Feeling lonely? Design your own virtual pet


Delhi design pros Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra will help people leverage art and technology to conceptualise a digital companion

Curious about the metaphysics of design, but want the details from some of the country’s best? Apple’s New World Programme – a set of creator workshops by Today At Apple and It’s Nice That – has on-boarded Delhi artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, with close to 20 years of their partnership, to engage the curious about creating your own little digital companion.

Jiten and Sumir’s creations often break out of the mediated disciplinary world, thus creating multi-modal sensory experiences and storytelling, in immersive environments. They are also known for experimenting with and creating emotional and digital objects. Looking forward to the online workshop on March 3 at 7 pm, the fun design challenge will see attendees leveraging the iPad and popular graphic design app ProCreate to conceptualise an ideal virtual pet that conjures happiness and wellbeing – a welcome action after the loneliness from the pandemic.

As a result, attendees will also develop ideas about how humans relate to the things around them. “We love making things that have people looking at ‘the other’,” says Sumir, who loves to play with the question ‘what if?, “and we hope to push what digital interaction can really do.” He says this project delves into new possibilities, specifically “empathy and touch, because these two are not well understood in digital spaces. We want to ‘keep it unreal’ at the same time because everything has been controlled by certain perspectives, for example, what cyberspace looks like.”

Spaces places

What entails a digital studio to create this experience? Sumir explains there are two ways to see it: one being studio walkthroughs which is “a cosmo-local understanding that we can show the world how we operate so the ‘distances’ have lapsed,” and the other is actually “taking an inside look on what is created in this space.” This in mind, the space, he elaborates, is linked strongly to mental health. Sumir and Jiten also started Pollinators, a digital agency that has them diversifying their peer ecosystem of creators and curators, enabling virtual residencies to empower the community.

Naturally, the aforementioned ideas started to pave the way to a project around a digital companion. “Just as our phone is an extension of your body – which is both comforting and haunting – the notion of a pet is something deeply loved,” agrees Sumir. “Yes, there is a flaw in that it is digital, but these pets ‘live’ as well. We also want people to feel comfortable about this, even though it is very digital.”

The design duo – who have travelled far and wide to places such as Kazakhstan, the U.K. Switzerland and Canada – are always excited to keep up with convergences of art and technology. They have experimented with Virtual Reality and, to throw it back, were one of the first artists to bring Photoshop to India. “This agility and discovery become a part of our lives and grow into the studio. When we do discover something new, we research through books and essays, of course, because we have our limitations. But we still explore the possibilities, though not being in the thick of it.”

Deep research aside, the idea behind this evening’s digital companion workshop retains the essence of just having fun, reminds Sumir. “We’ve seen people barely giggle in video meetings these days; there’s too much seriousness around. So this exercise will have people laughing, as well as thinking about digital objects in a new way. But also sharing because it is a group experience,” he avers.

One can register for the three-hour ‘Virtual Studio: Design Your Own Digital Pet with Thukral and Tagra’ here.

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