Conceptual options and Collaboration models
The architectural composition for Hapticotopia follows a path outlined by the four directives regarding sightless image, developed in the last chapter (I. 9.) of the essay, here aligned with the experience in Hapticotopia. Through preliminary and preparatory divisions to the central object, it is intended that the minimalist approach in the intervention of space allows immersion to be an inundation of the mind. That is, on the one hand to provoke an encounter with the limit of visual perception, in the preliminary rooms:
a) Temporary blindness will be reproduced in extremely bright preliminary rooms. The yellow/orange colour, inseparable from how we conceive of the light of the sun, will represent the strength of the main star of our system. The excess of light will seek to prepare, at the sensory limit of vision, the analogy of the encounter with the “recognisable limit”. On the other hand, through the textures that are available to the touch, either by the textures present on the walls of the museum or by the fabric chosen to cover the whole platform in the main room, prepare and focus the encounter with the central object of the art installation.
b) The haptic stimuli and the absence of the corresponding visual stimuli provide a new visibility. They open the windows of memory. They encourage the operations of the imagination among the traces outlined by the shapes that take off in the air. The non-contact haptic feedback interface, emitting textures in pressurized air, therefore, constituted by an invisible matter, will urge the problematics inherent to the project’s central question: is there image without sight? In turn, the low intensity backlighting of the interface in white colour will represent the reflections and the air conditioning, which will be located under the device, will emit several temperatures lower than the general environment. In this way, in the temperature difference will exhort the metareferential image: water. This conceptual choice is easy to understand. If by mere chance we were to transform haptic stimuli into visual stimuli, it would be obvious that a room full of visual information would divert attention, distract the observer and minimise that encounter with the central object. In turn, the slopes we implant, before that encounter, activate the hands as the main cognitive portal of “visibility” allowing reordering of the sensory sphere thus prioritizing the haptic sense. In this way, the minimalist approach in stimulating the sense of touch, not only activates the touch but also rewards the absorption of sound vibrations by the body.
c) The winding descent into the dark of the “cave” reduces the sense of sight to a minimum. The unevenness, proper of a rough terrain, motivates again the use of the hands as extensions of the vision. The hand touches the textures of the rocks. The skin feels the difference in temperature. The resonance of the cave makes itself felt. In this way, the main room, unlike the preliminary rooms, will be quite dark. Thus, enabling it to be invisible. There will be a slope that will motivate the unbalance and represent the uncertainty of the cave’s underworld. The multi-channel sound installation, in turn, will deliver low frequencies as vibrations and occasional high frequencies in different areas, in order to create an enveloping and organic space. The invisible experience urges us to travel through the theatre of memory. It empowers the observer to observe himself in an act of self-reflection. Touching the matter invisible to the sense of sight raises questions that leave the construction of reality open. Questions that construct the origin of images and the hegemony of vision.
d) Thus, this discovery of a new world represents the “ascent to the higher world and the vision therein” (Republic, VII, 517b4-5). In this way, this new sensory composition will be reproduced in the preliminary rooms through the sound installation of natural environments, odoriferous plants, such as rosemary, placed out of visual range and the temperature will be controlled through the air conditioners present in the exhibition room. The return to the common reality, the reality from which it departed, may undoubtedly be different. The route between the various rooms, akin to a ritual, indicates the passage through a liminal space where everyday narratives are disentangled in favour of new domains of reflection through the exhibited elements: a product resulting from the “sum” of mental and physical space.
This project aimed, as described, to build an immersive art installation gravitating towards haptics, to capture the biometric measurement of visitors for the objective analysis of the sensorial experience and to produce an essay around the central question of this PhD process: “Is there image without vision?” In this way, in favour of a better use of the available resources – technological, logistical and financial -, taking into account feasibility, several possibilities and outlines of different cooperative models were equated. However, since its genesis, this project has undergone changes and readjustments, much due to logistical and bureaucratic issues. Although there was the will to establish strategic partnerships with several Departments and Faculties of the University of Beira Interior, all the embryonic attempts of cooperation, due to adjustments of calendar and bureaucratic support, namely in the support destined to insurances regarding the loan of several technologies, had little reach. On the contrary, the several international collaborations (companies and universities) were, in general, quite fruitful and extremely proactive. For example, even in this bureaucratic impasse, the company Ultraleap (non-contact haptic feedback technology), which lent the technology at no cost, understood the operational difficulty of the national scene and accepted that another university (HFF-Munique) would take responsibility for the technology. On the other hand, it was impossible to resume the agreement with the company Biovotion (biosignal reading). It means, therefore, that there was a volatile architecture in the proposed cooperation models. In this sense, there were several successive postponements of the practical execution of the project. Thus, the execution of the prototype as well as the delivery of all the necessary documentation for the final discussion would be rescheduled for June 2020. Also due to the necessary number of participants (around 350) for a valid statistical analysis concerning the collected biometric data, and in order to attract more visitors, it was, in articulation with the Supervisor and other researchers of the Arts Group of the R&D unit LABCOM – Communication and Arts, conceived the program of an event called Sensoria, which also remained postponed. Here, it was intended to dynamise the exhibition space with several lectures and events related to multimedia and multisensorial arts. This event would also safeguard, in its articulation with the Lines of Research of the Arts Group, financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology, the travelling and stays of foreign guests, namely of the Croatian programmer, mentioned below. However, at that moment, the crisis that would affect the whole world in March 2020, resulting from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, was not yet foreseeable. In this sense, the serious restrictive conditions imposed by prevention and public health motivated new postponements. This time, the project would be postponed for another year. This inconstancy of calendars made difficult the choice and permission for the use of the exhibition space, especially by the Covilhã City Hall. In a first phase, the existing planning for the art gallery Tinturaria, in Covilhã, proved to be incompatible with the municipal agendas. Therefore, the second hypothesis would be reserved for the floor -1 of the new Museum of the City. Thus, not only was it necessary to readapt all the planning and art installation to a new space, but also, due to this being a municipal museum still under construction, this project became restricted to the calendar ruled by the inauguration date. Nevertheless, there are also good fruits of resilience. Due to the setbacks with several Departments at the University of Beira Interior, several other higher education institutions accepted the cooperation. This was the case of the University of Television and Film Munich, Germany (HFF); the Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Croatia (JU); and the Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon (IPL). Respectively, the HFF funded the project, the JU agreed to cooperate with the software programming for the Ultraleap device through a master’s project, and the IPL agreed to collaborate in the assembly and acoustic prediction of the exhibition hall through a final degree project. However, one could hardly guess the extent and ballast of the pandemic throughout Europe. Noting the gravity of the pandemic that ravaged the whole of Europe and the world, as well as the delays in the construction of the museum, it was deemed sensible to postpone, once again, the date of the art installation’s exhibition. This time, in the hopes of a significant improvement in the incidence rate regarding the number of infected people in Portugal, the opening of the exhibition was postponed to September 2020, foregoing the measuring of biometric data, but with the possibility of capturing visitors’ testimonies. The same would not happen, quite the contrary. Due to the persistent seriousness of the situation in Europe, all the forecasts indicated a rise in the number of infected people. In this scenario, due to the continuous lack of answers to several questions that were necessary in the effective planning and in the realization of a 3D simulation of the space layout, I was, in pandemic time, forced to travel to Portugal, to visit floor -1 of the Covilhã City Museum, this time, already finished. Once in the space, I learnt that the inauguration of the museum had been postponed again to April 25th 2021. In that sense, in agreement with the Advisor, we abandoned the hope of making the inauguration and exhibition of the art installation coincide with the exam, postponing once again the date, this time to June 2021. Later, considering the news of the postponement of the inauguration of the City Museum to May 14, 2021, still very much dependent on the physical and psychological evidence caused by the pandemic, it was decided, due to all inconstancy and social conjecture, and of course together with the project advisor, to take the difficult decision of not building the art installation. Even so, and so that the projection could be evidenced, a website was built where one could experience, in virtual mode, interactively, the simulation of the Hapticotopia art installation.