Who is Benjamin Dunks?
Ben has been working in dance for 22 years, performing, making, teaching, managing and exploring everything to do with the creative and moving body. For the past two years he has been capturing movement through motion capture and accelerometry and investigating the moving body in health and education settings. Ben outlines his journey with South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN) below.
What I’m working on
I am exploring immersive technologies as a way to measure the movement choices of several groups of older women, with the resultant data to be explored as a way to create visual art, short movement films, sound scores and possibly 3D printed sculptures.
This is the beginning of a longer exploration into how my Renaissance Falls prevention focused movement programme can be measured and validated as a legitimate and easily applied programme for this audience. With falls costing the NHS upwards of £2 billion per year, the savings that a programme like this will make will be substantial.
The creation of art through this process is also another way of exploring how data drawn from motion capture and accelerometry can be used to represent individuals in different ways. I am calling this the Poetics of Identity. My participants are living in a world where the narrative is that they are no longer of any value and they are diminishing and decaying in mind, body and soul.
These Poetics of Identity – beautiful artistic representations of their movement – show how extraordinary they are, and the cumulative data and their experience of improved strength, movement and proprioception shows them that they are not defined by society.
Research question for immersion
How do we map the movement of older people as they dance in a creative movement experience in order to demonstrate change that is measurable in such a way as to validate that movement experience as a pathway to a healthier and stronger life? How do we then use the data from this experience to create interesting visual art, sound, immersive experiences for audiences and different ways of showing identities of older people?
Expertise and skills
My expertise and skills are in movement, dance, creative processes, participation, the links between the science of the moving body and the impact of that moving on learning, on ageing and on the self. I am passionate about working in areas of society where new technologies haven’t reached yet – primary school children, older people in sheltered accommodation, young people in deprived areas. I am interested in immersion not only as an immersed experience, VR or sound-based experience, but also in the idea of an individual being immersed in a new world of technologies, immersed in a new world where there are possibilities that haven’t previously been available.
My Immersion Prototype programme looked at a range of ideas. The primary element involved taking three of my Barbican Legends, who have been moving in my programme for a little while to the CAMERA Motion Capture Studio at Bath University for six sessions and full body motion capture the movement changes they experienced. I was then able to work with a Biomechanics Lecturer at the university to minutely evaluate the changes in essential elements of movement and falls prevention.
The support for prototyping from SWCTN enabled me to successfully apply to two other funders to create a wider scope of creation and art from this work.
The Innovation in Healthy Ageing programme through the University of Plymouth and with the University of Plymouth physiotherapy department, and specifically Associate Professor Hilary Gunn, supported me in doing a pilot study of the programme in sheltered accommodation spaces. Arts Council England SW supported me in taking the data from the movement programme and creating sound and visual art and ultimately in having three exhibitions of the work in the sheltered accommodation spaces I had worked in.
Business Development Fund
One of the many fantastic opportunities available to Fellows and Prototype teams through the SWCTN programmes has been working with the incredible Gill Wildman. I have had several sessions with Gill exploring fundamentals of business development, building specific ideas with Renaissance and finally in receiving further funding to explore specific marketing questions relating to the Renaissance programme and getting it out into the world.
University of Plymouth partnership
A big part of the support from the SWCTN funding has been working with Tom Edie and Emily Barrett of the Knowledge Exchange Partnership at the University of Plymouth. This partnership involved monthly/6-weekly meetings to talk about progress, plans, ideas, challenges, and anything that was presenting itself as part of the process of the fellowship or prototype that I wanted to talk about.
Through this partnership I was offered a desk and membership of the Formation Zone at the University, the incubation space in the Marine Building. Being part of the Formation Zone gave me access to important legal and entrepreneurial advice I wouldn’t otherwise have received. Alongside this advice I was also invited to present my work at an informal pitch/not pitch event which was very successful and which led to further leads for my Renaissance programme, those leads of which were instrumental in me taking the path I am currently taking in the business.
My experience of the University of Plymouth business innovation offers and the clear support all the members of the team gave me, from the Knowledge Exchange team through to the Formation Zone team has been foundational for where I am now.
The Formation Zone's services are now provided by The Cube, which offers advice, funding and support to businesses, freelancers and the self-employed, with services open to students from all schools at all levels of study, as well as graduates.
Simply, working with the SWCTN team, receiving funding from a range of programmes, being supported by both Gill and especially Tom Edie as Knowledge Exchange Manager at the University of Plymouth has been a life changing experience for me.
When I applied for the Immersion Fellowship I thought it was a ludicrous thing to do as my background wasn’t tech focused and what I was offering really didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to 90% of people I spoke to.
At my interview the panel just got it, they understood the idea, they understood me and they felt to me like they were searching for outsider ideas like mine. I left the interview buoyed that I had spoken to people who understood and was ok with not getting the fellowship. But I was successful!
Over the subsequent two years I have been flying with my work, with the support of the team, with the generosity of the nurturing of my work, the robust and thoughtful challenges to the steps I have been taking and the constant feeling that I was working with an organisation and people who nurtured radical new ways of seeing the world and especially the ways in which that new way of seeing the world could get out and be accessible to all.
This programme is a three year funded programme. It should be a 6-10 year programme. There are so many mavericks and radical thinkers in this world desperate to be heard by good people who understand good ideas and can support the blossoming of these ideas without taking equity or compromising their position by having a stake in the outcome. This is what this incredible company and amazing people offer.