Knowledge Centre Blog

Technology and The Arts Converge

Michelle Browne - RISK, video still, 2011 from Quantified Self with Shimmer Research at the LAB Gallery 2011

Fledgling technology firm Shimmer Research is set to launch new products on the back of a collaborative artistic project with the LAB Gallery in Dublin. By Linda Daly

Shimmer has been in existence for just four years but already has a staff of 25 and offices in Boston and Ireland. The company develops wearable sensors that detect movement and emotion, and applies its technology to a clinical and healthcare setting. For example, one sensor can tell if a person with Alzheimer’s disease is getting stressed.

Shimmer was invited to collaborate with Dublin artists as part of the Innovation Dublin Festival in the LAB Gallery. The aim was to develop a greater understanding of innovation and creativity.

Kieran Daly, vice president of business development, Shimmer Research says the collaboration gave the company a chance to look at things differently.

He cites the example of one project which saw artist Michelle Browne invite three property developers who had suffered massive losses in the downturn to play a game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.

One of Shimmer’s sensors is called a GSR, which acts as the underlying technology in lie detector tests. A small sensor worn on a wrist band wirelessly picks up if people are highly stressed.

The three developers, as well as the artist, were ‘shimmered up’ during the game with interesting results showing one individual in a high state of constant stress.

“We would never have used this sensor for that type of application idea, and have come up with very good product ideas as a result,” says Daly.

“It has helped us diversify and take the focus off technology in the clinical setting.”

Convergence between technology and the arts is the key to success, according to Daly.

“There are very few companies that can survive and lead in their field if they stay on their own. Likewise, there is a tendency among artists to surround themselves with a lot of artists. We need to blur the lines between people who are existing in silos,” he says.

Sheena Barrett, curator, the LAB Gallery agrees.

“Working with other disciplines allows you to reflect on your own way of working as it forces you to communicate your ideas but also your approaches to people outside your field of work.”

As a small firm, Shimmer contributed to the project by donating hardware and time. Its engineers worked with each artist to write software.

By giving engineering time, the firm engaged its employees.

“Many of our customers both current and potential aren’t technologically trained, nor do they need to be, so it helped improve our interaction with clients. Being shortlisted for the creative engagement award is something we were also particularly proud of,” says Daly.

Barrett says it emerged very quickly that Shimmer was open to the risk-taking inherent in an artist’s practice. They had, she adds, plenty to contribute to the conversation, thought processes and problem solving.

“Shimmer Research offered the promise to facilitate new ways of working for our artists. They were great to work with. If at times they were bemused by requests, they were always respectful of the artists’ practices,” says Barrett.

“It’s not every day you are asked to work on a project that involves putting sensors on a dressage horse to record its movements and heartbeats. And in turn generate a sound piece in effect composed by the horse, as was the case in Bea McMahon’s One Letter Poem.”

After completion of the projects a two-month show was held at the LAB, and comprised a booklet guide and series of workshops where Shimmer engineers and the artists gave talks.

While the LAB is part of Dublin City Council, Barrett says sponsorship provided by Shimmer Research allowed it to augment its core programme.

“This partnership allowed us to support artists to realise ambitious projects that challenged their current practice. It was also instrumental in attracting new target audiences outside of our usual publics.”

Talks are underway between the two entities about future projects.

Shimmer Research and The LAB Gallery are winners of 2012 Allianz Business to Arts Award for Best Small Sponsorship

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