The Figuring Project (2019) was lead by dance artist and researcher Lisa May Thomas. The project takes a dance and somatic approach to explore what happens to moving, sensing bodies embedded in simulated virtual worlds. Lisa is interested in employing sensory and somatic practices to support a perceptual understanding of different real, virtual and imagined environments. She is also developing an ethics of care around VR practices and participatory experiences.

Figuring takes its name from its intention to explore ‘string figures’ - the tacit and embodied movement of strings between people - used across generations and cultures for the transmission of stories, knowledge and value systems. String Figures are created through simple movements of folding, looping, twisting, and knotting strings between the hands, fingers and thumbs of one or more people. In the Figuring project process Lisa transposes and re-choreographs string figures, moving from hands to bodies. String figures offer physical structures for connecting bodies and enabling a felt dynamic between bodies through space. Lisa is interested in seeing how string structures can collectively evolve, and how, as virtual entities, they can connect bodies co-present in virtual environments. Lisa’s research investigates deeply the felt sensations which people often report as they manipulate virtual entities, and how these compare to their physical and tangible analogues.

The project brings together an experienced team of dancers, designers, digital technicians, and scientists which enables an exchange of skills and knowledge between science, technology and art. Technical lead on the project David Glowacki, in collaboration with Interactive Scientific and researchers at the University of Bristol, produced the cloud-mounted VR framework which enables multiple people to share, explore and interact in a virtual environment and which is used for this prototype project.

The Figuring project was completed (as a prototype) in September 2019. Lisa May Thomas, with a further award from the Arts Council in 2019 is currently developing VR and movement experience SOMA. More information on this to follow.