive, but they are also open-ended, responding to opportunity and encounter. What if our indeterminate life form is not the shape of our bodies but rather the shape of our motions over time? Such indeterminacy expands our concept of human life, showing us how we are transformed by encounter.

A microscopic close-up of a mycelial network.

Building alternatives

Really good article on Noema by one of the co-founders of my instance Social.coop: Mastodon Isn’t Just A Replacement For Twitter. I was reflecting on the Twitter exodus to Mastodon the other day… It feels to me like a really great example of how important it is to be building these alternatives in parallel to the mainstream.

Acts of smashing, while vital for disruption, do not create the kind of resilient, large-scale, long-term bodies needed to replace dominant powers. As we have seen, the direction our world takes in moments of chaos will be defined by the ideas and institutions that are already available. If we want a world of workplaces owned and run cooperatively, of political decision-making power in local community hands, we stand a much better chance if this is already being built in time for social shocks.
— Graham Jones, The Shock Doctrine of the Left

It is so important to be optimistically building, testing, iterating on these institutions alongside the present day, rather than waiting for some perfect utopia to arrive in which we can start building.

It’s just so easy

Speaking of which, I find it so hilarious that in Victoria 3, a political simulation game, it turns out that communism is the most economically efficient government system:

Capitalist playstyles, they suggest, are too inefficient. The bosses at the top of Victoria 3 capitalist societies get high pay, while workers get very low pay. But in a Victoria 3 communist economy, worker cooperatives ensure that all capitalist wealth is turned over to the workers. As a result, their high purchasing power allows them to spend more money in the economy, which increases economic demand. This leads to higher living standards, which attracts more immigration, another big boost. “It’s just so easy,” the player concludes.

Bits and pieces

  • So inspired by Jeff VanderMeer’s experience of rewilding his property in Florida.
  • Lots of really useful tips on writing image descriptions here. I also didn’t realise that hashtags should be written in camel case so that screen readers can read each word separately!
  • Found a new Substack series on Octavia Butler’s Earthseed.
  • It is really relaxing to watch this livestream of waterhole in Namibia. So many critters! (via Matt Webb)
  • Great interview with Mindy Seu about her Cyberfeminism Index. I love the idea of YACK / HACK: “YACK is discourse whereas HACK is practice.”
  • I’ve been using a hot water bottle to keep warm here because my desk is in the attic below a skylight — extremely cold. Kind of hilarious to see photos of early hot water bottles in this piece from Low Tech Magazine… they look so uncomfortable.
  • Love to see some pleasure activism in action: Repair Together are hosting repair raves to help clean up areas of Ukraine.