DHASA2017 – Abstract

Utilising emerging technologies to design an immersive artistic experience to create awareness about human trafficking.

Steyn, Juan; Fourie, Heniel
North-West University


This paper reports on work being done as part of Disappearance, the fourth interdisciplinary practice-led research project conceptualised within the Research niche Visual Narratives and Creative Outputs through Interdisciplinary and Practice-led Research (ViNCO) at the North-West University, Potchefstroom campus (Chan & Pretorius, 2016).

The project’s roots lie in the relationships between man and nature and the respective power position of man in this relationship. Using the theory of anthropocentrism, that sees mankind as the central and most significant entities in the world (Boslaugh, 2016), as a starting point, the project aims to explore how this relationship plays out within the context of poaching and human trafficking.

This paper will only focus on the design of an immersive artistic experience to create awareness about human trafficking as a sub-project within the larger Disappearance project.

Immersive artistic design and human trafficking

Designing interactive or immersive spaces utilising technology is not something new (Mitchell, 2010), however within the domain of digital humanities internationally the use of emerging technologies applied to humanities research is gaining popularity as seen in the recent call for papers for the 2017 Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations conference.

The authors decided to design an artistic installation that enables the spectator to become directly involve and interact with the installation itself. This is done in contrast to typical static descriptions that one will find on websites creating awareness about human trafficking. The aim is to give the participant an experiential understanding concerning human trafficking rather than just a static overview.

In order to construct an installation that can deliver the described experience, the space it occupies has to be activated. Creating an activated space through the use of technology has its challenges when using conventional technology infrastructure. Therefore, in order to minimise the footprint of the technology, single board computers will be used to power the multisensory experience of the installation.

Aspects that is needed to create an immersive experience include:

  1. Motion sensors to track participant movement within the installation.

  2. Static sensors that allow participants to engage with a specific part of the larger installation.

  3. Server functionality to deliver content on an on-demand basis to increase the level interactive experience

    within the installation.

  4. A narrative that would guide the participant through the installation.

The planned installation will involve a constructed room that has interactive stations and sections integrated into its design. Exploiting the computing power and aspects described above, a narrative will be played out in the form of an on-demand short film. This film will aim to immerse the onlooker in a human trafficking narrative. The multisensory environment will be further enhanced through the use of location-specific ambience and tactile experience.

The paper will also discuss the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration within the humanities to create quality digital humanities projects.


Boslaugh, S. 2016. Anthropocentrism https://global.britannica.com/topic/anthropocentrism Chan, J. & Pretorius, F. 2016 Disappearance