These Beyond Empathy blog posts document my internship with the not-for-profit organisation Beyond Empathy (BE). BE works in the community: making art and fighting social disadvantage.
Monday – Surveying The IPAC Space.
On the first day of my internship mentors Philip Crawford and Gemma Parsons outlined Beyond Empathy’s current project Blue Rose, a feature film about, and being made with, people who cannot use spoken language as their main way to communicate. In the lead up to the release of the Blue Rose film BE & the Merrigong Theatre Company will come together to present a ‘sensory experience’ film installation event at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) in Wollongong. This event will explore the experiences of the people in Blue Rose. Footage shot for the main Blue Rose film will be projected onto different surfaces and, using various sensors such as motion and infrared, audiences will be able to interact with the surfaces to effect how the footage plays onto them. This provides a chance to see what it’s like to experience the world without the ability to communicate with spoken language.
I took some photos (below) when Philip, Gemma and Taryn mapped out the IPAC spaces which will house the installations. It would be divided into areas that will transform the theatre mezzanine and vomitorium(VOM) for the exhibition.
Each work is influenced by the people, the stars of the Blue Rose project, they feature: A ‘soft space’, a room with a soft floor, textures, and a giant net. For the event the IMB Foyer (fig.1) will be converted into a ‘cup of tea space’, a meeting place with a central table and chair-set for welcoming people in and hosting teas and snacks. From the ceiling a projector and infrared sensor will turn a serving tray into a screen with a video playing on it that follows when the tray is moved around the table.
A ‘shadow space'(fig.2): Here participants can play with their own projected shadows. A ‘fast space’ where a large screen is mounted in front of a central spaceship cockpit console featuring buttons which alter the speed of the video played and triggering a fan to blow from the side. A ‘water space’ will use a powerful projector, borrowed from Wollongong Council, and sensor to let participants paint visual effects on water. A ‘crash space’; Essentially a ball pit.
I can say for sure that I’ve never before seen a theater space used in the way that this project is proposing to use it. This is irregular for two reasons; Firstly it is a theater space used in an interactive way, designed for audiences more than just in the way a pantomime or cabaret would be. Second, this project does not use either of IPAC’s stages but the area around them and the mezzanine and VOM, another effective strategy to give a closer and more effective interactive experience.
This project has potential to be an innovative use of ‘new-media’ (i.e. interactive sensors in conjunction with film) and I am interested in what a ‘sensory experience’ may look or feel like. A very important aspect in producing an event of this kind is to be careful to display the people of Blue Rose in the correct light. The people who feature in this film cannot express whether they are comfortable with their image being shown so their needs and means of consent should be agreed upon, as well as considering the ethical responsibility of displaying someone else’s image when it has a heightened risk of being misconstrued. Misrepresenting a person with an intellectual disability by ‘putting them in the spotlight’ is a serious risk. This is the reason many filmmakers would hesitate taking on a project like this, yet Blue Rose is in capable hands. Beyond Empathy‘s film project ‘Rites of Passage’ which was released in 2012 to 2013 traveled the national and international film festival circuit. The film starred young people from various socio-economically challenged areas within the Illawarra. Giving its young stars the chance to travel to places around the country and abroad presenting the film and speaking about their experiences. The risk shown by this example would have been in the young people exposing their own personal hardships which could have been emotionally damaging. BE addressed this risk by not emphasising the ‘personal’ in the Rites of Passage stories. Although the stories were written by young people from these socio-economically challenged areas, the narratives were altered and acted by other young people in order to protect their image.
Turning the risk into a strength, the message that these young stars brought with them; across Australia, Canada, Poland and the US was ‘hey we wrote these stories, but they’re stories from everyone’. It is a relatable message of human spirit. Responses from Canadian audiences were that it felt like some of their own neighbourhoods, but on the other side of the world, and with accents that aren’t easily understood.
The journey becomes much more complex though, in the case of Blue Rose. The implications of what an editor chooses to show people doing and how they choose to show it affects the subject and editor’s image when not done justice. When the audience’s primary mode of communication, verbal, is not central in understanding the event, they are left to only interpret or misinterpret visual elements.
Interactive artist and lighting designer, Toby Knyvett will be work-shopping and designing the installations for the event. I will attend Meetings with Toby, Phil and Gemma as well as IPAC staff including technical head for the IPAC, Taryn Brown. Further context of the relevance this internship has to my studies, in Blue Rose I would be applying knowledge from my Advanced Diploma in Screen, and within a project in the particular creative media-art field explored in recent works of my art practice.
Under the guidance of Toby Knyvett, an creative professional and artist whose work has featured in events the likes of Vivid as well as interactive commission work for the Sydney Opera House and shows at Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MCA). With Toby utilising his media arts industry knowledge, apply techniques of creative set-up for these large-scale interactive installations, will expose me to coding, projection mapping, and sensors.
I haven’t seen any raw footage for this project yet. The embedded video below is ‘A Prologue for Blue Rose’, the first Blue Rose video work uploaded. This video has a similar ‘look’ to the one BE will produce for the IPAC event though this one is presented in a more narrative way.
“This project, which will culminate in a feature film, is considered to be a creative concept that strengthens the National Disability Schemes vision of inclusivity” http://be.org.au/portfolio_page/blue-rose/