• me@johnwhall.art
  • Derby, UK

DYCP Final Report

Outline of the activity delivered

Research and development time to explore practice and take risks/ Professional Development Activities

Early learning using VR in Unity

An extremely valuable part of this project. While I had some insights into the processes available through the identified technologies, it wasn’t until I began to learn the applications that I was able to understand their uses in participatory art practice. The main bulk of this time was around professional development in using the Unity game engine. I initially sought training through YouTube tutors, however this began to take me in directions either more advanced than my skills or in areas I hadn’t planned for. I enrolled in the Unity learn programme, which gave me a better understanding of the fundamentals of using the engine, later expanding into advanced tools used in VR interaction.

Practical testing of these new skills as part of the workshops with Junction Arts also provided important “live” responses to the tools, as well as the processes, e.g. participants are fascinated with VR tools, but not so much in 3D modelling and scanning.

Creating New Work

DYCP Learning Project – A Digital Lantern Parade using participant made digital lanterns

Working with new skills and guidance from my project mentor, I created a new work in Unity based on my experience of working with Junction Arts participants. The work explores presenting participant made lanterns in a digital representation of the Bolsover Lantern Parade. I was also able to explore other works through being invited to be an artist in residence for the Level Centre Residency Lab 2021/22, made possible by the investment in skills and equipment from the DYCP , supporting my goals to exhibit participant work in immersive spaces.

Building new networks for future development/presentation of work

Sharing practice at the Engage Sharing Space event on Adaotion and Innovation

This project allowed me to find new part time work with immersive storytelling NPO MBD (Metro Boulot Dodo), approaches for freelance work, as well opportunity for further residencies. I have also presented short findings from this project and LEVEL residency as part of Engages Sharing Space programme and have been invited to talk about the work at other network events. This project also allowed me to explore web hosting digital immersive environments, which I am now able to do via this website, both expanding my reach as an artist and ability to exhibit work.

What I learned and how the activity help me develop

Fun video at LEVEL Centre exploring the duality of working simultaneously in digital and physical spaces

This project was essential in identifying the problems with presenting immersive work made by participant groups. While applications like Hubs and New Art City are more accessible than game engines, they both present issues around used understanding and require a level of skill or introduction. The Unity game engine was the most challenging, but where the most learning took place. Part of this was due to not fully understanding the systems until further along my development, but it was also due to gaps in it’s use. Even when a week would take place between learning sessions, I found I was relearning skills in order to understand what I needed to do next. However, once the fundamentals of these skills cemented themselves, I was able to take my understanding of the system further and further. For example, while the work created as part of this project is not presented in VR, I am now confident in creating VR experiences and look forward to doing this in future.

Participant made lanterns using VR tool MultiBrush

During practical sessions (and as part of the skill testing phase of the project and LEVEL residency), it became clear that even the most accessible tools required instruction and insight sharing. The tool I found most useful in introducing participants to using immersive technology was VR drawing application MultiBrush. This both gave participants an easy introduction to the technology, but also one that was highly accessible. Even in the case of working with adults with learning disabilities, hearing and visual impairments. I was also introduced to scenarios where participants didn’t want to engage with the digital technologies, meaning I had to adapt to ensure I was being as inclusive as possible.

Another important part of my learning as an artist was that arts organisations aren’t always equipped to support the delivery of digital participatory work (equipment/infrastructure/space etc), and it would also be my role to navigate the structural challenges and provide work arounds and support in order to make work.

What will happen as a result of this development period?

This development work has not only had a profound impact on my digital skills, but also on my thinking as an artist. Through practical exploration, it has allowed me to discover new philosophies about my work, as well as new processes to make participant inclusion more accessible and engaging. This development of my practice has already secured me an exhibition with LEVEL Centre (spring 2023) and workshop opportunities with a number of organisations for both the immediate future and over the next 12 months.

I have also had interest in support from organisations Junction Arts and Hub in Sleaford, as well as working with other artists to explore this work further and I intend to submit a Project Grant application to expand this area of working over a 24 month period. This new project will also give me the time to find fixes to problems that presented themselves during my DYCP. These include devising flexible methods of working with varying participant groups, as well as a robust system to present immersive environments as both offline and online installations.  

As well as exploring co-creative approaches in creating immersive spaces, this development has also grown my confidence in my practice as a non-participatory artist and I am in process of creating new work for the New Art City Festival 2022, where I hope to be recognised as producing digital artist.

This development has also expanded my abilities to present my work online, being better able to share my ideas and outcomes, as well as act as a portfolio of practice.

In closing, this period of development has provided a stable platform in skills and experience, as well as investment in equipment and technology, that gives me the ability to respond to the growing practice of immersive technology and digital participation.