Review of #04 – mixed reality

A first birthday extravaganza! And the fourth Artful Spark…

Thank you to Sidd, Pheona and the tech crew at Barbican for unyielding support.

Here follows a quick rundown of the jam-packed evening at Barbican, but first…


Richard Wetzel warmed up the braincells with a rapid-fire round of his Mixed Reality Game Cards. Teams spread throughout the Fountain Room to throw opportunity cards, question cards and challenge cards together to create a slew of impromptu game concepts. Check out these winning submissions:

© Gibson/Martelli

With the grey matter engaged, Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli took the stage to discuss some beautiful projects that use augmented reality in various quirky ways. As Gibson says of AR, “We discovered a long time ago it’s not always best to be first to a new technology. There are still so many exciting opportunities years later, once the wrinkles have been ironed out.”

How do you persuade a client whose business is selling objects that it’s ok to have an empty shop window? Their dazzle camouflage piece for Selfridges’ drew crowds nonetheless. The ebb and flow caused by the changing traffic lights – “social choreography,” as  Gibson called it – created a natural audience at every red light, phones held aloft to reveal the hidden artwork.

Martelli, on one of the many creative conundrums this electronic arts duo tackle, said: “We’re interested in theatre, and performance, and ways to break out of that traditional proscenium arch experience. In fact their phones simply became a new frame…”

And the secret to their decades of successful cross-discipline collaboration? The humble moodboard.


Second on stage was David Kaskel from Breaking Fourth, a new company formed to explore the possibilities that virtual reality offers to narrative content. Reflecting on the process behind Ctrl, a 20 minute VR piece that plays out on Samsung Gear headsets, Kaskel showed how his team combined techniques from many creative disciplines: “It was messy, but we got there in the end.”

From theatre – paper treatments, countless drafts and face to face readings; from film – the recording, editing and rendering of content; and from gaming – the animation and user experience design that gives an audience control. In fact, this was Kaskel’s closing remark: the thrill, and indeed challenge, of mixed reality is putting your audience at the heart of the action.

© Michael Takeo Magruder
© Michael Takeo Magruder

Rounding off the speaking slot were Sarah Grochala from Headlong Theatre and visual artist Michael Takeo Magruder. Headlong’s production of The Nether Realm at the Royal Court was accompanied by a living virtual world, artfully folded into the fabric of the building so audiences could experience it before and after the performance.

Michael reflects on the struggle of mixing the virtual and real: “On stage, the show must go on, but if the virtual-world servers drop, that part of the experience just goes dark.” No doubt part of the appeal in creating cutting edge work is overcoming these hurdles. Grochala explains the need to constantly “shift our everyday understanding of what’s possible.”


At the end of a fantastic evening, there was something reassuring about the clunkiness of the cardboard, the dying batteries in the Vive and the tiny screen resolution of the HoloLens.

We’re not in any immediate danger of being consumed by the matrix; there are far too many interesting challenges to overcome.

Technical demonstrations

During the break, crowds gathered around technical demonstrations from across the mixed reality spectrum. Card games and Google Cardboard shared the floor with the HTC Vive and HoloLens.


The demos in full:

A little more on our speakers

speaker-richard-wetzelRichard Wetzel, Pervasive Playground


Senior Lecturer in Games Computing at the University of Lincoln and currently finishing a PhD at the Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham and creator of Mixed Reality Game Cards.

speaker-david-kaskelDavid Kaskel, Breaking Fourth

@Breaking_Fourth // @DavidKaskel

A lifelong fan of all forms of storytelling, David founded Breaking Fourth and conceived Ctrl, the world’s first long-form virtual reality drama for mobile VR.

speaker-sarah-takeoSarah Grochala, Headlong TheatreMichael Takeo Magruder

@SarahGrochala // @HeadlongTheatre

Sarah is a playwright, dramaturg and academic, working with Headlong since 2012 on projects exploring the cross-over between digital and live experiences.

Michael is a visual artist who works with real-time data, digital archives, immersive environments, mobile devices and virtual worlds whose art has been shown in over 250 exhibitions.

speaker-gibson-martelliRuth Gibson and Bruno Martelli, Gibson/Martelli

@ruthhaptic // @BrunoMartelli // @GibsonMartelli

Brilliant and bonkers British electronic arts duo creating live simulations, installations and interactive artwork using performance capture, computer generated models, video games, AR, VR and art traditions of figure and landscape.

mark-knowles-leeMark Knowles-Lee, Fracture Games

@Fracture_Games // @mrmarkkboy

Co-founder of Brighton-based Fracture Games, a digital-creative company combining engineers and artists with experience in multi platform games and educational software.



Preloaded are a BAFTA-winning applied games studio using the power of games to solve problems and change lives.

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This handy Twitter list features all speakers, past and present.

Thank you to all our speakers, demo-ists, the Barbican tech team and of course the community of creative thinkers. We’ll be back in 3 months.


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