Physicality and the digital

I attended an interesting event Engaging with Communities: arts – and performance-based collaborative training There were lots of interesting workshops including one on Participation, Digital Media and Performance facilitated by Jane Dudman and Ben Jones from Culture Lab The purpose of the workshop was to consider ‘ Does digital technology support, enhance or hinder participation’. P1330338

As a small group we worked with the space we were in to create ‘something’ with the range of items available to us – which included balls of wool, pegs, stickies, pens, cameras, mini recorders, our own cameras and laptops. Our groups included a mix of phd students, a sonic artist and textile artists. The space we were in was a modern circular chapel which was flooded with light. What was interesting to me was how the groups interacted with the materials available. We wandered about a bit – we didn’t know each other that well – and then started to engage with the materials – in particular the ball of red wool which we threw over the rafters and across the room – one idea was to try and create a teepee – but it was a bit more random than that.  Long strands of wool began to invade the space and the wool was wound round objects and people, a song was sung.

People played with the wool in their own space – some shared.  I tried to record a bit of the song but couldn’t get the technology to work. I recorded some images too.  One of the group captured the action in a photo collage. At points the group was silent – some of that i think was because we didn’t know what to say but i also think it was because of the nature of the space – a chapel flooded with the light – it was restful and at points peaceful.

Reflecting on the experience I think what I found most interesting was the relationships between the digital and physical objects and physical space. For me the wool acted as the connector – physically throwing threads across the space – made people engage with each other -look at each other and ‘play’.  I know some of the group felt awkward about working with the wool and almost creating an installation -but for me it was less about creating and more about being in the moment with those people for that short time. The digital tools available – took people into a slightly different space – ‘trying to make it work’ or on your own to create a collage with photos from the group.

I have been wondering about the relationship with the physical with the digitalP1330340– particularly when looking for ways to introduce people to technologies for the first time. Is the key to engaging them to create a known space full of familiar objects – magazines, knitting, football boots. musical instruments – and then show them  how these familiar objects are contained on the internet?  People feel their way  from that known material  to the pressing of buttons and links? Does our physical experience act as a bridge to the virtual? Is the physical connection more important to older people who have had little or no connection to the virtual realm? Connecting to that – are many of us so immersed in the digital that we could do with using the digital to focus on reconnecting with the physical to enhance our experiences? Just wondering.

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