THE SIX FOOT GALLERY INTERVIEW: Unknown Errors + Ruby Gardner, and Erin Thomson

Hello, Ruby and Erin What was your starting point for exploring the theme of What Do People Make of Glasgow?
[Ruby & Erin] We’ve been pals for a good few years now. In that time, we’ve had plenty of pub chats saying we’d work together and make some form of interactive fabric. We have a fascination with combining analogue and digital, it’s something that we don’t see much off, especially in a gallery setup. When we heard about the Unknown Errors exhibition, we knew we had to take part. It was the motivation we needed. 

We knew we wanted to make something that would encourage touch and play. Audio came to mind straight away, thinking about music lessons at school and hammering the DJ button on the keyboard. We wanted people to be daft. The interaction doesn’t require any musical skills whatsoever. In fact, I think we both preferred the chaotic mismash of sounds over anything that resembled a melody anyway.

Can you walk us through your creative process?
[Ruby & Erin] We riffled through boxes to find conductive materials that Ruby could sew into her fabrics, and Erin could attach to the circuit boards; bits of wire, jewellery, pins. We started linking circuits and testing sounds as soon as we could. It was a laugh, definitely a release from the brief and budget driven work we do midweek. There wasn’t a huge amount of process, just lots of trial and error. We’re very aware that the end result is a prototype and we’re okay with that. We want this to be the springboard for future collaborations between the two of us. 

How did your artistic journey start?
[Ruby & Erin] We both studied art and design in school and then at The Glasgow School of Art. Ruby studied Textile Design, specialising in weave, and Erin, Interaction Design. 

How has your practice changed over time?
[Ruby] I was in my final year at GSA when the pandemic struck. Without access to looms, I was unable to weave my final collection. I began to explore how I could present my work in digital contexts, creating simulations of my textile designs and working with some amazing 3D designers. My first job out of uni was content design and strategy at a fabric manufacturer. And 5 years later, I’m still in digital marketing and content. Now freelance, I’m working with some exciting organisations within the Scottish design and film industries. Each day poses new problems to solve, so I’m always looking to add to my skill set. I graduated in UX back in March, and am currently learning how to animate. Most of my outputs are digital, whereas the exhibition provided me with the opportunity to get away from my laptop and return to textiles. I’m now aiming to strike a balance between digital and tactile work, and exploring the connections between the two.

[Erin] I left GSA in 2018 after receiving my first grad job offer, Junior Interaction Designer within a Medical Animation company. It was great fun and I learnt a lot about the AR/VR & motion graphics sides of the creative industry, but I slowly started to realise they were pushing me down the developer path and the creative side of my brain was screaming for change after 3 years in that job. It was a challenge trying to be recognised as a designer due to my style of work not being ‘the norm’ in the design sense, but I now work as a Creative Technologist for an experimental creative agency; coming up with weird and wonderful interactive ideas and creating prototypes for clients in the sport, music, fashion industries. I don’t regret the 3 years of being a developer as it gave me the chance to try out & learn more about the heavy tech side of creating interactive experiences, my tech brain & creative coding experience influences my design process heavily so it’s an interesting mix – massive bonus for me due to the fact I am always collaborating with the most talented creatives!

How do you overcome creative blocks?
[Ruby] I find it’s helpful to work on multiple projects at once, or multiple visuals at once. It stops me from getting too precious about the details. Because inevitably that would lead to self-doubt, and then to a screeching halt. A cup of tea and something sugary usually helps too.

[Erin] Totally agree with Ruby, having more than 1 project on the go gives me the opportunity to take a step back from problem (a) by working on something else and clearing my head, then 9 times out of 10 the issue is resolved by the time I get back to (a) – it’s like a brain cleaning exercise. This is why I love collaborative work as well, my head is constantly flooded with the next thing or a new idea when I am trying to solve the problems! Having that someone else to bounce ideas or problems off of usually gives you that resolution because you are having to properly explain the issue you’re facing out loud rather than going over it a million times in your head.

Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love? 
[Ruby] I’m mostly driven by colour, texture and feeling. I don’t think that’s influenced by any specific artists though. I think I’m just influenced by the world around me, the experiences I have, and the people I interact with. When I do visit galleries though, my favourite types of work are squishy installations and huge work that makes me feel teeny.

[Erin] My work is mostly inspired by the merging of traditional artistic mediums and technology. I love to be immersed in or feel part of a piece, whether that’s through physical touch, motion/body tracking, VR or large-scale projection mapping. Pieces that are constantly evolving or react in a way that’s completely unexpected or personal to the user really fascinate me.

What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
[Ruby] We’re just starting out too. But thinking about this project, success came from just having fun. The joy that we experienced making the work, then translated into people enjoying the work at the exhibition opening. 

[Erin] What Ruby said! Also, imposter syndrome is rife. I’ve only been in the industry for 5 years and I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time. That’s part of being a creative, every project is different and you learn so much from trial & error, if you’re having fun doing what you’re doing your audience will see that through your final piece.

See more of Erin and Ruby’s work at @errth_designs and @rubygardnerdesign. Unknown Errors runs at Six Foot Gallery until 19th September 2023.

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