A two-part tale on tools and the narratives that drive them from the Berlin University of the Arts
Maria Kyrou (InKüLe), Robert Schnüll (Medienhaus)
Presentation in the Artshare Conference + Festival – Intelligence, Technology, Art
29. Juni 2022
This talk presents the parallel work of 2 teams, two internal projects of the Berlin University of the Arts.
Our process follows two main tracks:
On the one hand, we provide an ecosystem of open-source tools for co-creation and collaboration. On the other hand, we make available cutting-edge tools to the University’s community, while reflecting on their impact and potential for contemporary arts education.
In this way, our common work covers a wide spectrum of digital tools:
From the core infrastructure, available to every student or class to innovative and experimental methodologies of artistic research.
My name is Maria Kyrou, and I am an architect engineer with a focus on transdisciplinary research and hybrid practices of knowledge. I represent here the team of InKüLe, where I am responsible for experimental media-didactics. Details on what this means will be explained further in this talk, but as a start, here is a small introduction to the InKüLe Project.
What is InKüLe?
The name is the acronym of ‘Innovationen für die künstlerische Lehre’ the German phrase for Innovations for artistic Education. It is a three-year, transdisciplinary project of the Berlin University of the Arts, supported by the foundation Stiftung Innovation in der Hochschullehre. Working across all the university faculties (Fine Arts, Design, Music and Performing Arts, and the various centres), the project supports and co-develops artistic research with innovative media techniques.
Far from a mere fascination with technology, InKüLe seeks to explore the potentials, limits, emergent experiences, and narratives, as well as alternative workflows and applications that these technologies may offer. Above all it promotes a critical reflection in their integration within artistic research. Working in the thematic clusters "Body / Movement", "Inter / Transdisciplinary Practice", "Music / Sound", "Form / Material / Interaction", "Art / Criticism / Media", the project was a double aim: On the one hand to establish innovative creative formats, while on the other hand to explore and implement hybrid forms and teaching scenarios in the context of a contemporary arts education.
Finding the questions
When I first joined the InKüLe team I remember reading the project description and being completely fascinated by this text. The way it defined and captured delicate qualities of the Arts and what needs to be safeguarded in the transitions between analogue and digital realm. But what happens in praxis, how do you make those innovative formats happen. When we were actually in the field, we realized that we first need to find our questions.
And this begins by asking. After discussions with a first team of professors from all the different faculties that we collaborate with a selection of innovative equipment was defined and it was made available to them for the duration of one semester. The goal was for them to have a first practical experience with the equipment in the actual process of teaching. At the end of this period, we initiated a round of interviews with them where we got their input on this experience and feedback.
- How do you create proximity despite distance in the digital realm?
- How do you convey sculptural and performative works digitally?
- What sensory experiences are possible through the digital tool?
- How will artistic teaching and the teaching profession change in the future?
- What role does sustainability play in applied teaching scenarios?
Ecosystem / Strategy
As we proceeded further, our aim was to take what has been so far a point of doubt or question and to transform it for them into an area of creative possibility. But as a first step in this direction, we had to solve a problem. We had to find a way to combine a variety of different creative formats with, what would be at the end, a specific selection of equipment. To achieve this, we are based on the overall idea of an ‘ecosystem’, consciously developing the creative and the technical frameworks in parallel. This fused approach applies both to the way that we address the Professors and in the way that we worked internally as a team.
On the one hand, this is an ecosystem of creative formats.
We understand this as a conceptual creative framework,
which is inspired by and directly responds to our initial discussions,
It consists of the following areas:
- Perceiving visually (to interact with others, communicate or create)
- The ability to perceive in parallel both one’s physical /social surrounding & a digital scene.
- Perceiving corporeally and haptically
- The ability to capture whole body movement.
- The ability to capture detailed hand gesture.
- The ability to transmit haptic information.
- Transforming - transcribing - blurring the limit between the analogue & the digital realm.
- The ability to take the analogue space into the digital realm.
- The ability to bring digital artworks back into the physical realm.
- On the other hand, this is an ecosystem of devices…
Through the exchange with our different collaboration partners we came to the idea of a Mixed-Reality Toolkit. This consists of a system of diverse components, which remain however compatible to one another and can be used to facilitate research in all the different departments of the university, based on the creative framework that was defined before.
A core aspect here is that the devices don't belong exclusively to one faculty or department, but they are allowed to travel, with the Inküle team operating as a catalyst and a social hub of sorts between a network of diverse creative actors. Making devices available and literally mobile was a crucial aspect for us. Therefore, the toolkit was from scratch conceived in a form that can travel through flight cases in the different physical locations of the university which spread through the city.
In terms of sustainability, a part of the Toolkit's devices is self-sufficient and can operate for longer periods of time without access to internet, a computer or external power supply. In the future, a selection of the toolkit’s components will be able to operate using exclusively solar energy. In this way we can also experiment with hybrid teaching formats, exploring for example teaching in outdoor spaces.
In its actual components, the toolkit brings together different VR and mixed reality headsets devices that can 3-dimentionally capture and digitize physical spaces through different technologies, such as the LiDAR function of an Ipad or the detailed scanning ability of a handheld medical scanner. Seeking to make the body a conscious part of the creative research that we support, we have included a haptic vest and full-body tracking devices.
On the practical level, we provide software licenses and gaming laptops with the processing power that some of these devices and creative workflows demand. Always keeping the idea of digital detox in mind, we have a small fleet of e-ink tablets, which are easy to use even under direct sunlight and allow for example sessions of digital-sketching in nature.
During the conception of the toolkit, we had diverse scenarios and concrete applications in mind. These include planned teaching seminars, taking place during the ongoing summer and the upcoming winter semester, with themes like body-scanning in fashion and design, VR Theatre and digitally mediated choreographic research.
In parallel we support different event and exhibition formats held within the university context. There we assist the different teams in the development of hybrid set-ups to facilitate for example collaboration events that take place simultaneously in multiple locations. I should also mention that not only professors, but also students can use the toolkit directly if they apply for this with a specific project or concept. A dedicated lending system has been applied for this purpose.
Always seeking to expand our understanding of what this toolkit can do, we also experiment with scenarios that are initiated directly by our own team. Here is an example that focused on transcriptions between the analogue and the digital realm.
Flâneur VR: collectively re-assembled urban terrain
Step 1: Model an urban scape (in the scale of your choice).
In the modelling / 3D sculpting software of each student's preference, design of an abstract Urban terrain - a city scape. This consists of 'found' geometric models (assets), simple geometric solids and digitized urban artefacts. The students are encouraged to think in different scales in this first phase, changing intuitively between micro and macro perceptions of the urban. The different terrains made by the students are then merged, either in one common scene or on in a series of scenes, within the environment of a game engine.
Step 2: Scan your urban memorabilia.
The latter are objects or small material assemblies (natural and/or artificial) encountered during the urban walks and digitized through photogrammetry. Selected artefacts are also collected, brought back to the Studio and are reassembled into physical sculptures. These sculptures are then scanned through the 3Dscanner & they also become part of the digital assets/ urban terrain of step 1. In parallel, students capture audio extracts during their roaming in their city. These form a collective, urban sound journal which will further feature in step 3.
Step 3: Finishing touches in form + adding sound
At the end of the steps 1 + 2, the students work on a collective terrain, which includes both digital and digitized artefacts. Finishing modelling touches are added by each student, with the creative direction to blur or explore the limit between the digital and the digitized. Meanwhile, the different audio notes, which were sourced through the audio walks, are digitally expanded and mixed. From this editing process a soundscape emerges, which is modelled on the form of the digital terrain. The final version of the terrain + soundscape is entered in a game-engine environment (Unity3D / or Unreal 5) and exported as a VR application.
Step 4: Enter your created Landscape and take others with you.
The resulting VR application is presented in a hybrid exhibition, which has 2 forms:
Form A - Digital:
Visitors experience the Urban Terrain through VR glasses. These are made available in central spaces / foyers of UdK, inviting the passers-by to take a step out of their route and to ‘stroll’ in another digital realm for a while.
Form B - Hybrid:
In an inner garden of the University campus an exhibition is arranged, featuring the physical sculptures of step 2. These become then the base of an Augmented reality application. Using the artefacts as anchor points, the visitors navigate and explore the exhibition using either the HoloLens glasses or the iPads of the InKüLe Toolkit. Headphones and our Bluetooth speakers are used in the physical exhibition to facilitate a diverse perception of sound and to further blur the limit between the analogue and the digital realm.
In conclusion, with this presentation we wanted to explore a bit behind the scenes of the digital glitter.
We chose to focus less on fascinating images and to offer you a glimpse on the recipe behind it, the narratives and intentions that drive it. In a broader frame, we wanted to highlight the impact of an Art University’s digital Infrastructure and the potential that digital methodologies have to offer in the context of artistic research. We also sought to provide insight into some identified problems of the status quo, and to show how the work of the two teams not only responds to these problems, but also develops beyond them.
In parallel the two groups focus on different areas of the same overall spectrum of digital tools and processes. This is our common ground, where we seek to define what exists before and behind digital infrastructure: conceptual building blocks aimed to facilitate social negotiation and creative exchange. And these are not only inspired by, but also emerge directly from within the environment of art & design universities.
So that was it, we thank you so much for your attention!
And of course, now is the time to return this narrative back to you.
How do you reflect on the digital tools that you are using?
If you work within an arts or education context, what is the digital infrastructure that you need?