Playing with Fire and Other Elemental Hacks: Autobiography and Playfulness in Digitally Interactive Sculpture

Glen, Alexandra (2022) Playing with Fire and Other Elemental Hacks: Autobiography and Playfulness in Digitally Interactive Sculpture. Masters thesis, University of Gloucestershire. doi:10.46289/VV74G2B3

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This practice-based research explores the relationship that the solo artist has with available technology, and in particular how an imaginative low-cost 'hacking' approach can lead to the development of emotionally nuanced and expressive artwork, installational and interactive in form, autobiographical and playful by nature, offering an immersive experience for the viewer, while retaining the individual hand and touch of the artist. This 'hacking' approach aims to find new and accessible ways of working with complex electronic devices and systems. The salient model for working with such systems assumes extensive collaboration with technical teams and institutional levels of resourcing, and acts as a barrier to the lone studio-based artist. The research instead explores a low-cost, DIY alternative, relying on playful imaginative wit in place of privileged access and institutional muscle. I present a cultural context for my research that links a pre-digital technologically-engaged sculptural landscape of the past century, with more contemporary digitally-enabled practitioners, and recent developments in primarily digital forms of immersive and interactive installation. I note that there has been no authoritative synthesising account of these tendencies, with effective theorisation generally lagging behind artists' individual achievements. My studio research has demonstrated a DIY way of mapping the human body as it moves in 3D space, and digitally recombining this data in a video feed that can be projected in real time, precisely mapped to any 2D or 3D surface. It then demonstrated a way in which a virtual-reality headset can present to its wearer a live image of a chosen subject, moving not in the usual psychologically-unsatisfying digital fabrication of a landscape, but in a true representation of the physical space the user is actually in; this was in response to my conviction that much conventional VR mistakenly disengages from a reality that we can emotionally associate with. A virtual work was developed, through which an audience sitting at home could share in a playful collective interaction, and which at the same time illustrated some of the significant principles of the research. The research's trajectory was re-evaluated at mid-point, to avoid a distraction represented by off-the-peg programmable devices (e.g Arduino, Raspberry Pi); on reflection, these took the hacking out of your hands. I turned instead to ways of working installationally with the body and some of the physical extremes experienced in a previous working life; heat, cold and catastrophic changes of atmospheric pressure, and the autobiographical emotional associations these generated. Again, low-cost DIY solutions were explored and developed in their potential for psychological as much as physical engagement on the audience’s part. Finally, coming full circle, and wanting to reconnect with the initial projection-mapping experiments, I explored another way of working with the elements – live projection onto water-vapour. This is among aspects of the research, abbreviated by recent circumstances, that I wish to return to another day.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Additional Information: M.Phil
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sculpture; Autobiography
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NB Sculpture
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2024 15:04
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2024 15:04

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