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For Brighton Digital Festival 2018, I commissioned Umbrellium, an urban design and technology agency. Having worked with them over a number of months, we decided on an iteration of their social radio VoiceOver project for the festival.

For this project, a selected community would be given VoiceOver boxes, which were essentially simple recording and broadcasting devices. Previous iterations of the project had been confined to geographical locations, a single street and a tower block. For the festival I was interested in looking at a distributed community and the Trans community in the city in particular.

I invited Trans artist and activist Emma Frankland to take over the project from that point and work with Umbrellium on the delivery. Over four weeks in summer of 2018, artist Emma invited twenty-five members of Brighton’s Trans community to archive their thoughts and feelings using VoiceOver radio boxes.

Emma would send participants provocations to prompt recordings and once a week they would listen to a specially recorded broadcast made by a Trans artist, which was not available to anyone not participating.

The participants were asked to respond to the provocations and the broadcasts in any way they chose. Crucially, they could make the choice as to whether that response would be made available to a general audience or only to a Trans audience.

Emma’s decisions to make the broadcasts available only for the participants and the possibility to make responses that would only be heard by other Trans people came about after discussions around concerns that we shared on the ethics of mining marginalized groups for content. The primary concerns being that there was often no benefit to the participants and that, exhaustingly, marginalized groups are often called on to justify their existence and educate people outside of their community.

Whenever a recording was made, a banner embedded with LED lights located outside the Marlborough Pub & Theatre (a Trans hub for the city and beyond) responded in real-time by displaying their chosen colour. As participation grew, the banner filled with coloured lights – symbolising all their growing contributions.

The content was featured in a solo exhibition at Brighton Pop Up Gallery from 28th September to 13th October. Two audio pieces were created from the recordings by Emma and her collaborator, Juan Carlos Otero. One was an audio landscape aimed at a general audience, and the second for anyone that self-identified as Trans.

VoiceOver: Brighton was realised with support from Brighton & Hove City Council

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