Figuring premier @ the Wickham Theatre!
Posted on September 30, 2018 by David R Glowacki
The last couple weeks have seen some interesting outreach developments! With support from Arts Council England, the EPSRC-funded CHAMPS programme, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Royal Society, David Glowacki and team worked on a project called “Figuring” at the Wickham theatre in the University of Bristol’s Department of Drama, with a talented team drawn across artistic, scientific, and technological practices. On 21 Sept, they worked to premier Figuring to an audience of artists, producers, and technologists. This follows on from a previous prototype showing of Figuring at the Knowle West Media Centre, as part of their Commons Sense programme.
The aim of Figuring is to investigate what can be created when moving, sensing bodies are embedded in simulated virtual worlds, and what arises when somatic and movement based practices are combined with Narupa, a state-of-the-art multi-person VR framework for molecular dynamics simulation, which has been developed within the Intangible Realities Laboratory over the last several years.
Figuring takes its name from its intention to explore ‘string figures’, in both the real world and also in the virtual world. String figures are created through simple movements of folding, looping, twisting, and knotting strings between the hands, fingers and thumbs of one or more people.
During our time at the Wickham theatre, members of the CHAMPS project worked with a group of dancers to facilitate experiments with both physical and virtual strings. For the ‘raw material’ of the virtual strings, the team relied on real-time molecular dynamics simulations of proteins: the molecular strings from which life is woven. Narupa enables audiences to reach out and touch simulated proteins: folding, looping, twisting, and knotting them.
Despite their virtuality, Figuring audiences reported ‘felt’ sensations whilst manipulating virtual simulations of molecular strings. Moving forward, we hope to better understand the origins of such sensations, how they map onto their physical and tangible analogues, and how different sensory and somatic practices might enable us to understand perception across real, virtual and imagined environments.
Figuring represents a collaboration between a diverse team with broad interests, led by David Glowacki and somatic/movement artist Lisa May Thomas. Alex Jones, Dr. Tom Mitchell, and Prof. Joseph Hyde helped to devise algorithms for generating sound from the virtual string dynamics. Computer Scientist Mike O’Connor and Mark Wannacott played a key role in developing the VR interaction capabilities and aesthetic, and Helen Deeks provided key advice on human-computer interaction strategies. Somatic and movement practitioners included Laila Diallo, Ben McEwan, Bryn Thomas, Ania Varez, Will Dickie, Fernanda Munoz-Newsome and Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot. Production is by Emma Hughes, dramaturgy by Tanuja Amarasuriya, and set design by Phillipa Thomas. Photos are by Paul Blakemore and Silvia Cardarelli-Gronau, and film by Adam Laity.