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The Creative Europe project ‘Urban Travel Machines’ explores the potential of immersive technologies for storytelling

Three art universities come together to create digitally visualized slam poetry festivals
across Europe.
Eleonora Fisco presenting a virtual concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium.
Photo: Eleonora Fisco and students Milja Komulainen and Erika Rustamova presenting a concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

The Urban Travel Machines is a Creative Europe project that focuses on artistic research of immersive VR and motion design technologies in the context of storytelling and literature. In this long-term exchange, three art schools come together with four European planetariums to create digitally visualized slam poetry festivals across Europe. The project will run for two years, bringing ”fulldome slam poetry shows” with custom-designed visuals to planetariums in Estonia Ahhaa, Spain Museos Científicos Coruñeses, Austria Planetarium Wien and Belgium Planetarium Bruxelles. 

The art universities involved are The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp — AP University College of Applied Sciences and Arts, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture and Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology in Warsaw. 

Aalto University hosted the first of the project’s collaborative creation courses in December 2022 at Otaniemi campus. In it, five poetry performers, seven tutors from Antwerp, Warsaw, and Aalto University along with 15 Aalto ARTS MA students designed concepts for 360° immersive environments for slam poetry shows. The workshop outcome will be projected in May 2023 in a performance in Tartu Planetarium in Estonia, as part of The International Literary Festival in Estonia. The final show will be held at Brussels Planetarium in 2024.

The Urban Travel Machines project is initiated by Philip Meersman, Janna Beck, Olga Wroniewicz and Tarja Nieminen. 

Jaan Malin presenting a concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium.
Jaan Malin and students Merle Karp, Kirsi-Maria Moberg and Yoona Yang presenting a concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

Olga Wroniewicz, a media artist and a teacher at the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology PJAIT in Warsaw says that she started to run courses on projection mapping — augmentation with moving imagery — at the PJAIT around 2014. The first project, a workshop with the students, took place in 2013. Olga soon started implementing the subject to the curriculum. In 2016, small-scale globe mapping was introduced as a prototype experiment. The first course on the subject started in 2015 and was finalized by a public show of her students' animations in Warsaw’s planetarium. The active collaboration on immersiveness with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp began in 2018, Olga gave a workshop on fulldome visual music during the “Voyage, Voyage" international week at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp.

“For Aalto ARTS, this was a fascinating yet a challenging opportunity to work with two of the pioneering art universities who have implemented full-dome visuals in their curricula”, says Aalto University lecturer Tarja Nieminen who is one of the initiators of the project.

“The first workshop at Aalto has been an ideal starting point with Aalto’s state of the art material and support, giving poetry performers and art students the freedom to create interactive visual work, which emerged from the collaborations based upon sounds and words, removing all language barriers into a participatory poetic space”, says Philip Meersman, a poet, a performer and a PhD researcher at the AP University College on transforming visual poetry into an immersive experience and engaged as co-coordinator for this project by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.

“This project has been an incredible learning experience for me. I have had the chance to explore the intersection between poetry and digital technology in the Finnish context, with wonderful people and gained valuable insights in how motion media technology can be used to bring poetry to life”, says Giovanni Baudonck (Belgium), one of the five participating slam poets.

“I am really excited about exploring new communication strategies in collaboration with the students in my team, who have shown extraordinary competence and skill. Starting from my poem they are creating virtual environments and an avatar that will follow my movements during the performance”, says Eleonora Fisco (Italy), another of the five poets involved in the Urban Travel Machines. 

Maja Jantar presenting a concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium.
Maja Jantar and students Pietu Arvola and Eerika Jalasaho presenting a concept of the performance for Tartu planetarium. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

Workshop coordinator:
Tarja Nieminen (Lecturer, VCD, Art & Media)

Workshop tutors:
Philip Meersman (Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium)
Kristof Timmerman (Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium)
Jeroen Cluckers (Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium)
Olga Wroniewicz (PJAIT Warsaw, Poland)
Ludwika Bialkowska (PJAIT Warsaw, Poland)
Emilia Ishizaka (PJAIT Warsaw, Poland)

Participating poets:
Giovanni Baudonck / Belgium
Eleonora Fisco / Italy
Sergio Garau / Italy
Maja Jantar / the Netherlands - Finland
Jaan Malin / Estonia

Participating students:
Pietu Arvola (MA Sound Design in New Media)
Hanna-Katri Eskelinen (MA in Visual Communication Design)
Calvin Guillot Suarez (MA in New Media)
Eerika Jalasaho (MA New Media Design and Production)
Inka Jerkku  (MA in New Media)
Merle Karp (BA in Visual Communication Design)
Milja Komulainen (MA in Visual Communication Design)
Kirsi-Marja Moberg (MA, VICCA)
Malgorzata Nowicka (MA in New Media)
Iida Nurminen (Production Design, ELO Film School)
Erika Rustamova (MA in New Media)
Liisi Soroush (MA in New Media)
Jacob Söderström (BA in Visual Communication Design)
Anni Tolvanen (MA in Visual Communication Design)
Yoona Yang (MA in New Media Design and Production)

For more information:
Tarja Nieminen, lecturer of visual communication at the Aalto University
School of Arts, Design and Architecture [email protected]

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