Multidisciplinary research project explored possibilities of wearable technology in performing arts

A multidisciplinary research project titled “Digitalising Performance With Wearables and Software” brought together Aalto ARTS, Aalto Science and the University of the Arts Helsinki for fruitful collaboration. The idea was conceived by Dr. Sofia Pantouvaki, Professor of Costume Design, and Dr. Mario Di Francesco, Professor of Computer Science. Realising that light was going to be a crucial part of the project, they contacted the Professor of Lighting Design, Dr. Tomi Humalisto from the University of the Arts. This team of three professors from different fields worked out the framework and objectives for the project that would culminate in a technology enhanced art performance.

The artistic content of the project was left open for the students to decide. Three students with diverse backgrounds worked intensely for three months and came up with an interactive performance between a circus artist, costume, lights, space and sounds. Costume design student Tjaša Frumen, computer science research intern Emilio Lopez and lighting design student Mia Jalerva were the core international team, Frumen coming from Slovenia, Lopez from Argentina and Jalerva from Finland.

The group worked on the project in multiple locations around Helsinki and Espoo. The costume of the performer was made at the Costume Design Workshop of Aalto Studios, the software was tested at Motion Lab of Aalto’s computer science department, and the lights were designed and built at VÄS lighting design studio at UniArts. Kallio Stage was the venue for the final performance.

During the course of the work, a number of technical challenges had to be addressed. The costume of the performer, circus artist Aliisa Rinne, contained 16 meters of wire with LED lights, sensors and other technology. These had to be embedded so that she was able to move smoothly and even use the trapeze. The software worked without requiring manual operation during the performance, making the light to either follow the performer or repel her, for example.

The professors were impressed by the results of the work and see great potential in the future of performer-technology interaction. While self-regulating, wearable technology has been used in dance quite a lot already, other performing arts such as theatre, musical theatre and even opera could reach new levels of technology interaction. The project also serves as an inspiring example of multidisciplinary collaboration, in which diverse expertise is utilised and developed further in a creative way.

For more information, please see the write-up of Aalto Studios. A video recording of the final performance is available in YouTube.