Art and technology can create ‘panoramic possibilities’

25 Jul 2018

Noeline Kavanagh at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Noeline Kavanagh of Macnas discussed the importance of storytelling and embracing new technology at Inspirefest 2018.

Noeline Kavanagh’s energy and warmth is contagious. The CEO and artistic director of Macnas is at the forefront of immersive outdoor spectacle events, summing up the group’s work as transforming “cities, venues and public sites into playgrounds of imagination”.

Imagination is obviously something Kavanagh holds dear, as she told the Inspirefest audience that she defines it as, among other things, “a universal sensibility within us all that strives to make visible the invisible”.

The spark of imagination

Kavanagh’s own story with imagination began when she was a child in Galway. She witnessed a performance by Spanish theatre group Els Comediants that stood in stark contrast against the “strange and dour Corpus Christi” parades and stoic St Patrick’s Day celebrations of the 1980s.

Once she saw this performance, there was no going back. It opened “a portal of wonderment” that ignited the spark of her creativity and transformed her life forever.

Art and tech intertwine

Macnas is “all about imagination” and its players are engineers of story. While this is integral to the work, the adoption of new technology by the group has produced some magnificent results. Describing the meeting of Macnas’ low-tech creations with the world of cutting-edge technology as a “lovely waltz”, Kavanagh explained that the collective recently built a beta prototype app harnessing augmented reality (AR) technology to create a more immersive experience.

By placing a beacon inside the beard of one of Macnas’ trademark gargantuan giants, app users were able to hear the innermost thoughts of the behemoth using their smartphones during an event. At another stage, participants would feel as though they were submerged under water, thanks to the app’s sound element.

Kavanagh was inspired by the “blind date with high tech” and the opportunity to transform experiences using digital tools, from passive to interactive.

Humans always have been, and always will be, searching for stories, but the intertwining of imaginative arts and digital experiential tools provides a “massive opportunity to increase participation”. Using technology, she wants to “send stories beyond borders” and create a “glittering oasis of light and dark magic” in an increasingly fraught world plagued with monotony.

Technology could be used to essentially democratise storytelling and send tales to all corners of the world, which is, in Kavanagh’s view, “thirsting for story”.

New ways to tell stories

Indeed, innovations in AR and VR could be the next big thing in immersive experiential art, music, theatre and other arenas, creating new ways for the observer to be submerged in the story. After all, it is the primary way we humans navigate the world and a “reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living”.

While it might seem odd on the surface for Macnas to be embracing such high-level technology when its work is so centred on the human imagination, Kavanagh noted that “great ideas are strange” and that the possibilities when the two combine are “panoramic”.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects