We’re excited to have interviewed Emilie Giles, a Ph.D. student at The Open University exploring how e-textiles can be used as interactive tools for the blind and visually impaired. Her portfolio of work over the years spans creative technology, crafting and pervasive gaming – including much experience in teaching people how to build their own creative technology projects and teaching physical computing with e-textiles. Thanks so much, Em, for sharing with us and Project Anywhere telling us about your portfolio of adventures from the edge of London to everywhere!
Tell us about yourself
My name is Emilie Giles – I generally describe myself as an artist/ researcher/ producer. I’m currently working on a PhD with the Open University exploring how e-textiles (electronic textiles) can be used as tangible tools for blind and visually impaired people, and also how they can make their own personalised interactive art pieces using crafting methods.
I also run freelance creative technology workshops in places like the V&A museum and am a visiting lecturer at various art colleges in London including the Royal College of Art and London College of Communication where I teach e-textiles with physical computing.
I live on the edge of London (technically Hertfordshire) in Bushey Village with my 1.5 year old toddler, husband and fluffy cat child Betty ^_^ I love hot yoga, Gail’s Bakery brownies and weaving!
What are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on my PhD thesis with an am to submit in February 2020 – eek!
It’s a big challenge for me as I’m dyslexic and find writing pretty hard. However, there is also something wonderful about having the opportunity to reflect on practice based work (I’m in a computer science department, so we refer to these as ‘user studies’ but essentially I see it as part of my art practice) and write up what it is that I’ve actually been working on for the last 4 years!!!
Apart from that I’m hoping to get some creative meet-ups happening in South Herts/ North London with some creative mama chums I’ve made. There is a lack of it around here and we want to change that.
Could you tell us about how your career adventure(s) started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now?
Wow! Mine has been a windy road indeed. When I first graduated from my BA (Hons) in Contemporary Media Practice from University of Westminster I very much thought that I wanted to work in a museum or gallery environment, perhaps in a curatorial role. This is VERY hard to break into (or it was then) and even getting a gallery assistant role was proving a challenge.
I did multiple volunteerships/ internships, an admin course and networked a whole lot! I was worried that because I hadn’t done a fine art degree this was a disadvantage. However, I did an internship at the V&A’s picture library and this got me meeting some lovely people and getting a foot in the door for being in an environment which helped me get closer to my goal.
Fast forward a year and having done an internship in a commercial gallery in Clerkenwell (now Campoli Presti) and another at a photographic events company (now closed Shoot Experience) I decided to go for an admin role at English Heritage and save up to do an MA at Goldsmiths in Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice. I missed being in an educational environment where I could be challenged in both theory and practice but also be mentored. I just found that I wasn’t producing work in my spare time and felt a bit lost really.
The MA definitely shook me up – I think I thought it might be like doing a BA again but it was tough – stressful, intense and studying at Goldsmiths definitely alters how you think! But it was good! I made more international friends, was mentored to think in a more critical way by the wonderful Dr. Graham Harwood and Dr. Luciana Parisi (the Centre for Cultural Studies which I was in, it is now closed which sucks!) and I think this all shaped me for moving forwards in working with creative technology.
I did a stint at the viral video advertising tech company called Unruly after the MA – which I did not want to be doing – I wanted to be working on digital arts projects! Alongside this I started volunteering with a women’s art and tech group called MzTEK, helping to set up making afternoons, and then beginning to assist and teach workshops (which I started to get paid for too which is also good). This helped me develop my own skills and this is where I also learned e-textiles.
Fast forward a few more years of teaching for Technology Will Save Us, co-running an educational creative tech company called Codasign and I began working with the Open University as a consultant on a project exploring how making with e-textiles could be made accessible for blind and visually impaired people. This led onto my PhD \^_^/
What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?
Definitely the work with MzTEK as it was an exciting time. There is so much out there now around women and technology but there wasn’t much when we were running our workshops, talks etc. Also, it was very arts based. So the ethos was to get more women artists making with technology, whilst also showcasing the amazing work but women who were doing programming, circuit making etc within their practice. That practice based approach hasn’t really been exploited by anyone else and since MzTEK stopped running events there’s been a bit of a gap in London for this sort of this – that needs to be filled!
I absolutely LOVED running Codasign and making so many lovely friends whilst teaching with people and working on projects. We ran workshops at some amazing places – the Barbican, Tate, for people like the BBC – we also got invited to run simple e-textile workshops at Green Man festival and that is such a great environment for maker workshops. It felt like more than a job – like a lifestyle which was very exciting!
Since working my PhD I’ve been trying to have hobbies as well as work to focus on! I do miss making my work my world in the way that I have in the past but I think moving out to suburbia and having a kid does mean that you need to compartmentalise a bit more – probably a good thing 🙂
How do you choose what to work on?
Ha! Basically it depends what gets thrown on me! I’ve been very lucky in meeting people that want to work with me and I’m definitely a ‘yes’ person! However, I have learned to judge what opportunities are not going to be as worth it as others – based on what experience I no longer need to work on, how much things pay and really just what interests me.
Now, I obviously can’t take on much due to the PhD but anything to do with e-textiles which challenges me I’m like ‘yes!’ and I do love a bit of university lecturing too.
What advice, practical or otherwise, would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?
I’d say network, network, network! Not in a shallow way, but go to creative meet-ups, go to maker workshops – make new friends! I’ve been very lucky to have made friends with people I’ve worked with, and we all share similar passions. I think that’s a nice thing about working in the creative industries. I do think there is a point where you have to live and breathe it but then after a little while you can slow down – yoga is good for this. ^_^
Do try and keep something for yourself though to allow creative time at home. I still have many knitting machines I need to service and get using and when I get chance, I’ve started carving out some evenings to do this!
Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?
Oooh! it depends what I’m working on. Right now for example, I’m about to do some thesis writing and I’m sat in a coffee shop to do this – I think having a background of noise often helps me. I’ll stay here until lunchtime and then go home for a change of scene and work in our garden studio. Having to pick up my little girl from nursery gives a nice stopping time to the work day around 5pm, then I might do a bit more writing in the evening. If I’m teaching, I’ll be at a museum/ gallery/ university generally for the whole day and so will try and relax in the evening – it’s wonderful but you feel like you’re performing all day so that down time is important.
Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most?
I don’t always work well at home – too many distractions with the washing which needs to be done and Betty the cat! Coffee shops are great and working with friends/ colleagues around me so I feel guilty if I go on to Facebook! ^_^ I also need people – so this is why I loooove the teaching! Working in my own company is not something I particularly enjoy!
What inspires and drives you every day?
Other people’s creativity, being in a buzzy environment and my little daughter.
What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Don’t panic, don’t spread yourself too thin and it’s ok to have days off! I wish I’d done the latter more when we lived in central London, but, c’est la vie! ^_^
You can find out more about Em’s work at www.emiliegiles.co.uk or follow her on Twitter at @me_backwards.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story or if you would like to write a guest blog for Project Anywhere.