What is the StudioLab for Embodied Media?
The StudioLab for Embodied Media was founded in 2020 by Stephanie Owens, Dean of Arts, Design & Media at Arts University Plymouth, to gather a multidisciplinary team of artists, designers and researchers to collectively approach the integration of biological and computational systems in a more sustainable and ethical way.
As a research hub within the University, the StudioLab is organised through the development of projects that unite the disciplines of art, biology, digital design, network ecology, neuroscience, haptics and bioinformatics to better understand the relationship between sensory data, emotion and corporeality in the context of digital culture.
Speaking of the founding of the StudioLab, Stephanie said: “I saw an opportunity to build a bridge between the material aspects of creative practice and the digital or ephemeral aspects, which could have a very provocative relationship in the context of real-time, networked, data systems. My origins as an artist are in large scale painting before teaching myself how to code to make a living in NYC, which completely transformed what I did in my studio. I saw web-based platforms and interaction design as completely upending all of the art history I had learned, but also found affinities between the rule-based environment of coding and earlier art forms, especially related to perspectival drawing and optical realism."
Stephanie Owens introduces the work of Artist Fellows Keiken
“When I began teaching in Higher Education, it felt natural to bring emerging and new media to students as a pioneering form of contemporary art practice. Having taught and worked in interactive and network-based media in the context of fine art for 30 years, I see Arts University Plymouth as the ideal environment to build a centre of excellence where we can study how physical processes and materials might inform our experience of digital and networked media. This includes looking at the behaviour of materials in ways that can influence our behaviour in new, shared online environments.”
Through strategic reimagining and playful interrogation of the aesthetic boundary between knowing and being, the StudioLab aims to produce new research as well as capture the knowledge gained through projects developed with external partners and institutions in undergraduate students’ second and third years of study.
As a knowledge resource for research and learning, the StudioLab will provide case studies, technical blueprints, code templates and intellectual mentorship related to the development of prototypes and dissertations aligned with contemporary notions of embodied experience in the context of technology. It also facilitates relationships between students at different study levels or in different degree courses with shared interests and compatible practical skills, to work together on complex projects through cross-University collaborations.
Stephanie said: “My interest in embodied forms of knowledge production and relational art systems was amplified during the national lockdowns at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when our reliance on digital interactions led to what felt like the atrophy of some integral part of human experience. We kept in touch with each other through real-time video, but there was something fundamental missing, and it felt as if communicating through a screen was allowing only a portion of perceptual experience. As artists and designers, we are trained to create fixed visual representations, but through the StudioLab for Embodied Media I want to enable creative practitioners to explore more abstract aspects of human experience, especially kinesthetic aspects that are shared or inadvertently co-created through personal or networked interaction."
“There is enormous enthusiasm right now around artificial intelligence, augmented reality and immersive media, which is focused on how to transpose human behaviours into algorithms that can be quantified, bought or sold. But what is emerging in these new immersive and augmented spaces is that there is a big difference between building a digital media infrastructure and building a social infrastructure, particularly when thinking about who these new technologies are for and who has access to them. These are all areas of potential interest to Arts University Plymouth’s students, graduates and our research community. The StudioLab for Embodied Media is here to support the work of anyone who takes a view that, however exciting these new technologies are, true innovation in immersive media will always be grounded in the way we receive and transmit experiences somatically. This is where the unexpected still has a place in our imagination and in the cultural systems we build.
“Arts University Plymouth has a legacy of championing social equality and that means that we have to think critically about what it means to be in a body, and how our different bodies and minds receive experiences in different ways. We need to ensure that our research contributes to the international conversation about how to use emerging immersive technologies in ways that do not lose sight of the nuance and humanity that makes art, design and media relevant and critical.”
Artist Fellows Keiken collective at Arts University Plymouth (2022)
The StudioLab for Embodied Media exists alongside Arts University Plymouth’s range of undergraduate, postgraduate and Pre-Degree qualifications, offering bespoke support and mentoring to students and academics who choose to align their research interests, dissertations and creative projects to the concepts of immersive, embodied media. Future stages of development for the StudioLab include embedding its concepts more fully into the teaching curriculum, as well as fundraising to create an incubator space for immersive and augmented designs and service in the south west of England.
Stephanie said: "At a fundamental level I want to make sure, for example, that Arts University Plymouth students specialising in game design don’t fall into the trap of thinking that achieving a higher render quality will make their games more immersive. Immersion also means linking these digital technologies to physical artefacts, real-time phenomena and shared experiences."
Alumnus Jonathan Bardwell and BA (Hons) Fine Art student Britt Dechow testing the HoloLens at Grow Plymouth (2022)
“I relocated from the US to live in Plymouth because I saw the south west of England beginning to establish itself as a hub for research and innovation in immersive technologies and I want to be a part of that transformation. Since the StudioLab for Embodied Media was established at the end of 2020, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of how it can support students and contribute to our research.
“I look at the rich history of material study and practice at Arts University Plymouth and see endless possibilities for students specialising in physical fields such as craft and textiles to move into spaces developing new applications for wearable technologies, for things like smart textiles that respond to environmental or ecological changes. We can build on some of the emerging technologies in AR, biotechnology and bioinformatics across the world and find creative applications that haven’t been imagined yet, making embodied interfaces that use emerging technology for social good.”