Interview with Danielle Roberts - artist at Awareness Lab

Dutch artist Danielle Roberts was invited for a creative collaboration with research fellows David Marín and Branly López during the Sensiks Hackathon last March at Baltan Laboratories in Eindhoven.
Age of Wonderland is a project initiated by Baltan Laboratories, Hivos, and the Dutch Design Foundation to foster social innovation. As part of the program, new media artist Danielle Roberts was invited to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, for a creative collaboration. During the SENSIKS. Hackathon, a project made possible with support of Creative Tracks, she worked together with two creative practitioners from Guatemala to explore how traditional Mayan culture and technology could be merged to create a new sensory reality, by using wearable technologies and biofeedback. Olga Mink, director of Baltan Laboratories talked with Danielle about this experience, as well as other projects related to her creative practice.
Please take a moment to briefly introduce yourself here. What is your background and occupation?
My name is Danielle Roberts, I live in Breda, the Netherlands. I was trained as an artist in sculpture and monumental design. Later I switched to working with digital media. My interest is in combining insights from art, science, technology and spirituality to promote awareness and wellbeing. My art works are usually interactive installations and web applications, wearables and performances or works on paper.
When I was experiencing a personal crisis in the mid-nineties I turned to meditation for insight and relief from suffering. I’ve been practicing every day since that time. In my latest project, I integrate spirituality and technology to explore if and how they can enhance each other. I want to live as a contemporary hermit in a house that will measure me and change my environment to optimize my meditation practice.
The topic of this year’s age of wonderland is 100 days of learning. It’s about sharing your inner wisdom, knowledge not taught on schools or universities. What lessons would you like to share with others?
I would like to tell about morning routines or rituals. For me this is an anchor in my fragmented life where I can be very productive in a relaxed way. I think this can also be helpful to others.
What connection does your practice have with art/science/technology and natural sciences / traditional cultures (like the Maya’s?)
In my work I always combine traditional techniques with contemporary ones in order to create innovative tools that promote awareness. Traditional knowledge and wisdom has evolved over many years. It has proven its worth because it has helped many people. I find it interesting to quantify these results to 1) work with as an artist 2) create evidence for these ancient practices 3) perhaps improve these practices through new technologies.
Can you explain your concept for the sensiks? How was it for you to work with artists from Guatemala?
I was very curious to see if changing the environment would impact the users’ state of mind. I also wanted to see if I could measure that using my prototype wearable. In the Maya cabin experience, I was looking for proof of concept. For me it was very refreshing to work with Branly and David. I liked the way Branly stayed very close to his own experiences and wasn’t distracted by all possibilities at hand, and he put emphasis on the creation of a true experience. I noticed that their work pace was very different from mine. They took more time to digest and relax. I’m very goal oriented and look for tangible results. I think the combination of the two styles allowed us to create a true Mayan experience.
Can you describe what you learned while working with the SENSIKS / Baltan Hacktahthon?
I liked the experience we created, and the fact that we used the cabin as part of a larger ritual. This taught me it is essential that technology isn’t the only way we experience a certain different reality. A mixture of both makes an experience much richer. We managed to combine two systems, Sensiks and my Silence Suit wearable. Both systems influenced each other. This is something I really want to explore further.
I learned a lot from listening to Fred (the founder of the Sensiks Cabin) he works from his heart and is a real visionary. His strength is to be really open to new ideas and also be generous with his creation.
How can this obtained knowledge be valuable to communities or people?
During the hackathon, we discussed how empowering it will be for different communities to tell their stories. This can be students in Guatemala but also kids from underprivileged neighbourhoods in cities in the Netherlands. Sensiks offers users a rich way to share experiences. This way you can see different sides of reality and broaden your view.
How would you describe the impact of your projects / activity on the community locally or worldwide?
My projects have created a sense of wonder. I call them tools for awareness because I want them to create this quality in myself and others. I’ve explored phenomena like silence and breathing. Things that guide people back to themselves and make them more sensitive to their needs and to the needs of the world around them.
What are the most important things you’ve learnt in starting your practice?
That the way I think and create things isn’t shared by many people. I’m usually a bit ahead of my time. That can make this work a bit lonely except for those rare occasions like the Sensiks hackathon where you are surrounded by likeminded people. On the other hand, my work allowed me to explore myself and my interest on a deep level. The freedom of being an artist and creating my own challenges is the most valuable thing in my life. It has brought me in touch with many interesting and inspiring people and learning opportunities.
What kind of projects have you come across through your work? Chose one that inspired you and explain why.
What I like most is the Quantified Self movement. I’ve visited (and spoken at) all their conferences in Amsterdam and those weekends have been the best of my life. The mix of smart and creative people there is amazing. I suppose not one project stands out but the vibe of discovering and sharing is the most valuable.
Which kind of business model do you think fit the most for the continuation of your projects?
A mixed practice where I combine the creation of art works and concepts with sharing my knowledge and competences in a broader field. This can be by way of teaching, advising or project management. I’m also working to turn some prototypes into products.
To know more about Danielle Roberts, please visit her website Awareness Lab
Read Danielle's personal report on the Hackathon here
Audiovisual and interactive media, Digital facilities, Visual arts


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