Conference Paper ‘Towards a Post-Immersive Manifesto’

I gave this paper at the TaPRA Interim Event: Immersive and Interactive Technologies and Live Performance, University of Cardiff, April 6. The paper concerns the post-immersive manifesto I am writing with ZU-UK Theatre and Digital Arts Company and TAG.

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Abstract
Immersive has become one of the most common but nebulous terms in the UK theatre scene over the past two decades. Promising a special or merely novel experience for audiences, the lexicon of immersion has entered many different social spheres. Shopping centres like Westfield (Stratford, East London) promise shoppers a leisure experience that transcends the boundaries of conventional retail. When used in the context of online activity (‘screen time’) immersion denotes disconnection from the real world. Immersion is now a byword for describing an escape from what can be considered productive activity by denuding the individual of their agency as moral and critically aware individuals. A post-immersive arts practice stands in opposition to the escapist imaginary of immersion by foregrounding the role the participant plays as an agent of social production. Social production describes the reflexive relationship between artist and participant in interactive art works, where both assume responsibility for constructing a narrative in virtual and physical spaces. This paper will show examples of art-works and experiments produced by collaborators ZU-UK and TAG over the past four years. We will propose a model of post-immersive audience participation by arguing that embodied and interactive technology in performance provides an architecture for artists and participants to play roles within scenarios that elide the real and the fictional. This mode of social production creates temporary communities whose aesthetic experience is defined by their relationality with diverse subjectivities which are already present within the performance and which manifest through social production ie what the participants bring with them (identity, politics, culture, bodies, etc.). We will discuss how post-immersive performance events can be scaled up and effective models of interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Following on from the annual conference at Aberystwyth and previous group events and conversations, the aim of the 2019 interim event is to explore different practices and modes of immersive and interactive technologies in live performance, as well as to investigate new narrative possibilities and audiences’ virtual experiences in live performance created by immersive technologies. As Kerry Francksen and Sophy Smith (2018) note, ‘[t]he use of virtual reality (VR) technologies has seen a significant resurgence in both industry-led and artistic communities in recent times. This re-emergence can be linked to the continuing growth and advancement in smart phone technologies (e.g. developments in accelerometers and gyrospic chips), as well as a significant interest within the games industry for developing a greater quality gaming experience.’ We want to explore this emergent theme and extend the 2018 TaPRA working group’s discussions on Empathy and Inclusiveness in Immersive Technologies to question: What new tools and spaces do immersive technologies offer to theatre and live performance? What opportunities and challenges do immersive technologies bring to the digital performer/performance-maker, from new forms of audience/participant interaction to new performance training methodologies, to new rehearsal methods and documentation strategies?

DocPerform 3:Postdigital – Call for Papers

DocPerform 3: Postdigital

Call for papers: closes April 5th 2019

https://documentingperformance.com

May 16th- 17th 2019

City, University of London

The DocPerform Project considers those aspects of performance that exemplify its documentary nature, alongside the associated processes of its documentation, including: creation, collection, description, organisation, discovery, access, preservation, interaction and engagement.

Our focus for this, our third symposium in the DocPerform series, is on how multisensory technologies can render our experience of newly created, recorded or archived performance, as something very close to, if not indistinguishable from, reality. To do this, we need to reach beyond the audio-visual, to embrace touch, smell and taste in both the creation of documents and in their subsequent documentation processes. We need to work with recording techniques and engagement interfaces that allow us to participate and interact with performance to the extent that the sense of immersion approaches that of reality. 

We ask: To what extent can technologies facilitate postdigital experiences in performance?

The translations, or mediators of the binaries, be they terms like multi-, inter-, or trans-, still construct a logic of the supplement that creates hierarchies that are irresolvable and false. Intermedial theatre, like multimedia before and transmedia briefly after, is a thing of the past.

(Causey, 2016, p.428)

Yes, we are now in a digital age, to whatever degree our culture, infrastructure, and economy (in that order) allow us. But the really surprising changes will be elsewhere, in our lifestyle and how we collectively manage ourselves on this planet

(Negroponte, 1998, p.288)

Theories expounded by scholars such as Matthew Causey (2016), Sarah Bay-Cheng (2016) and Bill Blake (2014) signify a paradigm shift in how the digital is conceptualised, valued and, most crucially, experienced. As Blake succinctly states: ‘The digital, after all, is an ever multiplying and mostly impossible to-pin down referent, with the meanings and cultural conceptions of new media and “digital culture”, multifarious and illusive’ (ibid, p.11). As we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, digital culture is shifting into the era of the postdigital (Causey ibid).

The postdigital resonates with Luciano Floridi’s concept of the infosphere, his term for the environment we have created where anything can be connected to anything (Floridi 2014). It denotes a way of thinking as a network, where humans experience reality as a hybrid system of diverse interfaces. Humans and machines act as communication nodes in order to de- and reconstruct reality in diverse documentary formats. 

We have ceased to be amazed by the merely digital world. In our postdigital society we attempt to reassess what it means to be human, whilst at the same time acknowledging that our understanding of reality is changing. Technology is increasingly capable of presenting us with unreal reality; scripted experiences that are so close to the real thing, we struggle to distinguish the real from the fake. Successful navigation through postdigital society requires that we address how we delineate the boundaries between the real and the unreal.

As technology allows newly created and recorded experiences to become more immersive, we consider what this means for the documentation of performance.

Following the DocPerform 2: New Technologies symposium in 2017, Robinson and Dunne-Howrie (2018), envisioned immersive documents that would sustain levels of participation and interaction, alongside attempts to address the issues of temporality by recreation of time and place. These new forms of documents might also allow performances to be recorded from multiple perspectives: actor, director, playwright, lighting designer, stage manager, spectator, etc.

This presents ethical questions concerning how hierarchies’ of authorship are disrupted when the data generated by participants is used as an additional perspective of a performance. 

DocPerform 3: Postdigital invites contributions which address the creation and documentation of performance related to participatory and immersive documents, networked thinking, hybrid arts practices and audience participation. We are particularly interested in exploring the technological requirements of producing an immersive document. Technologists working with VR, AR, haptic and similar (trans)mediums are invited to demonstrate how devices can be used to capture and store data.

We welcome proposals for conceptual ideas, case studies, speculations, demonstrations, workshops and performances. We envisage most sessions will run for 20 mins, but we have facilities for longer workshops or installations where applicable. 

Please send an abstract of up to 500 words to lyn@city.ac.uk, and joseph.dunne-howrie@city.ac.uk, by 5.00pm on Friday 5th April.

The authors of successful proposals will be notified by Monday 15th April. 

All authors will be expected to register for the event; there will be a modest charge for catering. 

We intend to publish another collection of papers from this event, as before: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/docam/vol5/iss1/

References

Bay-Cheng, S. (2016) Postmedia Performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, [online] 26(2). Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2016/postmedia-performance/ [Accessed 21 February 2019]

Blake, B. (2014) Theatre & the Digital. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Causey, M. (2016) Postdigital Performance. Theatre Journal, 68(3), pp.427-441

Floridi, L. (2014). The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford University Press

Negroponte, N., 1998. Beyond digital. Wired6(12), p.288.

Robinson, L. and Dunne, J. (2018). Is the World After All Just a Dream? Proceedings from the Document Academy, 5(1). Available at: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/docam/vol5/iss1/1 [Accessed 25 February 2019]

Invitation to R&D Meeting Archiving the Choreographic Machine: Sensuous Geographies

‘Archiving the Choreographic Machine: Sensuous Geographies’ is an interdisciplinary project investigating the medium of VR as a performance documentation tool. The project team Professor Sarah Rubidge, Dr Lyn Robinson and Dr Joseph Dunne-Howrie have organised the meeting to discuss the technical requirements of producing a VR version of Sensuous Geographies,a choreosonic installation devised by choreographer Sarah Rubidge and composer Alistair Macdonald. We are also looking for partners who possess the relevant technical and artistic expertise in producing a VR prototype performance document. It is hoped that the meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss potential collaborations, but rest assured attendance will not be considered as an agreement to partner with us.

If you would like to attend the meeting please write to Joseph Dunne-Howrie at joseph.dunne-howrie@city.ac.uk. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

We have a limited budget to cover basic travel costs for those travelling from outside of London. Lunch will be provided.

Please note that this event is not a symposium with audience and speakers. The meeting will be of interest to those with experience and knowledge of performance documentation, VR and interactive media. If you know of someone with an interest in this area please pass this email on to them.

Here is a schedule for the day:

Event: R&D Meeting ‘Archiving the Choreographic Machine: Sensuous Geographies

Date and Time: Tuesday 26th March 10:30-16:15

Venue: Room C103

Tait Building

City, University of London

Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, London

EC1V 0HB

Purpose

The meeting will bring together specialists in performance documentation and VR to discuss how a document can be read/experienced kinaesthetically.  The team wish to understand what the technical requirements of building a VR document prototype are and investigate methods of preserving recorded live artworks in digital formats. The research context of the project concerns extant metadata processes for the preservation of time-based media projects and methodologies for documenting performative events.

Schedule

10:30 – 10:45

Welcome and introductions

10:45 – 11:15

SR presents background information on Sensuous Geographies.

JDH and LR discuss their interest in documentation from LIS and performance perspective

11:15-12:15

Guests give 10 minute presentations on their work with VR and/or performance documentation. Topics may include but are not limited to:

•           How documents can be experienced kinaesthetically

•           Available methods/approaches are already available to record participatory performances

12:15 – 12:45

Discussion concerning research context(s) of the project

12:45-13:30

Lunch

13:30 -14:15

Break out into three groups. JDH, LR and SG to lead discussion into:

•           Technical requirements for VR documentation

•           Potential of documents in performance practice and audience participation

•           Methods of generating and capturing user-generated data

•           Interacting in virtual environments

14:15-15:15

Feedback and discussion. Identify key technical requirements of building a VR prototype

15:15 – 16:00

Next steps

16:00-16:15

Closing comments