Catalyst & I/O Inside Out (2013)

Exhibited at Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University, May 2013.

I/O Inside Out is a printer that chaotically tells the story of its own co-design.

Background: The #pat printer was built through a Catalyst co-design project called Patchworks, with Signposts, a community information and advice centre; Madlab a centre for DIY innovators; and an interdisciplinary group of academics from Lancaster University (Whittle et al 2012). Homeless people often live day-to-day and hand to mouth, and their lives have been described as chaotic and filled with multiple exclusions and problems (Brown et al 2012, Cornes et al 2011). When immediate and basic needs take priority it is hard to remember appointments for health and wellbeing that may be days or weeks in advance. This citizen-led co-design project worked with homeless people and volunteers to design a technology that could assist homeless people in finding somewhere to live, visiting doctors and dentists or registering for benefits, by digitally printing appointments on demand.

I/O Inside Out: Jen Southern worked as part of the team from Lancaster University, as both social scientist and artist through what have been described as ‘live’ or ‘amphibious’ methods (Back 2012, Lury 2012), developing new approaches to social science research and art practice in the study of innovation practices. The #pat printer aims to bring some order to chaotic lives and yet beneath the neat laser cut box lies a complicated story of co-design workshops that become invisible behind the technical device (Suchman 2002). The flow of information from the final device is one way, from Signposts to service user, and descriptions of what it is like to be homeless, of how decisions were discussed, of different voices, different ways of living, and of how #pat came to be made recede into the background. I/O Inside Out is a subverted version of the printer that retains the ability to talk back. Instead of forming an anchor in people’s lives (Fortun 2005), it now prints the chaos of its own construction and retells the stories of homelessness that made its production possible and necessary. Installed in an exhibition, long and tangled threads of printed paper trail onto the floor, fragments of text remixed by the way the paper falls. When visitors scan an RFID wristband #Pat comes to life printing out a random quantity of text, spilling out chaotically and uncontrollably onto the gallery floor.
As a newly expressive technology I/O Inside Out invites audiences to discover more about the process by printing excerpts from transcribed recordings of workshops. This is not simply visualizing data, the printer has taken on the chaotic nature of its co-designers as it prints its own story.

The development of I/O Inside Out was linked to writing the following academic paper:

Southern J, Ellis R, Ferrario MA, McNally R, Dillon R, Simm W, Whittle J Imaginative labour and relationships of care: Co-designing prototypes with vulnerable communities Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Sep 2013