Open Call Selection
#Connect is a wi-fi network that connects people with each other instead of the internet. The experience makes use of public digital and physical space to challenge two users to identify and find each other based on the limited information around their identity they digitally exchange in a playful way. The aim of the project is to transform the impulse we often feel to reach for our phones in public spaces when we’re unsure what to do, into a fun and refreshing opportunity to make a new connection.
The group brought their unique approach to exploring the intersection of technology and human interaction to this public Wi-Fi network experience after studying together at HKU. Their goal is to understand how technological advancements have influenced and continue to influence the way we interact with the world and with each other.
The project was created by a group of interaction designers with a fascination for the intersection between technology and human behavior: Amar Ravi, Casper van Battum, Daniël Korssen, Leon van Oldenborgh and Luuk Siewers.
Get an insight into the project with our interview below!
Can you tell us a little about the people behind #connect and your artistic practices?
We all met during our studies at the HKU in the Games Interaction Programme. We all focused on different aspects and did different courses. Amar and I really focus on the elements of play and making things playful, designing ways to get people to start playing. Casper is our coding wizard, building things, making things function. Luuk and Daniël focus more on the behavioral and social aspects of interactions. What do certain interactions mean? How can you design interactions in a way that has a lot of meaning behind it? We decided to work together for a project back then in our second year. It was a project that was all about exploring new mediums to create interactive experiences and we made something with a public WiFi network because we thought it was really interesting and cool to work with it but we did not really follow through with it. Then, we all completed our studies, each went their own way. Luuk has decided to continue studying and he’s doing a master’s in Cultural Anthropology, following a more academic route. Casper is also still studying, doing an exchange semester in Sweden at the moment and exploring the world of interactive tech more. Amar works for a game studio as a game designer, designing apps and entertainment games. Daniël is an independent artist but also works as a creative technologist in a company. And I am taking the independent artist route. I am making games as an art form, as a critical reflection of how we behave. I analyze routines and things that we do without really thinking about and I translate these into game experiences or interaction experiences. By creating these experiences, I am trying to get people to reflect. We all have this fascination for human behavior and interaction but we all have our own way of looking at and approaching this subject and it actually really helps while working together.
How did you first hear about MOMO and what made you decide to apply for this open call?
Actually, I was working on my portfolio website and I saw this project there and I thought “this project was really really cool, it is such a shame that it is just sitting on a hard-drive somewhere” so we were already looking for opportunities to continue working on it and get more people to experience it. Daniël told us about the MOMO Open Call as he is a regular MOMO visitor. We thought it could fit well in the festival context and open call theme, considering the experimental aspect of the festival. What we do is also basically a big experiment with a new way of using a technology that’s already everywhere but has never really been used in this kind of way so that’s how we decided to apply.
Can you give us a sneak peek into what you have been working on for MOMO?
Our project is in the form of a public WiFi network, which we think is a really interesting medium. What we find interesting is that it is everywhere around us but we cannot see it. It is really invisible and it is like an invisible technological layer in space. What we also find interesting is that it sets a border, you need to be within the range of the WiFi network. It is an interesting way of connecting physical movement of people in a space with technology. What we do is that we make people meet each other in a physical space using an invisible layer to facilitate their interaction.
Can you describe how this project came about, and what inspired you?
I think everyone knows this feeling when you are in a crowded space and you do not know anyone. You are not sure what to do. You would like to meet a person but who should it be? Who out of all these people is the person that you would like to meet? And how are you gonna go about that? Are you just gonna join a group and start talking? It takes a lot of courage. And then just because you don’t know what to do, you grab your phone and you look at it thinking “Should I just go somewhere else or should I convince my friends to come” and all five of us were fascinated with this common experience everyone has had at some point and we were thinking how we could channel this behavior into something that can actually help people to meet people they otherwise wouldn’t have met. That’s how we came up with #connect
Can you elaborate on how you explore the theme of identity with #connect?
What makes it fit really well and what made us enthusiastic to pitch it for the open call is how the notion of identity comes back in the experience in multiple ways. First ofall, you answer questions and you share information about yourself which already triggers you to think about how you define your own identity, who you are. What triggers me the most to think about my identity is when I have to write artist statements and I have these deep thoughts about who I am and what I stand for and it changes every time. Maybe while people are playing with #connect, they will also think about their own identity and how it changes. It can even change daily. You can play it on the first day of the festival and your identity could already have changed when you are playing it on the last day of the festival after meeting many people and seeing all the awesome performances and acts because these also influence and shape your identity. With #connect, we basically encourage people to mentally connect with each other based on limited information about their identity and then they need to find them in physical space without knowing how the other physically looks or behaves. What we find interesting is that the way you experience your identity or the way you answer questions about your identity could be very different from what people perceive about you and your identity based on what you look like. Our perception might be connected to some stereotypes and biases that we have towards one another and we usually tend to meet and form connections with people who are more similar to ourselves but #connect gives the opportunity to meet completely different people and interact with them. It is a very positive thing when people from different cultures, communities and lifestyles meet each other and learn from one another.
Can you walk us through the user experience of the project?
It’s a WiFi network that you can connect to anytime. When you connect, instead of getting internet access, you get connected to another person who is also connected to the WiFi network. You are basically thrown into a game where you ask and answer questions about your identity, the festival and your appearance and the goal is to find each other in the physical space based on those answers. When you then end up finding each other, you can also get (free) drinks to encourage a continuation of the new connection outside of our digital space. Because you already learned some things about the other person via the questions, you should have enough things to talk about. In this way, you meet different people and make new connections and we’re basically setting you up with more people to enjoy the festival together.
What do you hope that people will take away from this experience?
I think our goal is relevant to the discussions around actively building your own identity and building a community that you want to be a part of. I think it is quite useful to look at your own identity in an active way. Where does your identity come from? How was it shaped? How did your family roots or social structures you live in shape it, for example? What is your gender identity? I think we want to encourage people to ask these questions to themselves and actively look at their own identity but we also just want people to meet each other and enjoy this experience and of course, the festival, together.
What do you hope to gain or learn from participating at MOMO?
As I said earlier, we are really happy that we finally found a platform where people can actually experience this. Then, we can see how people really experience it, how we can further develop it in a way that makes the experience even better and more interesting. We just love this project and we really think it could be something that many people enjoy so we want to share it with people.
What are you looking forward to at MOMO?
I have never been to MOMO before so I am really looking forward to experiencing it. From what I can tell looking at the programming of music, arts and performances, it looks very experimental. I want to meet new people and discover interesting acts, performances and experiences. I am also really curious about the guided tours. I am doing a residency here in Rotterdam so it would be cool to explore Rotterdam in a different way through the tours.