A new interactive digital exhibition at Derry's Void gallery studio space will use motion sensing technology to test and explore the boundaries between game and play, art and innovation.
The installation, entitled Deprogramming, is a collaboration between three innovators based in the Maiden City and its single-day run on March 7, as part of Creativity Month 2015, offers the public, young and old, a chance to experience the now fluid partition which divides two previously distinct worlds: artistic expression and entertainment gaming.
Conceived by digital designer and filmmaker Justine Scoltock, her business partner Caroline Anderson and Anderson’s sister, freelance artist Katherine Rowlandson, Deprogramming sounds as compelling as it does nebulous.
The exhibition is still in its advanced design stage but, according to Scoltock, attendees must expect the unexpected at an event which requires no physical interaction, only one’s presence to unlock a series of images and sounds with a simple movement of the human body.
‘The idea is tongue in cheek,’ says Scoltock, unwilling to give away too much but suggesting that images of the Queen or the Sacred Heart – seen by many people in their grandmothers’ living rooms down the years – may well make an appearance. Rowlandson echoes this: ‘It’s supposed to be quite a light-hearted thing. There are elements of poking fun at religion and politics in there.’
Anderson, a software programmer, will create intuitive technology to be utilised in concert with the Kinect motion-capture camera so familiar to fans of Microsoft’s Xbox console, and it is clear that this meeting of minds, both technical and imaginative, represents a seldom seen combination of creative endeavour.
Rowlandson captures the essential question at the heart of the project when she asks ‘What is a game and what is art?’ The boundaries between film and game are already ‘very porous', she adds. ‘I’m not saying we have the answers, necessarily. We’re just putting it out there, asking questions.’
Scoltock believes that the use of gaming in this context is somewhat overdue. 'Not many people have jumped on this bandwagon,’ she says. ‘In the 1970s and 80s, when video appeared, all the artists jumped on this video bandwagon.’ Yet, for Rowlandson, that tide may now be turning. ‘The CultureTECH Festival [in Derry in September annually] has a lot of the marrying of art and really creative uses of technology. It’s another tool in the artist’s repertoire, another paintbrush, another way of talking to people and communicating.’
In Scoltock’s view, the pedigree exists throughout the region to render this more than a mere experiment. ‘In the video world, what Belfast is doing is amazing. What Willie Doherty did, is still doing – and he’s been nominated twice for the Turner Prize – is all stuff that we have. We have a legacy of digital creativity. It’s something that should be expanded into the arts world more. It is there, but it’s just not as interactive as we would like.’
As much as Deprogramming is aimed at every generation, its nuts and bolts will be most recognisable to the youthful patrons. ‘It’s interesting to see how young people react. It’s automatic. This doesn’t seem strange to them at all that the screen should interact with them,’ says Rowlandson. ‘Kids play games,’ Scoltock points out, ‘without realising how much creativity there is in making them.’
Work displayed at Dublin’s Science Gallery in 2014 draws particular praise from both women for bridging the notional gap. ‘There were a lot of people doing interesting stuff using interactive technology,’ Rowlandson recalls. ‘They were using things at the forefront of digital technology. They wouldn’t necessarily classify it as art but a lot of it is, by any sort of objective standard, art.’
For those accepting such technology as a matter of course, the future’s economic pillars will look very different to those in Northern Ireland’s past. Asked about the future of innovation and the centrality of ideas in a knowledge economy that increasingly values the finished product over component labels, Rowlandson seems certain about the role occupied by creative industries.
‘We’re never going to make money as a country by mass producing things anymore. The bonus of digital things is that something can be made here and sold in China. For Northern Ireland to really stop the brain drain and create its own economy, things like film and digital media are so vital if we are to have any chance of competing globally.’
In the immediate future, however, and as far as Deprogramming is concerned, the objective is to put a dash of fun into a subject that can feel a little too serious at times. ‘The three of us really like the idea of taking the preciousness away from fine art. Obviously, we’re very interested and excited in fine art but we want to make things that are approachable,’ says Rowlandson.
The need to stay abreast of the zeitgeist is now essential in a world where an Xbox is capable of performing above and beyond its accepted function. ‘For art to keep being relevant, it has to move on. The possibilities are so exciting.’
By Matthew Coyle