[ISEA2011] Paper: Mónica Mendes, Nuno Correia, Valentina Nisi & Pedro Ângelo – Play with Fire: A Real-Time Video Experience for Sustainability


Play with Fire is an exploratory research project that proposes an interactive installation to engage the audience senses in unconventional ways. It is a performative, immersive experience that invites people to interact with real-time video from selected forests by playing with virtual fires through gestural interaction.

We envisage the installation triggering controversial feelings by combining the “beauty and danger” of a forest on fire. This duality becomes part of the experience, and raises concerns in the audience mind, such as the pleasure and excitement of playing with fire versus its effects on a natural resource such as a forest. The experience concludes with visuals of a forest virtual regeneration process underlining the message: the forest will eventually grow again, but what is the price to pay?

This audiovisual setup is cross referenced with online data – videos, photos, news headlines – of the most recent forest fires of the covered area. This approach contributes to explicit its dramatic potential, enhancing the emotional entanglement – “shouldn’t we actually act?”

The outcome of the “play with fire” experience takes two forms: immediately, as a final visual outline displaying data on what would have been the effective destructive consequences of the participants’ actions of playing with virtual fire. Later, feedback will be given through their own mobile devices, by a generative application that displays the slow regeneration process of the (virtual) damaged forest, stimulating awareness and ultimately care.

Living in places that have always been extremely exposed to forest fires, makes us very sensitive to the destruction of the forest patrimony by fire hazards, which also applies to a world scale. This interactive experience paradoxically encourages playing with fire to stimulate awareness and prevention of fire related damages to the forests. Ultimately, we seek to pose a constructive approach to the destructive dynamics of fire that aggravate climate change. Can art foster awareness and respect for nature?

Collaboratively developed by artists, activists and technologists, Play with Fire is an innovative approach – with a challenging technological component – that comprises a strong dimension on social and natural sciences converging New Media Arts and Sustainability.

  • Mónica Mendes, CIEBA and Faculdade de Belas-Artes, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.  Mónica Mendes is a designer, Multimedia Art educator at the University of Lisbon, digital media artist and researcher in the UT Austin|Portugal Program. She is also a CIEBA associate researcher at FBAUL and a founding member of altLab, the AZ Labs hackerspace in Lisbon. Interested in designing for a better world, Mónica is proposing constructive explorations to the destructive dynamics of climate change at the intersection of Art, Science and Technology. In the scope of her PhD research project ARTiVIS, she has been working with multidisciplinary teams to develop interactive installations that use real-time video, engaging people with environmental sustainability. She believes this approach to awareness can be a catalyst for a greater impact in cultural, social, and natural sciences. Spreading the word through education and social entrepreneurship is also on the horizon.
    Her work and research has been presented in conferences and exhibitions, such as USE(R) in Lisbon, Artech in Guimarães, City One Minutes Film in Shanghai and Gent, Futureplaces in Porto, AZ Labs in Montemor-o-Novo and Porto, Popup in Lisbon, ACM Multimedia in Florence, TEI in Madeira, SXSW in Austin, CHI in Vancouver, Sci|Art NanoLab in Los Angeles, ISEA2011 in Istanbul and ACE in Lisbon.  monicamendes.artivis.net   monicamendes.wordpress.com  Video: Hug@ree preview » TEI 2011 Madness session
  • Nuno Correia, Porto, 1972, is a researcher, new media artist (mainly as Video Jack) and musician. Nuno is currently finishing his doctoral degree at Aalto University – Media Lab Helsinki, Finland, where he also teaches. His main interests are to create engaging multi-sensorial experiences and enable audiovisual creativity. His work has been showcased in more than 15 countries, in such festivals and venues as Electro-Mechanica (St. Petersburg), FILE (São Paulo), Le Cube (Paris), Mapping (Geneva), Optronica / British Film Institute (London), PixelAche / Kiasma (Helsinki) and SXSW (Austin). nunocorreia.com  videojackstudios.com   Video: AVOL Tutti Frutti
  • Pedro Ângelo  is a researcher on tangible interfaces for game design at EngageLab and an Master’s student in Technology and Digital Art at the University of Minho, Portugal.  He’s the local coordinator of Audiência Zero’s LCD hack/medialab in Porto, Portugal and an independent technical research consultant for creative projects. He has been around coding and games since he got his first computer at age eight. Since then, he has been a DJ, drummer apprentice, record shop clerk, sound designer and somehow got himself a BSc. In Computer Science. After a brief experience as a researcher digging through 80’s Fortran code for astronomic simulations, his interest in the expressive potential of videogames and his love of the demoscene made him enroll in a MSc in Computer Graphics where he met a group of talented individuals with whom he founded his own startup. As a Free Software and Free Culture activist, he has been involved in the foundation and organization activities of the PortoLinux user group, the Portuguese Blender community, the Audiência Zero cultural association, and the LCD lab. His current research interests lie on building disruptive social and technological structures for participatory culture, coding as a form of fundamental literacy, the appropriation of videogame technology and concepts for expressive purposes, open-source digital fabrication, and do-it-yourself hardware/software musical tools. lcdporto.org  engagelab.org
  • Valentina Nisi  [ISEA2011 provided no biographical information]

Full text (PDF)  p. 1696-1702