Presence is a new online platform created by Rooftop Productions (HK) and Hong Kong media artist Kenny Wong Chi-chuen. The platform allows remote participants to navigate a real physical space, and interact with people/performers/other participants using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Presence was conceived during the peak pandemic period in Hong Kong, when face-to-face interaction was strictly limited, and live performances and venues were shut down. As a collective of theatre practitioners and programmers, we decided to create Presence as a live performance form during lockdowns, that, unlike zoom, would also have a spatial and physical dimension, leading to more of a feeling of co-presence in the space, and more agency for participants. The first stage of the project took place from Jan-Mar, 2021, in a storage warehouse building in Hong Kong, culminating in 14 performances. Each performance allowed 4 participants to take control of the individual ROVs, while up to 50 observers could join and take control of which camera/audio feed they wanted to view, including ROV views, as well as CCTV overviews, and live chat. Performances took place in both Cantonese and English, allowing participants to join from anywhere in the world. Performers began by teaching participants how to control their ROVs to move around the space, and communicate with them via TTS, leading to task-based interaction and exploration. In the company’s warehouse, performers related the real stories of the objects (documented form the company owner) in a non-linear way depending on what participants took an interest in, much like curators, eliciting questions and interactions, creating a sense of intimacy with the participants. This storytelling form enabled us to address important social issues in Hong Kong, in particular the current wave of emigration in the face of the changing political climate; the abandoned objects hinting at their owners’ reasons for leaving.
Programming: Ivor Houlker @Rooftop Productions Mechatronics: Kenny Wong Chi-chuen @Things That Move Producer: Michelle Li Yuen Jing @Rooftop Productions Videography & Observer Camera System: Calvin Chan Tsz Ho Performers: Arisa Yasaratne, Michelle Li Yuen Jing Mechatronics Assistants: (Wesker Shek, Carmen Cheng, Cat Fung) @Things That Move Project Assistant: Owen Hui This project was commissioned by Freespace, West Kowloon Cultural District, and as part of The Future of Performance series.