In 2020, DARIAH selected two streams of funding as part of the Theme funding call, ‘Arts Exchanges’ and ‘Arts, Humanities and COVID-19’. The call attracted a high number of well articulated and competitive applications, mainly addressing, perhaps not surprisingly, the topic of ‘Arts, Humanities and COVID-19’.
With an overall budget of 87.920 €, DARIAH funded nine projects for a year (December 2020 – December 2021). This series presents their results with a special focus on each of these projects.
An exploration towards an autonomous digital experience and aesthetics within a virtual live performance
Coordinators: Ine Vanoeveren, Kristof Timmerman (Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool Antwerpen, Belgium)
Over the past year, several digital, artistic initiatives developed at a fast pace. From recreating digital twins of expositions and festivals, over art installations in Mozilla Hubs to performances in Gather.town: artists crave for alternative formats to express their creativity; audiences are looking for ways to escape their new, daily routine in COVID times.
Most of these virtual initiatives have a clear common factor: they are almost exact virtual copies of their physical, analogue format.
The alternative artistic festival Burning Man 2020 in Nevada (USA) knew a complete virtual edition, uniting a broad range of international artists. And although it was one of the more successful virtual events we have visited, the nostalgia to the ‘real deal’ was still very apparent. Participants could visit the virtual festival area; graphics matched the real festival and performances happened over livestream in a standard YouTube setting.
On the other hand, several platforms for virtual art are being born. A very inspiring example is Area for Virtual Art. Within this platform there is a strong focus on digital and virtual art, supported by background music and a music corner with YouTube videos.
Research goal and outcome
The research groups Maxlab and CREATIE have spent the past year studying these virtual initiatives and setting up their own digital co-creation experiments within a virtual environment. An example of this are the different rooms in Mozilla Hubs, where a variety of parameters were investigated: live performance, co-creation, interdisciplinarity within a digital context, digital experience, and dynamic interaction.
Their goal was to research and modify existing, open-source digital art platforms, while artistically focusing on interdisciplinary content. Virtual creations will determine the foundation of a new hybrid, digital art form, consisting of virtual art, music, dance and spoken word, and will open a door for new possibilities regarding artistic creation, experience, and distribution.
As a result, contemporary (performing) art(s) will become accessible for an audience that normally is being excluded from a cultural and artistic experience, because of physical, geographic and/or economical disadvantages.
Thanks to the DARIAH Theme 2020-2021 funding, the team was able to hire researchers and professionals from different disciplines and backgrounds: ICT developers, a graphic design company, musicians, mocap specialists and digital artists.
The project’s main outcome was a hybrid performance of Empty Mind for flutes, live electronics and live visuals during the research festival ARTICULATE at the Wintertuin of the Royal Academy for Fine Arts Antwerpen on October 28th 2021.
Besides the live performance, the main focus of the project actually lied on the virtual experience online. The flutist performed the piece in a motion capture suit. The movements of the performer created the virtual surroundings in realtime, while the virtual audience interacted and influenced the scope of the performance.
After researching different open-source platforms for virtual live encounters, the team decided to further explore Mozilla Hubs as an accessible virtual platform for live performances
- Lockdown Lobby, with live event on January 26th, 2021
The Lockdown Lobby originated as an initiative to break the routine in daily livestreams. They brought an audience together in a virtual art space and let them experience new creations and compositions through their avatars.
Each lockdown composition was being presented in a customized setting in Mozilla Hubs. Over the span of a few weeks, the space developed into a virtual lounge for digital art: 3D- models, digital scans, photos, and GIFs to accompany the musical compositions. The team organised a live virtual creation of Trumpet Vine for alto flute by Jason Eckardt with 30 visitors – the limited number of avatars in Mozilla Hubs without losing any technical performance qualities.
- Inclusiv/Exclusiv on February 11th, 2021
An aspect that wasn’t covered in the Lockdown Lobby was that of a livestream.
With this project, people could experience live drawings and animations by students of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts on the outside walls of deSingel, in dialogue with a live performance by jazz students from the conservatoire. The entire event was dynamically streamed into the virtual Studio POC Lounge. The team cloned the room 4 times in order to receive up to 100 visitors at a time.
- Virtual Open Day with Empty Mind installation on March 6th, 2021
The team created a Virtual Academy, Virtual Conservatoire, a Fisherman’s Lobby and a Virtual Cube Room for the open day of the Schools of Arts, Antwerp. The rooms contained a complete display of all the current possibilities in Mozilla Hubs: low poly 3D objects, 360-video, GIF’s, PNG’s, sound files, videos, links to external websites, moving 3D objects, livestreams and pop-up live performances.
The Fisherman’s Lobby – the general meeting space for students, both current and prospective – was cloned 15 times in order to host up to 300 avatars at the same time, without technical performative losses.
The special Empty Mind installation invited avatars into a 360°-video, while being surrounded by the recording of ‘No I am not roaming aimlessly’ for flute solo by Anahita Abbasi, performed by Ine Vanoeveren. The music could only be heard inside the empty head of the main virtual statue.
The next step was the development of an alternative platform for live performances with a Rokoko motion capture suit, accessible on most laptops and electronic devices. The team was divided into four groups, each focusing on a specific part of the research and development process:
- performers & tools: examining data, gained from performance (movement and audio)
- data mining & transfer: technological support
- platform & interaction: development of the platform
- visuals & variable designs: avatars, surroundings and interactivity
The collaboration between the researchers from AP Hogeschool and the professional design team of Studio Plankton happened in a workshop format. Every month, the team spent an afternoon together, developing, brainstorming, creating and exchanging expertise.
By the end of the project, the research and development of the 4 teams melted together for the final performance of Empty Mind. Since the virtual premiere on October 28th, 2021, Empty Mind has been presented as a performance piece at conferences, opening concerts and the Dutch television.
Janna Beck: graphic design
Umut Eldem: live electronics
Wim Henderickx: composer, live electronics
Kris Meeusen: 3D-animations
Wes Nijssen: Rokoko mocap suit specialist
Kristof Overdulve: ICT support and platform development
Max Schweder: digital artist, platform development
Studio Plankton: 3D-animations
Kristof Timmerman: artistic direction, production
Ine Vanoeveren: performer, artistic direction
* DARIAH Theme is an annual thematic priority set by the Board of Directors of DARIAH-EU. The aim is to stimulate activities and events related to an important topic of research in the digitally enabled arts and humanities by issuing a call for funding.