Dancing in the Streets: Play and Embodiment in Urban Interactive Installation Art

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In 2005, performance academics at the University of Leeds and commercial digital artists at KMA Creative Technologies Ltd came together with an idea to get the people of York (UK) dancing in the streets. The idea consisted of an interactive light installation that would encourage passers-by to ‘dance’, through physical interaction with digitised projections. The installation spanned art and game aesthetics, engaging shoppers, clubbers and partygoers in danced activities in the city streets.

"Dancing in the Streets" was a kinetic light sculpture, a piece of interactive urban scenography. Infrared cameras sensed heat from participants’ bodies, triggering digital images projected from above onto the pavement. Images included butterflies, footprints, abstract shapes, and a game of ‘football’ using balls of light. The project sought authentically interactive processes in both the design of the installation and the participants’ experiences of it. Notions of play and embodiment heavily influenced the ways in which we worked and the product that emerged. We were asking city inhabitants to engage with the interactive artwork in a location that was neither institutionally associated with art nor even specifically identified as housing an artwork. The lure of the dark yard with occasional circling lights brought the casual passer-by into the role of participant in the game-related context of ‘learning’ what it was and exploring how the ‘rules’ of engagement worked. As the participant discovered the rules, the aesthetic dimension became apparent through the interaction between physical movement and digital projection response.


Keywords: Dance, Scenography, Interactivity, Digital, Embodiment, Play
Stream: Media Arts Practices: Television, Multimedia, Digital, Online and Other New Media
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Sita Popat

Senior Lecturer in Dance, School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds
Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Sita Popat is Senior Lecturer in Dance in the School of Performance & Cultural Industries, University of Leeds. Her research interests centre on dance choreography and new technologies. She is currently working on the eDance project, with a team from four UK universities. This group is exploring Access Grid and e-Science technologies as platforms for dance performance and documentation. Recently completed projects include Projecting Performance, in collaboration with Scott Palmer and KMA Creative Technology Ltd. This project investigated relationships between performer, operator and digital ‘sprite’ (2006-8). The research directly informed the digital design for Lloyd Newson’s production for DV8 Physical Theatre, ‘To Be Straight With You’ (2008). Her research on the Emergent Objects project applied dance knowledge to the design of robotic limb movement, producing dancing robotic arm to be displayed in the London Science Museum (2007). Her book on online choreography is published by Routledge, titled ‘Invisible Connections: Dance, Choreography and Internet Communities’ (2006). She is Associate Editor of the ‘International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media’.

Scott Palmer

Lecturer in Scenography, School of Performance & Cultural Industries, University of Leeds
Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Scott Palmer is Lecturer in Scenography and Programme Manager for BA (Hons) Performance Design in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, UK. His research interests focus on scenography, lighting design and the interaction between technology and performance. He has recently completed the 'Projecting Performance' project, in collaboration with Sita Popat and KMA Creative Technology Ltd. Performance outcomes from this collaboration have also included the interactive kinetic light installation, 'Dancing in the Streets', (York 2005, Rome 2006) and an experimental production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' (2007). Scott has also been part of 'Emergent Objects - designing the technological interface through performance research'. This project forms part of the Designing for the 21st Century initiative and draws on performance knowledge to explore and articulate the emergent nature of the interface between technological object and human that is fundamental to the development of new design thinking and practices. Scott is the author of the Hodder and Stoughton 'Essential Guide to Stage Management, Lighting and Sound' and was co-editor of the Association of Lighting Designers’ Focus journal (2002-2006). He is currently writing 'A Lighting Reader' for the Palgrave Macmillan Theatre Practices series.

Ref: A09P0183