Using Technology to Heal Trauma

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


Tjaša Ferme: Welcome to Theatre Tech Talks: AI, Science, and Biomedia in Theatre, a podcast produced by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide.

Our guest today is Heidi Boisvert. Hi, Heidi. I’m so excited to have you here.

Heidi Boisvert: Hi, Tjaša. Thanks for inviting me.

Tjaša: Absolutely. I’m so excited that we’re actually opening the season with you. You’re our first guest.

Heidi: Wow, lots of pressure.

Tjaša: I know. So much pressure. Now, let’s have fun. Let’s forget about the pressure. I feel like you’ve been excellent in dealing with pressure, which your highly decorated bio and resume testify to. Heidi Boisvert is an artist, scientist, and creative technologist. Heidi is currently an MIT research affiliate and an assistant professor of AI and the Arts: Immersive Performance Technologies at the University of Florida. She has been previously a TED resident and is currently developing the first media genome, an open source biometric lab and AI system to isolate the narrative ingredients that move us to act. She is also a member of the New Inc’s 6th and 7th cohort in the Creative Science track and has been working with David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar on Theater of the Mind, an immersive theatre piece for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, as a technology designer.

Heidi, wow, this is amazing and this is so much. Maybe let’s first jump in and just start unpacking with what is a technology designer? What does that all encompass?

Heidi: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s a very unusual, technology designer, technology director. It’s very unusual for the field of technology because we already have somebody that’s called a technical director, but they are typically dealing with non-technical or motor systems and things of that nature, rigging and all of that stuff. So I think it’s a newer term and I think the majority of the people that are fulfilling that role come from a creative technology background where we’re using a lot of emerging technology to support whatever the vision or the idea is. And oftentimes we’re poking in the dark and these technologies don’t exist, so we’re cobbling together pre-existing things, oftentimes building custom systems and those sorts of things. But really it’s about technology moving or working in the service of aesthetics, but also in some instances, like in your latest piece, using that same technology in an applied media sense to kind of critique the very same technology by using that technology in a critical way.

So it combines hardware and software. For instance, for the David Byrne project, I built a custom show control system that drives all the lights, the sounds, and all of the motor controls, VR experiments. And so it could encompass a whole host of things. But it’s really about thinking through what are the ways we can support the work and amplify the vision sometimes in a very visual, visceral, or in your face kind of way, but also sometimes very quietly it’s hidden and embedded in the infrastructure of the piece.

Tjaša: Yeah, incredible. I mean, I think I love that we just started on this recent example. So basically, Theater of the Mind was co-created by Academy, Grammy, and Tony award-winning artist David Byrne and writer Mala Gaonkar. And it was inspired by both historical and current neuroscience research. The show takes you on an immersive journey inside how we see and create our worlds. It was really funny because when I watched the trailer, I was like, “Oh my God, I feel dizzy.” And I was obviously taking notes. I was like, “Oh my God, illusions, perception.” And then I actually found this disclaimer on the website that said, “Caution, the brain may wander. Side effects may include a distrust of your own senses, a disorientation of self in a mild to severely good time.” Can you just walk us through this experience, how this was for you, and then also just your connection to science and specifically neuroscience and your understanding of that?

Heidi: Yeah. I mean, that was a very long-term project over four years. COVID kind of broke it up in terms of, it was supposed to be developed over a two-year period. And so it was a massive collaboration over probably two hundred people had worked on and touched that project in different ways from the set design to the light design, costumes, infrastructure building, engineers, a whole host of things. David for many years went on a journey to different neuroscience labs to actually understand how these experiments work and then try to figure out which ones would work for a theatrical context to enable lay people to understand science in a different type of playful way. And I think the experiments in and of themselves, we have eight of them in the show, are the most delightful aspects of the show. And then they’re woven together loosely through a retrogressive narrative like Gertrude Stein. So you travel back in time from somebody’s death to childhood.

And so I was brought on very early on to try to figure out multiple things. One, there were a bunch of different experiments that require technology to make the effects work. So using technology in the service basically of supporting the science so that it actually worked in the way that the research papers said it would work. But then we’re in this massive warehouse, so we had to run a mile of cable to be able to get lights and sounds and all these things to talk to each other. So I had to build some sort of a custom system that could drive those things, but also support a whole other hidden layer of experience attendance behind the scenes that are running the show. So we have this what we are calling “mission control,” which is where the stage managers, the traditional stage managers, not in immersive context, they’re a little bit different because they’re running around everywhere. So we had one station there with the whole custom show control system that automated all the lights, sounds, motor controls, VR, everything.

And then we had to create all of these layers of what you might call contingency, so if something went wrong. Because we basically had sixteen people every fifteen minutes for many, many hours, so you can’t get people backed up. And so we had a five-minute, a buffer period. And so there are oftentimes seven shows going on simultaneously. So I had to basically build a system that could fire and trigger things and then be reset so that for the next group coming in everything was reset.

So for me, it was, I think probably the most complex design challenge I’ve ever had. How do you deal with all of these different variables of things potentially going wrong? And I guess I was trying to get the contingency system. So behind the scenes you have these experience attendants who are resetting things. So I basically had ten iPads for all of the rooms to have a backup plan in case the triggers and fire that could override and automate them.

So designing that whole infrastructure in and of itself was a bit of a riddle. And then there were all the other tech pieces that we had. We had VR experience with sixteen network computers. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about the experiments, but essentially you’re entering into the world of a child. It was based on something called “Being Barbie.” So yeah, and then the whole set itself. So we had to run a mile of cable to get all these things to talk to each other, but also every room in the space has what you might call environmentally responsive triggers. So when people are opening doors and different things so that they were seamlessly integrated into the environment. So it was just a lot of tech required to actually make this thing work and make it feel like it was magic, that things were just happening.

Yeah, I know I didn’t address the question around my own work in neuroscience or how it connects, but I don’t know if you want to ask another question around that.

Tjaša: I would love to hear about the intersection of neuroscience and your work and as much as you can say, of course. I think you were telling me about an experiment that you did with a bunch of phones. Was that for a different project?

Heidi: Oh, that was for Run+Skip+Play. Yeah. Yeah. That was a piece we did with Melissa Painter and Sydney Skybetter for the LA Music Center last summer or the summer before. And the idea was to build an OSC bridge from a hundred phones to be able to create a real-time musical and visual performance and public space with a hundred people basically.

Tjaša: Yes.

Heidi: It was very cool. But the main goal there does tie a lot to the other work that I do around how do we reify the centrality of the body effect and our senses, how do we un-numb this kind of biological self that’s been so mitigated by technology, and how do you basically just get people to come out and play in physical spaces through games and movement, and even chalk drawing, analog chalk drawing, to transform epigenetic trauma across intergenerations and across various races, ethnicity? How do you get all these people to come out in an urban area to play together? And just the importance, the criticality, the critical importance of movement in our daily lives because we’ve become so inert and sedentary in many ways. So what are the ways we can do that through play and through performance?

Tjaša: I love that.

Heidi: So I think that was really the idea of that. But to build this kind of crazy system that other people could use to do all sorts of stuff with the data from your phone. You have all sorts of streams of data on your phone, so it’s just a simple device or a way to get people to collaborate together in a fun way.

Tjaša: Yes. When I was doing research for this particular piece, I jotted down “your body is not obsolete,” which was one of the slogans that was actually projected.

Heidi: Yeah.

Tjaša: And I was like, “Oh, I love that.” And I definitely want to look into your trajectory because it seems like you first started working a lot in the 2D and 3D video game design mixed with elements of documentary filmmaking and everything was really heavily revolving around democracy, human rights, and immigration. I actually wrote down a little bit about this super fascinating game that you created, Homeland Guantanamos, 2D game and interactive web documentary.

And Homeland Guantanamos, you are in an immigrant detention center as an undercover journalist. You must find out what happened to Boubacar Bah, a real man who died in detention. The interactive experience brings attention to the harsh, inhumane conditions being faced yearly by nearly three hundred thousand people in immigrant detention as a result of unfair Department of Homeland Security policies. Hear real stories of pregnant women being forced to give birth in shackles, HIV+ people being denied medication, teenagers being separated from their families, and war veterans being placed in solitary confinement for challenging abuse.

I mean, this just blows my mind. It breaks my heart. And thank you so much for doing this work. And there’s so many things we can talk about. We can talk about the content. I would love to talk about the content because I really do think that you’re an activist in this space, a Robin Hood of technology, which is like you said before, that you’re not fixing technology problems with more technology, but you’re looking into embodiment and the wisdom of the body. And then just from point A to point B, I love that you basically kind of transitioned from this very web-dominated space, cyber-dominated space, which was interactive, into an in-person space and performance space. So if you can talk a little bit about this journey. Yeah.

Our bodies are these archives of story. And if we can’t get them out of our body, the whole fabric of a society is going to break down. So what can we do to alleviate that?

Heidi: Like, “Why? Why the pivot?” Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. For me, my theory of social change has always been around how can pop culture, how can we use pop culture and commercial strategies to advance different issue areas by surreptitiously or quietly transforming the public imagination? So that was kind of like a premise.

But then I was doing that work with Breakthrough, which is a human rights organization, both in India and the US. In India, they work on women’s rights. But in the US we were working on immigration, racial justice, post 9/11. And I think I reached a crisis point about that work and I started to question whether or not A, was it effectual because all we’re doing is social science research, free and post surveys? Can we understand on a more empirical level? What can we learn? Is it effective?

And then secondly, I had kind of a crisis of faith about, well, I’m using all of these tools that I know are actually harmful on a neurobiological level, that they affect very key areas in the brain, the amygdala and the hippocampus. And they also, they cause all sorts of things like emotion dysregulation, our emotion-feeling cycles are disrupted, our memory consolidation processes are disrupted or create more kind of telematic intimacy. We’re more comfortable with computers than other human beings. We’ve become almost social, emotionally incompetent. And so I started to think, “Oh my God, am I part of this problem?” Right?

So I needed to go back. I decided to go back and do a PhD to try to understand on a neurobiological level how was media and technology actually affecting us so that then I could circle back if I understood that, then could I bring that knowledge back to the social justice space. But what ended up happening along the way is that I started making large-scale network dance and theatre pieces and building these bio-creative instruments, these sensors with my colleague Marco Donnarumma, who was at Goldsmiths at the time. And then I started to realize that bringing people into physical spaces and working with the body might be a way, an antidote or sort of one way to mitigate the deleterious effects of technology.

And so I started looking for empirical research. There’s very little empirical research. It mostly focused on yoga and breathing and different types of things. But what was interesting about those initial articles was that, when we’re talking about technology, one of the key areas, as I mentioned, was the amygdala and hippocampus, but also you could actually see structural changes to the gray matter in your brain. And so one of the things that yoga and movement, dance actually do is they actually regrow those very same regions of the brain.

So I started putting two and two together and also realizing that this might be an antidote. Can we move not only just because of all the things we read in the news about depression and anxiety and how it’s creating dysregulation, but also the physiological things of people’s necks, thumb, all the things, right? It’s like we need to start moving more.

So that was the pivot. And I think in the process of starting to work with the body, and I don’t know if this is TMI, so during the process of writing in my dissertation, I had kind of a breakdown, a psychological breakdown, and I realized it was like technostress, just stress, chronic low-grade stress over many years, plus a personal story I won’t share. But my path to recovery was really about reconnecting the mind and the body and about returning to dance for me, returning to the body to dance and to yoga and a whole bunch of embodied practices.

And then in the process of doing that, I started piecing together the relationship between technology and the various endocrinologic systems that were affected. And then just stress in general. So part of my idea was to then create these multimodal movement workshops with communities that have been affected by trauma and other forms of stress and see if we could use multimodal movement in expanding of our gesture vocabulary to transform epigenetic trauma.

So that was kind of the triangulation of these elements, I guess, which I don’t know if that appears to you as a through line, but the through line was, for me, was understanding how technology is affecting us and then figuring out movement as a way for us to not only transform those parts of the brain, but actually as a modality of healing for a whole host of other social issues.

So it was almost like the work in social justice, I started to realize everybody I work with in social justice was just simply walking wounded. We’re working on these issues because we’re affected by these issues. And it lives in our somatic system and our bodies are these archives of story. And if we can’t get them out of our body, the whole fabric of a society is going to break down. So what can we do to alleviate that?

Tjaša: It makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah. This makes me think what’s next, because like you said, you’ve been using technology a lot to basically critique the modern technology, and you’ve been using it to look for ways to heal and to bring people together. What is the next step? Is there ever a step where technology’s no longer an option? We’re completely agrarian. There was a part in BIOADAPTED where we talked about this. But yeah, what is maybe the end of the line of this for you?

Heidi: Yeah, that’s a very interesting question. I mean, some days when I see myself trying to problem-solve these kind of complex technological systems for shows and I’m wrapped around all of these cables and I feel like I’m in Ghost in the Shell or something, I’m just like, “I just want to be a painter. I just want to do something embodied.” But at the same time, I think for me it’s a little bit twofold.

It’s like I still am doing the media effects research from the Limbic Lab, but also wanting to expand here. I’m setting up an embodied intelligence lab to actually expand some of the media effects research around webisodes, games, and all of these kind of pop forms, to actually dance and theatre. What can we learn from dance in theatre by building in some of these biometric measurements and some of the other kind of open source tools that I’ve built around linguistic analysis and a whole host of things, but how can we bring that to other fields or domains? And also continuing to work around trauma. Can we build some machine learning systems to expand gesture vocabulary and use VR or some other things to allow people to inhabit and expand their gesture vocabulary? And while they’re doing that, is this a way to dislodge these deeply embedded scripts in the somatic system?

And so I think for me, it’s kind of twofold. It’s still kind of trying to understand the body, I guess in this neurobiological way, but then also making work that reifies this centrality of the body. But really, I think at the heart of the work is that we don’t know very much about the body’s intelligence. And we spend a lot of research dollars and money, some research dollars and time and resources on trying to understand the brain and then remapping all those neural networks and those structures to AI when we could very well be trying to understand our full kind of embodied cognition, our active negotiation between the mind, body, and our environment.

So I think there’s just still so much to try to, I guess, uncover in terms of our understanding of the body and the role that it could potentially play in social change. And I still haven’t quite figured that out yet. What does an embodied theory of social change look like?

Tjaša: Let me see if I understood this correctly. You said that in the future you’re interested, you’re building this AI bio lab in which you would study the gestures and try to figure out… I’m rephrasing this because I’m trying to see if I understood this correctly. You’re looking for basically gestures that would dislodge a trauma or that would soften it, ameliorate it, and transcend it?

Heidi: Sort of. Yeah. I guess what I’m trying to do is there’s all these different types of notation. There’s Labanotation, there’s Bartenieff, and can we actually take some of these movement notations? And Bartenieff basically expanded Laban’s notation to look at emotional bodies. So if you’ve ever seen any kind of movement therapy and that sort of thing, they basically take this notation process and they observe somebody moving in space, and then they map it to these emotional units.

And I’m trying to figure out, can I take the gestures that we have within this kind of system and then map it to a machine learning system and then basically have a lot of different gesture vocabularies that then the system could kind of learn and generate new movement patterns? And then in doing so, can we then work with people who have experienced different types of trauma and almost be trying on, they’re trying on and expanding their own gesture vocabulary? And it could also be retargeted through motion capture and inside VR. So you’re having this immersive, embodied experience and you’re taking on these new forms, these new modes of movement.

Really where my work is going right now is I’ve spent so many years making work for mass culture, these pop things. You were mentioning the web and the games and it was because we wanted millions of players in 166 countries to be playing these things so we can move the agenda. But I think moving to theatre and dance, it’s more about bringing people into physical spaces in an immersive, tactile, embodied way to have these more intimate conversations that can still serve as experience grenades that might transform the way they think and feel.

But I’m now even thinking of taking out all of the social messaging altogether and just starting to make small, beautiful things that don’t matter. You know what I mean? As almost like a political gesture because there’s so much politicking now. And I know that maybe sounds like it comes from… I’m not being whimsical about it in any way, but I just think there’s just so little emphasis on wonder and curiosity and joy and creating these playful, embodied experiences for people to reengage with themselves and one another, and also the natural world. And I think that’s kind of where I want to go. And it could be at a cosmic scale. I’m dreaming of a project for CERN that someday, someday they’re going to help me suspend people in energy and matter.

Tjaša: I would love to be a part of that project, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it. Still, you have given me so much to nib on. One of the ideas that just popped into mind was Dada. Obviously, Dada came into being right between two World Wars and this power of the subconscious and something that seems irrational, something that seems like it doesn’t make sense. And then obviously that came to be in Switzerland and at the same time Albert Hoffman invented acid. Is that a coincidence or what the hell was going on in this peaceful, neutral country in the midst of battling fields?

But also another thing that comes to mind was, well, Amy Cuddy, she came up with this hand gesture of putting your hands on your hips and standing a little wide and feeling confident all of a sudden. Well, this is super simplified, but at the same time, it’s kind of like, well, if the body and the mind really are this integrated, would it not be possible to, yes, find gestures or find movements that dislodge trauma or to have desired effects on people, to de-stress, detox, step away from obsessiveness. And we know that all the algorithms or most algorithms are built so that they harp on what’s already obsessive, what’s addictive, and make it a bigger part of your experience. That’s really terrible, but this is exactly what the world is profiting off of and creating more of. It’s insane.

So I love to look into these kind of possibilities and really find ways to bring them to the table where they could get a larger part of the pie and more attention so that people… Probably never will these practices be as popular and promoted as their antithesis. But at the same time, I think that people are empowered to make their own choices. And if they’re made aware and brought into a space and educated in a way where they can see the power of these tools and self-healing and yada, yada, yada, they’re empowered to basically use them.

I think that you were talking about the motion capture and learning stuff inside of the suits. So basically a person would put on a motion capture suit so that they would be able to manipulate their digital avatar. But I guess you could also teach people choreography this way.

Heidi: Oh, yeah. That’s the idea.

Tjaša: That the avatar knows the choreography. I love that. I love that.

Heidi: In the workshop version, that was the idea is that, originally I wanted to create these workshops for individuals and then create choreography with the company and then tour them as a commission. And then I found that that was unethical and that they really should just be these micro performances where a limited number of people are coming together intimately to gather a shared gesture vocabulary based on telling stories that you never hear because they become abstracted and then they’re moved into gesture vocabulary. And then they can create small pieces.

So this is kind of similar, the idea here, but we would have a massive database of all of these gestures, and then people could make performances with them, but performances that are based on their own narrative, imagery. I mean, because trauma is really based on a lot of fragments of sound and sensory things and narrative. And the narrative never coheres, in part because we know narrative is actually part of our homeostatic impulse. This is why we tell stories to kind of stay alive. It’s part of our survival impulse. And so when you’re experiencing trauma, it’s all these fragments like a kaleidoscope almost. So the idea of being able to tell the story without language, linguistically through movement, but transform it in some way, I think is very powerful.

Tjaša: I have seen this in theatre and I have seen the undeniable power in it and expressiveness. TEAM, the American theatre movement, that group actually actively involves creating gesture choreographies out of words. And those words are then never spoken, but then you just have an insert of this insane choreography that’s not made to be a dance, it’s not made to be beautiful, but it means something. In it, there is a coded message in it. And the body understands, beyond the rational, completely gets on board with that. So I mean, I think that this beautifully actually segues into the incredible work that you’re doing with your Limbic Lab and creating of a media genome. Can you actually tell us a little bit about that and why you decided to do this?

Heidi: Yeah. I mean, well, that picks up a little bit on the thread of my mentioning when I was doing the work at Breakthrough, we were doing a lot of social science research and pre and post surveys, but it wasn’t really very empirical. So I thought it’s not leave the social science away, but we need to have more prismatic types of measurement to really understand what was going on in these narrative structures and how they were actually affecting different types of demographics across the country and beyond.

So what the Limbic Lab really does is, it’s kind of like the research arm of futurePerfect. So futurePerfect is more around making creative innovative things with emerging tech around pop culture about social issues. And then on the research side, we’re trying to understand whether or not those tools are effectual before they even go out. So there’s different feedback loops within the process.

And so the lab, it has a couple of components. We have this narrative engine and the media machine, but really what it is is, it’s kind of like a pipeline to do media effects research. So we’re trying to understand various types of viewers or participants ways of experiencing webisodes, episodic TV, podcasts, a whole host of different media, games, and how people are experiencing them. And then sort of correlating that data with survey analyses, looking at ideological preferences and viewing patterns, why people play, why people watch certain things.

And then also we have a linguistic analysis tool that scrapes and deconstructs narratives of all kind and it has particular variables. And so what we’re doing there is basically taking all of these kind of variables, these data points, and then the biometric data is then correlated with that. So as somebody is viewing something, they’re basically, we’re gathering their EEG, their biophysical data, body temperature, all of these different types of things, where their eyes are looking, and brain waves and all this stuff. And then we’re correlating that with the survey data as well as what we have from the deconstructions of the scripts, or they’re power words or ways people are talking about things.

And then what we’re doing is we put that through a machine learning program, basically just parsing that through neural net. And then we’re gathering insights essentially about what demographics, say eighteen to twenty-five year olds in rural Idaho, what are they watching? Why are they watching? And how are their bodies responding to this content?

And so we have a massive database of thirty-seven different issue areas and conducted through a study we conducted with the Norman Lear Center at USC. And then we’re trying to just build extra case studies around different genres like media genres. And so part of the idea now is to kind of fold in some of the research that I want to do here at UF in this embodied intelligence lab, we finally just got a space and gathering some funding for more equipment, and take some of the learnings from that work and apply it more to dance theatre movement so we can actually start to better understand what’s going on inside the body when people are experiencing these forms, both from an audience perspective, but also from a performer perspective.

Tjaša: Amazing. So it’s really a tool for understanding how media is impacting us.

Heidi: Yeah, totally. Yeah.

Tjaša: Amazing. And like you said, it’s open source or it will be open source.

Heidi: Well, yeah, right now we’re actually in the process of building out the media genome side, which is the front end, that would allow people to run their own correlation mapping on the stuff we have in the database because we don’t want to really release the full database of signatures. So we’re putting a website together that’s going to have all of the tools. You can download them standalone or the whole suite of things. And then there’s tools that are built into the site that you could test. The linguistic analysis tool, we built a shell, and then you’ll be able to upload your own stuff and see the… But that won’t be… We’re in the process of doing that right now just to try to make this stuff public.

Tjaša: Okay, fun. I want to try that. So this is for everybody that’s just interested about learning about themselves, and then obviously this is for research technologists and artist intersectionaries to use in their work. I love that. I don’t know if we can reveal any of the findings and any of the examples. I don’t know if we’re allowed to say this, but I maybe remembered that you said that people who like to watch zombies are concerned with immigration issues, that conservative people like to read history more than other content. Am I right about this? Is there anything more?

Heidi: No, that’s good. You got the top-level findings. There’s a report that we put out with the Norman Lear Center called “Are You What You Watch?,” which maybe you could share if there’s a little description or something.

Tjaša: I would love that.

Heidi: Maybe people would be interested in that.

Tjaša: Perfect.

Heidi: Yeah. But yeah, I mean we’d love to do more studies on different genres so that we can build. We build story coding templates for each of the genres so that we have different variables around narrative arc and different types of techniques, narrative strategies that are employed, as well as mapping it to the issue areas and then pluralist mental models and different types of things. So it would give us a chance to build out some new story coding.

Tjaša: Awesome. I’m just thinking for a lay person, is there a glossary or some kind of legend of all the terms used?

Heidi: Oh, there is. Yeah. And there’s also an executive summary that summarizes the key groups. So we did cluster analysis on that to identify these kind of reds, blues, and purples, which don’t necessarily align with political parties. It’s not like reds are Republicans and blues are Democrat, but it’s just kind of like a profile essentially. And we were really trying to identify this purple area because purples are far more persuadable and they watch everything, which is the interesting thing. And so the idea was then to give folks that are working in the social justice space some of these findings so that as they’re constructing media, they can kind of take these considerations into account when they’re targeting, I hate that word target, but target specific audiences that they’re seeking to sway.

Tjaša: I mean, just kind of like, what would come up for me? I love Amélie and I love all the Lars von Trier movies. And I love Almodovar movies. And I always love foreign movies, French specifically. But I am not persuadable at all. I know that I am not a purple.

Heidi: Oh, you’re straight-up blue.

Tjaša: I’m a straight-up blue. What does that mean?

Heidi: For sure.

Tjaša: Sorry?

Heidi: I mean, even just in saying independent or foreign movies.

Tjaša: Okay.

Heidi: Yeah. Like the reds, they really love history, which is interesting. And they’re not really big into entertainment or films. They believe that entertainment is trying to have persuadable social values, like it’s a way of manipulating you. So they don’t watch that. They want to watch history programming. I mean, there’s more nuance to that, but yeah.

Tjaša: Okay, cool. What does blue mean? Is that like a romantic, a left-brainy, a right-brainy? Do you have any other descriptions for it?

Heidi: Oh, no, we don’t have left, right-brain stuff.

Tjaša: Good, good.

Heidi: But there’s another story that came out around the same time we were working on this called “Hidden Tribes,” which I think is an interesting way of looking at cluster analysis. Looked at these five different tribes. A little bit more nuanced than our three-part structure and it was more based on psychological layering.

Tjaša: I love that. Wow. Okay. What’s next for you? What can we come see? Where can we follow you? What’s coming up?

Heidi: Yeah. What I’m trying to do actually now is, I’m really good at making work for other people and facilitating their visions. I’m great at that. But what I’m trying to do right now, and everyone is, they want to fund and they’re interested in the research side, but I really just want to make these kind of small, beautiful things that don’t matter. And in part, how can I work at a smaller scale that is just me so I need to…

I love working collaboratively with huge teams of people. So what I’ve actually been doing, I guess it was great to go to Lyon, to Afropolis because we had two weeks in this kind of anti-disciplinary environment to pull something crazy together for the Biennale. And it forced me to make some really messy, cool stuff. And so I’m interested, it made me realize I could give myself smaller deadlines instead of, I always have these large-scale, massive, complex projects with many layers that the audience might understand one of them, but I have five of them in there—[radical] signs of life, there was a lot going on there. And so I think I’m trying to experiment with that and also give myself more of a space for an R&D incubator where I’m just experimenting with new tools like synthesizers and fun stuff.

But I’ve been going through a process now where there’s a couple of personal projects that have been in the back burner that I’ve been incubating. And I finally gotten to a place where I’m starting to write them up and create 3D renderings and try to go more for commissions and things as opposed to trying to apply for grants from it.

So yeah, lots of lessons learned. It was very transformative. And it just taught me that I can make a lot of really cool stuff in a very short time lead and it doesn’t have to be perfect, and then I can build upon that, which is something I’ve never done. I’ve always built massive-scale project with budgets for other people where there’s an expected product, an outcome. So this was very freeing. Yeah.

Tjaša: This was amazing. Thank you so, so much, Heidi. I’m so happy.

Heidi: Oh yeah, anytime. Thanks for having me. I hope we talked enough nerdy tech. I know we talked a lot around a lot of humanistic aspects as well, which I think is important.

Tjaša: I do too.

Heidi: Yeah.

Tjaša: I think that’s why we’re having these talks so that we kind of place… I think we have a new world. We have a new world where not only the human is the lord, but also the tech is the lord. Unfortunately, we’re kind of out of the world where also nature is the lord, even though I feel like now she’s the dark mother showing her teeth by creating a lot of climate problems and kind of fighting for the seat at the table. She’s like, “You’re neglecting me. Okay, so I’m going to do something radical so that you see that you can’t neglect me. I cannot be not a part of this conversation.” But still, I think that a tech component is a huge player at this table now. And I think that we really need to negotiate the relationship and analyze, deeply analyze this relationship and what it can become so that we can have all at the table a better relationship and a prolonged, benevolent, beneficial to all thriving existence.

Heidi: Yeah, I hear you. And I think there’s this concept that started to emerge and somebody called Tri-Association, where it’s: how do you create this balance between technology, humans, and the natural world? But it’s hyphenation, it’s a unit where there’s no hierarchy, there’s this braiding that happens that’s mutually beneficial.

Tjaša: This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of the show and other HowlRound shows wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to subscribe to receive new episodes. If you loved this podcast, sure hope you did, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com.





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