Christopher Bishop
Monash University, Australia
chris.bishop [at]

Supervisors: Vince Dziekan, Mark Guglielmetti
Edited by Vince Dziekan
Thanks to Sally Clarke

GRID research[frame] Collected Working Papers 2013 Download PDF


This research aims to identify design methods that support and extend networked performance, in particular dance, by investigating interactive design and digital scenographic practice in Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVE). With a focus upon contemporary relations between dance and technology, this methodology will be applied to a series of performance based projects entitled Mashup Realities. Forming an integral part of the practice-led research, the research is driven by two objectives: supporting creativity in performance through flow theory and extending non-verbal online communication and collaboration in remote Australia.

Mashup Realities will be an interdisciplinary program, working with dancers, choreographers, musicians, designers and programmers. The projects will provide a framework in which to establish what best supports creativity within Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVE) for the performer by using flow theory and the tools to measure the experience combined with industry user experience (UX) testing methods.

The methodology examines how online tools could be designed so that they better support non- verbal online communication and collaboration for performance. Drawing from networked performance (telematic performance, in particular) and interaction design research concerning CVEs, and investigating examples, a set of design principles to support collaboration via the internet will be outlined.

The internet is a key tool for the arts, especially in remote Australia. The internet offers regional artists opportunities to network, research, collaborate and create where many experience professional and social isolation compared to their city counterparts (Frid et al 2007). A personal motivation for undertaking the research is a desire to see more regional and remote artists able to reach out and collaborate internationally and vice versa. For these artists, the ability to collaborate online is integral to their work and development: it has the potential to expand the realm of their collaborative opportunities and vastly increase their interaction with other artists.


Networked Performance, Collaborative Virtual Environments, Interactive Design, Digital Scenography, Dance and Technology

Background concepts and creative applications

The term networks in the present context means the distribution of content (visuals, audio and movement) over telecommunication and information technology systems. This research into networked performance sits within telematic performance, dance and technology. Research into dance and technology has described the application of information technology in dance as ‘digital or virtual extensions of the body’ (Zmolek et al 2002, p. 1) and ‘the intersections of technology, body and code’ (Birringer et al 2001). The space, time and body are components of movement for contemporary dance, space is one of the main factors that make up the shape of movement. This research aims to investigate distributing space – extending the physical parameters in which artists can perform – through the creation of hybrid connected environments, physical and virtual.

Scenographic practice encompasses interaction, lighting, costumes, choreography, sound, and visual designs. Digital scenography, defined by Birringer (2009), is the live performance architecture incorporating analogue, digital and network dimensions, where performers are inside and outside the digital worlds simultaneously. Meaningful interaction between the performer and space is crucial for the performance, and designing for these hybrid spaces will be an exploration of the ‘convergences between performance, telematics, textile/fashion design and movement, clothing and choreography, visual expression, film/photography, and interactive design’ (Birringer 2004).

Artists, performers and designers have experimented with the use of networks, telecommunications and information technology as a means of broadening their creative experience for decades. These following chronological works will be analysed as case studies to assess their methodology and the technology used to determine their applicability towards Mashup Realities.

One of the earliest examples – Metaplay – took place in 1970, in which two physical spaces were linked to create a third, virtual space, allowing interaction between people in different locations. The work was created by Myron Krueger using two cameras, a projector and a computer, and demonstrated non-verbal interaction between the participants and the environment.

The computer was used to facilitate a unique real-time relationship between the artist and the participant. An 8’ by 10’ rear-projection video screen dominated the gallery. The live video image of the viewer and a computer graphic image drawn by an artist, who was in another building, were superimposed on this screen. Both the viewer and the artist could respond to the resulting image. (Krueger 1991, p. 19)

In 1977, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz demonstrated the world’s first interactive composite image satellite dance performance between performers on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of the United States. The performance, titled Satellite Arts Project, included the first satellite feedback dance and a live-feed composite performance, with music by flutist Paul Horn. (Paul 2003)

Roy Ascott is considered an outstanding artist and theoretician in the field of telematics (Popper 2007). Roy Ascott pointed out, ‘telematic interactivity offer extraordinary collaboration opportunities to artists’, which he has demonstrated through a number of projects as this one. (Ascott 2011). One of his early works involved artists and groups from eleven cities across the world. In La Plissure du Texte, created for the ELECTRA 1983 media art exhibition in Paris, each participating group was allocated a traditional fairy tale and asked to improvise. The resulting text-collage was a global fairy tale created in twelve days.

Good Morning, Mr. Orwell was a live satellite broadcast shared between USA, France, Germany and South Korea in 1984. Nam June Paik conceived and coordinated the installation where music played in New York was accompanied by video images from Paris featuring performances by Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, Peter Gabriel and Allen Ginsberg, among many others. This project linked countries, spaces and artists to produce the first international satellite “installation”.

British media artist Paul Sermon specialises in telematics research. In 1992 he produced Telematic Dreaming, an installation of two interfaces in separate locations functioning as a video- conferencing system. Users in each location were able to interact and experience non-verbal communication through suggestion of touch despite being a thousand kilometres apart.

The Cassandra Project by Lisa Naugle, conducted between 1996 and 2000, was a performance multimedia work utilising online collaboration. The project integrated dance, music and interactive video in distributed performances linking different geographical locations across the United States and Canada.

In 2001, Australian media artist Keith Armstrong created Liquid Gold, a live, dual site performance event between Australia and England, using two performers, the internet, two writers and a “visual ideas animator” software application to link the two physical sites with local and online audiences – creating a distributed performance event.

Produced by ADaPT and directed by the Environments Lab, Here I come again by Johannes Birringer was a 2002 telematic work linking five remote cities in the United States with two locations in Brazil. The project consisted of live dance, real-time audio and sound processing, prerecorded filmic images, still images, and both spoken voice and graphic text communication exchanged by participants during the live performance.

Metabody is a new project financed by the European Commission which commenced in July 2013 to run until July 2018. (del Val 2013) Metabody investigates cultural diversity, non-verbal communication and embodied expression, which a component examines networks connecting institutions, organisations and people. The research will result in an interactive mobile architectural structure for outdoor spaces (performances, interactive installations, and immersive durational experiences), to include both analogue and digitally mediated environments consisting of space modules, objects modules and wearable modules, working both locally and telematically, with the possibility of connecting cities and countries. Metabody seeks to generate a new methodology for interdisciplinary research and artistic creation within this area of the arts, information and communication technologies, human science and philosophy.

This snapshot of the chronology of works in this field demonstrates the developing possibilities of networks and the interactive dialogue between non-verbal communication and collaboration.

Mashup Realities proposes to use a network of spaces both physical and virtual, and will draw on image the practice-led research methods exemplified by these case studies, building upon existing interactive and responsive systems.

Flow Theory

imageimage In the scope of this research, ‘the performer is always the user, player and participant in an operating system’ (Birringer 2006, pp 42-45). The dancer, understood in the context of interactionimage design as a user, has a unique set of requirements and aspirations. The research will aim to not just clarify the immediate needs, but to get behind the driving motivations and values of the user by applying UX methods and tools to measure flow.

Flow theory has been used in the study of human-computer interaction as an important means of understanding the efficacy of online environments, and in dance research for gaining insight into the possible facilitating and inhibiting factors in an environment that would support flow experience for dancers. These ‘facilitators and inhibitors’ (Hefferon & Ollis 2006, p. 141) will assist in establishing a set of user goals.

Flow is defined as a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi 1990). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first developed the concept in 1975, identified the following nine characteristics of flow:

    • Clear goals
    • Immediate feedback
    • Balance between challenges and skills
    • Action and awareness are merged
    • Distractions are excluded from consciousness
    • There is no worry of failure
    • Self-consciousness disappears
    • The sense of time becomes distorted
    • The activity becomes autotelic

Csikszentmihalyi explains flow to be ‘a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand in a goal directed, rule bound action system that provides clear clues as to how  one is performing’ (Csikszentmihalyi 1991). It might then follow that the flow experience might be described from the dancer’s perspective, accordingly:

It’s a big empty. Whatever happened during the day, whatever is happening before is GONE. It’s totally the music, the steps, myself. It’s like being in your own bubble. You see the people in front and all those people, but you are in your own bubble, you are doing whatever you want to do…what you have been taught to do, what you are supposed to do and you are having a blast with it. You are in your totally secure world of freedom…totally free…when it’s right, your guts are spilling out…all the jitters and the worries…everything is there…but it’s good…the bubble is your world…when you are in it, you are great, you don’t think about it. (Hefferon & Ollis 2006, p. 150)

To be in flow, the individual is fully involved in the moment. It has also been explained as ‘a psychological state in which the mind and body ‘just clicks’, creating optimal performance’ (Hefferon & Ollis 2006, p. 141). In my paper I’ll discuss the methods for analysing and measuring flow experience. These methods allow flow to be used as a validation mechanism for seeking out better design that supports the user in reaching their goals within CVEs for networked performance. A more extensive discussion on the relevance of flow theory to networked performance will be developed in more detail in a later chapter of the thesis.

Mashup Realities

Mashup Realities is the project which will drive the practice-led research. It is a platform for image interaction, collaboration and creativity between dancers separated by distance. Through observation and experimentation, Mashup Realities aims to be a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary platform to facilitate a cross-pollination of dance and new media arts.

The initial project will involve an Australian based dance group/school and Sweden’s DansForum in Gothenburg to create a series of online live dance performances. They will dance, choreograph and rehearse together without leaving their home countries. The end result will be two simultaneous live performances, which will be combined online to create a single dance piece in a virtual world of new media art.

This virtual environment will be a multisensory space for sound, vision and movement. The architecture will consist of responsive behaviours that can be modified by the user through visual and audio parameters triggered by certain expressive movement and gestures.

In the following section I will briefly discuss the methodology behind Mashup Realities: collecting data to form the design brief, the design and build of the prototype and presentation of the prototype for feedback and review.


Mashup Realities will seek to generate a new technological and artistic platform to benefit creativity, non-verbal online communication and collaboration in remote Australia utilizing methods drawn from case studies and active practitioners such as Keith Armstrong.

‘What concerns us in the exploration of performance on the Net are the intersection of technology, body and code’ (Birringer et al 2001). The methodology aims to find this intersection and where I believe the flow experience is supported.

  • Technology: Dance, performance, music, video, architecture and design will form the foundation for developing the technology supporting the creative environments.
  • Body: Flow theory and dance and technology research will provide a greater understanding of creative workflows of performers.
  • Code: Interactive design research, digital scenographic research, open-source and gaming software will provide the means for creating new CVEs by building upon existing interactive and responsive systems.

Drawing from my experience as an online and software designer/developer I aim to apply an user- centred design approach combining industry UX testing and tools to measure flow experience.

Collecting data

Research into dance and technology is continuously employing new technologies and methods. The research will endeavour to tap into the cutting edge of interactive performance art, connecting with active organisations, groups and artists such as ADaPT (UK), Blast Theory (UK artists’ group using interactive media), Australian Dance Theatre (South Australia), and Yamaguchi Centre for Arts and Media (Japan). Understanding the motivation behind their projects, methods involved in the creation of works and technologies applied to produce interactive and distributed performances will be critical in informing the design and prototype of Mashup Realities.

My study aims to address the following research questions:

  • What facilitates and inhibits the creative and collaborative experience in online/hybrid environments for the user?
  • Within interactive design and digital scenography, how design methods supports experiencing flow?
  • What technology can be identified from the case studies which best supports collaboration in remote Australia?

The data collected from preliminary research and case studies will form a design brief with a set of user goals and constraints outlining the project to produce the prototype.

Design and Prototyping

Designing and building a networked performance space will embrace a variety of fields, such as computer science, media arts, architecture, dance, sound and music.

Mashup Realities will develop concepts and technologies to support creativity and extend non- verbal online communication and collaboration in remote Australia. This decision to connect with remote Australia creates additional technological constraints, namely, low Internet bandwidth andimage limited access to high-end technology. In some parts of rural Australia the fastest choice for internet access is ADSL1, which has speeds of around 256kbps or 512kbps. Compared with ADSL2+ with speeds of up to 24,000kbps this is very slow. Therefore, the technology systems required must demonstrate efficient management of data streams over the internet. This is why I’ve chosen to examine the technology used by the gaming industry. Gaming technology offer a low cost setup and a range of systems for CVEs supporting multiple users separated over great distances.

The prototype will be a joint project between Australia and Sweden to create a hybrid (physical/virtual) live dance performance. Students will dance, choreograph and rehearse together without leaving their home countries. The end result will be two simultaneous live performances combined online to create and extend the dance space in a virtual world of new media art.

The two spaces will be identical in setup and linked via the internet. Each space will have a series of Microsoft Kinect sensors, to capture movement, connected to a computer, which will be running Max MSP 6 to program and control the virtual environment. The avatars will not be lifelike representations of the dancers, but ghost like figures or simple silhouette shapes in order to minimise the amount of data transferred. At both final live performances, the virtual dance piece will be projected on a large screen above the stage and the virtual performance will also be available to an online audience.

Interviews and Questionnaires

The results of various studies into flow theory and dance will act as parameters for the analytical testing of the prototype in order to understand why the design does or does not facilitate creativity and collaboration.

Flow research have identified methods for analysing and measuring experience. These qualitative methods, interviews, questionnaires and experience sampling, will be utilised throughout the development of the project. At key stages participants will be invited to provide feedback by means of semi-structured interviews and questionnaires to provide insight into their experience and inform the decision making for subsequent stages. These tools are critical to identifying and defining   and dynamics of the flow experience. Questionnaires can be used to measure dimensions of the ‘flow’ experience; whether they have had the experience, how often and in what activity contexts (Csikszentmihalyi 1988).

Experience sampling method introduced by Csikszentmihalyi (1983) is the process of taking samples from the flow experience stream. This can be done by signalling the subject, at pre- programmed times, to complete a simple questionnaire describing the moment, including feelings and emotions, at which they are paged.

In addition I intend to document the process in the form of a documentary centred on individual dancers and their journey to the final performance while working within these virtual environments. A selection of dancers will be given cameras to record their individual experiences in the form of video blogs during the project and another measure for experience sampling method.

The aim of consultation with the performers through these means is to identify the key characteristics of flow and UX; goals, control, feedback and attention – whether the users’ goals are met, if users feel in control, if there is appropriate and immediate feedback for every action and whether the users’ attention and focus is maintained during the experience.

Review, Reflect and Repeat

The new media artist, Keith Armstrong, describes his practice-led research approach as, ‘reflection in action (why this way, why not that way, what are the performative and political implications of this decision)’ (Armstrong 2009, p. 14). This research practice derives from Donald Schön’s theory of learning, ‘reflection-in-action’. ‘It is that process that allows us to reshape what we are working on, while we are working on it.’ (Schon 1983). For Armstrong, it is a process of letting things emerge through practice while at the same time recording it, investigating it and interrogating it.

The prototype will be the product of an iterative process of observation and experimentation, which will see the technology and design evolve through a process of ongoing action and reflection.

imageDesigned outcomes of the creative process are integrated through ongoing documentation, proof image of concept sketches, public presentations as opportunities for gaining initial feedback, and then a major proof of concept demonstration for peer-review and audience feedback.

The analysis of the data generated during the prototype development of Mashup Realities will form the basis for revising aims and creating design briefs for subsequent developments and inform decisions in how the next stage will be pursued.


By outlining this mixed methodology, this paper has sought to clarify and identify opportunities for better distributed performance space design to support creativity, non-verbal communication and collaboration in remote Australia and uncover user requirements and aspirations. Through the creative project Mashup Realities, the practise-led research will apply flow theory and design methodologies (drawing upon the work and writing of Birringer and Armstrong) as part of its research and development framework, building upon existing user experience design principles from interaction design research and digital scenography for CVEs in the context of networked performance. It is anticipated that by adopting flow theory to measure the efficacy of CVEs and better understand users’ motivations and values, subsequent designs and research will be fuelled.

The intention of the research project is to provide practitioners in remote Australia with a set of tools that will enhance the ability to collaborate online, assist the creation of interactive works and promote further development of performance in regional Australia. ‘By connecting to the outside world it allows the outside world to view the value of the community. By bring the outside world into these communities allows the people to feel a sense of pride and importance in their cultural context’ (Trinidad 2010).


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