Apr 17 2018

On Tuesday 24 April the Digital Forest will open in our Exhibition Space. 

The Digital Forest is a new installation by media artist Madi Boyd and forms part of an ongoing collaboration between the artist and cognitive scientist Professor Polly Dalton. We caught up with Professor Dalton to understand more about the exhibition and how it will also function as a research environment.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of Psychology?

I’ve been at Royal Holloway for over 11 years now, researching and teaching on topics like attention, perception and memory. I’m currently on sabbatical following three years as Director of Teaching for Psychology.

2. Digital Forest will be open within the Exhibition Space from Tuesday 24 April until Saturday 14 July. Could you tell us a bit more about the exhibition?

Digital Forest is a new multisensory art installation by artist Madi Boyd and composer Nye Parry. It will use sculptural forms, changing sounds, tactile experiences and multiple projections to create an immersive experience that is inspired by the feelings of walking through a forest.

3. What will visitors to Digital Forest expect to take away from it?

Digital Forest1

Although the installation won’t mimic a forest directly, it has been designed to provide sensory experiences that are similar to those of a real forest. This should make it a restorative and uplifting place, and we hope that students and colleagues will pop in during their breaks to relax and refocus. However, each visitor will take away something different, and part of the excitement will be in seeing how people respond.

4. We know that the exhibition will also function as a research environment. Could you tell us a bit more about this research?

We will be running a series of experiments to test the psychological impacts of the installation. Previous research has shown that spending time in nature can help us to focus our attention more effectively, and we predict that Digital Forest will have similar effects. This could be very useful for our students during their exam revision, particularly as the installation is located in the Library! The research will also help us to understand the benefits that art can bring to people's everyday lives. Madi and I have been talking about attention and multisensory perception for years, so it’s very exciting to be working together on something after all this time. 

5. Aside from Digital Forest, are you currently working on any other projects/research?

My main research interest concerns how our attention shapes our awareness of the world. I’ve just finished a three-year project looking at how these processes operate in the sense of touch. I’ve also been looking at attention in complex real-world settings, including a recent project to improve helicopter alarm systems.

6. Outside of work do you have any hobbies or interests?

I love cooking and playing the piano, and I’ve recently started going to parkrun on Saturdays. Seeing as my colleagues may read this, I will have to confess that I like to join them at the pub from time to time too. And I mustn’t forget my two cats, Jimmy and Bunk, whose names will reveal (to fans of The Wire) that I also like a good TV boxset.

7. What’s your favourite term at Royal Holloway and why?

I enjoy the contrasting phases of the academic year, so it’s hard to pick one term over another. I like the autumn term because of the “back to school” fresh start feeling, and the way that our campus springs into life when the students return. But I also like the warmer weather that comes with the summer term, and the satisfaction of looking back at another teaching year completed.

8. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…

I started at Royal Holloway as a new lecturer, so the College has shaped my entire career. Along the way I have discovered that I love working with other people, I never want two days to be the same, and, perhaps most surprisingly, I can be persuaded to get up on stage in a ridiculous outfit as part of the Psychology panto!