Interview with Brendan Dawes


Brendan Dawes is an artist and designer who works with data and code to explore the interaction of objects, environments, people and technology. Our brief to Brendan was simple; could he capture data points from the body and its environment to create works of art to celebrate the role the foot plays in informing the body and the brain about its terrain.

Our hope is that our work with Brendan will encourage people unfamiliar with Vivobarefoot to think about the biomechanical brilliance of their feet. To make the world curious about barefoot shoes. And to reconsider the impact that cushioned soles and shoe shaped shoes have on their health.

Galahad, co-founder of Vivobarefoot, went behind the scenes to understand more about the way he works and his thought process when creating art for the Made to Feel project.


Seeing the unseen.


Galahad: Tell me a little bit about how you work with data and what interested you about the Made to Feel project.

Brendan: ‘For me, data is a source material as much as ink. And data is numbers. Our world is made of numbers. Everything can be transposed into numbers. But these numbers are largely unseen. The experience of being barefoot is unseen too. I was really interested to see if I could capture the way the world becomes amplified when you can feel it fully. Data is messy and noisy. My job is to find the story in the noise so that people can respond to it.’

Galahad: how did you capture the data you have been working with?

Brendan: ‘We worked with sensor specialists Arion. On our photography shoot we used their latest insole which has 8 sensors in each foot. Each sensor provides a reading of the pressure from the foot on the ground and can be tracked separately as a line of data as it moves across terrain. I then took stock of where we would be filming. I’ve learnt the hard way that you can’t rely on the internet on location! Signals are not always strong at the top of a mountain. So I made a machine and called it V.E.R.A! (Vivobarefoot Environment Recording Apparatus). This captures windspeed using an anemometer which plugs into my software. It also has a temperature and humidity sensor as well as a GPS element that gathers latitude and longitude within the nearest 5 metres. This kit was packaged in an all-weather container. Finally I sourced a brain wave scanner which we fitted to our models’ heads to pick up brain activity as they moved.

Galahad. So, how does the creative process work?

Brendan: Effectively, I make a ‘thing’ that makes a ‘thing’. I create software to interpret the data I receive. This software allows me to set variables around how data should be represented. Before the data arrives, I will use test data to explore the affects that different data points could have on the designs the software will produce <see example>.

Then, when the data arrives I put it into the software to see how it works.

In a way, I’m not the sole author. The algorithm is an author too. Until I get the real data I can’t really predict what the art will look like. I like being surprised too.

Galahad: What challenges did you face on the Made to Feel project?  

Brendan: Well, the challenge is always interpreting the data to give it meaning. When you see it initially, it is literally like a series of bar charts. The insole pressure data gave us some really lovely shapes when I pulled it into the software. But when you’re tracking a short burst of movement the shapes it creates can be repetitive. The environmental data gives a lot more colour – but it is noisy. My creative challenge was to balance how the different streams of data could tell a true story of what our models felt.

Galahad: what do you hope to achieve as an artist with the Made to Feel project?

Brendan: For me, it is all about the reaction to the work. I want it to start a conversation with people. I want them to feel interested enough to find out more. I also want to show that data can be interesting and beautiful – more than just numbers. But something that enhances how we see the world. I hope that we can achieve that with this project.

Galahad. Thank you Brendan. It’s been really interesting for us to see how art can interpret the truth at the heart of our business.

Brendan. Can I ask you a question? I’m also interested to understand more about the overall ambition for the Made to Feel project. What would like to see happen next from an insight perspective? 

Galahad: This project is a long-standing commitment to find a way to communicate the unseen benefits of barefoot feeling and natural movement. I hope that our collaboration with artists continues and grows and we find new exciting ways to communicate the extra sensory world of barefoot movement. But as importantly, we’re looking at how we take the data we’ve captured with you into lab conditions to build on the research already out there. What more can we learn about how the brain responds to the receptors in the feet? How we use this insight to further inform the way we make our shoes? It’s happening at a time when there is more and more research emerging about the relationship between the brain and the feet. We’re excited to be contributing and learning. Watch this space.


See our Bare Science Blog HERE>>  for useful links to published papers. 


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