Return will be an interactive installation emotively connecting audiences in different locations.
Parallel portals will use audience gestures and audio-visual responses to create a sense of metaphysical presence* across continents.
Return will explore the idea of diaspora as physical, mental and social states of separation. The project will culminate in a range of portals connecting audiences on the African continent with audiences of African descent globally.
I conceptualised Return in response to the ‘door of no return’ in Elmina’s Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana. Since visiting in 2018 I have reflected on diaspora connections to the continent through sites like this and others on the West African coast.
Diasporas* manifest a variety of dynamics; from the micro to the macro various definitions, dichotomies and divergences occur. I intend to create an experience that embodies the reflexive and conversational nature of diaspora connections.
Return grounds a significant cultural exchange in technological innovation and speaks to themes such as lost data, memory and living monuments. This experience will honour connections to the past and enhance relationships between diaspora communities in the present.
*metaphysical presence refers to the sense of immediacy and connection that is derived from in person communication. Return will combine analogue and digital technology to imbue a virtual interaction with a sense of being, knowing, identity, time, and space.
*Diaspora here specifically refers to people of African descent who trace their ancestry through the transatlantic slave trade.
The 'Door of no return' Elmina's Castle, Ghana.
Return portals will combine sensors, actuators, sound, sculpture and light. Digital technology and analogue outputs will be used to develop the interactions between remote users.
Computer vision technology will collate data about movement, gestures and position, which will then be processed in real time as audio-visual outputs.
(For example Portal A will read gestures of audience members and translate them as physical outcomes in Portal B and vice versa.)
The portals will display an array of interactions that will create a sense of metaphysical presence between virtual audiences.
Generative machine learning will be used to make outputs that differentiate enough to create nuanced responses for individual users whilst being semantic enough for users to recognise patterns in the output and effectively communicate.
Pictured: Structural experiment for Return
Phase 1: Research & development
October 2019 will see the exhibition of Return interaction prototypes installed across two sites as part of Light Night Leeds. From here audience feedback and troubleshooting will be used as the basis of the technology research and development into 2020.
Phase 2: International launch
Intention to showcase Return in August 2020 during the Chale Wote Festival and Leeds West Indian Carnival. Parallel portals at these events would allow their respective audiences to engage in an exchange.
Phase 3: Permanent installation
From this temporary installation, a further year of development work will complete the installation with a view to installing the portals in permanent locations across the Atlantic.
Creative practitioners (e.g. artists, designers, technologists, producers etc.) are invited to contact Akeelah to explore collaborations and involvement in the project.
Organisations who are interested in exhibiting Return; facilitating community connections or contributing administrative support are invited to contact Akeelah. In particular but not limited to the following locations:
Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Angola
Hati, Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname
North & South America:
USA, Canada, Brazil
United Kingdom, Spain, Holland, Portugal, France
Pictured: Muse, son of a Jamaican returnee in Sheshemane, Ethiopia
Return is currently supported by Invisible Flock Studio’s in the form of studio and technical support.
This ambitious project will become an international work reaching countless audiences in various countries and communities. Funding will contribute towards a variety of costs such as research and development, specialist labour, materials, equipment, transport and marketing.
Monetary donations and support in kind from organisations and individuals are greatly appreciated. To receive a budget breakdown or begin a conversation on how to support Return please contact Akeelah.