Experience virtual touch
[ i miss your touch ] by PluginHUMAN is an interactive video experience that transports two people who are in separate locations into a shared virtual environment. This award-winning online platform launched in March 2020 as a rapid response to pandemic conditions. It helps people maintain meaningful social and physical connections and provides a personalised art experience. It also provides the experience of virtual touch. [ i miss your touch ] makes people feel as if they are together in one space. This artwork was created as a rapid response to local pandemic government rules, a time when our city’s media architecture artworks were paused, in order to encourage people to stay at home. In these unprecedented conditions, we created [ i miss your touch ] to help audiences explore the boundaries of participatory digital architecture.
[ i miss your touch ] is a live collaboration between the participants and the PluginHUMAN artists (Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer). The artwork responds to people’s movements in real time. PluginHUMAN affect live video streams from participants’ webcams. People instantly see the creative effects of their movements and interactions. It allows friends, who are in separate locations, to dance, to virtually hug and to interact in a shared online environment. [ i miss your touch ] provides a way to maintain meaningful human connections and meaningful art engagement. During Melbourne (Australian) 2020 COVID home lockdown restrictions, strict pandemic government rules were in place. Our city’s media architecture artworks were paused, in order to encourage people to stay at home. So people turned to digital architecture for their social and cultural connections. We created [ i miss your touch ] to help audiences explore the boundaries of participatory digital architecture. HOW IT WORKS: Participants book a time and are emailed a unique URL. Each experience is 10-minutes. People can book a solo experience (one of the artists joins them, via webcam), or a double booking (they elect a friend and together, via webcam, they engage with the artwork). Participants need a computer with a built-in webcam and internet connection. During their allocated time participants are given access to the [ i miss your touch ] web platform. They see their own video stream, the video stream of the other person, and the compiled animated vision of themselves and the other person moving together. Participants hear the same music but can't talk to each other. This artwork encourages people to communicate via movement. INNOVATION: The aim was to create a unique online interactive artwork that’s accessible to broad audiences. Participants don’t need specialist equipment or skills. This work is seemingly simple. Yet it involves complex programming in order to allow people to appear together in real-time in a single, shared virtual environment. This virtual environment allows people to explore and experience virtual touch. It provides the feeling that you are actually physically together in one location. Participants don’t need to download software nor login. [ i miss your touch ] is accessible to anyone with a computer, a webcam and internet connection. Through this work PluginHUMAN democratises access to progressive, real-time, interactive virtual environments that provide the experience of virtual touch. This artwork was created by a small independent team of three artists.
Building or project owner : PluginHUMAN
Architecture : PluginHUMAN
Project artist/ concept/ design/ planning : PluginHUMAN
Urban situation : In 2020 [ i miss your touch ] was due to be streamed onto our city's most prominent media facade - the Melbourne Federation Square Media Facade. Shortly before the streaming began, the City stopped all art being displayed on the facade; the art was replaced by practical covid safety information. At this time Melbourne residents were subject to one of the longest home lockdowns in the world. People's movements were tightly restricted with curfews in place. Public buildings were closed. People's access to art and their access to each other was massively restricted. During these many months of continuous lockdown, people turned to digital architecture to find connection. [ i miss your touch ] demonstrates a unique way in which digital architecture can be used to bring people together in an accessible space during a time of unprecedented social and physical restrictions.
Community or communities involved : We involved communities who were most at risk of the adverse effects isolation during pandemic lockdowns. This includes: LGBTIQ+ communities; Youth; Melbourne Primary school children (who were experiencing prolonged home schooling); Those living alone; Seniors; People with mixed and limited abilities.
Issues addressed : Due to COVID-19, many people are without physical contact with others due to home lockdowns and social distancing rules. We can’t shake a friend’s hand, nor give them a hug. We can't even see some friends and family members in real life. This has led to mass increases in mental health issues. Increased mental health issues are prevalent across populations including in children and youth, people living alone, seniors and those in the LGBTIQ+ community. Our objective was to create an online artwork that: 1. Connects vulnerable communities during our COVID-19 social and physical distancing restrictions. 2. Can be implemented quickly, at no cost. 3. Is easily accessible for the public, with no need for them to download software/apps nor have specialist skills or equipment. 4. Is engaging, meaningful and fun.
Impact : [ i miss your touch ] won a 2020 Good Design Award. A peer review academic paper, detailing the ground-breaking design and technology behind this work, was published in 2020. This globally recognised artwork has been accessible to huge international participation since mid-March 2020, enabling unique and memorable connections between friends during times of unprecedented restrictions. Community responses: “it was incredible, it felt like [my friend was] physically with me.” (A young 16 year old Melbourne transgender man). “Amazing, I got to hug my friend” (A young 17 year old person who was isolating alone). Evaluations of participants’ experiences have shown that this artwork can help: Reduce anxiety; Reduce feelings of social isolation; Increase personal wellbeing; Help maintain meaningful connections; Generate joy; Provide access to innovative art.
Tools developed : This artwork is not delivered on a website. [ i miss your touch ] is ephemeral and operates in real-time. Participants access a web platform (a custom-coded cloud hosted Node.js app spot). The artwork is streamed to each participant via a unique URL in real-time. The video stream is compiled in TouchDesigner using Python and it is manually effected in real-time by PluginHUMAN. The outcome is a live collaboration between the participants and the artists.
Tools used : TouchDesigner
Next steps : We are creating a version of this artwork where we connect groups of people who are in different locations. This will allow groups people who are at two different public events to interact and engage with each other. The live stream of the groups' interactions can be displayed on a large media screen at each event. As our city (Melbourne) begins to open up again following prolonged and extreme lockdowns, we will publicly display the participant interactions on the Media Facade at Federation Square (City of Melbourne). This was scheduled to happen over 2020 but the content of this City's media facade was restricted due to the pandemic - it only displayed covid safety information during 2020.