Marshmallow Laser Feast wins at WIRED – exploring the benefits of R&D
Last week one of Nesta’s prior Digital R&D Fund for the Arts grantees, Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF), won big at the WIRED Audi Innovation Awards, picking up the gong for best ‘Innovation in Experience Design’. Previously, they had also been nominated for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year awards 2016 in the ‘Digital’ category – a major result given the strength of the competition.
The work, an immersive VR piece, set in a forest, called 'In the Eyes of the Animal', was commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices (AND) using a variety of sources of public funding, off the back of a research and development project funded by Arts Council England, Nesta and the AHRC into the use of drones in arts settings.
The result at the WIRED awards and nomination at the Design Museum is a fantastic achievement for MLF (on their twitter feed they are rightly delighted with the result) against a field of groundbreaking and inspiring projects. For our part, we, working with our partners ACE and AHRC, are delighted to have played a part in funding the original collaboration between AND, MLF and the University of Salford – Project Daedalus.
The public recognition for MLF’s virtual reality experience does raise interesting questions for Nesta and other organisations that fund work in this space, however. Previously, we have been concentrated on tracking impact in the arts organisations that led the R&D Fund partnerships – did they change or grow as organisations as a result of their funding, did they take digital technology more seriously and did they go on to feel the impacts of using it on their business or audience outreach more intensely?
This was a natural place to focus – after all, we were spending public money – so the major impact we were looking to achieve was primarily within the subsidised arts and cultural sector. We commissioned and published extensive reports on the subject examining the impact of the fund primarily through this lens. However we spent less time thinking about what happened to the 50-odd technology companies involved in the fund. Were they able to experiment in ways that commercial commissions didn’t allow? Could they go on to tap into more partnerships that allowed them to cross from commercial outfits to artistic ones – gathering commissions and awards along the way?
We don’t know the answers for certain, but in the meantime perhaps it is best to celebrate when creative spill-overs and successes become apparent, in this instance through MLF’s brilliant achievements in 2016. For our part we're gratified to observe another positive result that links back to the Digital R&D Fund from the partnership formed by MLF and AND originally.