Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Hidden Magician - A Resonant Installation for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Early in 2008, the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Geomatics, in partnership with Bloorview Kids Rehab (BKR), the Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique du Québec (IRDPQ) and Studio BourbeauVoiceDynamics, began to work on the creation of a "resonant installation" addressing the needs of children with cerebral palsy and other motor deficits. Under the title "The Hidden Magician", this broad collaborative effort seeks to develop a participative, immersive installation in which children with cerebral and motor deficits can establish a different relationship with their immediate environment and feel more empowered and recognized for who they are.

Like our other installation initiatives, the approach adopted is to develop an installation design through a broad consultative process that includes researchers, artists, engineers, hospital administration staff, clinicians, students, parents, and the children themselves. Installations must address the needs of the children in ways that are conducive to enhancing their physical and emotional states of being, and yet also generate powerful experiences that are aesthetically interesting and are challenging, even transforming. We use new media technologies including surround projections, gesture recognition interfaces, spatialized sound and tactile environments, combined with engineering skills to develop specialized interfaces that provide enhanced environmental responsiveness for these children.

The project embraces a variety of research areas, from issues about design methodologies, questions concerning the impacts of immersive and participative experiences on children struggling with issues of growth and identity, and efforts to develop measurement and evaluation tools that can better characterize the effectiveness of these installations.

The design concept is still in its early stages. The overall concept has been presented to a broad cross-section of individuals - researchers, artists, clinicians and administrators where it has elicited a great deal of interest and support - both at Bloorview Kids Rehab in Toronto and the IRDPQ in Quebec City. The work is now moving forward into a second stage, focussed on the development of a series of workshops with this diverse clientèle that will feed the design process. Workshops involve a combination of physical activities that aim to allow participants to "think with their bodies" rather than "staying in their heads", and brainstorming and sharing exercises that explore design values and principles. We use dancers, clowns and other specialists in movement to facilitate these exercises.

It is expected that the installation, when completed, will be able to "go on tour" to other interested locations (hospitals, clinics, schools, etc.), and that it will serve as much to sensitize a broader public to the unique qualities of these children as it will enable both the children themselves and their caregivers to rethink their perceptions of who they are.