Creativity in the Digital Age: Remixes, Remediations, Realignments Report

23 May 2017, Cardiff University

By definition, creativity is about the new and the different, the original and the inventive. Yet it can also involve reworking and realigning, putting a fresh spin on a practice or a concept and producing something wholly unexpected, exciting or even challenging. Creativity in the Digital Age: Remixes, Remediations, Realignments, a symposium hosted by Cardiff Digital Cultures, endeavoured to examine exactly this practice within the creative economy. Through a focus on the collaborations and intersections with academic research and the creative industries, the event aimed to consider how digital practices such as remixing and remediation are themselves realigning what we understand ‘creativity’ to mean, and how universities can be involved. 

After welcoming words from co-organiser Prof. Anthony Mandal, the first keynote of the day came from Prof. Ruth McElroy of the University of South Wales. Her paper, Value and the Digital: Creativity and Constraint, considered the materiality of the digital in the creative economy, asking why this aspect is often overlooked, and who benefits from this oversight? She explained that examinations of creativity in the digital age rarely acknowledge the labour that enables the digital economy, and called for the flexible working that is common in creative industries to be placed in a gendered historical context: for example, digital technologies have become one of the main solutions through which women manage the balance between work and home. Her paper went on to outline four digital mythologies: digital distribution signals the end of linear television; public service broadcasting is now redundant; in a digital age power and control shift to the audience; and digital offers universal access to all players. McElroy explained that the uncritical assimilation of these myths into scholarship could undermine our understanding of the digital economy. Finally, this paper moved to argue that public service broadcasters are still vital to the television sector in shouldering some of the risks of the digital age, and that they are important to the success of minority language broadcasting. Although the language of digital technologies has traditionally been English, thus creating a barrier to digital inclusivity and diversity’ McElroy suggests that digital platforms can help ensure that minority languages don’t become relic languages. She finished by asserting the importance of social media and user-generated content as strategic elements of minority language broadcasters’ services.

Prof. Ruth McElroy (University of South Wales)

The first panel session of the day was opened by Sara Pepper, who leads the Creative Cardiff initiative. Pepper discussed the new landscape of the national and regional creative economy, and provided fuller details about the mapping and networking initiatives that are being undertaken by the Creative Cardiff team. Pepper then introduced the first pair of speakers: Matt Wright and Janire Najera from 4PI Productions, who were presenting their work on CULTVR: Cultural Immersion. They began by providing a taste of the various diverse exhibitions they have worked on across Europe, explaining their interest in creating immersive experiences, placing people in virtual spaces but in a ‘shared way’. CULTVR is an online portal making cultural activities in Wales available to all, while archiving exhibitions and events. It is a powerful VR social platform designed to host anything but linear video.

Next came Dr Dave Millard, Associate Professor of Computer and Web Science at the University of Southampton. His paper, StoryPlaces: Exploring the Poetics of Locative Stories, providing an insight into the Leverhulme-funded StoryPlaces project. This venture is aiming to create a foundation for location-based narratives, and to deisgn authoring tools that embody those poetics and enable practical creative works to be developed and evaluations and analyses of those works to occur. Bringing together computer scientists, hypertext theorists, and narrative and literary experts, the project is exploring interdisciplinary ways of working together and building systems that lead to innovation in both technology and the creative arts. Millard’s paper gave us an insight into the project from the computer science side, explain the tools created to support locative story authors, such as a reader with a powerful sculptural hypertext engine.

Dr Dave Millard discusses different types of interactive narratives

The final paper in the panel came from Shane Nickels of yello brick, talking about Creative Play. yello brick are a creative marketing agency that build engaging and participatory experiences for brands and organisations. Nickels explains how they develop stories that create new realities in normal spaces: immersive experiences using digital, theatrical and art based forms. They key message of his paper is that play is at the heart of yello brick and is a guiding principle of the agency. Examples of their work include an epic urban adventure game in the streets of Cardiff, a site-specific storytelling app for cycle routes in Wales, and an online interactive event for new opera audiences. The second part of Nickels’s talk forcused on the Traces / Olion app, an interactive, immersive app that has been co-developed by yello brick, Dr Jenny Kidd (Cardiff University) and the Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum of Wales, to guide visitors to St Fagans National Museum of History imaginatively around the site.

Shane Nickels on the creative process in action

After lunch, it was time for the second panel of the day, opened by Dr Victoria Anderson from the charity Stretch, who is currently a Visiting Researcher at Cardiff University. This organisation facilitates confidence and life skills through the creative arts, access to culture and new technology, delivering a variety of innovative and bespoke projects to enhance the rehabilitation and education of marginalized communities. Anderson’s paper, Digital Storytelling in Prisons: Route to Rehabilitation?, focused on the Stretch Digital project, a nationwide Big Lottery funded venture equipping prisoners with skills in new media to create digital stories about their personal experiences of the criminal justice system and the life that led them there. The aim is to bridge the ever-growing digital divide and increase participants’ confidence and employability, while giving a voice to those who are so often left unheard. Anderson described her experiences in Wandsworth prison, engaging prisoners with digital storytelling. As she points out there is, in fact, very little of the digital age in prison; digital devices such as smartphones are conspicuously absent. Anderson concluded her paper by suggesting that the final, digital object is not necessarily the objective; it is the means through which personal stories could be unlocked.

Next up was Dr Katie Brown from the University of Bristol with her paper Creating and Questioning Identities in ‘Joanna Rants’. She began her talk by outlining the lack of research going into Latin American voices on YouTube, continuing to describe the phenomenon of ‘Joanna Rants’ (search for the name on YouTube for an example!). A key concern of Joanna is to challenge perceptions and stereotypes about Latin American people, tying into Brown’s research interests in the role of contemporary literature and visual culture in the creation, representation and questioning of identities, especially national, regional or supranational identities.

Ben Gwalchmai (NUI Galway) was the final speaker of this panel. His paper Architectural Literature was drawn from his PhD project, which is using open data to make responsive, augmented reality (AR) stories of the city. Opening the discussion, Gwalchmai looks to a time when writers will use the city itself as a form, asserting that one mode of experiencing the city as a text is augmented reality. He went on to play Keiichi Matsuda’s ‘HYPER-REALITY‘ – an overwhelming video demonstrating the dangers of living in a co-lived, augmented reality world, before concluding that fixity and orientation are key for a meditative, enjoyable experience of AR: Gwalchmai calls this ‘Architectural Literature’. Architectural Literature employs a much more locatively ‘fixed’ approach to AR overlays (among other things), thus enabling a more continuous, contiguous set of associations to build that move away from the chaos on show in ‘HYPER-REALITY’. At the same time, such an imposition of AR space onto real space raises issues of ownership over such virtual surfaces and spaces.

Panel three was opened by Dr Caitriona Noonan (Cardiff University), with her paper Broadcasting the Arts in Television’s Digital Age: New Forms of Public Service Value? Her discussion was grounded in the genre of arts broadcasting, addressing what it is, why it matters, and how it is under threat. Noonan began by listing the three main broadcasters of arts programming: BBC Arts, Sky Arts, and Channel 4. She explained that fewer hours and less money is going into Arts broadcasters, arguing that a hierarchy is being created of public service genres. She then moved on to discuss how linear TV is still the main format and central strategy for arts broadcasters, suggesting that this traditional format needs to drive viewers online. Noonan ended by warning of over-simplifying this solution, however, concluding that digital could be both an opportunity and a threat for the arts, questioning it could lead to further ghettoization of the genre.

Prof. Holly Furneaux (Cardiff University) presented the final paper of the panel: Dickensian: Mashups and Queer Fan Fiction. Furneaux opened the discussion by describing her work as an advisor on the BBC’s adaptation of multiple Dickens novels, Dickensian. She explained that Dickensian came out of a tradition of adaptation, as Dickens himself played with form and repurposed characters. Her paper then moved to her recent work involving a community of Dickensian fan fiction, pointing to over 600 Dickens inspired fictions on main fan fiction websites. She links this fan fiction to BBC’s Dickensian by suggesting that both share a disregard of narrative closure, delighting in the possibilities of the spaces in between.

The day concluded with our second keynote from Prof. Jon Dovey (UWE), who was introduced by the symposium co-organiser Dr Kate Griffiths. Dovey’s paper, Following your Nose: Ambiguity, Interaction and Ambience, focused his talk on the Ambient Literature project being run at the Universities of the West of England, Bath Spa and Birmingham, which is designed to consider how situated literary experiences can be delivered through pervasive media systems to produce new forms of literary experience. The paper raised questions about whether situated information technologies illuminate the world, or eclipse it, while Dovey asserted that ambiguities are essential machinations of new digital poetics. He ended his paper, and the day, with a final, questioning formula: Distraction + Epistemic Awareness = Ambient Lit?

Prof. Jon Dovey (University of the West of England)

— Harriet Gordon


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