Exploring the relationship between digital and print

Held at the spectacular, Victorian home of The Mining Institute, Creative Fuse North East’s 15th Collaboration And Knowledge Exchange (aka CAKE) focused on the relationship between two seemingly opposing entities: digital and print archives. Each speaker shared their own experiences of understanding and experiencing text, with the last hour of the session dedicated to opening up the floor for discussion, collaboration and, you guessed it, knowledge exchange.

The first speaker, Jennifer Richards, talked enthusiastically about bringing scholarly editing into the digital realm. Richards, whose expertise lies in English Literature in the Shakespearean Age, is currently involved in a collaboration project between researchers in humanities and those in computer science, called Animating Text at Newcastle University (ATNU). “ATNU is nothing to do with film,” Richards began. Rather, by “having humanities researchers and computer scientists working side by side, ATNU wants to explore how digital technology can complement print.”

 A nice artistic bit of 'digital'

A nice artistic bit of 'digital'

The idea of using digital technology to complement the print landscape was a common theme that ran throughout the evening. Jenna Ashton, who spoke next, hopes to encourage a wider acceptance of the fact that “digital is not a replacement for archival heritage.” Ashton, who is the creative director of Digital Women’s Archive North (DWAN), believes that digital and print can work in harmony with one another. Digital technology, Ashton believes, improves access to archival, printed materials, which can only be seen as a positive. For DWAN, this fusion of digital and print serves to create a "space where traditionally marginalised groups e.g. women can have their voices heard.”

Sue Bradley, the penultimate speaker of the evening, supported this notion of improving access to marginalised voices. “Digital is bringing a massive new surge of voices into the existing landscape,” she told the audience – a mixture of creative professionals, old(er) and young(er). Bradley, a research associate at Newcastle University, spoke passionately about how digital has “radically and rapidly changed the way [the University’s Centre for Rural Economy] do work around oral history.” Perhaps one of my favourite moments of Bradley’s slot, was when she recalled an instance of when she was told: “Your job should be extinct.” The fact that Bradley was at the event, talking of how digital is allowing existing recordings, which otherwise might have been lost, to be recovered, and new materials to be collected, disproves this particular naysayer.

 Artist and writer Stevie Ronnie talks about the tactile nature of books, the smell and the history

Artist and writer Stevie Ronnie talks about the tactile nature of books, the smell and the history

Last on the agenda, was artist and freelance writer, Stevie Ronnie. Ronnie, whose background is in computer science, spoke at length about a past project of his that combined the “tactile nature, the smell and the history” of traditional books with the offerings of an immersive, digital reading experience. “What if technology didn’t completely replace the book, rather enhance it?” Ronnie asked. The end result was two chairs that toured libraries in County Durham, which contained seemingly traditional books within the armrests. The books were made in collaboration with a traditional book-binder but, rather brilliantly, were embedded with the very technology that naysayers believe is attempting to replace it: the screen. Brass Book, Ronnie said, “combined the two mediums collaboratively rather than isolating each one,” and was a huge success with library-goers.

This idea of the digital landscape working in partnership with the print landscape was discussed further via a question and answer session, where audience members directed project-specific queries, which the speakers were only too glad to answer. The event, rather cleverly, ended with slices of actual cake (in a nod to its name), where audience members were encouraged to chat, share ideas, collaborate and exchange wisdom.

Treat every connection, communication and collaboration as part of a continuous relationship.
— Kim Chandler McDonald

The evening reminded me of my days as a journalism student at University of the Arts London, where I was encouraged to collaborate with those from all manner of disciplines: from graphic design to fine art; shoemaking to make-up for film and TV. “Treat every connection, communication and collaboration as part of a continuous relationship,” writes Kim Chandler McDonald, author of Flat World Navigation: Collaboration and Networking in the Global Digital Economy. As a creative marketer, I’m compelled to agree. Wholeheartedly.