By Shakia Stewart, Digital Content Manager

28 November 2016 - 20:42

A participant wearing the Sentiment vest
"It’s kind of like virtual reality with sound and not vision.” - Diane Wiltshire

Diane Wiltshire is an artist in residency at Nottingham University and a fellow at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) a science, technology and arts organisation. As part of the Digital Design Weekend, Diane showcased her interactive art experience Sentiment, a special vest that you wear along with noise-cancelling headphones. As participants walked around the Aroma Nusantara cafe space in Kota Tua, the old town of Jakarta, different voices and stories of real life people were triggered. As you listened to the stories, you were also able to feel the emotions of those people speaking through vibrations that touched your skin through the vest. 

The project first started in 2013, after Diane began collecting stories from select individuals. “I picked my participants very carefully. I talked to guys who had been in Afghanistan, who had actually been blown up and recovered. I also talked to Buddhist Monks, stayed with New Age Travellers, and people that are transgender, philosophers, academics, artists.”

“Whilst I was interviewing all these people, I was also collecting their EDA (Electro Dermal Activity) data - those tiny little bits of sweat which show what you’re attending to. I had this data, I had the interviews, and together they make this kind of ‘sentiment’, this kind of emotion. I thought, what would be the best way to use this data?"

As the interviewer got into questions about myself - for example, How do you see yourself? What do people think about you? – this really touched me emotionally. I was sort of thinking, 'I never really knew myself’. I was taken to explore who I am and how my life has been going so far. I think communicating your thoughts about yourself to another person helps us to self-reflect who we are as a human being and what we want to achieve." - Participant in Jakarta

"When you think about how people explain emotions to each other they say ‘I felt butterflies in my stomach’ or ‘My hair stood up on the back of my neck’ – it’s all about your body. So then I looked at haptics (any form of interaction involving touch), and translated the EDA data into vibrations, and looked at different ways of putting that on the body. I came up with the vest as the best way, because you have really good pressure points around your shoulders and at the base of your back."

At the Digital Design Weekend audience members were invited to try on the vest and walk around the cafe space. But Diane also took the opportunity whilst in Indonesia to ask some Indonesian participants her questions and monitor their EDA. The answers will help inform Diane;s next project which will look at how tone and vibrations affect emotions even when you don't understand the language.

“Some of my questions include: Do you think there’s meaning to life? Do you feel like a member of society? How has your sexuality shaped your life? The answers have been so similar – and I’m so pleased about that. In a very arty, sentimental way it just proves what humanity is. I knew originally that I wanted to come to Asia and ask these questions, so I was so pleased when I was asked to come to Indonesia by the British Council.”

“People told me that people here in Indonesia were going to be shy, and they wouldn’t want to answer these questions. But they really haven’t been – they’ve been really open and really honest and I appreciate that a huge amount. I can’t wait to add their voices to Sentiment.”

A device measuring Electro Dermal Activity
Diane collects the EDA (Electro Dermal Activity) data during the interviews. 
Young girls writing answers to questions from BOM on a postcard.
BOM - We’re hoping that people will open up and tell us about what it’s like to be a woman here.

Women in creative tech

As part of the UK/Indonesia 2016-18 festival BOM will also be working with Yogyakarta based art, science and technologuy collective Lifepatch to understand the challenges and opportunities for women in Indonesia, and how these affect women’s ability to find work that inspires them. 

At the Digital Design Weekend BOM were asking some of their own questions. Louise from BOM said, “As an organisation we’re really interested in finding out particularly from women about what they want, what they need, and what it’s like to be a woman in Indonesia. We’re working with the British Council to try and encourage women to get into creative tech. So to be able to do that properly we need to be able to understand what it’s like to be an Indonesian woman. We’re hoping that people will open up and tell us about what it’s like to be a woman here. It’s been fantastic.”

Other stories from the Digital Design Weekend