#playspace at Contact


Playspace took place on Sat 4th December 2010 at Contact from 11:30 to well into the night. It was billed as a day to create, play and visit virtual worlds and I have to say that even such an ambitious statement fell short of capturing the creative energy that unleashed itself upon us on the day itself. I gush. But I’m sure everyone present would agree that it was an inspirational event laced with creative playfulness.

The day started with an introduction by Contact’s creative director Baba Israel who explained the program and initiated a live link to the Zion Arts Centre during which the Playspace attendees were treated to the sight and sound of Zion’s young MCs participating in a regular music workshop.

Next, there was a choice of unconference sessions to attend. I had never been to an unconference before Playspace and, as a former postgraduate student, was fully prepared for the stifling formality of a structured seminar or panel session accompanied by the awkward silences I remember back from my MA & BA days. I was very pleasantly surprised. The session I attended was fluid, energetic, informative and engaging. In fact, when our allotted time came to an end, we were still going strong and only reluctantly moved on to the rest of the days events. The sessions on offer included ‘Curation in the Digital Age’, the creative potential of technology, ‘Is the arts…open?’ and ‘Digital Storytelling’. I participated in the latter, which included two provocations by Guardian journalist Sarah Hartley and AI chatbot researcher Collette Curry from MMU. We discussed everything from the changing face of journalism and news consumption, to the Turing Test, to narrative depth in Triple A [videogame] titles. I fully recommend that you check out unconferences in your local area if you ever have the opportunity.

Next on my own personal agenda for the day was a workshop entitled iCreate: Music that focused on using the iPhone or iPod touch for creating music. In a former incarnation, as @adrianslatcher reminded me, I dabbled as a musician and, being one step away from an Apple fangirl, this session appealed to me. The session was run by Lewis Sykes, Director of Cybersonica, who helpfully created a blog for the workshop with a helpful run down of apps he introduced us to. I was particularly impressed by the Looptastic Producer app and a fantastic piece of hardware called the Akai SynthStation. Maybe, if Santa thinks I’ve been very good….

My one criticism of the session was that there wasn’t enough time to get hands on with the apps and hardware. It would have been nice if we’d managed to produce something substantial at the end of it but I think we just ran out of time and the cramped confines of Contact’s Media Lounge didn’t prove to be conducive to collaboration, despite Lewis’ best efforts.

The next event I took part in was the playtesting of Larkin’ Abouts‘ new game Village of the Dragon. The concept was simple. 6 apples were hidden around the 1st floor of Contact. A hungry dragon who loved apples wanted to eat them, 3 knights wanted to slay the dragon, and a group of villagers wanted to protect the dragon without getting eaten themselves. The dragon was ‘blind’ but could move as quickly around the area as it liked. The knights could see but could only move for two steps, before having to pause for the equivalent of one step. And the villagers could only move one step at a time while having to pause for the equivalent of two steps (the mechanic was enforced by everyone mentally or verbally counting ‘1-2-3, 1-2-3’). I got to play both a villager and a knight and had fantastic fun.

At 17:30 I went to see the playback/outcome of the Comixed Identities workshop which had taken place earlier. This was fantastic. Provocations by speakers on topics as diverse as drugs for mental health and lavish Christmas lights garnering exteriors of houses in working class areas were tied together by the audience into the broad themes of the day. Audience interjections were interpreted by dancers on stage and throughout the whole thing, a gossamer square above the stage displayed the tweets that had been sent during the day utilising the #playspace and #cmxd hastags. In fact, debate continued in these streams even as the performance/interaction continued. I’ve never felt more comfortable with continuous partial attention, even if it was slightly disturbing to see my tweets and my avatar displayed massively in front of a large audience.

After the Comixed event, and after availing myself of some free pizza in the bar, I moseyed over to see Greg Foster’s fabulous Super Political Street Fighter where audience manifestos and political ideas are put to the test in a death match situation. Foster plays a suited gameshow host and a real-life Ken and Ryu control their projected Street Fighter IV characters, winning or losing according to the strength or weaknesses of the suggested political platforms. It really has to be experienced to be appreciated so if you see this excellent performance advertised in your area, go and check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

The penultimate event of the agenda was the showcase of the body>data>telepresence workshop that had been taking place between 13:00 and 16:00. Originally, the intention had been to link up the dance workshop with a group of New York dancers but the internet connection on the NY end had prevented that from happening. However, the use of localised telematics was absolutely amazing. I was completely blown away with the skill with which the dancers utilised telepresence and the physicality and narrative depth they brought to the technology. Baba Isreal improved beats around the dancers. Hopefully, this short video section captures some of the energy that was displayed. This was one of my favorite parts of the day.

The final part of Playspace was the Mixed Movement session. This ran from 9pm until around 11pm. Mixed Movement is a regular session at Contact, run by the supremely talented Dawn Crandell. It runs like an open mic for dancers with the aim of bringing together dancers from different disciplines into the same space. The dancers first soloed before coming together in randomly picked pairs for duets that fed off of each of their different styles. Baba Israel supplied the beats which he had crowdsourced via Twitter prior to the event, enabling a level of interactivity that tied in with the rest of the day. As somebody that has never had a real interest in dance as a discipline, I was stunned by the talent on display and will definitely be returning to Contact to check out future Mixed Movement events.

Because of timing issues, I missed out on quite a few other session during the course of the day but you can see the full program of events here. I only fleetingly examined the wondrous pieces of creative technology showcased by MadLab. I particularly enjoyed hearing the drumbot that beat out a samba beat every time somebody tweeted using the #playspace hashtag. As you can imagine, that happened quite a lot.

Mixed Movement segued into a club night at which point I headed home into the foggy night, tired but awesomely satisfied with the hours I’d spent with amazingly talented artists, switched on individuals, and general interesting types. Playspace was the first large event I’ve attended where I’ve been able to meet with people that I’ve only interacted with on Twitter and I made many new friendships and connections. I’d love to see this as a regular event.

Well done to all involved for a truly successful event.

7 Responses to “#playspace at Contact”

  1. 1 Greg Foster

    Thanks so much for that lovely review! Great blog by the way!

    • 2 veeuye

      No problem and cheers. And again, Super Political Street Fighter is excellent. Very pleased to have caught it again.

  2. What a great reminder of the day – pix, videos and all – glad you enjoyed the day – we did too – with the snow, the xmas lights and the dancing – it was one to remember ;))

  1. 1 Tweets that mention #playspace at Contact « Three-Point-Oh! -- Topsy.com
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  3. 3 Manchester Girl Geek Tea Party & Christmas Bash « Branching Dialogue
  4. 4 MadLab Girl Geeks Christmas Party

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