All posts in Research

17 Posts
iphone with vanitas wide

Vanitas: an app to die for – Precinct

Article in Precinct 19 July 2017

An app that lets audience members experience Melbourne General Cemetery like never before? Victorian College of the Arts Lecturer in Theatre Robert Walton explains more. 

By Robert Walton, Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts

This weekend (20–21 May 2017) at the Melbourne General Cemetery, artist Jason Maling and I will test the latest edition of our transmedia app experience Vanitas.

Blurring documentary with fiction, Vanitas is a reflective thriller about life’s great mystery: death. Experienced through their own smartphone and decrypted through the secret language of flowers, each visitor will embark on a self-guided walk through Melbourne’s oldest modern cemetery. Alone.

Intrepid audience members will listen to the app as they wander towards a rendezvous at the centre of the cemetery. It’s a meditative experience that asks you to listen deeply and look closely at the world around you. In Vanitas, not everything is as it first appears.

Rachel Ruysch, Vase with Flowers, 1700. Wikimedia Commons.

A vanitas painting portrays collections of objects symbolic of the certainty of death. We were inspired by a painting from 1700 by Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch called Vase with Flowers (above). Ruysch’s floral vanitas depicts blooms just passing their best, on the cusp of wilting or being eaten by bugs. Her mysterious painting, like all vanitas pictures from that era, reminds us that all living things fade, and that our objects will outlive us and become the last traces of our daily lives.

In much of Australian culture, death remains taboo. For a variety of reasons, we are unable or unwilling to talk about it. In fact, we often go about our lives as if death is a fate that will not befall us personally. Australia also has the second highest uptake of smartphones in the world.

Hence, we have made a smartphone app as a vanitas for our own times. The interface itself is based on Ruysch’s painting with each flower representing an episode in the story. Like the flowers in the painting, you are drawn to some episodes first and then chance upon others along the way. The shift between guided and random order allows the audience to weave their own connections with the threads of narrative we present.

The story mixes documentary, autobiography and fiction and is told wholly through remixed audio fragments taken from interviews with a variety of experts on the themes of vanitas, flowers, life and death. We find out about the secret language of flowers, witness a cremation, and talk to botanists, historians and professionals from the death industry.

We are lucky to have Southern Melbourne Cemeteries Trust in our city; world leaders in forward thinking about the future of our cemeteries. Those we have worked with from the Trust’s team have been great collaborators and have helped us to understand how death practices have evolved over the last century and how they might develop into the future.

What is clear is that Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville is a place of extraordinary national importance. It is a haunting museum and art gallery of lives past, like the shadow of the city itself.

And, with 300,000 people buried there, it’s certainly the biggest venue I have ever played. But the dead are what you’d call a captive audience.  On the whole they are very well behaved bunch; they don’t give much back. They seem to be enjoying the show so far, yet we live in constant fear of a standing ovation.

The audience on the weekend can expect a meditative experience exploring themes of death and transience. Ticket holders can arrive any time between 10am and 4pm on their chosen day.

Audience members will be asked to come with a fully-charged smartphone (Apple or Android) with an Australian mobile number, email address, access to the internet (there is no WiFi in the cemetery) and headphones. Once booked, they will be sent an email with information on how to download the Vanitas app before coming to the cemetery.

Vanitas was commissioned as part of In Your Hands – a new series of artworks and installations that invite audiences to create experiences mediated through hand-held technology – by Arts House through the Australia Council’s New Digital Theatre Initiative. Tickets are available from Arts House. Admission: $10

Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.

Find out more about Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts. 

Banner image: Jason Maling and Robert Walton.

robertwalton-livesinterrupted-poster2

Lives Interrupted – Lecture and Classes at University of Wisconsin Madison

If you are in Madison on 7 November come along to hear about my research into how phones are shifting our perceptions of everyday life, theatre and our relationships.

I’ll also be visiting classes with undergraduate and postgraduate students. Looking forward to connecting with emerging artists in Madison.

Lives Interrupted: Rethinking theatre and smartphones through transmedia dramaturgy

Live theatre and funerals: the two places survey respondents report that it is inappropriate to use your smartphone. Dinner tables, classrooms, bedrooms, rock concerts and almost all other aspects of public and private life have been colonized by a device less than a decade old. Understanding why smartphones remain taboo at live theatre events reveals what is special about both media and how they function as stages of remediation in our lives.

Set within wider trans- and ‘spreadable’ media discourses and the thawing of monolithic media ownership through fan culture, this paper begins to draw parallels between developments in theatre and other media that have had to move ‘over the top’ of existing communications infrastructure to enter a digitally networked culture. If theatre is the original transmedia art form where all the signifying elements of the stage work in parallel but in proximity within an overarching mise-en-scène, then can it provide a model for understanding experiences of performance distributed across media channels more broadly?

This talk is part of an ongoing practice-led research inquiry into possible ‘transmedia dramaturgies’ of performance in proximity to smartphones. The research has already led to Vanitas a hybrid event deployed over smartphone apps, installation, real-world locations, phone calls, SMS and email that premiered at the 2016 Festival of Live Art in Melbourne.

ASTR Minneapolis November 2016

Wednesday 2 – Sunday 6 November

I am joining the Theater and Transmedia working group at the American Society of Theatre Research in Minneapolis this November. Looking forward to making contact with American colleagues. Please get in touch if you are interested in meeting up to discuss research collaborations.

My paper Towards a Transmedia Dramaturgy is my contribution to the group. Please say if you would like to read a copy.

IMG_2937

Hungry for Art and Social Practice: creative strategies examining the politics and performance of Melbourne food culture

Friday 8 July, 1:30- 3pm, Arts Hall, University of Melbourne

A PSi 2016 Performing Climates Curated Panel

Melbourne is not simply the city for Foodies but has also become a site of everyday art intervention exploring changing food culture in the contexts of climate change and mass migration. Within this burgeoning field, social practice artists and arts producers are using a range of affective, political, artistic and discursive strategies to engage the public, industry and consumers. Performatively staged as a live dinner party, this delicious discussion is hosted by Marnie Badham and Robert Walton examining the creative engagement strategies of three artistic projects regarding food in Melbourne. After presenting media-rich content to illustrate each project, dinner guests will discuss this burgeoning field in the context of new forms of contemporary art and social practice.

Distinguished Panel

Professor Laurie Beth Clark and Associate Professor Michael Peterson, Department of Art, University of Wisconsin discussing Foodways Melbourne.

Kendyl Rossi, Creative Projects Producer, Federation Square discussing Fed Sq Food Offerings

Angharad Wynne-Jones Artistic Director, Arts House, City of Melbourne and Tipping Point Australia discussing The Supper Club

Dr. Jen Rae, Centre for Cultural Partnerships, VCA and Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh discussing Fair Share Fare

Image of Cassie at Firecracker‘s Food Body for The Supper Club: Revolting Body at Arts House 2016

22ckcomp.111535

ART–FOOD–POLITICS 

The subject of what we put in our mouths – the foods, drinks, health supplements and guilty pleasures – is the famed obsession of the city of Melbourne. We are more sensitive than ever to origins and impact of our food, and aware of our small part in a bigger system of food production within a finite ecosystem. Our food choices have aesthetic, environmental, social and ultimately political repercussions – and artists around the world increasingly draw upon this rich intersection in their work.

Moving beyond dry and often hard to swallow knowledge, this event invites you to play with your food and savour new flavours of thought.

Presenters and discussants for the evening include VCA Artists in Residence Spatula&Barcode (Profs Laurie Beth Clarke and Michael Peterson, University of Wisconsin), Dawn Weleski (artist and Co-Director of Conflict Kitchen USA) and Dr Jen Rae (CCP, Refuge Project).

This event is curated and hosted by Marnie Badham, Centre for Cultural Partnerships (CCP) and Robert Walton, VCA Theatre.

When: 6–8pm Thursday 14 April 2016

Where: Founders Gallery, VCA, 234 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

Cost: FREE but bookings essential via Eventbrite.

Refreshments will be available.

12698246_10153805534925801_8940389697201984861_o

Launch dates for “It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells”

Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson’s new book about the performance work of Adrian Howells will launch this year. I contributed a small chapter on Adrian’s pedagogy and can’t wait to read the rest this brilliant book cover to cover.
Launch dates:
Gilmorehill Centre, Glasgow, Saturday 18 June, 7.30pm
BAC, London, Monday 4 July, 7.30pm
Get your order in now at www.intellectbooks.com
Confirmation Presentation 1

Lecture: Transmedia Dramaturgy – Theatre, Smartphones and Networked Performance

Confirmation Presentation – 4pm 16 December 2015 – Art Auditorium, VCA

Please join me at this public lecture followed by a discussion.

Do hybrid media performances require a transmedia dramaturgy?

The aim of this research is to examine the dramaturgical, philosophical and aesthetic capabilities of performances deliberately expanded to spread across and be experienced through the everyday technologies of a ‘networked culture’.

I will present an overview of key literature and focus specifically on the findings from a series of experimental performances delivered on smartphones over the year (The Asphodel, Still Life and Dark Telephony). I will introduce the first prototype of the Vanitas project, presented at Arts House in November, which was deployed across an app, voice calls, SMS, webpages, maps, an installation and Errol and Victoria streets in North Melbourne. I will conclude by laying out some of the challenges of researching in this field and outline my plan for completing this research over the next two years.

Performing Mobiles Presentation

Lecture: Performing Mobiles – Smartphones and Theatre

Performing Mobilities a Performance Studies International Fluid States conference Sunday 11 October 2015

My current research investigates how performances are created and experienced by mixing live action in physical venues with networked communication systems like email, telephony, apps and social media accessed through smartphones. While most theatre performances occur within established venues at explicitly stated times, this research investigates how experience and understanding of performance might change when accessed through smartphones outside of traditional theatre settings. Informed by Henry Jenkins’ idea of ‘spreadable media’ (a concept that challenges ‘legacy’ media to find ways to spread across the new channels afforded by networked culture) I aim to establish how a decentralised, multi-platform performance might be constituted.

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the paper.

Dark_Telephony

Dark Telephony

9-11 October 2015

Prototype Performance – Performing Mobilities – Between RMIT and North Melbourne

Throughout 2015 Robert Walton and Jason Maling are developing a responsive time-based narrative experience that moves across media, bodies and technologies, between public and private spaces. Dark Telephony is controlled by call-centre technology and will be mediated by an interactive telephone system via individual mobile devices, social media and its human avatars. In this iteration the Dark Telephony system will manifest a live performance for a small group of participants. Part call-centre horror story, part spectral encounter with oneself, the work exploits the uneasy relationship we have with automated disembodied telephone systems. It plays on that vague sense that our mundane communications are not all they seem and an all-pervasive and non-locatable ‘other’ might actually be tracking and directing our movements. Participants will literary ring in to be wrung out.

More information on Performing Mobilities website.

Performing_Mobiles_Presentation_pptx

Performing Mobiles: Smartphones and Theatre

Conference Paper – RMIT – Performing Mobilities – 11 October 2015

I will present this paper at PERFORMING MOBILITIES Conference at RMIT which is part of Performance Studies International #21 FLUID STATES 

Both Apple and Google’s App Stores were launched in 2008 heralding an age of handheld, mobile computing. Since then more than 125 billion apps have been downloaded and by the end of 2014, 81% of Australians owned a smartphone. Theatre attendance in the same period has remained a steady 16% of the Australian population visiting at least once per year. Thus, if Australia’s theatregoers reflect the population as a whole, four out of five of them will bring their smartphone to a performance and silence it. Because, while smartphone usage for some has penetrated almost every aspect of daily life, it remains anathema to live theatre. This paper begins to discuss theatre in the age of the smartphone and analyses theatre’s potential to move, as other communication systems have, ‘over the top’ of existing infrastructure to spread across platforms via the Internet Protocol.

Tweet Tweet Tweet

open