Carolyn Watt PhD presented the Digital Aerial Circus project as an installation and seminar in June 2019. Supported and part-funded by PONToon, it explored female identity through aerial acrobatics and digital media.

Play to enjoy the soundscape that accompanies the workshop.

“The piece really enabled me to explore through my physical body the ideas I had been researching and writing about... Employing different media allowed me to reflect upon my experiences alongside my pilot study participants’ experiences, in terms of what aerial circus meant to them”.


“[The workshop] was really about considering the female aerialist and the idea of the gaze, while trying to show different perspectives and identities within it. It was exploring the feminine masquerade, feminine gesture, and strength. It was a scratch performance piece... It involved lots of disjointed perspectives through digital media.

The combination of digital media within the performance was interesting, adding different layers to the performance. The addition of the projection, the live stream, and the 360-degree video experience to the performance enabled audience members to reflect on what they were watching, to consider what it’s like to be a performer and the idea of being watched, the female body on display and what that means, as well as control, and who’s got the power in that sort of dynamic...

A black and white image of the acrobat from the aerial silk performance in the video above. This is a high contrast image of the performer mid routine. A single source of light illuminating the performer’s body as they hang upside down from the aerial silks.

A black and white portrait of a woman in a masquerade costume gesturing with her hand has a red shadow and sits on an orange, abstract, curved shape.


I trust myself and I trust you, because you were spotting us.    
“I think it’s great that we tried to film every training session and to record our progress… It was interesting to use the head cam… If I show somebody the videos, it’s nice that people see what I see when I'm climbing… It’s not exactly the same, but at least people can understand what you feel

An image of a light blue, crumpled piece of fabric with words printed on it has been digitally warped and distorted. These distorted images have been animated as a gif.


We're taught from a very early age to associate what we look like with our achievement... That's ingrained in us, I think. As you grow up, you see more and more pictures of women that tell you you're not good enough... Our capitalist society is built around selling to us because we don't look good enough, so it’s just something you can't get away from. There's a feeling of strength that comes from going from a place of not being able to do something physically to being able to do it... I definitely felt differently about my body because I was more aware of it being something that could achieve stuff rather than something that should just look a certain way… Moving to a place where you feel proud of your body for doing something…  Rather than just ashamed.   

“It was nice to be somewhere on my own, being me, not either at work, with my kid, or with my husband and identified as a wife or a mother… It was nice to be part of a group where I could identify as myself rather than identified by my relationship to other people. You can do something that you want to do for you, and it will make you feel better.”


I liked having an end goal. It wasn't just that we'd have a few lessons and that would be it. We had that end goal, and editing and things to do afterwards… It was really interesting to learn those [editing] skills and to take those away… I took some notes and I will be applying them to create a social network, but a physical, face-to-face social network… Not a through a screen kind of thing, more bringing people together.

“People give highlight reels of their lives and people look at them and think, “I could never be like that”. Sometimes, I think technology can be bad, because people live in their digital worlds… They get so absorbed or obsessed with what other people are doing, they don't actually think, ‘I could go and try that myself’… You can meet new people!”

A black and white portrait of a woman in a masquerade costume on stilts. The stilts cause the skirt to be unusually long. The woman is looking at her hand, which is bent towards her, on the left side of the image. On the left side of the image, her palm is angled towards the camera. The portrait has a dark blue shadow and sits on a red, abstract, curved shape..


I felt like I was never really that strong before I started doing aerial... It changes your body in really positive ways. I don't struggle like lifting or moving anything... It has helped in my day-to-day life.   

“Working in a bar, moving barrels and boxes, I don’t struggle. It gives you a boost knowing you can show off things like hanging by ropes and hanging off a pole… It’s quite a good feeling to show off your muscles!”

An image of a purple, crumpled piece of fabric with words printed on it has been digitally warped and distorted. These distorted images have been animated as a gif.

A minimalist, symmetrical graphic of two trees with two heads in front of the trunks. The trees are drawn with simple, thin black  lines. The leaves are green with a black outline. The heads are orange with black hair. Above the head on the left hand side reads 'Emotional experiences'. Annotating the leaves of the tree on the left hand side are the words: satisfaction, sense of achievement, feeling free, confidence, self-worth, empowerment, peace, self-reflection, affirmation, community growth, fear,  trust, accepting flaws + strengths. Above the head on the right hand side reads 'Physical experiences'. Annotating the leaves on the tree on the right hand side are the words: clothing choices, frustration, strength, painful, getting stronger, bruises, hard work + graft, graceful, elegance, control and finesse.


“Obviously we've talked about the emotional side, but then there was the physical side... And then it branches off. If you had a tree diagram, you'd have emotional experiences, and off of that, you'd have feelings, self-worth and empowerment.Then with physical experiences, you've got strength, clothing, and choices. I got physically stronger, and mentally it made me happier, it made me more confident... Going through the full circle, of course it makes me feel empowered, because it's like, ‘That's me!’”   

“For me, the main message of the project was, ‘Be who you want to be, and do what you want to do, and do what you want to do whilst being who you want to be’. Obviously there was something inside me that just wanted to come out! If you’d told me that's what I would’ve ended up like at the beginning of the project, I probably would’ve laughed, and I think most of the girls probably didn't expect to achieve what they did by the end of it. It’s amazing to make people think how well they've done.”