Embodied technologies for emergent collectives
Project by Reverso/Metabody Insititute – Jaime del Val – 2020 (start)
After a proposal promoted by Reverso together with U. Aegean (Lesbos), K. Danse (Toulouse), TMA (Dresden).
This projects aims at fostering innovative new media that enhance multisensory collective interaction and creation, involving full body motion with digital interactive environments in public spaces, and linked to novel techniques of collective improvisation, play and building of tools.
In ancient Greece the chorus, as groups of dancing and singing bodies in public space, from which the tragedy arose, of primordial importance in Greek culture, was considered, for instance by Plato, a fundamental means of education, a way of educating bodies through movement, whereby movement and the body had a crucial role in culture, a role that we seek to recuperate. It seems that choral practices have been present in nearly every culture, including the origins of Western culture, as in the Greek Khorós. The project thus proposes a revival of some ancient roots of European cultural heritage in education through the concept of choral practices, while bringing these in convergence with cutting edge approaches to new media.
The project builds upon theories of embodied cognition to explore the importance of embodied practices and the challenges posed by a media culture that foregrounds immobility and atrophy of movement and multisensory capacities, also in relation to inclusion. The project proposes to enhance both the development of wider cognitive potentials but also the development of empathy as core aspect for inclusion and common values, through collective practices of non-formal learning, training and creativity, involving a large multisensory spectrum of interaction so that people train by feeling and embodying the values.
In turn this is done through innovative ways of redesigning digital media so that they allow a rich full body interaction involving collective practices with movement and multisensory integration in open spaces, thus also raising a critical awareness and capacity for creative reappropriation of new media and of space. This redesigning of new media in turn emerges from transdisciplinary art and technology projects, thus creating deep cross-fertilization with the arts.
The core methodology in the project consists in platforms of collective co-creation as will be detailed later.
Furthermore, it aims at involving minorities, in particular refugees and other disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities, so as to ensure that plurality and inclusion are deeply embedded in the proposed tools and practices, shared and activated across different communities.
Theoretical research on perception, cognition, new media ethics, values and inclusion or ancient and contemporary choral traditions and practices will also be done, and given the novel character of the practices proposed it is also a crucial aspect of this transdisciplinary approach that involves philosophical research as embedded in the practices.
The project thus connects theoretical research, creation and educational activities, involving philosophy and cultural theory, in dialogue with the Arts, educational sectors, as well as technology developers and social minorities. The project thus proposes an innovative transdisciplinary alliance between educational, cultural-artistic, techno scientific, theoretical and social sectors.
The proposal is also building upon previous experiences in EU projects. The practices and tools proposed are derived from a previous EU project, Metabody, where they were first elaborated and have been tested at experimental level. This project proposes a new threshold of systematic development and implementation of these tools and practices in educational sectors.
The project builds upon the following past and ongoing projects:
- https://metabody.eu – since 2013-ongoing
- https://metabody.eu/metatopia – since 2015-ongoing
- https://metabody.eu/disalignments – since 2014-ongoing
- https://metabody.eu/bodynet – since 2020-ongoing
- http://www.reverso.org/ETP.htm – 2008-2010
Challenges that the project addresses
In times of massive consumption of standardized cultural products this project inquires into how to recover collective improvisatory practices in public spaces involving movement, dancing, singing and other modes of sound production, that we will refer to as choral practices. The Project will also address two crucial questions: How can choral practices become means for a more plural culture? How can new (digital) technologies which are mostly serving the purpose of massive consumption of standard products by immobile, isolated individuals in private spaces subject to unprecedented modes of digital surveillance, become means for embodied and collective improvisation in public space, and thus for a more open and public economy of bodies, communication and culture?
Education and social interaction are quite heavily limited and influenced by current media, which tend to impoverish sensory experience and impose atrophy in movement. This, following embodied cognitive science, can have negative effects in diminishing our cognitive and affective capacities including empathy, and goes along a diminishing of the role of public space as well, while excluding certain minorities such as people with disabilities. We build upon embodied cognitive science by acknowledging the intrinsic relation between our embodied practices and movements, and our cognitive and emotional capacities. Networks like Facebook have favoured a society of isolated and immobile individuals, and also a digital culture of unprecedented surveillance, opacity and control, while they become unacknowledged but fundamental means of education.
Against this prevailing tendency, we propose that education and training for children and youth, with and without disabilities and of diverse backgrounds, should involve body movement and multiple senses in as rich a way as possible, being thus more inclusive, since it will allow the interaction of people with diverse capacities of movement and expression, taking place also in open spaces, and involving pluralities of people in collective activities that foster non-verbal interaction.
This should afford the possibility to grow in less isolation, less subjected to digital control, and with wider capacities for interacting in the world, for cognition, affectivity and empathy, thus fostering integration, peace and plurality, granting participation of people with disabilities and from diverse cultural backgrounds and situations, as well as in general education.
Particular rationale for addressing the challenges
The project proposes to explore a unique and visionary approach to new media which allows embodied multisensory interaction as educational playground fostering creativity and integration in youth, based on the ideas and knowledge developed in previous EU projects on embodied media such as Metabody.eu.
For this purpose, we will use an established system for full body interaction, its related perception and movement techniques, as a non-formal learning system that allows developing sensory and kinaesthetic capacities in collective creation processes involving movement and multiple senses in public space. This system is robustly working in beta version, developed in a previous EU project, Metabody, and allows to develop processes with different users and in different situations and spaces to research into the implications of such environments for fostering plurality and enhance integration, cognitive and affective plasticity, movement and other capacities in education. The system is also an artistic platform for co-creation through movement exploration and play, and has been elaborated in the context of the arts. Other systems, tools, and proposals by other artists and body practitioners may also be proposed or explored through workshops and residencies in the project so that other artists may contribute to new developments or the testing of other systems.
The main systems consist of multisensory interactive environments called METATOPIA, developed by Jaime del Val and the Reverso organization in the Metabody EU project, in collaboration with K. Danse and other partners, involving on-body sensors and portable structures, 3D visuals and sound, non-goal oriented interaction (metagaming), which take place in open spaces, with extreme portability. They will be used as testbed for non-formal learning, training and creativity, and thus for promoting inclusion and common values, in creation-research processes with collectives of youth in both general population and in migrants/refugees, people with disabilities and other minorities.
Over the past four years the systems have been extensively played out in diverse places such as refugee camps, urban and rural areas, as well as working with people with disabilities amongst other disadvantaged groups and doing academic studies on the possibilities that such systems provide for neuroplasticity, neurodiversity and plurality. Jaime del Val has led over 70 workshops over the past years in more than 25 countries, along which the techniques and methodologies here proposed have been elaborated.
The project aims at bringing these developments onto a new threshold, stage and maturity as tool for social inclusion and values in education that may be, once defined, further scaled up.
The process will also involve theoretical research and awareness raising, with diverse outcomes in the publications and documentation.
Overall need for embodied collective and creative practices in digital culture:
Current education as well as media and technology minimize the role of the body and public space, giving emphasis to rationalistic models in detriment of embodied and multisensory practices. Digital interfaces tend to reduce movement to clicking, and perception to fixed points of vision. This reduction of embodied experience is in turn crucial for the expansion of digital technology as surveillance and control systems, a major concern for the EU.
At the same time following Embodied Cognitive science there is an intrinsic relationship between our cognition and our movement, which implies that technologies and learning systems that impoverish our movement may also be impoverishing our cognitive possibilities, and our experience and life altogether.
Furthermore, empathy, as a crucial aspect grounding inclusion and common values, is something that will be richer, the more multisensory registers of interaction between people are at stake. Values and inclusion are no mere ideological constructs but need to be felt and embodied if they are to be truly sustainable.
In this project we propose to recover and reinvent collective and multisensory choral practices in public space as crucial educational techniques, and as fundamental for a plural and sustainable culture, thus also claiming aspects of our immaterial heritage. For this we return to the ancient Greek concept of the Khorós, which lies at the roots of the European tradition: choral practices, of bodies moving in multisensory interaction (mostly non-verbal), in public space, in symbiosis with some elements that relate to gaming culture (interaction with 3D visuals and sound), will be a source for both a critical awareness of new media and a creative reinvention of their potentials for new kinds of sustainable and peaceful conviviality.
Specific needs in relation to disadvantaged groups:
For people from diverse backgrounds who are in situations of anxious uncertainty, awaiting asylum, coming from traumatic experiences of war, it proves of great importance to have activities in the camps or asylum seeker centres that make lives more liveable, and that enhance a sense of belonging and collectivity, bridging across languages and cultural borders. At the same time refugee children and youth are in need of education. Here we provide both a means for collective creation, play, and a non-formal learning and training method as innovative tool for education that involves also awareness raising about inclusion, common values and media, in works that involve both collective creation, movement and theory.
People with disabilities / other abled / neurodiverse:
People with disabilities, both cognitive (neurodiversity) and motor disabilities, are in great need of interactive environments that let them explore their own creativity, projecting and developing their unique potentials of movement, perception and interaction, without having to become aligned with established functional parameters. Over the past year the Metabody environments have been tested for this purpose proving useful tools with great potential that we attempt to take further more systematically in this project as educational tools.
Rural areas of Spain:
In a process of desertification youth in rural areas need stimulus to keep a sustainable life in their surrounding, without surrendering to existing digital technologies that induce immobility and dependence on control systems. Reverso has done extensive work in rural areas and has a permanent space in a village, in Spain.
Youth and the moving body as means for learning and plurality:
Young people like to dance. They consider dance as an expressive art form, like a leisure activity, and they appreciate the advantages of dancing. Dance, after soccer, is the most popular physical activity.
Dancing is a creative activity, which uses the kinaesthetic mode (body movement) with the imaginary in its creation, physical enaction and presentation. It complements other forms of intelligence and allows young people to express themselves and communicate their ideas, identity, culture and the vision they have of themselves to the other people of the society they are part of. Everybody can dance regardless of genre, age, school level, social milieu, shape, size and experience. Dancing can help to transcend social and cultural barriers.
The movement techniques involved in the project can apply also to people with disabilities who are often considered as incapable of moving: micro scales of movement in the body can be unfolded through the Metabody techniques.
This educational project is based on the obvious consideration that young audiences appropriate themselves new digital media at a very fast speed and ease which sometimes troubles parents and more at large the traditional educational system. The Khorós project makes a clear effort towards the invention of new ways of supporting and helping new generations to construct a creative and critical approach to digital media and virtual environments, via their expanded bodily awareness and sense of agency.
The quality of the proposed action is based on a participatory context, putting in close touch the children and youngsters with the educational institutional people willing to supervise and help with concrete local organizational matters (transportation, food, equipment, etc.) promoting full participation in the overall organization of activities.
Special emphasis is put into collaborative participation, inclusion, playfulness, and the setting up of situations whereby workshop participants can expand their body awareness, together with the raising of their sense of agency when confronted with digital interactive technology.
Each proposed situation is based on a physically felt experience. Learning by doing and feeling.
The proposals extend body cognition via situated spaces of social interaction, putting forward the value of specific differences and aptitudes, neutralizing negative differentiations and promoting, in many occasions, capacities which are not valued in traditional educational contexts.
The project’s aims include thus:
- To create and develop a truly original and innovative educational program, transversal to existing curricula
- To enlarge audiences and reach out towards large numbers of young people so that they can have access to various forms of innovative contemporary and participatory creations as part of education
- To create links between amateur and professional practices, between formal and non-formal or even informal education and sectors
- To get as much as possible close to young people (inside and outside of schooling systems) by creating with and for them original spaces of exchange via body interaction combined with advanced interactive digital technology
- To create special moments for mutual artistic and educational sharing between partners and participants
- To explore the notions of real, imagined and dreamed territories
- To expand from past experiences and develop methods for making them last in more permanent basis
- To weave a network of collaborations with local partners and link these with international networks.