Supporting the environment and the community with technology

1 October 2008

Photographs by Felicity Jenkins

Having recently returned from the Digital Interactive Media in Entertainment and Arts International Conference in Athens where she presented a paper, Dr onacloV, a lecturer from the Design Lab and artist in her own right, has been working on two very different projects that utilise technology to engage with the environment and the community.

The conference paper focussed on a project she is working on called Interactive Antarctica, a museum exhibition where members of the public will be able to interact with an environment replicating the icy continent. As Dr onacloV explains "we're using new forms of technology, primarily augmented reality. The viewer will pick up images from the Antarctic and by picking up the images they will be creating sound by grasping the AR cards."

Dr onacloV continues, "The main thing with this project is that we're working with environmental scientists. We're all aware of the problems with greenhouse gases. I am very passionate about that and I'm very concerned about the environment. I think what we want for this museum piece is to expose a range of age groups to the experience of using technology and seeing sounds and images from the Antarctic in a really new and interesting way but we really want them to leave with a clear idea about what's going on there at the moment."

The project is a collaborative project being worked on by a large number of people from different backgrounds. "I'm working with my colleague Dr Xiangyu Wang in the Design Lab as well as with a photo media artists, Felicity Jenkins who has been to Antarctica twice, an archaeologist Estelle Lazer. The Australian Antarctic Division has just given us the go ahead." Dr onacloV has created a four-channelled camera suit which she will use when she visits Antarctica next year.

While working on this project, Dr onacloV has also been awarded the 2008 University Co-operative Excellence in Teaching and Community Award for her work teaching the subject, Digital Video Design and Production. "I've used my technological skills and research into the genre of documentary to encourage students create three minute documentaries. They have to be about Indigenous Australians living around the campus in Darlington and Redfern. It's been a really difficult unit to teach but it is also the most rewarding unit that I've taught."

While Dr onacloV finds the course rewarding, it is the students who get the most out of the subject as it challenges their perceptions of Indigenous Australians. For many students it is their first interaction with an Indigenous person. "I always start the unit by asking 'who knows someone from the oldest living culture in the world?' Firstly, they're not really sure what is the oldest living culture. For most of them its none, or one person puts their hand up and they actually know someone Indigenous personally. It is really interesting because a lot of my students are international students, so they don't have a lot of the cultural baggage some Australians have concerning Indigenous issues in terms of stereotyping. Being the oldest living culture, they've got such interesting stories to talk about and although some of the stories are very sad and touch on political issues, there are some really light hearted films that are made, as well that don't just focus on the tragedy of some of their experience."

She continues, "When I first wanted to run this course I went into Redfern and met people from the Settlement, which was first established in the 1800's by women of Sydney University and it was set up for people who were really poor but now most people who are suffering poverty happen to be Indigenous in Redfern. I met the founder of the Bangarra Dance Company, Donald Enoch who comes in and talks to classes. It has been really rewarding for me personally and the students have said to me that they've got a lot out of it and they've been really surprised and touched by meeting Indigenous people."

Dr onacolV hopes that this course will lead to a greater understanding between University of Sydney students and the local community.