The Realm

Initiated and led by artist Heather Barnett (University of the Arts London), The Realm team comprises of technology company Tengio, artists Andy Lomas and Heloise Tunstall- Behrens, and arebyte gallery, with scientific input from the SHOAL group (Swansea University) and the Kampff Lab (University College London).

user testing drop in 20th March, 12-8pm

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A collaboration between artists, scientists and technologists The Realm aims to create awe inspiring interactions with biodigital agents.

Inspired by the coordinated motion of animal groups, The Realm combines visual art and computational design with behavioural science to create aesthetic and immersive collective encounters. Through Virtual Reality technologies, participants interact with imaginary biological creatures, whose individual and collective actions are driven by player interactions, interconnecting to create a dynamic co-evolving system, affected by bodily gestures, sounds and social signals.

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One of the challenges of virtual reality design for public exhibition is that VR is mostly a
single user experience, with people often waiting their turn in a queue. Once immersed,
many experiences follow predefined narratives and explore static environments, with the
user as a relatively passive passenger. The main motivation for the project stems from a
desire to go beyond this and to understand how people perceive virtual worlds and how
they behave in them, both individually and collectively.

Imagine a sky filled with flocking starlings: thousands of birds twisting and turning on the wing, moving as a fluid mass and never bumping into each other. It is an incredible feat and a beautiful sight.

Then imagine that you can orchestrate this feat, where the flocking creatures respond to your presence and your actions. The Realm is that world - an imaginative immersive experience inspired by the aesthetics of collective natural phenomena.

Co-created by users, The Realm engages audiences through generative art and immersive technologies. Each ‘visitor’ observes, interacts and affects collective motion from within a dynamic virtual environment, where shape-shifting Artificial Biological Entities (ABEs) reside. Players feel their way intuitively, gradually evolving a language of social interaction through experimentation in gesture, sound and social cues. Individual interactions affect collective actions, enabling the player to orchestrate a swarm, drive a herd or attract a colony. Starting from the same base models and algorithms, behavioural patterns emerge uniquely through a feedback loop of complex interactions between agents and players, generated in real time.

The morphology of the ABEs evolves through interaction, as does the surrounding imaginary landscape. The ‘collective’ may appear as cellular forms, winged spheres or abstract organisms; the topography as contours, planes or enclosed spaces - depending on the behaviour of users and the nature of the interactions between human and digital beings.

In The Realm no two users have the exact same experience and no single user has the same experience twice. Through trial and error, body movements, gestures and sounds users develop an intuitive responsive language - a simple set of codes and signals which trigger reactions and influence the landscape, the soundscape and the unfolding narrative… leading to spontaneous coordinated collective motion.

From simple elements, complex behaviours emerge.

This is the future of immersive arts, no longer a static, passive or isolating experience, but instead an exhilarating, thought provoking and aesthetically rewarding journey of discovery, where each user affects the evolution.