The Documentation and Archiving of Pervasive Experiences: the case of Rider Spoke

Posted on November 25, 2010


In September 2009 a team comprising staff from the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham (Duncan Rowland and Steve Benford), the Centre for Intermedia at the University of Exeter (Gabriella Giannachi) and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.Reserach (Katja Kwastek) based in Linz, Austria, documented Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke. The documentation, which took place just a few days before the beginning of the ars electronica festival in Linz, so as to include the non-specialist audience from the Linz European Capital of Culture 2009 programme, was carried out to capture multiple aspects of the experience, with a view to the creation of a media-rich archive, the CloudPad, at a later date, as part of the Horizon project investigating the role of contextual footprints in the digital economy.

Why are documentations and archives relevant to the digital economy?

  • To create legacies of pioneering pervasive artworks;
  • To study how documentations and archives can be integrated into broader, networked and participatory mixed reality (research and learning) environments;
  • To pilot new forms of documentation and create new types of interactive archives;
  • To study the value of the digital footprints created by the use of such environments.

This blog documents various stages in the process that lead to the creation of the CloudPad archive.

September 2009: we documented 9 Rider Spoke riders by using GPS, video and sound. Following advice from Henry Lowood at Stanford Libraries, we used first and third person perspective to document the riders. Each rider was interviewed at the end of their ride. I offered a presentation of the concept of the archive at the ars electronica festival.

January 2010: the consultation with the British Library and Stanford Libraries has allowed us to generate a vision of the archive as an interactive, replay archive, which utilises cloud computing. Duncan Rowland from the Mixed Reality Lab has sketched a drawing of what the archiving tool might look like.

February 2010: I offered a presentation about the cloud archive at Transmediale 2010 in Berlin and entered into conversation with sosolimited about remixing live events ( I also met with staff from the San Francisco Art Institute and Stanford Libraries to discuss a test run and evaluation of the CloudPad archive in September in San Francisco. Jonathan Foster (Information Studies) at Sheffield University joined the project as a partner.

Above you can see the San Francisco Art Institute [left] and the library [right] where the archive will be evaluated by students from the institute.

Above is the main entrance to Stanford Libraries [left] and the rotunda near the Green Library [right] where the archive will be evaluated to Stanford University students during their first week of term.

The communities who will evaluate the archive in San Francisco are likely to be unfamiliar with the work. In this case ‘visiting’ is not only a question of what remains of an artwork (and how that could be encountered) but also of what occurs when all that is encountered is what remains.

March 2010: I completed a documentation article of Rider Spoke for Contemporary Theatre Review (CTR), and started tagging the content for the cloud archive. Duncan Rowland has built a prototype interface. We consulted British Library, our partner, on whether our tags should be formal or informal. We decided for the latter option.

April 2010: Duncan Rowland has developed the code for the LoFi prototype and completed a second pass prototype which is now ready for further development by a programmer. We are recording interviews to Mixed Reality Lab staff and Blast Theory to be included in the archive.

May 2010: I presented a paper on Lynn Hershman’s Life Squared and the CloudPad for Josette Feral’s Effets de présence et effets de réel dans les arts de la scène et les arts médiatiques. Volet 3. Le corps remixé conference in Montreal (12-13 May 2010).

June 2010: We have employed a programmer, Dominic Price, who is building the archive. We have learnt that we will be presenting our research at ISEA 2010 (

July 2010: Dominic Price has been developing the CloudPad archive. The interface allows users to navigate the site, add media, add text or simply view what is already online. Three ‘canonical trajectories’ through parts of the archive have been designed at this stage by Nick Tandavanitj and Matt Adams from Blast Theory, Duncan Rowland from the Mixed Reality Lab,  and myself. Users are able to further materials and/or annotate existing materials, thereby designing their own trajectories through the documentation. To make the whole archive searchable, I tagged all content informally. More tags can be added during the planned US evaluation in September. If you are interested in reading up on HCI and trajectories you could look up our article ‘From Interaction to Trajectories: Designing Coherent Journeys Through User Experiences‘.

August 2010: The CloudPad is still under development. It is clear to me now that the CloudPad is both an archive and an analytical tool, able to facilitate conversations between distant communities. We had interesting feedback at ISEA 2010 and look forward to engaging with broader communities once we will be able to put the CloudPad online in late October.

September 2010: The CloudPad was evaluated at San Francisco Art Institute (13-15 September) and Stanford Libraries (16-7 and 20-1 September). Our paper ‘The Documentation and Archiving of Mixed Media Experiences: the Case of Rider Spoke’ was accepted by Digital Futures 2010 and will be online shortly. The Contemporary Theatre Review article about the ClouPad was published in 3:20, 353-67 under the title: Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke, its Documentation and the Making of its Replay Archive.  I have started working on the final article for this project which we aim to publish in the journal Digital Creativity. While at Stanford I was also encouraged to submit a paper to the Digital Humanities 2011 conference to be held there next year.

The evaluation at the San Francisco Art Institute showed that their staff and students felt the CloudPad should not only be used for the annotation of documents, but also to curate, exhibit and even make art.










The evaluation at Stanford Libraries (above) showed that the CloudPad could also be used for exhibitions.

Our next task is to get rid of e few bugs and release the CloudPad in Open Source. You can find an initial version at CloudPad

October 2010: presented a paper on the CloudPad at Digital Futures

January 2011 Blast Theory have developed their response to this project:

Riders Have Spoken at the British Library

Riders Have Spoken is currently included in Growing Knowledge: The
Evolution of Research exhibition at the British Library. The work is a
playful graphic and audio archive of recordings from Rider Spoke,
created by Blast Theory with designer Jon Sutton. Riders Have Spoken
has been developed by Blast Theory with the support of Horizon Digital
Economy Research.

February 2011 I presented with Nick Kaye on presence, documentation and archiving in the context of a one-day symposium on deferred performance at Stanford’s Drama Department. Peggy Phelan responded to the presentation, posing really interesting questions on documentation.

Below I listed existing examples of documentations and/or archives in Performance and New Media that variously influenced our approach:

Exeter Digital Archives

Langlois Foundation

Variable Media

Virtueel Platform

Preserving Virtual Worlds







Presence Project

Ludwig Boltzman Institute Media.Art.Research

Live Art Archives