Kirk Woolford

Capturing Motions in Place

Explorations of relationships between human movement and places, sites, or locations, are frequent components of research in archeology and anthropology. However, as ever more of our culture is digitised, disciplines including architecture, cultural studies, natural and built environment studies, performance, and others, are re-discovering transdisciplinary notions of site and embodied experience of place. They are broadening their research from studies of purely material cultures of roads, paths, and buildings to encompass the experiences and social relationships for which these were constructed. When members of UNESCO developed their definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage they looked at Rangihiroa Panoho’s example of the marae, as simultaneously a building and a cultural meeting space for the Maori. It functioned along the lines of what Joseph Roach calls “vortices of behaviour”: churches, marketplaces, theatres, schools, and kitchens in which certain kinds of behaviours and values are learned and certain memories are transmitted. These sites are often documented by researchers using traditional research tools including cameras, GPS loggers, etc, but the behaviour, the embodied experience of the place is lost.

Architects long ago realised that it is not possible to get a proper understanding of a location by simply looking at drawings or images; that we need to move around a building in order to understand it. Traditionally, they would build 3D models to allow people to look at places from different viewpoints. Recently, many have turned to digital models and techniques enabling virtual fly-throughs, yet these digital resources cannot replace embodied understanding of place. Architects continue to “walk the site” or, rather, plot out the site on the ground and walk through it with an understanding that movement alone allows them to comprehend scales, orientations, and relationships. Similarly, the importance of an explorer’s bodily involvement with the objects of scientific investigation is increasingly, explicitly, acknowledged in current archaeological theory

The interdisciplinary Motion in Place Platform (MiPP) consortium aims to move beyond traditional studio-bound motion capture to ask how capturing humans’ movements through sites can lead to new forms of research data to reinforce understandings of how places were/are used rather than focusing primarily on how they are constructed. The consortium is composed of members from such diverse disciplines as Archaeology, Informatics, Choreography, Digital Media, Performance Technologies, etc. The team is working closely with the motion capture hardware developer, Animazoo, to create capture systems which can be taken out of the studio, and into the “field”. Thus far, these field applications have ranged from capturing archaeologists on a dig, to young offenders breaking and entering into a police crime house. The proposed chapter will give an overview of the project, the hardware developed for it, and case-studies of the applications for which it has been used.


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