“In 2015 a work, family and relationship crisis all arrived at the same moment, leaving me exposed to my own vulnerabilities and the things I was struggling to handle,” says Alex Hoban, a writer and digital creative director responsible for Aeon Industries, a hybrid arts practice creating new grammars of storytelling for the audience of the future. “One night I was googling for clues to get out my mess and I found a pile of articles on Attachment Theory on Psychology Today. Every paragraph seemed to trigger a little lightbulb of insight going off in my head. It felt like a clear framework for understanding how humans worked and moving forward from crisis productively.”
The “crisis” and the resulting interest in the pioneering work of psychoanalyst John Bowlby that arose from it, in part forms the basis of Aeon Industries’ latest project, Attention Sequencer. Billed as “the first experiential multimedia installation of its kind,” the audio-visual work sees the audience generate and control the sound and visuals through the power of their individual and collective attention.
It follows on from Aeon Industries’ previous mind-melting piece of work, which saw them produce the world’s first ever mind-augmented rave. Attention Sequencer had its live debut last month in London and Alex feels that it was met with, “a mixture of curiosity, expectation and awe,” telling It’s Nice That that, “the immersive visuals and sound are hugely overwhelming, making the experience more visceral.”
Today the collective – which features coder Pierre Tardif, creative technologist Alice Stewart, and for Attention Sequencer, an unnamed-for-legal-reasons-but-massively-credible-musician – releases a handy video explainer for anyone who doesn’t quite get their head around how an AV avatar that craves your attention works.
During the live performance, the audience is addressed by a digital avatar named The Organ. The Organ is permanently aware of who is engaging with it, and reacts through passive and active data-points. The Organ is capable of chatting away to itself and to those who are watching and interacting. “I think they enjoyed standing there for 20 minutes at a time just listening to it anxiously ramble on in a way a lot of people felt familiar with,” Alex says over email.
When asked if he thinks attention is the only currency the counts here at the coalface of modernity, Alex is insistent that “attention has always been there, traded and fought for, it’s just its stock value is currently at a high peak so everyone’s freaking out about it.”
He goes on to note that “the downside of this is a world of attention deficit disorders, digital media fatigue, an inability to focus etc,” adding that “the good side is with everyone’s hyper-awareness we’ve got new language and tools to manage attention and – crucially, make the most of it so we can pay attention to the things that do count.”