Melbourne 2
late 2022

In The Mood

In The Mood

Long Story, Short

A conversation that brings communities together to assemble sensory moodboards that capture the feeling of their city to inspire future planning.

What We’re Exploring

Beginning with a workshop in each of the cities involved, the project aims to facilitate a conversation between city planners and community members so that space is held for many voices, different knowledges, and potentially competing interests to come to the table with equal influence in the process and product. The local community can contribute meaningful layers of lived experience to future city planners, projects and public policies through sensory forms of data.

Status
Active

This is a living research document. Check in regularly for incremental updates.

Fine print

Team

Moodboard using slices of paper overlayed in pink, red and grey.

Moodboard from Barcelona workshop 2022. Image: RMIT PlaceLab

“Moodboarding as a Method” Workshop in Barcelona

Professor Annette Markham facilitated a “Moodboarding as a Method” Workshop in Barcelona. Questions such as “How can mood and moodboarding work as a speculative tool for citizens to imagine future designs for sustainable and resilient cities?” were posed in a half-day workshop that invited participants to discuss and participate in playful experiments to generate collaborative moodboards. Expressions of some of the moods of Barcelona in a post-pandemic time of recovery were captured.

To begin, Annette introduced the idea and premises of ‘moodboarding as a method for transgressing smart city data’. Participants were then invited to work with supplied materials and visualise ‘moods’, based on prompts from Annette. Smaller teams were then formed to create a visual and sensory ‘moodboard’ of their current and imagined future city. This led to discussions of the challenges and value of the workshop, as well as moodboarding or other creative layering, as a form of data production, citizen social science, or city engagement. The workshop concluded with a speech from Annette about the project and the day’s process and outcome, followed by short statements from key stakeholders, such as City Representatives, Marta Fernandez and a BDW Representative. An exhibition of the moodboards was then opened to viewers and participants to consider.

The “Moodboarding as a Method” Workshop was presented by RMIT PlaceLab as part of Barcelona Design Week 2022, the New European Bauhaus Festival and co-sponsored by RMIT Europe. Special thanks to Patricia Lore and Marta Fernandez of RMIT Europe.

You’ve called this “citizen social science” What does that mean? 

Citizen Science is a recent phrase to depict the way citizens can contribute to large-scale solutions by doing science in their back yard. We might think of people reporting certain types of birds or butterflies to add to local datasets that are used at research labs or contribute to national or international databases. Citizen social science is similar in that people in communities are conducting research, but the ‘data’ they generate is for themselves and their own local enclaves. Moodboarding seems a long way away from ‘data collection’, but both methods are just tools – tools to collect meaningful information that is useful for understanding society.

Why Moodboarding?

This project on “moodboarding” is the latest in a long line of arts-based interventions to make non-tangible forms of data more visible for citizens and policymakers alike. In the course of everyday life, so much of what it means to live in a place is invisible to the eye and ear because it is a sensation in the body or a feeling in the mind. Especially in these times, when data-driven technologies focus our attention on the numeric and quantifiable aspects of human actions and behaviours, it is vital to find ways to make sure we don’t fail to account for the rich, textural, non-quantifiable aspects of human experiences. Focusing on mood is a way of pushing back against the dehumanising tendencies of data analytics.

Why ‘moodboarding’ rather than some other activity to study affect in the city? Moodboarding is a practice of arranging colours, shapes, and textures on a flat surface (board) to evoke or convey a particular feeling. It’s a form of visual layering that focuses our attention on how something feels rather than what it means. Moodboarding disrupts the logics of description and explanation. It is one of many forms of expression that seek to find and evoke affect – affect in this case referring to a pre-cognitive visceral sensation that happens just before we invoke some sort of cognitive logic and language to find a word to describe it to ourselves or someone else. Playing with arts and crafts supplies is a surprisingly easy and effective way to generate and then visualize some of these affective layers without thinking too much about it. By evoking mood in layers of texture and colour rather than words, we find a different type of material evidence of lived experience.

What do you do with these materials?  

For one thing, these experimental participatory workshops are for the participants themselves to explore the textural, sensory, and non-verbal ‘moods’ they’re feeling. But beyond the individual satisfaction of playfully generating these moodboards, people can work together to figure out what should or could be done with this material, or this affectively oriented way of knowing. Is this a valuable practice for people to explore what’s happening that is meaningful or disturbing to them and their communities? Is it evidence of some sort and how could it be added to the more quantitative forms of data that cities increasingly rely on for future city planning?

What has been the focus of your previous research projects? 

Annette Markham has been studying the impact of digital technologies on identities, relationships, and societies since the mid-1990s. Her pioneering sociological studies are well represented in her earliest work, Life Online: Researching Real Experiences in Virtual Space; (1998, Alta Mira). Annette’s more recent work focuses on innovative methods for building digital literacy in the public sphere through creative workshops and arts-based interventions. She has conducted workshops, PhD courses, and exhibited work in UK, Denmark, Canada, USA, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland.

Annette’s work on moodboarding emerged in 2018 with the development of a PhD course to explore how visual methods like moodboarding could be used to enhance ethnographic fieldwork techniques. Participants spent a week generating moodboards in response to immersion in the particular weather and cultural uniqueness of the Danish west coast. Mapping moods emerged again in 2020, as Annette collaborated with people in 26 countries to build layered and textural accounts of their experiences of lockdowns during COVID. In 2022, PlaceLab and Annette Markham are collaborating to explore how people make sense of moods in their cities, in the past pandemic, the present, and the speculative near future.

This series of workshops, held in Barcelona, Melbourne, Brunswick, and Ho Chi Minh City, gives citizens the opportunity to build rich and textural mood maps of the social and cultural aspects of life in digitally-saturated social contexts. Their moodboards are prompted by the idea that focusing on mood as a form of ‘data’ can push back against the dehumanising tendencies of automated data-collection about citizens.

Annette’s extensive experience with community workshops has led a strong recognition that when citizens become ethnographers of their own lives and communities, the gain confidence that their local knowledge practices can produce rich insights that are not only useful in a local sense, but can add value to discussions at the level of municipalities, cities, and regions. These workshops help people recognize that citizens can generate complex forms of ‘data’ about their desires or needs. When it comes to generating information about the mood or affective feeling of a place, how might these moodboarding exercises help city planners or technology designers make more informed decisions?

Annette Markham currently holds a Professorship within the School of Media and Communication and is Co-Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT University. She also holds a fractional appointment as Professor of Information Studies and Digital Design at Aarhus University in Denmark. Her written works are published broadly and can be found at https://annettemarkham.com/

Moodboard from Barcelona workshop 2022. Image: RMIT PlaceLab

Moodboarding as Method is a research project initiated in 2018 by the lead academic, Annette Markham, with colleagues from Estonia and Denmark. Moodboarding is a technique of layering visual and textural elements on a wall or ‘board’ to focus on the sensory impression or mood of something. This project explores moodboarding as a form of creatively highlighting certain aspects of how the city feels. In hands-on workshops, participants are guided to playfully experiment with using ‘mood’ and moodboarding to explore the city of the present and future. Afterward, city stakeholders are invited to consider how these moodboards provide rich, textural and meaningful layers of lived experience that can be added to other data sources useful in city planning.

Collage work with paint and scribbles in a journal.

Creative journal work. Image: Bea Mahan

The launch of RMIT PlaceLab was held at The Capitol on 11th May, 2022. The event was part of the RMIT Culture Talks series at Melbourne Knowledge Week. Researcher Dr Annette Markham spoke about the In the Mood Research Project, asking the community what words best described their mood during the pandemic and throughout the last week.

A woman gives a speech at the podium at the Capitol Theatre.
A panel discussion sits on the stage at the Capitol venue.
A crowd of people chats after the event.

RMIT PlaceLab acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the Eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University.

RMIT PlaceLab respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present, as the original and continuing Makers of Place.

Melbourne 1
late 2022

Voices From The Margins