In 2019-20, AGAST co-created an interactive Microsoft Hololens exhibit with award-winning poet Jay Bernard entitled UNBODY.

UNBODY is a Mixed Reality (MR) Hololens installation co-created by Jay Bernard, Eric White (Oxford Brookes University), Fridolin Wild (Open University), and John Twycross (University College London). 

In the exhibit, holographic texts and film clips spill from dayglow billboards and totems. Bernard probes the boundaries between identity and consciousness, using trans poetics to explore how words haunt and re-create our physical selves in an extended, hybridised reality. The exhibit also departs from the graphic-centric worlds of Virtual Reality (VR) and MR to explore their textual and aural dimensions.

Person in hololens interacting with Unbody exhibit

UNBODY addresses problems of embodiment, representation, and difference in digital media environments. The Installation drew on Bernard’s experience with urban marginalisation as experienced by LGBT+ and BAME youth. Bernard based the installation on White’s newly discovered archival evidence on Bob and Rose Browns’ Reading Machines, which showed how electronic reading could drive social change. Using world-leading Hololens technology developed by Wild, Laurence Marshall, and their team at PAL with John Twycross serving as Executive Producer, participants encounter staged images of Bernard in the exhibition space, which trigger holograms text-based word puzzles in the headsets. 

The interactive exhibition was staged at Oxford Brookes’ Think Human festival in February 2020, and virtually at the Augmented World Expo (Santa Clara, CA) in June. The Oxford event engaged 30-55 core participants, but thousands of participants viewed the online versions. As a mark of its international esteem, Unbody was a finalist for an Auggie Award in the Best Art category, an initiative of the Augmented World Expo.
Guide adjusting hololens on person
Jay Bernard appearing in Unbody hololens footage
UNBODY allows users to distribute Bernard’s texts virtually anywhere they wish in the exhibition space, as well as combining them in novel arrangements. In the final part of the exhibit, users can also create their own neologisms. Literary creativity and technical transliteracy are therefore central to, and not mere adjuncts of, the immersive experience. However, UNBODY also recognises the time limitations of that experience, and therefore incorporates community-based workshops in MakerSpaces to extend the creative experimentation young people engage with in UNBODY.

The co-creation workshops provide young people with a palette of ideas to develop for their own VR stories after the event. The experience is emancipatory and pedagogical. It challenges young people to explore the digital and physical spaces they inhabit, and the opportunities available to them, while providing them with new skills in creative writing and coding.

UNBODY debuted at Oxford Brookes University (OBU) in February 2020, shortly before the pandemic locked down public events. Thanks to a £20K CILIP ‘Building Bridges’ grant, the national and international community workshops programme is continuing via remote learning and socially distanced workshops. 

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