Lisa Roberts | Blink

Lisa designs socially inclusive mobile technology initiatives using SMS, MMS, Bluetooth, RFID and audio, including the local heritage SMS projects Surface Patterns and Viewpoint. Since 1999 she has collaborated with Andrew Wilson on the short film initiative Short Circuits, co-ordinating more than fifty film screenings across Yorkshire. Through Short Circuits Lisa has commissioned twenty two low budget short films, winning several awards and receiving festival and broadcast TV screenings around the world. In 2004 she devised and produced Pocket Shorts, commissioning a slate of new short films, which enabled filmakers to explore the new medium of the mobile phone and to consider the impact of mobile technolgy on the future of film making and distribution.


Lisa Roberts

In an attempt to punctuate the sessions we visited White Scar Caves in Ulverston. White Scar Caves longest show cave in Britain cut out of limestone and has organised guided tours through the tunnel. The 80-minute guided tour of White Scar Cave covers one mile, and includes one of the largest caverns in the country. Over 330 feet long, with its roof soaring in places to 100 feet, this is one of the largest caverns in Britain.

We chose this particular attraction, as it was a highly controlled underground situation where any satellite tracking technologies such a GPS previously applied in various forms by members of BASE would be rendered useless. The cave is 100ft below the surface and well out of range of satellites. Sms and mms are also out of the question as you can’t get a phone signal but as Bluetooth can be set up to work between 0m and 100m was deemed to be the best option for subterranean projects. RFID and WiFi could also be used underground either on its own or as part of a combined system. I decided to concentrate on Bluetooth in this instance. It could work for individuals who wanted to venture the cave without a guide and receive automatic alerts while in the proximity of one feature or another. It could be used to great advantage for young people visiting on educational trips who make up at least half of the caves annual visitors. This is a more flexible option to audio guides, which are used in larger galleries by paying customers as the hire and programming cost to the gallery is high. If the customer wanted to keep the audio element a Bluetooth device could have been fixed with headsets into the regulation hard hats you need to wear during the tour. Thus solving the potential problems of people who do not want to use small devices and reduces the risk of visitors damaging or loosing the devices as they traverse the caves. Solo explorations also solve the problem of a single guide trying to carry his voice and trying to keep his party together by offering a more rewarding and more personal experience for all. You could offer customised audio commentaries to your visitors i.e. be given the option of a male or female voice or even a simulated voice of a famous person. Imagine David Attenborough or even Elvis talking you through the cave features. A child might respond better to a young persons voice. In this case Bluetooth enables you to develop a richer more rewarding programme of activities for your customers, which is more suited to their own preferences. As every Bluetooth device has a unique id visitors could be contacted after the leave the site and with their permission sms messages could be sent to keep them up to date with special offers and encourage them back e.g. Happy Birthday Jason, visit us again and get two free entries. Challenges and prize-winning competitions could be used as a low cost method of direct advertising to your consenting customers.

As Bluetooth broadcasting devices such as the GumStix Bluetooth computer is small enough to be secreted into tiny places such as fake bricks and signage powered by 4 x AA batteries and used to broadcast information to anyone with a Bluetooth discoverable phone within approx 10 meter radius the integrity of the environment can be retained. We have since bought a Gumstix computer and Dan will be programming unique applications for it over the next few months.

I work with Andrew Wilson and together we are Blink. Blink is a not for profit company which coordinates creative projects using film and new mobile technologies and initiate collaborations with artists and organisations across the UK. Our two key self-initiated projects are Short Circuits concerned with low budget short film commissions and exhibition and Centrifugalforces concerned with inspiring the use of mobile phone and other new technologies as a creative tool. Our projects in Leeds is now in its second year and has been linked to Hong Kong and Antwerp who used the model as part of citywide Unesco World Book Capital celebrations. Surface Patterns uses sms to inspire interest in heritage. Pocket Shorts has been developed by Short Circuits with support from NESTA and aims to give new filmmakers opportunities to experiment with mobile technologies. It is proof of advancement and convergence of technology that what we thought were two disparate elements of our business is now one in Pocket Shorts.

Lisa Roberts, Andy Wilson and Daniel Blackburn undertook some practical research with Bluetooth at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2004. As Andrew was ‘Blue jacked’ on the train is clear that the ‘subversive’ qualities of Bluetooth are attractive to some and may not ever by its very nature become fully adopted.

“With mobile interfaces, the relationships between user, interface and network are so intimate, yet so ephemeral, that it is difficult to imagine how this territory could be successfully occupied by institutional or commercial content. There might still be a chance, however, that mobile interfaces will fare better than the browser in resisting this homogenisation of platforms towards the common denominator of passive spectacle, and retain some of the radical qualities specific to networked platforms”. Matt Locke

Another interesting discovery was the names people have given to their phones one was even called ‘Sex? Yes please’ which suggests as with all new forms of communication it is already bring used for meeting up with like minds and bodies. According to the best places to Blue jack are busy shopping centres, Starbucks or other places with WiFi access as it attracts technology savvy people, train stations, all public transport, cinema foyers, café/ restaurant/ pub, mobile phone and electronics shops.

Our aim was to see how many people we could send a free short film to over a single weekend at the festival. We positioned ourselves in public places such as the Film House café bar and the EIFF Delegates Centre to see how many people we could identify with a Bluetooth phone. We found that in any one place there were never more than 5 people with a Bluetooth phone. After further research we found that at present it was rare to ever discover more than 10 phones in any single search attempt. As you can personalise your phone some display names rather than the default model number, which made it even more difficult to determine which of the phones we had discovered had film viewing capabilities. As it turned out no one accepted our invitation to be sent a free film, which they had to do within a few minutes and if they were mobile and before they moved out of range (10m). Our conclusions were that we were too premature with this subversive method of approach and that people are naturally suspicious of unsolicited prompts, fewer people than we thought had Bluetooth phones despite the fact that we presumed we were to be in the company of early adopters l- especially for watching films on the move. We left fairly convinced that if we were to do this again within the next 12 months we would have to adopt a more up front and familiar approach and maybe even consider a booth of some sort which would attract the people who would be excited at the prospect of a free film and carrying the right kind of technology. By using a more explicit method of proffering free mobile phone film downloads it would seem a safer option, downloading the films on their request not after a prompt from an invisible source. When it comes to promoting Pocket Shorts films we will most likely try both even if it is just to gauge any change in audience reaction.

Pocket Shorts is a new initiative designed to encourage a new genre of filmmaking for mobile phones Eight new short films will be commissioned over the next 2 months by filmmakers video artists, experimental filmmakers, music video directors, motion graphics designers, gif animators etc. Films can be either a sequence of 4 x 15 second stings or one film of no more than 60 seconds in length.

The Pocket Shorts films will be delivered by mid 2005. We will then review our options for Bluetooth distribution before we promote and share the films at key films festivals across the UK Leeds International Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival and London Film Festivals and Brief Encounters. In the meantime I feel there is some scope in developing the booth/front of house/point of sale element, which could operate unmanned. A unit which could be installed in an indoor public place such as the media centre foyer or café bar which would ‘vend’ sms and mms data to people with Bluetooth devices. Thought it would work purely as a way of informing the public about what’s on at the venue and even office availability curators and arts programmers could use it as a platform for new work and invite artists and filmmakers to send in existing 1mg artworks film/text/sound to add to the menu and go onto commission new works (using the term menu obviously suits a cafe bar setting) you could simply place an order for free information or artworks. Physically the units could take on any form but maybe a familiar form such as a small classic freestanding or a wall-mounted vending machine (see below) would give the right visual trigger to draw potential ‘customers’.

It is possible build in a charge system for each download and invite people to send feedback or indeed their own artworks for consideration by the curator. At the moment I am imagining working in a similar way to the art vend machines - see Like Speakers Corner it would be a platform for new artworks and could be programmed to fit in with local events i.e. a dedicated music menu for Ultrasound. Workshops could be coordinated and led by invited guests musicians and technologists to create new short compositions. Artists could be invited to explore issues around electronic multiples as valued and original artworks by programming each download to be unique either for each customer or for each vending machine.

In the late 70’s/early 80’s a book called Masquerade was sweeping the nation. The book, written and illustrated by Kit Williams, could be read as a standard child’s fable about the moon falling in love with the sun, but it was designed as a real-world treasure hunt: If you followed the subtle clues dropped throughout the book, and you’d discover the location of a very real hand-made jewel, valued at the time at $5,000. Other creative applications of Bluetooth discussed over the brainstorm weekend included a physical Treasure Hunt where clues could be sent out to players across a defined area such as a town centre and their pick up registered in the same way you punch a card at a check point in orienteering exercises. Each unit could be mains powered or battery powered if it was placed underground. More talk of interning the Bluetooth units throws up more ideas that would suit archaeological sites, graves and other sites of significance. For example you could visit Sylvia Plath’s grave in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire that could offer information invisibly again retaining the integrity and sanctity of the site.

Here lies Sylvia Plath who was born in Boston in 1932. She grew up in a comfortably middle-class style and attended Smith College. There she met and married the British poet Ted Hughes and settled in England, bearing two children. …….

As an example this enhanced site-specific experience could be of great interest to large heritage and archive rich organisations such as the National Trust. see and

As with the Treasure Hunt system the manager would have to physically visit each stand alone site for maintenance, updating info, gathering data on participants and evaluating extent of active sessions or build in remote access via the Internet for the mains powered units. (A virtual treasure hunt would be great where you leave clues on web sites for the players to find but I digress).

After Stuart told us about the Baja Beach Club VIP tagging system that allows the club owner to govern where his customers can and can’t go depending on their status thought there might be some interesting possibilities for a project called Bluechip, which plays with the notion of privileged access, hierarchical structures and human behaviour. The idea would work for a defined group – such as delegates of a conference, outdoor music festival or even as a more advanced system at fun parks such as Blackpool Pleasure beach who already use the coded wristband for access to rides.

Players would wear something visual such as a colour-coded wristband that may even draw you to other members of your ‘kind’. It would be interesting to issue wrist bands on entry to a club which have an RFID chip pre-programmed according to your personal preferences gathered when you become a member- this could enable the customers to govern what music plays (not a DJ) and maybe go even further into environmental conditions such as comfort cooling and lighting i.e. if more than half of the people in one room are wearing red wristbands and this group have expressed a preference of drum and bass the track will fade out and Roni Size will fade in. Therefore RFID chips are so small that they could easily be invisibly secreted into wearable articles and allow you to not only track the wearer but the wearer could ‘vote with their feet’.

What I hope is revealed both in this document and in the BASE research document as a whole is a first look at the creative potential of Bluetooth and RDIF as a largely untapped area of artistic exploration. There is much evidence that technology is becoming more and more accessible as a result of intuitive programs such as voice activation. I look forward to developing some of the ideas outlined above into projects which not only engage participants but address and provide a new approach for seemingly automatic split of audiences into two defined camps – those who are enthused by technology in all its forms and those who for one reason or another just don’t see the point.