Threshold Touch Experiences

This case study is an artistic collaboration between IN-TOUCH, artist and researcher  Marloeke van der Vlugt, and the composer, director and researcher  Falk Hubner, both of whom are based at the HKU, University of the Arts in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The collaboration is ongoing and our aim is to explore and experience the politics and aesthetics of digital touch through interactive digital performance and technology; and to investigate the potentials of research collaboration between performance and social science research to provide insights on digital touch communication. Interrogating the ways that we touch, and disrupting the norms and expectations of touch and near touching are key to the development of the collaboration. Together we are documenting this collaborative process through still and moving image, sound and writing.

This interdisciplinary collaboration led to an exploratory Interactive performance experiment at the Bloomsbury Theatre Studio, 23rd and 24th January 2020. The interactive performance explored the experience, politics and aesthetics of touch through a range of artistic propositions that combine digital technologies, new materials, electronic sound, and bodily interaction.  It created an experimental and playful, interactive space for the audience to experience and reflect on what digital touch interaction might be.

Marloeke led the development of a range of artistic ‘provocations’ and performance interventions. We experienced and responded to these, Falk via sound and Carey through bringing in social science theory and concepts grounded in sensory ethnography and multimodal theory, to provide an ongoing analytical dialogue on the ideas that emerge. E-wire in a variety of knitted shapes – triggering sound and audio samples – was one of the core materials of the interactive works, binding our concern  with social interaction and human-non-human interaction, as it is the material that connects both fear and intimacy in relation to touch.

We are collectively analysing the performance materials drawing on our documentation of our encounters (using ethnographic field notes, audio and video recordings, and photographs) to explore the process of getting to a practical collective working method, a trajectory which we regarded as one of the research outcomes.  We are also analysing the data collected during the Thresholds performance, from participant notebooks used during the experiment to observe and reflect on their touch experiences.

This analysis will inform the next stage of our collaboration including future interactive works.