The Art of Remote Contact

People often find it hard to think and talk about touch and its place in their practices and experiences. IN-TOUCH explores how digital interactive arts might offer people a productive route through which to explore touch and digital touch communication. Remote Contact is a collaboration with interactive arts studio Invisible Flock, designed to explore these methodological questions and ideas of how creative uses of technology might enhance feelings of connection and tackle isolation. The collaboration culminated in Remote Contact, an exhibition that invited visitors to interact with a series of six interactive artefacts, co-designed with individuals and their families living with dementia, exploring how sensory and generative technologies can enhance connections between families and their relatives in care:

  • I wanna hold your hand: Glove
  • I wanna hold your hand: Rain
  • Motion Prints
  • Tangible Interfaces -Water Synthesiser
  • Tangible Interfaces – Optic Sense
  • Memory Album

These are described in detail in the Remote Contact Exhibition Booklet.

RemoteContact-June2018-PRINT-097-9116

Remote Contact provided a novel research site through which to investigate the visitors’ interactions with one another and the artefacts, with attention to touch within the multimodal and multi-sensorial communicational environment of the exhibition. We conducted video walk-throughs with 31 visitors to the exhibition to understand: the kinds of touch experiences, sensations and practices the exhibition invoked, provoked, supported and mediated for visitors; the touch resources and capacities visitors deployed; the cultural social norms, etiquettes, touch sensitivities that visitors articulated; as well as the memories, metaphors and experiences that visitors drew on to reflect on their touch experiences with themselves, others, and objects in the exhibition.

We are also interested in how IN-TOUCH, a social science research project, can engage with artists, the digital artefacts that they make, and their practices, to research digital touch communication. The Remote Contact case study included meetings and studio visits over one year, to situate the exhibition in the broader understanding needed to explore this question. Through discussion, observation, and in-progress demonstrations, we gained understanding of the histories, ideas and processes that informed the development of the exhibition and each artefact. The artists positioned themselves as ‘new interpreters of digital innovation’ through the making of the artefacts and the exhibition. The next step in our collaboration is to share social science insights from our analysis with Invisible Flock.

RemoteContact-June2018-PRINT-148-219362

Remote Contact received additional support from FACT and Community Integrated Care, Arts Council England and Leeds City Council, the Wellcome Trust Arts Award, in collaboration with Prof. Nadia Berthouze (UCL). The exhibition was part of the UCL Festival of Culture 2018.

Find out more:

Listen to our podcast for The Guardian’s Chips with Everything.

Images by Ed Waring & Douglas Atkinson – 2018