New Paper: Playful interfaces to the archive...

Playful interfaces to the archive and the embodied experience of data. Rachel Hendery and Andrew Burrell, Journal of Documentation 2020

Recently published in the Journal of Documentation:

This paper demonstrates the possibility for the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector to employ playful, immersive discovery interfaces for their collections and raises awareness of some of the considerations that go into the decision to use such technology and the creation of the interfaces.

This is a case study approach using the methodology of research through design. The paper introduces two examples of immersive interfaces to archival data created by the authors, using these as a springboard for discussing the different kinds of embodied experiences that users have with different kinds of immersion, for example the exploration of the archive on a flat screen, a data 'cave' or arena, or virtual reality.

The role of such interfaces in communicating with the audience of an archive is considered, for example in allowing users to detect structure in data, particularly in understanding the role of-1-geographic or other spatial elements in a collection, and in shifting the locus of knowledge production from individual to community. It is argued that these different experiences draw on different metaphors in terms of users' prior experience with more well known technologies, for example 'a performance' versus 'a tool' versus 'a background to a conversation'. Originality/value The two example interfaces discussed here are original creations by the authors of this paper. They are the first uses of mixed reality for interfacing with the archives in question. One is the first mixed reality interface to an audio archive. The discussion has implications for the future of interfaces to galleries, archives, libraries and museums more generally.

Doi: 10.1108/JD-05-2019-0078
Publication Date: 2020
Publication Name: Journal of Documentation


I Believe in Monsters!


Where I recall A Pair of Red Mittens with White Cross-stitch Patterning and a Train Full of Monsters.

For some reason, for as long as I can remember, I have had a memory that has constantly played on my mind. I wonder, is it because I have replayed it over and over so many times that it is so vivid, or has it always been so? This memory is somewhat problematic, for, as you will see… it leads me to believe in monsters.

I do believe in monsters! I have to, otherwise I can’t trust my own memory, and without a memory that I can believe in, there isn’t much point in anything.

Once, when I was very young, my father took me to see a steam-train that was going to pass by on the lines at the top of our street. We were quite close to the railway lines, but far enough back to be at a safe distance. I was sitting on my father’s shoulders so that I could get a good view. A couple of other people from the street had gathered and the children amongst them all seemed as excited as I was. The sun was behind clouds that day, there was quite a strong wind blowing, and I was wearing red mittens with white cross-stitch patterning. Somebody yelled out “It’s coming!” We all looked down the tracks to where a man was pointing. I could see smoke, lots of smoke. A whistle blew, it kept blowing. I was scared. I started to scream. I grabbed onto my father’s head and screamed louder. I could see the great, ever increasing pall of smoke getting closer. I drove my fingers into my father’s scalp; I could not take my eyes off this terrible, loud, dark thing that was approaching. Then as the smoke enveloped us, and I could see the train itself, I SAW MONSTERS!

That steam-train full of monsters is one of my most vivid memories from childhood. Not just one or two monsters, but hundreds of them, all hanging from the side of the train, crawling on its roof, and hanging out of its windows. Each one of them different, each one of them nasty and vicious and ready to jump off the train at any moment and eat me or my father.

There were monsters on that train.

I choose to believe this memory, and therefore I choose to believe in monsters. If I were to distrust this memory, then what of the next, and the next, and the one after that. I have come to the conclusion that all memory is true, and if it is not, then no memory is true.

I DO believe in monsters…At least I try very hard to.


Barrawao @UTS Library


Barrawoa launches at the Nandiri’ba’nya: Language and Country exhibition at the University of Technology Sydney library.

Barrawao, a new virtual reality experience exploring the deep connection between Language and Country in the Sydney area. It is currently on Display as part of the Nandiri’ba’nya: Language and Country exhibition at the University of Technology Sydney library.

Barrawao is co-designed in a collaboration between Andrew Burrell (Lecturer, Visual Communications, UTS), Shannon Foster (D’harawal Sydney Saltwater Knowledge Keeper), Rachel Hendery (Linguist, Western Sydney University), Danièle Hromek (Budawang/ Yuin, Designer and Researcher), and Louisa King (Lecturer, School of Architecture, UTS).

For more information on the project see
For further information on the exhibition see

Nandiri’ba’nya can be translated as “we all come together to experience” and Barrawao can be translated as “to fly or to make haste”, from the D’harawal Sydney Language and provided by Shannon Foster.


Create NSW 360 VISION


Funding to continue a research collaboration from Create NSW.

A collaborative partnership between myself and Agatha Gothe-Snape has recently received $20,000 funding from the New South Wales government as part of their 360 VISION: Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Development Initiative.

This will enable us to continue to develop ‘Every Act of Reading Performs a Work’ via a research and development program looking into the affordances of user experience and interaction design in virtual reality and virtual environments.

This will follow on from our pilot investigations that have resulted in a trailer for the project exhibited as part of “The National” and a research paper that Ali Chalmers-Braithwaite and I will present at the Body of Knowledge: Art and Embodied Cognition conference in June of this year at Deakin University.

Congratulations also go out to the other grant recipients, April Phillips, Eugenie Lee, Andrew Christie, John A. Douglas and the Theatre Kantanka.

Image: Agatha Gothe-Snape interviews Brian Fuata from within Virtual Reality.


The Bounty Bear is Searching!


A favourite speculative interface.

The Bounty Bear from Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World is a perfect example of a speculative vision for an interface design that is both playful and critical of emerging technology. The Bounty Bear interface provides access to a virtual environment of data and initially is obfuscating of the underlying facial recognition technology, but ultimately leaves us in no doubt that this belongs to a dystopian future, a future that at the time (1991) felt distant.

Until the End of the World was set in 1999, and by 2019, 20 years later we have found ourselves in a future where the invasive underlying technologies are commonplace – yet we have seen a homogenisation of interfaces and have not inherited the potential for playfulness or visual metaphor that the Bounty Bear represents as an intermediary between the physical and virtual environments.


Nandiri’ba’nya – Launch Event


Photos from the launch event of the Nandiri’ba’nya: Language and Country exhibition at the University of Technology Sydney library.

Nandiri’ba’nya can be translated as “we all come together to experience” from the D’harawal Sydney Language and provided by Shannon Foster. More details on the event as it was, can be found here: