Fragile Devices: Improvisation, Emerging Technologies and Community

Researcher: Rebecca Caines

This project examines socially engaged art projects in Australia, Northern Ireland, China and Canada that work with improvisation and emerging technologies. This research examines the social benefit of emerging technologies when used in community-engaged, improvisation-based art. Community-engaged art collaboratively involves professional artists, traditional culture keepers, community participants, social and welfare organizations, and other partners working together on art projects that address local issues (Frye Burnham; Lacy; Mills and Brown; Kuppers and Robertson; Cohen-Cruz; Kester; Caines; Prentki and Preston). New technologies being used by 21st century contemporary community-based artists include digital audio and media, existing and custom smartphone and tablet applications, online tools, locative media, augmented reality, microcontrollers and sensors, and wearable technologies. Yet despite their uptake by artists working in community settings, there has been very little research examining how these emerging technologies are being used to benefit communities in new media community-engaged art projects. Through synthesizing and mobilizing recent  research on international case studies, this project aims to show that improvisation provides an ethical model for technology utilization in community-based art; a model that results in both artistic innovation and successful community development. Alongside more traditional new media art case studies, this research examines areas where social participation is key, including serious gaming and the related field of what Case calls explorable explanations, where gaming and improvised interactivity are used as a tool for participatory creative learning. (Case 2015). This research shows that contemporary artists, and the communities they work with, are increasingly utilizing real-time decision-making, active listening,  collaborative design, creative risk, and other improvisatory art strategies when working with these emerging technologies in contemporary art projects. Basque audio artist/scholar Mattin suggests that to create anything ethically is to “Go Fragile”, collaboratively investigating the unknown in the present through improvisation (2009). The research contends that improvisation is thus being utilized as an artistic method to produce technology centred improvised music, theatre, dance, film and interdisciplinary practices, and is also being used as a project development strategy to examine and repurpose emerging technology in locally relevant ways; a fragile artistic and social device.


Monograph (in progress) for the Insubordinate Spaces book series with Temple University, edited by George Lipsitz