Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Interactive environments for children

  Daniel Swann (2021 cohort)

Museums and galleries have borne witness to a radical rethinking of the relationship between art and the public. Moving from the democratisation of culture to Cultural Democracy, there is a growing expectation to not merely spectate but instead to actively participate in the creation of meaning itself, amounting to more enriching experiences than those offered by previous models. This participatory turn for cultural institutions has also given rise to debates around inclusivity for young people. What, it has been asked, can be done for museums and galleries to continue to fulfil their social function while also serving the rights and needs of children?

It is in this context that digital technologies have assumed something of a liberating character, able to offer an unprecedented level of interactivity to increasingly computer-literate younger generations. Nevertheless, as interactive technologies have found a place within galleries and museums, accusations that these innovations have little to offer beyond their novelty value have not been unfounded, reflecting wider dissatisfactions with interactive and participatory art. Furthermore, the child-centric claims made by many artistic interventions are often betrayed by an overt focus on learning and a spatial segregation from the “serious work” happening elsewhere in the museum.

My research argues that play offers a route out of this malaise. The instinctive desire to play—informed by child and developmental psychology—provides new ground on which to reimagine interaction with both technology and art. A renewed appreciation of the act of play has already inspired the curatorial practise of museums and galleries, however, a focus on physical open-ended play means that the possibilities afforded by digital technologies and data-driven interactivity remain relatively unexplored.

By using observational studies of work done by current artists and practitioners in the field to inform novel design approaches, my research hopes to discover new ways in which interactive technologies can be deployed in museum spaces to create playful environments for children. It is hoped that this work can produce valuable perspectives on how children can engage with both technology and culture, as well as a disruptive intervention into what constitutes interactivity and inclusivity in the practise of artistic installations.