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School of Communication, School of Interactive Arts & Technology

FCAT faculty members awarded SSHRC Insight Development Grants for research and innovations in digital media

September 28, 2020

By Tessa Perkins Deneault

Three FCAT faculty members have been awarded grants for their research and innovation in diverse areas of digital media. 

In the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda’s project will explore archival media arts projects from a feminist perspective and through the concepts of re-activation, re-mediation and re-enactment. Also in SIAT, Bernhard Riecke is studying the effects of synchronized breathing on interpersonal relationships as experienced in virtual reality. In the School of Communication, Cait McKinney’s project will develop a methodology for studying marginalized internet histories—starting with the connection between HIV and network computing. 

Gabriela Aceves Sepulveda

Re-activation, Re-mediation and Re-enactment as Feminist Explorations in the Media Arts Archive

Aceves Sepúlveda has always been interested in feminist activism. Her research broadly focuses on theorizing ways to make feminist demands known via different modes of communication including art making and politics. 

Her current research project will study three pioneering artworks from a feminist lens while exploring ways to revisit the works in today’s context and in a new technology environment. A broad goal of the project is also to consider the Americas as a whole, thus one artist is included from each country: Char Davis from Canada, Nina Sobell from the United States and Marta Minujin from Argentina. 

By choosing works from these artists, Aceves Sepúlveda also sees her project as intervening in the archive by bringing these artists to the surface: “One of my main interests is to bring about visibility to artists who aren’t usually taken into account — marginalized people.” 

After working with her grad students to find innovative ways to remake the works through re-activation, update the technology through re-mediation, or perform it through re-enactment, one outcome will be concepts of artworks that can be further explored or developed into full performances. 

Bernhard Riecke

JeL: Synchronization through a Virtual Reality installation for interpersonal connection

Drawing on inspiration from a variety of fields including biosensing, psychology, generative art and movement therapy, Bernhard Riecke’s research is especially relevant as we look for new ways to stay connected while being distant from each other. 

“We’re using technology to do what social networks claim to do — keep people connected,” says Riecke.

In the bio-responsive virtual reality installation that Rieke and his grad students have created, participants are immersed in an underwater environment where jellyfish swim in synch with their breathing. In pairs, the participants must collaborate to synchronize their breathing in order to grow coral and populate a reef. The goal is to foster an intimate feeling of being connected to each other and to nature. 

Pairs of strangers and people who already know each other have taken part in the experience, and Riecke notes that the change in the strength of interpersonal connection is larger between strangers. They are also interested in studying the experience’s impact on the participants’ pro-social behaviour and altruistic intentions.

Now that research has to be done remotely, the team is looking into testing the experience with participants in different locations. Their findings could present many applications for breathing sensors to integrate interpersonal connection into online activities.

Learn more about the JeL project.

Cait McKinney

HIV and the network society: developing a methodological toolkit for marginalized internet histories

Building on her research in Bugs: Rethinking the History of Computing, Cait McKinney’s project will provide a toolkit for studying the histories of marginalized groups and their relation to the development of the internet by studying the history of AIDS activists and their involvement in early network computing.

Along with collaborator (and SFU School of Communication alumnus) Dylan Mulvin from the London School of Economics, McKinney will study the archives of AIDS activist organizations in Silicon Valley, Vancouver and London to discover the ways that knowledge transfers between activist and technology communities. 

“We’re looking for AIDS activist organizations that were using computing, and technology organizations that were interested in AIDS outreach,” explains McKinney. 

Those areas of overlap are where the two communities became inextricably linked. While her previous research focused more on the discourse analysis and common metaphors of infection and virus that made their way into computing lingo, this project moves beyond that to trace the history in a methodological way that could be replicated for other marginalized histories. 

With most physical archives closed, the project has been somewhat slowed, but COVID-19 has also provided new relevance to the research as our lives move increasingly online and we become more aware of the importance of understanding previously marginalized histories.