AltCity CDMX:Chameleon, inside our art-technology lab in Mexico City
BY: Jonathan May, British council's Americas Programme Manager
Following our first weeks of workshops in AltCity CDMX: Chameleon,British Council's Americas Programme Manager Jonathan May writes about the creative process behind the project as our team creates an interactive artwork that captures the face of an ever-changing city.
A few frames of a gif can tell a huge story. These are the words of Robin McNicholas as he presents the work of Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) and the vision of the AltCity CDMX workshop to our freshly gathered team of emerging artists and creative from Mexico City. For the next three weeks, they will undertake our AltCity CDMX residency to explore their city with digital creativity.
Robin is presenting his favourite gif, whilst talking about a desire to explore a hybrid-approach to the residency; fusing cutting-edge technology, physical installations and a good dose of theatricality to create immersive and interactive experiences. It speaks profoundly to the hybrid approach of creativity in this project; between the visual and the haptic, the digital and the analogue, the multi-artform approach. “We’ll walk away with news skills, creative ideas, friends and collaborators” says Robin in his opening presentation. “We’ll create new worlds with infinite possibilities”.
A residency like AltCity CDMX, exploring creative technologies and interactive 360ºenvironments requires a space to dream big, to challenge conventions and to imagine the impossible. When you’re creating in VR, the normal rules of physics don’t have to apply and the creative spaces offered by our partner Centro University, the studios, the workshops, the citywide view, are perfect for this. The theme framing this residency is the Chameleon; exploring how a city and its citizens transform and adapt to survive and thrive. The team are in residency as part of Mutek.MX, Mexico City’s leading arts and technology festival, and are collaborating with MLF to create a new interactive virtual reality (VR) installation for the festival's audience of artists and clubbers. Looking at the city through the changing faces of the Mexico City population, the team are capturing citizens of the city in 360º, in portraiture, audio and their environments, to create a mixed media and immersive experience of the city and its stories.
Robin, Nell (Eleanor Whitley, MLF’s utterly brilliant Executive Producer) and the MLF team bring a whole bag of toys and tricks with them for the AltCity participants to play with; 3D cameras, LiDAR scanners, a plethora of VR headsets (Samsung Gear, HTC VIVE’s, cardboard) as well as traditional SLR cameras. In technical terms their primary tools for capturing our subjects are 3D scanning, photogrammetry and binaural recording. But before we begin to learn and experiment with these tools and methodologies, Robin and Nell want to get to know the participants; the ideas, skills and experiences they are bringing, as these will prove far more important to the process.
This team of creatives working with MLF are from a wild array of backgrounds, experiences and walks of life, and their diversity is what creates this hybrid approach. There are aspiring cinematographers, filmmakers and engineers, but also a fashion designer, a community theatre director, a food photographer. All are looking to develop their practice, learn new technical skills and open new creative doors with technology to build their professional profile and experience, but all are quickly learning that the creative combination of these new technologies rely heavily upon their creative sensibilities. They are not simply exploring and developing new skills, they are stretching and reapplying their existing ones.
Nell is bringing together our participating artists into a range of production teams with responsibilities across the project, stretching their existing skills as well as offering new experiences. Portrait photographers are applying their skills for composition and putting their subjects at ease to 3D scanning and opening up our subjects in interviews. The fashion designer and theatre director are leading a core team to think about the interaction design, theatrics and aesthetics of the installation. On top of the new digital creative talents being offered by MLF, there is a kind of black market of skills being traded, as the teams from various different backgrounds learn and exchange with one-another.
As we approach Friday night, and the end of our first week, the group is already forming its own identity - one that will surely shift and evolve over the following two weeks. This hybrid-approach to creativity is reflected in a hybrid-approach to learning; the autonomy given to each participant enables a practical sense of learning as they build towards a final production. Drawing on their own ideas and perspectives creates a sense not just of ownership, but of a shared creative direction. I can't wait to see where they end up.