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The V&A Museum has an exciting exhibit currently open in the Sackler Centre. ‘Digital Dragons’ makes two Chinese paintings ‘come alive’ through digital projection and a whole body interface supported by Kinect devices. Stepping on the floor influences the projection of the painting: depending on where you step, the landscape painting gains colour and human activity and in the other painting, dragons begin to chase coloured pearls.

WBI V and A

At MODE we’ve been observing children as they interact with the exhibit. In a series of naturalistic observations, we videoed 1-4 year olds interacting with the exhibit with their parents. In the next phase of research, we observed 7-8 year olds from the same school interacting with the exhibit, and then interviewed them afterwards to see how they had made sense of the experience.

Our questions in conducting these observations have been broad. We’re interested in how children make sense of their movements in relation to the projected visual activity; how the involvement of the whole body in this experience might influence the children’s interpretations of the paintings involved in the exhibit; and how social interactions are configured and coordinated in this type of interactive museum space.

In-depth analysis will begin soon. Our preliminary thoughts and ideas have centred on where the students focused their attention. For the first cycle of the interaction with the paintings, many of the children seemed to focus exclusively on the colour and movement they saw on the floor. Over the course of their interaction however, they became increasingly aware that their movements were having an impact on the projected image and began to make sense of exactly what this relationship was. This might suggest that exhibits that make use of two separately located sites of activity (here the floor and the wall) may require sustained interaction if students are to understand how activity in these spaces is connected.

By Mona Sakr

Title: “Stories and embodied memories in dementia”

Speaker: Lars-Christer Hyden, Linköping University, Sweden

Today’s seminar at the London Knowledge Lab (offered by MODE in conjunction with NOVELLA) was a fascinating insight into the role of the body in the articulation of memories by individuals suffering from dementia. The seminar considered video analysis of interviews as a way of re-thinking our conceptualisations of memory and memory loss, and the importance of the body in storing, retrieving and communication memories.

Lars-Christer Hyden is a professor of Social Psychology at Linköping University in Sweden and director of the Centre for Dementia Research (CEDER). His research focuses on communication and narrative in the context of dementia. He is currently conducting studies into the experience of dementia among couples and the various semiotic tools that are used in storytelling by individuals with dementia.

Hyden’s work uses the notion of embodiment in two ways. Firstly, he draws attention to the communicative body. He argues that there is a need to explore how the body is used as a semiotic tool in the construction of narrative, particularly when language is negatively affected by dementia. Secondly, through the concept of embodied cognition, he suggests that we can begin to question traditional models of memory that highlight abstract and analytical cognition as opposed to embodied experience. Recent research has demonstrated the extent to which memories are based on sensory experience rather than abstract events.

In the seminar, we looked at a short video clip from an interview with a woman who has dementia. By focusing on gaze, gesture and language, Hyden demonstrated the extent to which language and gesture had different semiotic functions in this context. While language is analytical, gestures are syncretic i.e. they are conducted and interpreted as complete ‘wholes’ of communication. As a result, gestures were used to facilitate communication when the language necessary to communicate a particular idea wasn’t available.

Taking this idea further, Hyden argued that depending on the semiotic tools we use to share memories with others, the nature of memory changes. When we expect memories to be communicated via language, they become analytical and disembodied entities. By focusing on the role of the body in communicating memories, we are focusing on the embodied experiences that are the basis of memory formation and thereby re-thinking the construct of memory.

Hyden’s conclusions were followed by a range of observations and questions from the audience. To mention one example – an audience member drew attention to suggestions that language use itself becomes more syncretic as dementia progresses. These findings would support the importance of gesture as a tool to convey ‘wholes’ of experience, but it also suggests that within modes, different types of semiotic work can be achieved. Language is not necessarily analytical, and perhaps gesture is not necessarily syncretic.

By Victoria Grace Walden

I’ve always been a critic of 3-D technology because I feel it distracts from the verisimilitude. However, recent experiences of 3-D films have made me ponder whether they do offer spectators a sensual experience more similar to real world perception than 2-D films.

Those who champion 3-D filmmaking seem to imply this argument. Just before the release of his 3-D spectacular Avatar, James Cameron proclaimed: “We are born seeing in three dimensions… most animals have two eyes, not one. There is a reason.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/20/james-cameron-avatar-3d-film)

Interestingly, the free dictionary defines third-dimensional not only as added depth, but added realism too:

“third dimension

n.

1. The quality of depth or thickness in an object or a space.

2. The quality of seeming real or lifelike.”

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/third-dimensional )

Previously I, like many critics of the technology, could never understand this belief. How could this awkward, often unfocused, image be more “lifelike” than then 2-dimensional cinematic images we were used to?

In December 2012 I was fortunate to receive tickets to the Premiere of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I’d heard great things about the film so was naturally excited. However, my experience of the screening (which was in 3-D much to my dismay) was an unpleasant one, but one that emphasised how affect is always an embodied and pre-logical experience. I have problems with my peripheral vision and suffer from astigmatism therefore me and 3-D glasses do not have a happy relationship. While the beautiful, fairly still sequences of the zoo in the opening of the film were spectacular to watch, as soon as Pi was lost at sea I felt an overwhelming sense of nauseous. The experience was so unpleasant I missed the majority of the film, opting instead to stare at the floor or close my eyes in fear I may vomit. I felt physically unwell even after the film had ended and I had left the auditorium.  The motion of the train journey home only emphasised the sickly feeling.

This rather unpleasant cinematic encounter reminded me of the importance of considering affect as a pre-logical attribute of the film (and in fact any) experience.  Eric Shouse (2005) and Brian Massumi (1980) are clear to differentiate between feeling, emotion and affect. As Shouse explains, “a feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experience and labelled” therefore infants cannot experience feelings (Shouse, 2005:3). While “an emotion is the projection / display of a feeling” which can be genuine or faked to correlate with social expectations (Shouse, 2005:4). However, “an affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential” (Shouse, 2005: 5).

Eisenstein also highlights that sensation differs from cognitive understanding because it returns us to a pre-evolved state: socially, before man formed linguistic structures and individually, that infant state before we learnt social norms of behaviour and language (As Shouse echoes in his paper). While Eisenstein uses the term “emotion” in his writing, his concept of “emotion” is not dissimilar from contemporary notions of “affect”.  The term “affect” only became widely used after Silvan Tomkin’s seminal work Affect Imagery Consciousness (1961-63).

I argue therefore, that 3-D does not make the image appear more “lifelike” but rather 3-D technology submerses the spectator in a lifelike sensual experience. While Ang Lee’s use of 3-D resulted in me being distracted not only from the verisimilitude, but the entire film experience, the technology caused a physical response in me unlike any 2-D film I’d ever seen. I’ve often, momentarily, recoiled or jumped when watching 2-D films, but never felt physically sick and the affect has never continued beyond my leaving the auditorium.

When I first became interested in questions of embodiment I wondered how my body and the bodies I encounter (virtual or real) could affect and be affected. What could the connection between the body and affect be? What I have come to understand is that embodiment is central to affect, affect is my body’s response – my body’s way of thinking.

References

Massumi, B (1980) Introduction in Deleuze, G & Guattari, F A Thousand Plateaus, London, UK & New York, USA: Continuum

Shouse, E (2005) Feeling, Emotion, Affect in M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture Vol 8 Issue 6 Dec 2005 accessed at: http://www. journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php

Smith, G.M (2004) Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein’s Writings in Quartley Review of Film and Video 21.4 (October- November 2004) pp305-315 accessed at: www2.gsu.edu/~jougms/Eisenstein.htm

Also, for an interesting article on 3-D and haptic visuality see:

Ross (2012) The 3-D aesthetic: Avatar and hyperhaptic visuality in Screen 53:4 Winter 2012 pp 381- 397 accessed at: http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/4/381.full.pdf+html?sid=11bcd8eb-c502-4bd1-bade-5146c161d780

By Mona Sakr

Yesterday, MODE hosted a training day on embodiment in digital environments. The day was brimming with ideas, approaches and contexts. They all stemmed however, from the central concept that the body plays an essential role in human experience – so essential that theoretical divides between mind and body are difficult, if not impossible, to make.

Digital environments highlight the need to prioritise the body and help to explain why embodiment as a framework has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. But these environments also call into question the very idea of the body (ie. what we mean by ‘body’) and its role in learning and experience. They enable us to grapple in new ways with old ideas about embodiment, and at the same time they demand that we ask new questions about embodiment as a concept and theory.

New and old questions about embodiment were explored through a wide range of research contexts as represented by the day’s speakers and in the mini-workshops:

  • Caroline Pelletier questioned what it means to represent the body realistically in the context of surgical simulation, and the different genres of representation that can be invoked in such environments.
  • Carey Jewitt and Sara Price looked at the positioning of the body in children’s scientific inquiry using tangible technologies. Using multimodal analysis, they demonstrated the importance of the body for setting the rhythm and pace of social interaction and learning.
  • Anton Franks and Andrew Burns introduced the concepts of frame, affect, action, role and voice in analysing the computer games that young people construct.
  • Niall Winters introduced the possibility that individuals’ tactical spatial practices are changed through their use of mobile technologies. Participants in the seminar had hands-on experience of how this might happen by exploring the area surrounding the London Knowledge Lab while using apps that encourage users to engage with space differently.