The Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities (DRHA2014) conference took place between 31st August and 4th September at the University of Greenwich, convivially convened by Anastasios Maragiannis, Academic Portfolio leader in Design and Senior Lecturer in Design Theory & Practice.
Professor Susan Broadhurst, of Brunel University and current chair of the DRHA, informed delegates that the conference, albeit with slight changes to its name to emphasise the centrality of the arts, was in its 29th year. Performance, exhibitions and workshops ran alongside multiple streams of academic papers encompassing a breadth of interdisciplinary arts and design practices from sound to architecture. Reflective of current critical debates in the arts, the themes of space, embodiment, narrative, social media, code, data ethics and geo-political issues, proliferated the critically framed critiques of practice and expositions of theory through practice.
Highlights of the week included the paper, After the Death of Cyberflâneur by Efthymia Kasimati of National Technical University of Athens who presented a revised model for contemplating in the city. Independent scholar Sarah Jaffray’s critical exposition Aesthetic Action: Instagram’s Technogeographies of Resistance considered the changing role of Instagram as social media site from travel mementoes to guerrilla journalism, where meta-tagged images are mobilised for political activism.
Expanded narrative practices featured in themes across the conference. In the inspiring and informative workshop Practice in Writing: A recipe for Creativity and Creative Interpretation, lead by Professor Janis Jefferies of Goldsmiths, University of London and Anastasios Maragiannis, an overview of recent interactive narrative on mobile and tablet platforms framed the creation of Twitter fiction. Participants experimented with chatbots, Siri, rhyming dictionaries, alternating first-person narration and rule based systems amongst other operations of creative play.
Academic papers in narrative practices were given by Daisy Abbott of Glasgow School of Art who considered spectacle and interpretation of National Theatre Live, in her paper “Cut me to pieces”: Shakespeare, fandom and the fractured narrative. Christina Papagiannouli in Etheatre Project: Political Participation in Theatre discussed the form and implications of audience participation – “cyber collaboration”, in her theatrical re-staging of Brecht plays online. In the work of Emma Whittaker and James Brocklehurst of Plymouth University, sci-fi adventure in museums with locative narrative smartphone apps The Lost Index were considered in the context of perceptual illusions in the paper Playing With Perception: Locative Narrative and Sonic Virtual Locations. Laura Carletti of Nottingham University discussed the use of NFC tags with photographic and oral histories of Latin American Communities in the UK in Transmedia Experience Design for Audience Engagement: An Experiment with Near Field Communication.
Narratives, scripted and promoted through online interactions were the subject of the play So Pleased to Meet You, directed by Jillian Wallis of University of Greenwich and performed by the company Pattern Fight. Existential questions of being, boredom, presence and imagination were comedically posed with stagings of Chatroulette.
Ghislaine Boddington of body>data>space presented Collaborative Share Spaces and Future Digi-bodiments, a historical overview of her curatorial involvement with artists in the field of virtual worlds and telepresence over the past 25 years. The work of contemporary artists such as Joseph Hyde and his work ‘me and my shadow’ demonstrated the reoccurrence of the desire to occupy the apocryphal ‘holodeck’ and encounter teleported people (via data projections) from across the globe. Elena Papadaki discussed the relationships between sites and interactivity in Communicating Technology: Interactive design and interdisciplinary collaboration in the digital arts.
While the technologies may be new, the ideas however, are frequently re-workings of artists’ earlier experiments with digital technologies, often prefigured by pre-digital practices in cyclical reoccurrence, as Professor Janis Jefferies rightly seemed to suggest in the panel discussion Research in the Digital Arts – historical perspectives and future innovations. Navigating city spaces was celebrated by Baudelaire, critiqued by Debord, narrativised by Cardiff and played using GPS enabled mobile platforms such as mscapes developed in early 2000’s by Hewlett Packard. Keynote speaker Federico Casalegno, director of MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab discussed Locast, the GPS digital mapping platform, developed in 2004 and since utilised in a number of collaborative projects including Mapping Moby-Dick.
Keynote speaker, Indy Saha celebrated a series of innovative projects developed by Google Creative Lab including YouTube Space Lab, Google Web Lab, Science Fair and the recent DevArt project aiming to promote artists as coders, currently exhibited as part of the Barbican’s Digital Revolution show. While the DevArt projects, such as Zac Lieberman’s ‘Play the world’, a keyboard that accesses live broadcast radio, are genuinely exciting, an acknowledgement of the historical precedence of artist as coders since the 1960s and previous innovation by research groups such as i-DAT would have been welcomed.
In Ghislaine Boddington’s concluding remarks of the conference she recounted that her fellow curators in East Asia require digital art to be at least as innovative and engaging as the digital environment that their audiences daily inhabit and urged that digital artists everywhere take up this challenge.
The peer reviewed DRHA2014 Book of Abstracts: Communicating futures: Connecting Interdisciplinary practices in arts/culture, academia and the creative industries, edited by Anastasios Maragiannis is available as a PDF and in print from Lulu.com
The new edition of Multidisciplinary Design Practices by Anastasios Maragiannis is now available.