#1195: Exploring Non-Normative Avatars with Disabled Dancers in “Figural Bodies” Research Project

Figural Bodies is a research project out of Goldsmiths college that uses motion captured dance with disabled, non-disabled, and neurodivergent dancers in order to explore non-normative avatar representations as well as the accessibility challenges for immersive technologies. Their installation at SXSW included a dance performance where audience members could hear an experimental audio sound track while watching Kat Hawkins dance in physical reality while seeing them puppeteer a range of abstract, flowing, and non-humanoid avatar representations in collaboration with another dancer sharing this virtual space, but performing remotely in London.

There was also a VR component of his experience that allowed you a closer look at the recordings of these non-normative avatar representations being puppeteered while you listened to an autoethnographic audio essay exploring themes of embodiment, challenges with accessibility, and centering disabled bodies into the experiential design process.

The authors of this piece granted permission for me to air this autoethnographic essay at the beginning of interview with Clarice Hilton, who is a creative technologist and researcher and co-director of Figural Bodies as well as with Kat Hawkins, who is an artist working with dance and film, and is doing their Ph.D. research with Candoco dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers. We explore the multi-faceted themes of embodiment, dance, accessibility, and some of the resonant connections between non-normative VR avatars and non-binary gender identity.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So continuing on my 24-episode series of looking at the different experiences at South by Southwest, today's episode is about a research project called Figural Bodies. Last year at South by Southwest, they started to bring in some of these more prototype demos, and this was more of a research project, but it had some explorations of non-normative representations of embodiment and identity and dance in the context of virtual reality. And so I'm going to read this description of Figural Bodies. Figural Bodies was created with Kondoko Dance. It's an active research towards deconstructing mocap data from its enforced normative algorithm celebrating subversion and difference and immersive representation of bodies. Disabled dancers in Austin and London connected by Goldsmith's mocap streamer seek to share embodied communication through virtual interaction. The dancers communicate through a co-created movement vocabulary using motion data and machine learning to push the boundaries of how bodies can be represented in the metaverse. So you would watch a dance performance and then you would have a VR experience that had this essay that I'm going to play here in a bit that also you're watching and have this immersive experience being put into this world with all these abstract representations that were being puppeteered by these dancers. And so I'm going to play this auto ethnographic essay that has some of the testimony from these creators and researchers talking about their embodied experiences of representation and dance in the context of virtual reality. So I'm going to play this eight minute clip and then we'll dive into the interview.

[00:01:52.570] Clarice Hilton: Figural bodies was born out of research to center disability in the design of immersive experiences with the endless possibilities of bodily representation. Why is it that we are still replicating ableist ideas, normative forms, and not exploring our representation beyond?

[00:02:14.383] Kat Hawkins: I often find myself frustrated with my physical form. I'm overly familiar with the question, who am I? Have been asking it of myself in spirals for as long as I can remember. And being perceived, oh, that's something that I think about too much. When you have a body that is consistently stared at, you can't ever get away from the process of objectification. People walking by and craning their necks round as you pass. People approaching, you see them coming early when you're used to it. To ask such questions as what happened to you? What's wrong with your legs? Or to offer what they think is encouragement. You're amazing. I don't know how you do it. And that's before we even get to doctors. The ones you would think would have the skills to not make you feel like a medical specimen.

[00:03:05.192] Susanna Dye: As a neurodivergent dance artist, my experience of disability has been in relation to the culture of virtuosity in dance and the process of learning dance technique, barriers that arise in the understanding, memorising and reproducing of complex movement sequences and patterns. I have sought out and developed ways of working with dance that focus on attuning to how movement feels from the inside, rather than what it looks like from the outside. The rigour of these practices comes from a curiosity about the shifting landscape of my physical perception, working from sensations, inner rhythms, desires and impulses. shifting the hierarchy of senses away from the visual.

[00:04:01.553] Clarice Hilton: We set out exploring the technological possibilities with the understanding and acknowledgement that these technologies were inaccessible by design. Embarking on a collective navigation, reflecting on the emotional and felt experience of the technology not fitting your body. In parallel, we were searching for pleasure. Despite the limitations, could we find joy in our digital representation?

[00:04:32.822] Kat Hawkins: We found ourselves experimenting, trying things out, and processing together, through movement, through speech, and through the technologies. Each one had whole universes to uncover, and each one expanded my thinking of who I am, testing the edges of it.

[00:04:52.512] Susanna Dye: When wearing the suit and experiencing the double of my avatar, I encountered the body as a visual, outside of my felt experience, and this in turn transforms how it feels to be in my body and my ability to move freely or in a way that is attuned

[00:05:14.062] Kat Hawkins: The motion capture suits have felt at times like a recalling of trauma. My heart has beat quickly and prominently while trying and failing to hold positions I'm not designed for. The calibration process is a reminder that I don't calibrate along these normative lines of thinking and modeling. A broken foot can make my phantom pain spark fire around my body. A collapsing form can rekindle memories of collapsing for real in rehab centres, and the slow and painful process of feeling broken in dance studios, comparing my body to those whose bodies are never seen as being broken in the ways mine is. It's a process that captures medicalization and with it eugenics. It can ask questions of the impact of categorizing humanness and the prolonged effect of maintaining a view of the human body as a singular form, head, torso, two arms, two legs, standing upright and able to perform the tasks society demands of it.

[00:06:12.833] Susanna Dye: Each time I tried a new brushstroke, I would delete it. Because being dyspraxic is not a fixed set of symptoms that I experience all the time. There isn't a rigid binary for what I am or am not able to do. My experience is constantly shifting in relation to my environment, structures and situations I encounter. My experience is in this way not related to not knowing.

[00:06:42.138] Kat Hawkins: I gave birth to a form in Tilt Brush that came more closely to self-portraiture than any photo I've ever captured. And it is closer to stars than it is to skin. Closer to a disco floor than to the people dancing on it. Closer to gender affirmation than any amount of shaved hair, skate shoes and caps have ever given me. And it breathed a life and energy into me that I've wanted to experience in every setting I've been in since my body lost the legs that carried it for so many years. I now move through the world knowing that I have this form inside of me, knowing that when people perceive me they might in ways also see these aspects of who I am, and knowing that even if they miss it, that how I perceive myself is ultimately a wholeness I can offer myself.

[00:07:27.650] Susanna Dye: Our avatars were not fixed or complete, but fluid and changing. And for me, this is an important aspect of how I relate to my body and experience of the world as a neurodivergent person. The things I am and are not able to do are not fixed. And in fact, as our avatars transform, this replicates for me the surprising and sometimes infuriating experience of living with my learning differences, that my knowledge of the world and how things work feels slippery.

[00:08:05.461] Kat Hawkins: We're building here a world that can encompass some of our experiences and forms that can speak to who we are and who we want to be, both concrete and liquid and gas all at once. What we are researching still is creating entities that move outside of ourselves, more like energy than flesh and more like autonomy than the constrictions my body presents me with daily. And the world too, the environment, is a chance for us to show, in ways, what inaccessibility looks like, how rigidity and built landscapes prevent us from accessing spaces, and how we can build something different, something freer and more liberatory. The chance for those of us who feel excluded and small in so much of our lives can expand and grow and create if we're given the opportunity.

[00:08:56.149] Susanna Dye: We made these choices from noticing what felt good, what enabled us to play, and what dismantled or deconstructed the stickman or mannequin experience of wearing mocap, which feels like it places a rigid frame over the body and restricts our freedom or flow of movement. We welcomed unpredictability in the avatar forms and functions, bodies that had motion which undulated out of our control, giving us permission to be slow, to falter, and to let go.

[00:09:36.308] Kat Hawkins: Like any meaningful research process, I now have more questions than answers. What happens if we push this further? What happens if I leave my leg, sensors still attached on one side of the room? What happens when we go inside the form of others? How do we find connection in isolated moments? How can we implement, construct and design more accessible worlds? How can we offer more disabled people the chance to see themselves away from the narratives handed to us? How can I continue to embody gas and stars when trauma pulls me so deeply into heartbeats and panic breaths?

[00:10:17.700] Kent Bye: So that clip was featuring Clarice Hilton, who's one of the co-directors with Neil Kogelin, and then the dance choreographers of Kat Hawkins and Susannah Dye. And so those are the voices that you're hearing. And so in this conversation that I had at South by Southwest, I had a chance to talk to both Clarice Hilton and Kat Hawkins about their experiences in creating this. And so we'll be able to do a little bit more of a deeper dive into what they were doing there at South by Southwest and some of the different questions that they were asking in the context of their research project and this project of figural bodies. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wizards of Yarr podcast. So this interview with Clarice and Kat happened on Tuesday, March 14th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:11:02.339] Clarice Hilton: Hi, my name is Clarice Hilton. I am a creative technologist and a researcher, and I'm here with figural bodies, which has been part of my PhD research.

[00:11:13.735] Kat Hawkins: Hi, I'm Kat Hawkins, and I am an artist primarily working with dance and film. And I'm a PhD researcher with a partner that are Kanduko Dance Company, a company of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

[00:11:30.887] Kent Bye: Awesome. Maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing the work that you're doing.

[00:11:36.903] Clarice Hilton: So I have been working with immersive technology for about five years now I think and I was actually sharing this with Kat recently. The reason why I got really interested in VR and in full body embodiment is because I'm neurodivergent and one of the things that I find with that is like struggle to have a full sense of my body and I use movement to get that sense of my body all the time otherwise sometimes I can feel quite panicky and feel very disconnected from reality and when I first did full body embodiment in VR I found that I got this really full sense of my body in a way that I really struggled to find in my experience of daily life. Something about being able to see my body in the virtual world just gave it this really full sense of the extremities of it. And that was really what kind of inspired me to start working in immersive technology. I was really interested in how that sensation was created.

[00:12:38.838] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, for me, my ways into this project are multifaceted. So as a dance artist, I grew up dancing as a non-disabled person. I had my legs amputated at 19 and I took a big break from formalized dance spaces. I became a journalist and part of that work I worked for a program called BBC Click, which is a technology program, so I got a lot of insight into different technologies through that work. And then following that, I made my way back into dance as an amputee, as somebody that uses a variety of assistive devices, prosthetic legs, wheelchair, crutches, none of the above. And I joined Clarisse on this project about a year ago, which is quite wild to think about. And we began exploring various different technologies. and thinking about what questions we wanted to ask, what provocations we wanted to bring, how we can challenge the normative standards that tech so often finds itself aligning with, and using dance as a way to ask questions about who we are. as human beings and how we wish to feel ourselves within movement and within visuals and also how we wish to be perceived by others.

[00:14:10.271] Kent Bye: Yeah, so this piece that you're showing here, Figural Bodies at South by Southwest, you have a number of different components. You have just the performance that you have where you're dancing, there's someone that's in another location. So I'm seeing you dance, but I'm seeing a projected screen of a different embodiment of what you are controlling through your avatar representation. And then there is an audio component of the music with the silent disco headphones watching the performance. And then there's a VR component that is your statements as to some of the different provocations and questions that you're asking and exploring all these different dimensions of embodiment and dance and virtual reality. and the processional nature of identity, how it's unfolding and changing and evolving. And then you have just the audio version that you can listen to, which then I wanted to listen to just that person because I felt like there was so much information that was happening and there was so much really interesting visual stuff that I found myself like hard to like digest all of it. And I was getting the visuals but then I just wanted to listen to the audio again because it was like a lot of really deep insights about what you're working on. So maybe we could take a step back of that context and say what was your PhD questions and provocations and what is the PhD in and then what is the questions you're asking and then how did it lead to this project?

[00:15:19.853] Clarice Hilton: Yeah so yeah I mentioned kind of I suppose the joy that I could find in technology but the more I worked with immersive technology the more I realized how inaccessible it was from the ground up, the hardware, the software, who it was designed for, it was very specific and who was represented. Avatars are always like thin for two arms, two legs, and a very normative structure. And so I was really interested in thinking about with a technology where there's so much possibility and representation in how you interact with it. There's so many different sensory elements that you can utilize. Why is it that we're not centering disability in that design process? And why aren't we being artistic with how we involve accessibility in the many ways that accessibility is brought in to most projects and so my big questions with my PhD was what might a design process that centres disability look like and what do you need in that process and what I hope the output would be is an idea of how that might work and then this piece was developed through that process as Kat was talking about. We started with exploring lots of different technologies, we looked at VR, we looked at Tilt Brush and looking at self-representation and kind of expressing ourselves with Tilt Brush as just like one of the oldest VR tools but also such a good way of introduction to virtual reality and then also looking at motion capture and quite quickly we kind of settled on self-representation was a really important part of it especially because you're often forced into a certain representation when you go into virtual worlds.

[00:17:08.889] Kent Bye: What was the question? Oh yeah, just your PhD thesis, your questions you're asking and how it led to this work.

[00:17:15.494] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, I get so much from all of the components that you have witnessed and seen and felt and heard. And also the conversations that we have. So just listening to Clarice talk then, that's why I forgot the question. because yeah, it's an affirming piece. It consistently affirms for me the values that I wish to work with and continue working with. So my PhD is specifically looking at the role of an understudy in inclusive slash physically integrated dance. I am working a lot with ethnographic and autoethnographic research, witnessing disabled and non-disabled performers and artists in spaces and outside of dance studios as well, approaching it all through a disability justice lens and really trying to ask questions of accessibility within dance and how disabled people's knowledge and experience can ask questions of all of us whose responsibility is accessibility. It cannot just be disabled people continually advocating to non-disabled people begging for basic access and I think I think a lot about how we do that, what are the most effective tools to encourage people to think about accessibility and to think about inclusion and think about the ramifications of exclusion. And so I think that that's a very nuanced and deep question that we can all hold as human beings and I think a lot of it is education. Where is accessibility in all areas of learning? How comfortable can we be with re-approaching learning and thinking that we may have been doing things wrong? So there's a moral component, I think, which can be a challenge. for people to hear and think about, especially if it's not their reality. And I think a project like this aligns with my own research in a number of ways that may be obvious and I can unpick a little bit more. And I hope that that is one of the takeaways, is that let's please now carry this forward and not approach the work as a single entity, inspiration, porn type, transitory experience, but hopefully something that resonates beyond that time.

[00:20:13.131] Kent Bye: Yeah, you mentioned the word autoethnographic. And as I listened to the piece, it was described to me that there is autoethnography. I guess I'm coming from the realm of oral history and phenomenology. And so maybe you could describe what that process of autoethnography is. My take of it is that you're talking about your own experiences of certain things. But I've never heard the term before, so maybe you could elaborate on what that means and how that's used in this piece specifically.

[00:20:37.865] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, I use autoethnography a lot in my research. I really believe in the power of lived experience and of individual people's lived experiences and positionalities. I think it can offer us extremely important qualitative data. I use other people's experiences in my own research as a way to gather language and gather information and data points, moments of repetition. One thing that's coming up a lot in my own research is the idea of there never being enough time. that's come up so many times that now it's a repetition that I know has a place of digging deeper into. What does that mean? What is a capitalist construction of time? How do disabled people not fit within that? How can we begin to centre the concept of Crip Time? Crip being reclamation language used by physically disabled people from the word cripple. How can we use that within artistic processes? How can we begin to think less urgently? How can we send to care all of these? anti-capitalist ways of thinking and modeling I get through ethnographic research and within this piece we had a workshop where we decided that we wanted to work with a writing task and I think it's an effective way of contextualizing emotionality within the work. I think spoken word and written language still does hold a huge primacy in our cultures, which again is why dance is such an interesting provocation. To have the two alongside each other to maybe ask questions of which one is given more weight. Yeah, more questions than answers at this stage.

[00:22:47.301] Kent Bye: Yeah, just listening to that introductory piece of having the music and the timing and is as unfolding and yeah maybe you could speak from your perspective if that's also part of your process of that auto ethnography and your research or if you have other approaches that you're taking.

[00:23:02.154] Clarice Hilton: Yeah, we consciously, when we were editing the footage for the voiceover that you hear, the autobiography, I actually had written some, which hasn't been included just because of the length of the piece, and I really wanted Susannah, who is the other dancer who we've been collaborating with, and Kat's voices to be heard, and it felt really important in the virtual reality version, where it's not necessarily so clear who the dancers are, or what their experience is, or it might even be able to be seen from a normative lens, especially because the suit does force the body into a normative structure. It felt really important that there was that audio of the felt experience, of the lived experience, of the research, to be able to contextualise what people were seeing on the screen.

[00:23:55.384] Kent Bye: And as we're talking about PhDs and dance, which is very much an embodied practice, but you also have these other outputs of both the VR project and the visualizations and the embodiment and pushing the lens of more abstract, unfolding, dynamic avatars. And then you have the motion capture and the embodiment aspect of actually puppeteering and embodying those avatars. And then the audio part. So as you're putting together this piece, where do you begin? Or maybe you could talk about Did you begin in the motion capture, or did you begin in the experience of what's it mean to embody these different characters, and then eventually do the audio? But yeah, maybe you could just lay out the process of this project and how you produced it.

[00:24:35.941] Clarice Hilton: So yeah, we started last summer, so almost a year ago. And the whole process started just through experimenting with the technology, trying to navigate it together, recognizing that it was going to be inaccessible and at the beginning really taking the time to reflect on what that experience was like and centering care and centering the felt experience of that. I suppose that was a lot of autoethnographic work of really reflecting and talking together. about how it felt and then the piece kind of developed out of that process through the desire to want to represent the body in a non-normative way, wanting to find joy in the representation and in moving with the virtual avatars or puppeteering the virtual avatars and we started by kind of thinking about really big ideas of how we'd want to control things in the virtual world. This project has been incredibly collaborative. We've got Neil who does the 3D models and Ash who's done the sound and together we've all collectively been inputting into each part of it. We've had workshops working specifically on what the visuals would be like, exactly what the interaction is going to be like, and then also thinking about sound from that perspective as well. So the sound has been written by Ash but is also generated and interacted by the dance as well. So it's been a fully collaborative process and I definitely think It's definitely not at the end stages, it's kind of definitely still current research and being developed as we go along. There's so much that we've learned from this experience that we're having at South By that will definitely influence how it changes as well.

[00:26:25.630] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, I've learned so much being here performing in this like big hotel conference room with a carpet and lights that I've looked at that are like blue and purple and I feel like I know them quite intimately from lying on the floor in here in a small location with an intimate audience and people passing by. It's really been a chance to connect with the work in a different way and I'm finding different movement qualities each time I do it, which is really beautiful. I really feel like I know the avatars so much more now than I did at the beginning of South By. Embodiment's been a fascinating experience in this research. I think I expected to try the different technologies and get to know them and then move in them. And actually I encountered very early on this process of putting the technologies on, picking them up, felt like a performance straight away. And so I became really interested in what that represents, putting the motion capture suit on and how closely aligned that felt to the experience of putting my prosthetics on. I remember Susanna saying something about how constricting they found being in the suit for their movement and the way that they are used to moving. And I feel like I have that because I have a body that uses technology so much anyway and has different materialities away from skin. It's felt like a replication. in certain ways and also there were moments where I was holding the hand controllers in tilt brush and painting this representation of myself and I just became super aware of the movement and like as I'm talking I'm like demonstrating what that was like my right hand is like swirling around in a circle and I'm remembering like the glitter that was coming from my right hand and it's really made me think a lot about what dance is and the idea that we are always choreographing our bodies in space. and we are either conscious of that or unconscious of it but it's happening whether we are calling it dance or not we're making choices about our body all the time and it's also really helped me to see dance as visual representation and see dance as sound and it's really joined together and made very slippery the boundaries between music and dance and painting, which is so glorious. That's embodiment for me, is I can move my body and feel that I am producing something colourful.

[00:29:38.292] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I know that Mel Slater has this concept of the virtual body ownership illusion, which is usually invoked in VR when you're in VR and you see your hand moving and you have this correspondence that, you know, it's originating from like the rubber hand illusion, but in VR, you have this kind of mirroring effect that you see your body move and there's this correspondence and you really identify with that avatar. And in this case, you're in physical reality, but you're looking at a 2D projection of this abstract virtual body, but there's still some degree of identification, I imagine, as you're starting to move around and see yourself mirroring. I'm sure sometimes it's more explicit as you see that mirroring and other times it gets really abstract and maybe difficult to know exactly what your agency is with that correlation between the two. But I'd love to hear you elaborate a little bit on that experience of that virtualized embodiment and as you identify with these abstract bodies, how that is changing the way that you either identify or move your body.

[00:30:31.448] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, it's funny. I feel the more abstract it gets, the closer it is actually to being me. I align less to the more human or recognisable that representation is, which is possibly why I am mad with a capital M. And Neil has done a very, very effective job of placing the senses I mean, Clarice can talk much more technologically about this, but each sensor controls different parts of each avatar. And so I feel, actually, a lot of agency in the abstractedness. And I actually find it more representative of what I feel within dance. And I think that's one of the hard things about dance is communicating the feeling of it. You're making movements and people are seeing them. And of course, you can never understand what an audience member receives from that. But the extension of it beyond the body, a spilling out of energy into the space, feels more closely aligned to an abstracted avatar to me than it does to the constrained form of skin being the ending. I mean, I have flesh vessel tattooed on my chest. So there's a whole question I have of challenging where the boundaries of the human form are.

[00:32:06.355] Kent Bye: Maybe you could elaborate a little bit more of what you've done so far and what you've seen and how that ties back into your dissertation that you've finished or this ongoing process of you're still either writing or completing your dissertation and what you're seeing here and what other insights that you're either finishing up or have already completed.

[00:32:22.725] Clarice Hilton: Yes, it's definitely not finished. I definitely need to write more and I'm excited to take the time to reflect and think about the writing. I think it's a really interesting question about the embodiment because the design process of creating these avatars has been so iterative and has been so designed around the feelings of what Kat and Susanna wanted to be able to control and how they so intertwined with how they move and how they want to move and what they wanted to control and what they wanted to be represented as. I don't know what it would be like for another person to embody those forms because the process, I suppose, has been part of that embodiment as well because they're such an extension of what they wanted to be represented as. Yeah, now I will be taking a lot of time to reflect on what this process has been like. I suppose my PhD is much more around looking at exactly how we've done the design and how successful that is and the reflection rather than necessarily what the output of the artistic output and I really care about the artistic output and for me that's super important but what I'll be writing on will be much more around what the process of centering disability is and how might that be able to be intertwined into how we create immersive technology.

[00:33:48.615] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as you were talking about your experience of the abstractness and wondering if you could maybe elaborate on identity and what your preferred pronouns are and if identity is connected to this fluid spectrum of your experience of dance.

[00:34:02.910] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, absolutely. The pronouns I use are they, them. It's the closest pronouns I've found to conjuring multiplicity and possibilities and challenge. I challenge binary thinking in as many aspects of my life as I can and hope to continue to do so. There has definitely been an overlap of impairment, gender, sexuality within this piece. For me, it's felt gender expansive as much as it's felt bodily expansive. It's made me think a lot about Yeah, what is it to paint yourself away from any preconceived ideas that I might have about the way that I'm coming across? reminds me a little bit of like a question that I asked myself during lockdowns, which was like, really, who are you when nobody can see you? I actually felt less disabled during lockdown, because of the removal of the perception of others. And this does play into the social model of disability, which is the idea that We are not disabled inherently, we are disabled by society. So we have impairments and if we can access all spaces, then we are no longer disabled. We are a human being able to access what everybody else can access. And so society actually creates the concept of disablement.

[00:35:53.308] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, I know. Thanks for elaborating on that. I could sense that there could be some other connections there that we hadn't talked about. And yeah, as we start to wrap up, I'm curious what each of you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality dance and embodiment, and what it might be able to enable.

[00:36:14.393] Clarice Hilton: Yeah, I suppose one of the reasons for being here and one of the reasons for making the work is that I really want people to question how what they're making is accessible from the ground up to the hardware they're using to who it's being shown to. It's wonderful to be at places like South by Southwest but there's such a small amount of people who are able to access these kinds of events. and really question why they haven't been looking at it in their work. I suppose, yeah, rather than... That's the potential, I think, is that immersive technology has all these tools and is in its infancy, but the disability-centred design and the disability voice is so missing in it at the moment. and if it is involved it is often looking at it from a perspective of like identity tourism or kind of techno-solutionism where you're trying to kind of solve an issue rather than actually just trying to make the technology itself or make the experiences accessible and doing it in an artistic way.

[00:37:18.760] Kat Hawkins: Yeah, it's a huge question, isn't it? My mind fires off into many different places and I agree with everything that Clarice has said. I guess my hope is My hope generally that disabled people are just everywhere all of the time and that there's nothing about us without us where pay disabled people to like share their knowledge and experience so that we can all connect more as humans. I think there's so, it feels like there's a lot of focus on The technology perhaps away from the humanness, like I walk around the space and I see individuals wearing headsets and I know that there's a lot of like exciting things happening for them and I wonder about how we can use all of that to come away and then connect with other humans. Yeah. Some kind of collective sharing and collective organizing and centering of marginalized people so that we can continue to grow. Social justice, I think, is my takeaway, as it is in most places.

[00:38:41.422] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:38:48.068] Clarice Hilton: Oh, that's a really big question. I think, yeah, as Kat was saying, I think, yeah, we need to be centring, yeah, thinking about who is being excluded. We should all be involved. We should, we as disabled people should all be involved in the design of technology and we should also be thinking about all marginalised groups who are being left out of a conversation of this new frontier of experience.

[00:39:16.301] Kat Hawkins: Check in on your disabled friends and if you don't have disabled friends maybe make some. I think in order to understand really what we're talking about you need to understand the reality and the reality is really hard. and as much as we can expose people to that. It's interesting that it is a form of marginalisation that if we are all lucky enough to live to a certain age, we will all experience being disabled. This is a human issue. And yeah, learn from the disabled people around you. Invite us places. And keep inviting us even when we say no because our bodies hurt.

[00:40:03.630] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me here to unpack your piece, Figural Bodies. And yeah, I really appreciated the piece and all the different insights they had. So thank you.

[00:40:11.886] Kat Hawkins: Thank you. It was nice to speak. Thanks so much.

[00:40:16.592] Kent Bye: So that was Clarice Hilton. She's a creative technologist and researcher and one of the co-directors and co-creators of Figaro Bodies, as well as with Kat Hawkins. They're a artist working with dance and film and doing PhD research with Kandoko Dance Company of disabled and non-disabled dancers. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, I think this is a really rich experience with many different modalities. You have both the performance aspect where you see Kat Hawkins in this mocap suit and they're dancing and you see their physical representation dancing in front of the screen and then you see this virtual representation of these more abstract bodies. Very interesting to hear from Kat how they actually identify more with these abstract shapes that go beyond these normative representation of these humanoid bodies and this more abstract representation that they identify as they, them, this non-binary identity. And so to see these more on the spectrum of different body representations in the context of virtual reality, driven by a lot of machine learning and artificial intelligence is really sophisticated, embodied movements. The very first auto-ethnographic essay that you're listening to You're embedded into a virtual reality experience, which is another component of their experience, where you are taken through an embodied journey through some of the pre-recorded representations of dance movement that you see with these different abstract shapes dancing in front of you. Really quite exquisite and beautifully done. And that within itself is a whole journey. And there's this whole other dimension of what was happening with audio dimension that they offered for folks to be able to sit down in a chair and put on these silent disco headphones, where you can hear just the pure audio of that piece running in a loop so that you could hear that auto ethnographic essay, which is talking about some of the deeper themes of the project. And I found myself that I needed to sit down and actually listen to it again, because the visual components were so compelling and alluring and there's all these deep discussion about all these different topics that I really wanted to have a chance to be able to listen to it again and I suggested to them to be able to play it on this podcast because I think it works as an audio piece for folks to be able to listen to and get a little bit broader context for what they're doing with their research project here of figural bodies and so Yeah, just to see different non-normative representations and bodies who are disabled. Cat has their legs amputated and so they're doing all this with these leg prosthetics that they wear to do these different dancing and with this motion capture then is being translated with this disabled body into a non-normative representation within the screen and they're watching that screen and having this interface where they're expressing their embodied movement through this projection of looking onto this abstract 2D representation. And there's somebody else, I think it was, I believe it was Susanna Dye, who was the other choreographer. Incidentally, one of the mocap technicians was Clemence de Baig. I have an unpublished interview with Clemence who's doing a lot of really amazing innovations when it comes to motion capture technologies. There's a whole unwired dance that Clemens has that's really quite interesting. And I've seen a number of different performances, including one that happened over the weekend in a piece called Discordance, which was using these WebXR technologies and taking on a whole journey that is Having two different dancers in two different locations perform this immersive piece. So that was a separate piece that is happening That was part of the XR live They have a whole exhibition that was happening with a number of different pieces up until March 29th I think by the time I listen to this episode or probably will be over but XR live.org was putting together lots of different immersive theater pieces that are happening in the context of VR and this piece by Clements called discordance was a part of that Anyway, she was a part of the mocap technician on this piece using these motion capture technologies to be able to capture this dance and to put it into these virtual experiences. They're more, I think, 3DOF trackers. I'm not sure if they're 6DOF, but yeah, just a whole customized rig that they had set up to be able to do this. Kind of like you're watching this performance with someone with a cat who's dancing live and then someone else who's dancing live, but you're seeing them on a screen to see their own body movements, but you see on this big virtual screen, both of them dancing together. So it was kind of like this multimodal research project that had lots of different ways of addressing some of these different topics. And yeah, just really appreciated to be able to See it and see the depth and to hear them talk about and elaborate some of the different experiences those auto ethnographic Experiences of what's it mean to be able to put on all of this different technology? That's not necessarily meant for disabled bodies and it's more of this ableist lens of people who are non-disabled and really optimized for their use and what's it mean to have these experiences from the first-person perspective of what this feels like and to explore these non normative representations of body representation in the context of these immersive experiences and incidentally also Had a chance to talk to general strut who's one of the executive producers one of the professors at Goldsmiths University of London and had some really nice chats with him about his work around process philosophy and how that influences and some of the different dimensions of thinking about the relationship of bodies to the world around you, but also the unfolding developing nature of that. So hopefully I'll have a chance to talk with Daniel with more about his research and kind of have that more process relational lens as well, which I think is have different tones within the conversation that we had about this project as well. So So that was figural bodies both with Clarice and Kat and very happy to be able to unpack a little bit more about their project and to share some of the research and Reflections with you in this conversation and with their auto ethnographic essay that they produced as well So that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for joining me for the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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