Urban Interaction Design Workshop @ Pervasive Media Studio

by Caitlin

Over the past few days I’ve been immersed in interaction. Physical / Digital – Digital / Physical interaction. I was a participant on the DCRC Urban Interaction Design Workshop, at bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio.  This means thinking about, questioning, making, testing, interrogating how the physical object can transfer / stimulate a digital interface and the other way around. In particular the workshop was focussed on these sorts of interactions within the context of public space. How do people behave with objects, buildings, street furniture and spaces? What is the invitation of material and form. What do people respond to in terms of physical space, place and form? How can we as artists / designers / makers extend a physical digital interface or experience into the arbitary and diversely utilised realm of public space?

The workshops were exploring Jo Morrison’s research into conceptual material for design, which essentially invited participants to consider conceptual material, or ideas in our design processes. The conceptual materials or frames included

  • vulnerability
  • mutability
  • continuity
  • hybridity
  • mobility

So the idea is to really integrate these themes / meanings / frames across a creative / design process. I found myself questioning my own relationship with the design and creative process, and wanting to add a more detailed set of frames to it. Which in plain English, making the time in my process to take more stand points, ask more questions and co create with others more.

For me, it was fascinating to connect with other artists and designers who spoke the language of not only place and site, but also had a working interest in digital to physical experiences, and integrating digitally extended experiences to the day to day. Some work that really stuck with me was that of Heidi Hinder and her Money no Object project,  where the payee and the recipient are invited to enable their transaction through a hug or handshake instead of swiping a card.  The other work I really liked was an artist who designed and set up sound recording technology to translate moats of dust a detailed soundscape. So falling dust’s movement was recorded in terms of sound-waves and vibrations and translated into audible broadcast. The work of Chris Wood was also really interesting, and he bought in a contact mic into one workshop, live recording and broadcasting vibrations into soundscapes; something that I found very interesting in terms of turning the inaudible audible – or the intangible, tangible.

In relation to my own work, this workshop led me to really focus in on thinking about the role and significance of sound in public space and interaction in a broader sense. Specifically, I’m keen to break the privilege of the visual in our modes of creative communication, and really focus in on the relationship between the audible and the tactile. How can we invite people to spend time to connect with, explore and prime an ability to relate to site in a more embodied and immersive way.

While on my residency at Santa Fe Arts institute I spent time working up new sound sketches, and setting some soundscapes to film. I also spent a lot of time reading and writing, thinking about the role of artist as an facilitator of social justice, and positive social change. I also spent some time writing funding bids to further develop the work of Sanctuary; and it was this thread of development that led me through the Urban Interaction Design Workshop.

My key lens was thinking and exploring the relationship between tactility in the public space and tactility being a trigger for a personal sound experience, with a focus on inhibiting the ability to be guided by site. So the physical is the process of touch and the digital is exploring how ‘blind’ touch can trigger sensors within public spaces that release a series of live fed sonic samples. Key to this is the preservation and construction of a primary soundscape, that is the base experience of the participant, that sonicly relates to the tactile experience of site. As I think and write about these thoughts, it clear that there is a link to spatial / tactile to sonic synaesthesia.

This reflection also summons a key question related to my broader practice. Why is sound so important. What is it to hear, to be guided into and through a sonic sphere, a story with no visuals, with space to visualise it yourself. Space to render your own meaning, your own feeling; to isolate and enhance single sensory experiences; not to always bombard and overwhelm. These are questions to mull on and not rush to answer. But my interest in the role of sound relating to touch, space, interactive architecture and installation is ongoing; and also key as an actor, influencing how individuals, communities and society can have a great sensory relationship with place and space. And how a more in depth and embodied interface can create more time, experience and sensation to connect with site self and other.