Monday, 3 May 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Future Directions

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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When I first agreed to get involved with A Different LENS, I was approaching my contribution as a side project to my PhD research. 

Indeed, I had only just launched Canterbury in 3 Words – a project made specifically in response to my PhD research questions – when I received the brief for A Different LENS. The latter was therefore my opportunity to keep the creative juices flowing, connect with other artists and gain experience in producing another kind of locative digital media art, alongside my PhD work.

It wasn’t until late in the development of The Gates to Dreamland when I realised that my contribution to A Different LENS had been answering those same PhD research questions all along, albeit from a different angle.   

The Gates to Dreamland was fundamentally concerned with the processes through which places become meaningful to us. And being a form of playful locative media that tells a story, I found myself making many of the same considerations as I had done for other projects during the PhD.

These included how to account for the diverse things and processes that make places what they are; how to manage the difficulties of designing for physical locations that can change without warning; and how to make interacting with places using locative and playful media something that is evocative and interesting.

The project seemed too relevant not to incorporate into my PhD research.

So once The Gates to Dreamland launched, I began considering what kinds of material I could gather and analyse to produce useful findings I could write about in my PhD thesis.                        

Fortunately, I am pretty rigorous when it comes to documenting the process behind any creative work I do. I already had numerous design documents, notes and other original files that I could use in my analysis.

But I knew it would also be valuable to discuss the work with other people, to gauge their responses to the project and its relationship with place.

I identified two groups of people who I felt could provide important insights: collaborators in A Different LENS who tackled the same design brief as me, and members of the public who were willing to test the audiowalk and give me feedback.

Opportunities to talk with some of the other contributing artists arose after the opening of A Different LENS for Margate NOW 2020. The project was featured in Sound Walk September, an annual global festival held online to celebrate audiowalks, and as a result we were invited to host a ‘café’ event with Walk Listen Create. We ran this as a ‘Long Table’, where all of the participating artists spoke about their projects as if talking at a dinner party, while attendees could openly ask questions and discuss the work with us.                 

After this more performative event, a group of us then took part in an ‘after party’, where we chatted with each other about how we found the process of taking part in A Different LENS. This allowed me to ask each contributing artist more targeted questions about their experiences in responding to the project brief.             

Alongside this group discussion, I organised a separate conversation with the project curator Elspeth Penfold, who incidentally also wanted to interview me about A Different LENS for her MA research. In the end, the 90-minute discussion we shared left us both with plenty to work with.

As for feedback from people actually trying The Gates to Dreamland, over November and December 2020 I ran a handful of tests with some really great people who volunteered to take part. Due to the pandemic, all of these people participated online using Streetview, with the A Different LENS webapp open on a separate browser tab. After completing the walk, I then interviewed the testers for 30 minutes about their experiences.

I’m pleased to say that the feedback I’ve received so far has been very positive. It was heartening to hear all the connections the testers identified between the areas around Dreamland and the events described in the audio diaries, which were based on Galileo’s life in 17th-century Florence. They picked up on lots of the key themes and ideas I wanted to explore in the work and praised the writing for being engaging and evocative. The testers were also complimentary about my voice performances and the audio quality in general.                      

Alongside this positive feedback, I was grateful to get some constructive comments that could help to shape the future of The Gates to Dreamland.

There were some useful suggestions of small technical changes that might improve the experience for different kinds of participants, such as raising the overall volume of the audio for those without headphones. Many of these ideas were tweaks that can be made relatively easily.

However, the testers also offered some interesting thoughts on how remote participation in the walk via Streetview could be developed further.

I was fully aware before testing that the online-only version of the walk was not a seamless experience. The Gates to Dreamland was primarily designed to be completed in Margate, so simulating the walk via an internet browser was always going to be a compromise.                                          

The testers still found the format effective, though, and wondered whether there could be an opportunity to make a more bespoke online version of the walk.

This would likely involve integrating the audio diaries and navigation via Streetview into a single platform, creating a single, accessible place (e.g. website or app) where people anywhere in the world could access the walk online at any point in the future.

It was also suggested that the online version of the walk could include ambient sound and/or music. This is something I would’ve liked to do for the original version if I had more time, and is certainly a feature I’d be interested in working on for any future versions.

While writing my PhD thesis will prevent me from working further on the project over the coming months, I’ll certainly be thinking about what options are available to take these ideas further.

In the meantime, I’d still be delighted if anybody reading this wanted to try the current online version of The Gates to Dreamland.

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading. This is the start of the walk, and the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk in Streetview, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.

Before I wrap up, I’m delighted to tell you about one special piece of positive feedback relating to this project.

In January, we learnt that A Different LENS received an honourable mention at the Sound Walk September 2020 Awards! In total, there were 50 different soundwalk projects that were submitted to the event, which were narrowed down to a shortlist of 13 for the awards. To not only be shortlisted but also to receive an honourable mention is a huge credit to everyone involved in the project, and it made me very proud to have contributed myself.

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To finish off this series of posts exploring how The Gates to Dreamland was made, I’d just like to thank a few people who made all of this possible.

First and foremost, Elspeth Penfold, for her sterling work in curating A Different LENS and for inviting me to contribute to the project. I’ve mentioned all the different jobs Elspeth took on in this role previously, but I can now add organising the post-launch events and chatting with me about her curation of the project to the list.

I’d like to thank the other artists who contributed to A Different LENS for their valuable advice, ideas and the numerous conversations we shared that have helped me to make – and make sense of – The Gates to Dreamland.

Thank you to Arts Council England, Margate NOW, Kent Country Council and the Margate Bookie for funding and supporting A Different LENS.

And finally, many thanks to those who have tested The Gates to Dreamland and taken the time to share your impressions with me. Your contributions have been a huge help for my PhD research, and will help to shape how the project develops in the future.


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