Day 3, Stream 2


Andrew Donovan


Scott Brown: College of Fine Arts, University of NSW, Australia

Gail Kenning: FASS, University of Technology Sydney and COFA, University of NSW, Australia

Hanna Wirman: Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

Kristine Diekman: California State University, United States



Scott Brown  Facilitation and Freedom in Evolving Systems

Our love affair with personal screen-based technology – in particular the touchscreen – has been at the expense of much of the sensory engagement that emerged from early digital interaction. This infatuation with screen-based devices has installed a two-dimensional interaction metaphor as the de facto standard for engagement; something that is potentially worrisome for those with developmental disorders and disabilities.

Many of the applications marketed to those with sensory processing disorders simply emulate existing physical interventions on the latest iDevice; however it is the quiet rise of DIY technology that promises more expressive and engaging experiences. This is buoyed by increasing accessibility of platforms like the Arduino microcontroller, which have more in common with a history of immersion, kinetic art and early multimedia installations than touchscreen mobile devices.

In my research work with children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I look to a history of physical interactivity and immersion as highly relevant to those who have very specific sensory processing issues. By constructing evolving systems with a focus on facilitation and freedom (both of the designer and of the participant), the aim is to allow the unique expression of the child to emerge, directing their own engagement.

The self-determination to express agency and a sense of place is vital in giving children with an ASD a voice. To be given this freedom will require a disconnect from the screen interface, instead drawing everyday objects into a responsive tracking system that engages sensorily; creating fertile ground for exploring aesthetic choice in those without verbal language. This research discusses the feasibility of the designer resisting introducing their own aesthetic into an interaction, instead facilitating a dialogue between participant and system, and ultimately unpacks the paradox of programming freedom of expression.


Gail Kenning  Crafting Wellbeing: exploring how digital media can extend craft-based textiles and contribute to health and wellbeing

Many domestic craft-based textile activities, undertaken by large numbers of the population, have provided generations with physical and mental stimulation and outlets for creativity, contributing to a sense of identity and providing social interaction when undertaken in groups or when ideas, patterns or products are shared. Participants in craft activities, such as knitting, crochet and sewing, report that these are lifelong activities and an important part of their lives. However, domestic craft-based textile activities are often dismissed as involving low-levels of creativity, and research into what these craft-based textile activities contribute to physical and mental health and wellbeing is limited.

This paper will draw on an experimental art research project, using digital media technologies and practices, to examine the techniques and practices used in crochet lace. The project explores the creative potential of domestic craft-based textile activities, creates tools for creativity, and offers alternative possibilities for the future of craft-based textile activities using digital media. In addition, it will report on research investigating how craft-based textile activities contribute to health and wellbeing.

The implications of these projects are that digital media can potentially extend domestic craft-based activities and open up new sites of creative endeavour. In addition, the production of digital media software applications, and games based on craft-based textile forms and content, could potentially enable older craft-based textile practitioners to engage in these activities despite infirmity, or reduced dexterity, and contribute to ongoing wellbeing. Furthermore, the experimental art project and research aims to introduce digital media and new technologies to members of the population whose needs are under-represented in digital media developments, by building on familiar creative processes.


Hanna Wirman  Orangutan play on and beyond a touch screen

Non-humans in captivity require enrichment, which often takes the form of play. Over the course of past decades, various technologies have been brought to zoos around the world to support animals’ wellbeing. Meanwhile, researchers interested in animal intelligence and behaviour have used digital technologies and games as test instruments, particularly among primates. With a humanities-based art and design perspective, TOUCH project brings computer technologies to orangutans living in rescue centers and zoos in Indonesia in order to enrich their lives. Simultaneously, the hype around computer game play lends momentum to a cause of raising awareness around this endangered species and their disappearing natural environments in Indonesia. This paper introduces a project for designing digital games and playable objects for orangutans living in captivity. It explores who orangutans are as users of digital games, and how they approach digital enrichment and fit it into their everyday lives. Based on a touch interface approach, the research suggests a move towards smart objects and playgrounds that better engage orangutans’ natural behaviour. Instead of assuming species-specific gameplay and orangutans as a homogenous audience, a number of orangutan players are introduced. The paper addresses various playtesting sessions, and introduces orangutans as individuals who have varying interests regarding their technologies and games.


Kristine Diekman  The Connective Tissue of Physical Computing

This paper investigates the role of performativity in relational art that uses physical computing to deepen our understanding of the traumatic experience of others.

Using theories and philosophies of intersubjectivity and empathy, this paper seeks to understand how artworks that utilize physical computing create sensorial, kinesthetic and immersive interfaces for the public to ‘perform’ the work. We can enter into a sensuous continuum with the artwork, oscillating between the representation of another’s experience and reflection on our own experience, so as to reconstitute new subjectivities.

In representing the traumatic experience through physical computing, artists can constitute a relational home between the story represented and the audience, where stories of trauma, and their pain, can be held and narratively reworked. Performing the artwork through appropriate kinesthetic explorations, or mirrorings, gives the audience the reflexive experience of sensing oneself at close proximity to and within the artwork. This can move the audience through symbolic understanding to an integrated somatic/affective experience and, ultimately, empathy.

The constitutive context of these artworks creates an appreciative attunement that brings the audience closer to the story. Feminist art historian Amelia Jones coined the term ‘technophenemonology’ to describe ways that performing subjects (collaborators and audiences) are politicized and socialized in their embodied relationship through technology to self/other and self/world.

Artworks made with the tools of physical computing and placed in the temporal and spatial world of the audience afford the immersion of looking, listening, and moving through them. They create an “intertwining of the senses” (to borrow a phrase from Merleau-Ponty), and call the public to an awareness of their own embodiment and, by extension, the body of the other.