Digital Placemaking Category
Moving through Digital & Physical Worldsby Tim Lo
Everyday a new person is introduced to smartphones; someone makes or downloads a new app; new hardware and software are introduced to the world. The world went from letters to telephones to emailing to messaging and video calls, in 100 years. We have jobs that are taken over by machines, and new jobs that are created because of our technologically in-demand society.
We are now entering an exciting era of immersive technology that seek to integrate the virtual world even more seamlessly into our lives. While Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, holograms, projection mapping etc have proven that they can be hugely advantageous in serving the society, for example education, increasing accessibility, opening up new ways of communicating; these technologies are also demanding and taking over even more of our time, energy, resources and attention.
Yet how much say do the majority of us really have in creating and shaping the scope of these new technologies that have so much hold over our lives?
Much of these technologies take us out of our bodies and minds into screens and machines, into the digital world. It distracts us with the external without guiding us back to the internal. Our attention spans have become shorter and shorter, we can’t focus on one thing at a time anymore.
I find constant distractions from videos, sounds, images, music…the never-ending need to fill my world with digital content. As if I won’t be able to survive if I don’t stuff my time full, as if not spending every single ounce of my energy consuming digital information makes me unproductive and disengaged, and thus a useless member of society.
I found myself disengaging from myself, my body and mind - my physical, mental and emotional health. I found myself forgetting how important it is to listen to my body, to check in with how it’s reacting to digital and physical spaces and information.
This is what sparks my interest and questions around Digital Placemaking - How and is it possible to create (everyday) experiences where the digital world, is more in sync and in touch with our bodies and physical environments? How do we design and make use of emerging technologies in a more mindful way?
I come from the world of dance and movement, which has since expanded into theatre, film and creative technology. I am fundamentally a dancer and mover, though my work manifests in different ways. I perform, choreograph and movement direct for theatre and film, produce live events, and work with emerging technologies such as VR and AR. Some of my past work include: Rife Magazine, Splash & Ripple, Figuring and Limina Immersive. I’m a Rising Arts Agency associate artist, and have performed with Kiota, Raise The Bar, Testing Ground and bluemouth inc as part of Mayfest.
Movement fascinates me. You can tell so much about a person, or a group of people by their physical gestures, facial expressions, how they move around a space, where they feel comfortable, where they feel uncomfortable. Having performed in various locations around Bristol such as Arnolfini, Wardrobe Theatre, Circomedia, Bristol Old Vic and Spike Island - similar artistic venues with vastly distinct features - I’m also increasingly intrigued by movement within or between spaces. Environments impact how people stay in a space, what they do in that space, how they move in different spaces (do they linger, do they rush through etc).
I’m inspired by movement in nature - how the earth spins in relation to the sun, the moon and other planets, how movements in animals and creatures tell us information about the their abilities, their habitat, their environment and weathers. The list goes on, you get the idea. I’m obsessed with how things move.
But most crucially in this fellowship, movement in designs hold the most significance. How objects move or don’t move denote their creation process, who is behind it, what experiences the creator(s) have, what their intentions are, what they’ve thought about, what they haven’t thought about.
But movement is ephemeral, once accomplished it disappears without a trace. Yet it holds so much vital data about where someone is from, their historical and cultural heritage, their upbringing, their perspective on the world. So many different factors have an effect on how someone moves. Depending on one’s gender, sexuality, age, physical abilities or disabilities, health, neurological conditions, faith, religion, job, living environment etc - a person’s movement is a culmination of all these aspects of their lives, and how they react to them.
Movement is a language.
Movement communicates how people feel.
And applying that information, making use of it effectively and constructively can be a huge game changer for the innovation and design of new technologies and technological experiences.
If designs can be built with the knowledge that movement brings, and the best of digital technology can be merged with understandings of how different people move, with how they feel and what they need. Imagine the possibilities to create and transform spaces into places of comfort, belonging, safety - places that inspire, encourage and build people up, instead of exhausting and tearing people down. Places where the status quo is to be accepting, understanding, curious and caring.
I’m interested in the overlapping and intersecting areas between physical movement and emerging digital technologies like VR and AR. The scope of liveness and illusion that create a sense of being transported from our physical location to somewhere different through the digital world, or of separate environments and bodies being brought into our physical space through the digital.
Through working in projects that researched and practiced ethics and duty of care in the use and experiences of/with immersive technology - Figuring by Lisa May Thomas, Of Home and Each Other by Splash & Ripple and being part of the Limina Immersive team which opened the UK’s first creative VR theatre - I seek to merge and combine my movement practice with knowledge of immersive tech and understandings of creating safe, inclusive and accessible spaces (which I’ve come across in my work with Rife Magazine, Rising Arts Agency and Theatre Bristol.)
Some of the questions are: How do emerging technologies and movement practices perceive, interact and influence each other? How do movement practices of different cultures, heritage, mental and physical abilities inform designs of immersive technologies and its experiences? How can physical techniques of communication and physical ways of being, assist in designing immersive technological experiences which can be incorporated into communities, spaces that already exist, places that have already been created by people in a meaningful and sustainable way?
I’m also curious about the potential of using immersive technologies to increase access to movement, as well as disembodiment and embodiment experiences. And whether somatic movement practices can play into this.
For me, Digital Placemaking is the way in which digital and physical spaces work together and compliment each other - where people’s emotions and relationships to their environments are at the heart of this integration, combining virtual and physical worlds through thoughtful and co-creative means.
It’s incredibly exciting to be on this journey of discovery, to learn and gain more insight into the possibilities and potentials of new digital and physical realms. If you are interested in my work and on-going research, I invite you to get in touch.