Experiments in interactive digital installations
Encounters:Transforming Lives is a practice-based research project under the direction of Paul Heritage that aims to create a live and interactive exhibition illustrating and investigating how young people transform their worlds through the arts. Encounters provides access to digital technologies that enable young people to imagine new ways of looking at and playing back their lives to provoke new encounters with their own worlds. It has been created in collaboration with the prominent digital artist, Gary Stewart, and a series of groups of young people in Brazil and the UK. The first stages of the project were funded by research grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Beyond Text scheme, and the São Paulo phases by British Council Brazil as part of Transform.
We began this journey with a question: if we were to create a live and interactive installation illustrating and investigating how young people transform their world through art – what would it look, feel and sound like?
We have asked the same question of all the young people who have participated in the project so far from Brazil, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and the United Kingdom. Each individual was already making art that was in some way transformative.
Encounters:Transforming Lives encourages its participants to take risks, play with ideas and keep an open mind; it is an act of making and breaking connections and an insistence that the world is for young people to create. The project explores the relations between processes of creative activity and the transformations that are possible. It also aims to present research questions and ideas in a form that can be meaningful for a non-specialist audience, seeking to engage the general public in debate and extend understanding of the ways that art makes a difference in young people’s lives.
What does it do?
Workshops brought young people into contact with ideas and thinkers that consider social and personal transformation:
- Exploring new ways of communicating using digital tools to create sequences charged by aesthetic and political imperatives
- Stimulating shared authorship through mixing material created through various ‘encounters’
- Sampling, borrowing, exchanging, crossing, showing and sharing what they have discovered
- Placing young people in the central role as artist and author.
In each iteration, Paul Heritage has framed the project as an exploration of a theme that has resonance for the young artists in relation to their own community, of geography or of interest. Gary Stewart has started the workshops from the same set of instructions, taught the same skills and mentored the participants through the creative process as the young artists discovered, rather than were taught, how to make art work using digital technologies. And the participant-protagonists in each iteration have articulated their own world, through images and sound they have chosen and edited themselves.
The videos seen on the Actions pages of this website have also been ‘performed’ in public spaces including galleries and theatres, markets, empty shops, bars, nightclubs, schools, universities, public squares, parks, and projected on the walls of buildings. The installation’s potential for interactivity has been explored by video-jockey artists who have shared their platform with performance poets, musicians, lecturers and shadow puppeteers. Audiences too have been invited to make interventions, selecting images from the databanks collated by the young archivist-activist-artists.
The live, shared experience of art being made and re-made keeps the moment of meaning constantly active and present. The installation is made live at the point of its reception. The audiences are given the simplest means to interface with the images, discovering their own powers of control and command. Meanings are created by the artists through the ways they inter-react with the technologies, with each other and with the audience.
The project seeks to put its young protagonists into dialogue with academic and social policy experts. In 2011, for example, the renowned Brazilian social anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares explored the research questions posed by this project in a public seminar at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room to an audience including arts and policy representatives from across the UK, while young artist Plinio Pietro from Spectaculu provided a visual counterpoint.
We have looked to Brazil and its current transformations as a means of learning more about what we are doing in the UK: listening to the voices of academics, policy makers, artists, activists and young people themselves; creating new dynamics and relationships
between images, spaces, performers and participants; sharing stories that connect people using the power of art to communicate across the boundaries of geography, politics, gender and race.
The text of Luiz Eduardo Soares’ lecture is included in PPP’s 2011 publication, Encounters Beyond Text. The book also includes a series of reflections by people who make art happen in a range of backgrounds and contexts, but each with passion for the ways in which young artists transform their world.
The short documentary film of the Encounters:Transforming Lives project between 2010 and 2013 can be seen here.
Spectaculu, Rio de Janeiro
Fundição Progresso, Rio de Janeiro
Morro da Providência, Rio de Janeiro
Queen Mary, University of London, London
Salisbury International Festival, Salisbury
198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, London
The Lawnmowers Theatre Company, Newcastle
Bolha de Sabão, São Paulo
Ninho Sansacroma, São Paulo
Cooperifa, São Paulo
Teatro Oficina, São Paulo
St. Paul’s Way Trust School
Rich Mix Cultural Foundation
See the project’s blog and Facebook pages on the Social Media page of this website.