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UT Studio Art Professor Kristin Lucas Awarded $100,000 for Project that Pushes the Boundaries of Alternate Reality

two users with hololens and flamingo hologramHoloLens wearers see each other as having flamingo heads at Pioneer Works Virtual Environments Lab in Red Hook, Brooklyn. August 2017.

As part of a $500,000 immersive arts grant initiative to bridge the divide between art and technology, UT Transmedia Assistant Professor Kristin Lucas has been selected for the inaugural class of Engadget’s Alternate Realities grant recipients. One of five grants of $100,000 will go toward Lucas’ mixed reality project Dance with flARmingos, which will debut at Engadget Experience on Nov. 14.

In May 2017, Engadget announced its new grant initiative, aimed at funding artists and art projects that embraced new media and immersive technologies. Central to this goal was a focus on innovations in traditional storytelling, where artists and creatives reimagined storytelling through emerging technologies. Among 300 applications from around the globe, Lucas’ interactive virtual environment, Dance with flARmingos, was chosen. “We chose five projects that represent the true potential of art and technology as a unified force,” writes Engadget Editor-in-Chief Christopher Trout.

“A disciplinary polyglot, Kristin’s work has taken many forms over the last two decades,” said Jack Risley, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “Her projects show a penchant for technology, from lo-fi, flash-in-the-pan tech, to complex video installations, web projects and specialized, coded digital media.”

Dance with flARmingos is the umbrella title for a series of augmented reality (AR) projects that Lucas has produced since 2015. In the latest iteration, the series has taken a new direction with the addition of emerging augmented and mixed reality technologies. These additions pose an opportunity to reimagine kinship between humans and the flamingo— “a consummate showman and embattled victim of environmental neglect”—from an ethical distance. Dancing flamingos, crudely modeled, are animated by motion capture data of Lucas performing like a flamingo. This interpretive dance, informed by observed movement and research by flamingo experts, culminates in an experience that brings multiple participants into a shared reality through various stages and technologies. Participants can consume an elixir inspired by the flamingo diet and designed by a mixologist; they can interact with flamingos using an AR app on tablets, and join a dance led by holographic flamingos wearing Microsoft's HoloLens. 

As the Engadget release notes, “To Kristin Lucas, this is an exercise in going beyond a human-centered worldview into a more fluid ecological discourse, through the use of technological embodiment and sensory play.” Dance with flARmingos exists in partnership with Tour du Valat, a research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands in Arles, France, through which Lucas has adopted wild flamingos. Each of these adopted wild flamingo is represented in the work by a holographic flamingo that can be interacted with to view its unique biological and migration data. Lucas’s project is currently receiving support through a Pioneer Works Technology Residency in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Additional support has been provided through an AR/VR Artist Research Residency at Oregon Story Board co-organized by Upfor and Eyebeam, Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center Artist-in-Residence Program, BAU Institute Summer Arts Residency, Yafo Creative and Print Screen Festival Digital Arts Residency, UT Austin’s Department of Art and Art History, and a College of Fine Arts Creative Research Grant.

hologram of a flamingo
Holographic flamingos, Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. August 2017.

Each project funded by Engadget will debut at Engadget Experience, a one-day event exploring the future of creativity. The program will feature a series of talks, interviews, screenings and installations at United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 14.