The Body and Interiority

Intimacy: Across Visceral and Digital Performance.

Discussion Forum Open!

As a precursor to the series of events that take place in December an online discussion is taking place on our Digital Arts & Humanities group. Intimacy Across Visceral and Digital Performance. Join now to contribute.
To kick things off, Intimacy organisers Maria Chatzichristodoulou [aka maria x] and Rachel Zerihan have kindly agreed to appear online for an interview to discuss the event and to give their responses to the theme of ‘being intimate’ in contemporary performance.

This forum is fully open for your questions and responses and seeks to draw together scholars, researchers, artists and audiences with the intention of sparking a lively discussion that can contribute to and feed from the three-day Intimacy event in December. Upload as you will to this discussion, thanks to the AHRC the forum has the facility to host Video and Sound files as well as the written word.

Some questions that might get addressed are:

How do new technologies alter, enhance or degrade our relationships to our bodies and to the bodies of others? What does it mean to have ‘virtual body’ in online communities such as Second Life? Indeed is it even appropriate to talk of ‘virtual bodies’? The issues are ripe for discussion and we need your input!

Come December this forum will develop further, featuring streaming footage and podcasts for those who cannot attend in person, we want your responses to these events. No doubt the live discussions will spill over onto the forum and it will be an ideal place to make that point you didn’t get a chance to when you we there in the room!

With a full programme of digital and live art allied with workshops, seminars and the Sunday symposium there should me much to engage with. The full programme of events can be found on the Intimacy website http://www.intimateperformance.org.

About Intimacy

INTIMACY is a three-day digital and live art programme made to elicit connectivity, induce interaction and provoke debate between cutting edge artists, performers, leading scholars, respected researchers, creative thinkers and local community. A culturally urgent series of events, Intimacy is designed to address a diverse set of responses to the notion of ‘being intimate’ in contemporary performance and as such, in life. Framed as a forum for artists, scholars, community workers, performers, cultural practitioners, researchers and creative thinkers, Intimacy will feature workshops, seminars, performances, and a 1-day symposium at Goldsmiths College, Laban, and the Albany during December 7th-9th, 2007.

Featuring performances, workshops, seminars and a symposium, Intimacy invites scholars, researchers, artists and audiences to enable the interrogation and creative exploration of formal, aesthetic and affective modes of performing intimacy now.

body and interiority

One of the chanches given by new technologies and quite often explored by artists is the measurament of phisical particular states or changes in the user. The user himself interacts with technologies almost unconsciously and the art experience generated it's mostly subjective.
I'm thinking about works like "Machina carnis" by Danni Zuvela, or "Oracolo Ulisse" by Marco Canali, and of course many others, in which a sort of bio-feedback interacts and modifies the work of art.
How those new ways of letting our body and emotions interact with the external world change our self-perception?
Clearly seeing on a screen how our body is reacting to some inputs can even enhanche our comprehension of our own body?

The body and illness

I was listening to a programme on radio 4 last night and thought this may encourage a further development of this thread.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/frontiers.shtml

It was specifically about 'smart medicines' and using technologies usually found in mobile phones to monitor heart beat, temperature, blood sugar, even moevement.

This got me thinking about feedback loops and the moment at which we become aware of how our body works. I used to work for a charity called Diabetes Uk. It amazed me that people with diabetes have to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels, even down to the extent that they can predict the body's reaction to a certain type or certain quantity of food. This seems to be something that we are not generally aware of, we take the body's internal feedback loops for granted, never really contemplating the effects external factors such as food, or room temperature have on our bodies. That is, until we are ill.

Re: The body and illness

I guess it is true that we usually only (really) notice our body when it is not working as expected. Food, as mentioned, is often an issue here - no matter whether you have diabetes, are allergic to nuts or have problems digesting dairy products. In all these case (and many others) people have to monitor the food they eat and their reactions to it much more than others.

With the exception of sports maybe, monitoring body functions closely, especially with technology, is often seen as either a sign of sickness or at least of some sort of nerdiness. Do you think art can actually change that perceptions? I just wonder because most reactions to technology monitoring the body or actually integrating into the body I have come across so far (the work of Stellarc as an extreme example) tended to be somewhat sceptical, if not critical. Or maybe I was just looking at the extreme stuff...?

--
Torsten Reimer
http://www.methodsnetwork.ac.uk

Monitoring the body

Analysis of Stelarc seems to adopt a critical approach to technology, but, as far as I can tell Stelarc himself seems to relish the opportunity to transcend the limits of the biological body.

It is time to question whether a bipedal, breathing body with binocular vision and a 1400cc brain is an adequate biological form. It cannot cope with the quantity, complexity and quality of information it has accumulated; it is intimidated by the precision, speed and power of technology and it is biologically ill-equipped to cope with its new extraterrestrial environment.

The body is neither a very efficient nor very durable structure. It malfunctions often and fatigues quickly; its performance is determined by its age. It is susceptible to disease and is doomed to a certain and early death. Its survival parameters are very slim - it can survive only weeks without food, days without water and minutes without oxygen.

Critical positions regarding Stelarc's particular form of posthumanism and certainly my own view of Stelarc concern the political and philospohical roots that celebrate 'the human's ability to improve nature'. To argue that biotechnology offers the opportunity to transcend biological limits seems problematic in that in seems to depoliticise technology. It becomes a 'natural consequence of human progress'.

Mark Poster 'High Tech Frankenstein' in Joanna Zylinska's 2002 book 'The cyborg experiments' is particularly interesting in this respect.

My own interest in the work of Stelarc and others is linked more to an individual body's ability to adapt to an environment or certain external factors. It is not just the body organs and processes that we can become accustomed to - technology too can become an integral part of the body that we rely upon but forget is there. One example that I am particularly aware of is my glasses - without them, I can not see - they have become central to what I understand to be 'my body'.

Another route for investigation however could, and perhaps should be the disciplinary aspect of technological monitoring. Who is it that is required to monitor their body and at what point, for what purpose? Is there an argument to be made that with increasing opportunites to monitor the body processes there is also more opportunity for normative practices that seek to identify new pathologies.

RE: Performance/Perceptual Limitations

Regarding the de facto perceptual and operational limitations of the human form as underscored by your quoted passage:

"It is time to question whether a bipedal, breathing body with binocular vision and a 1400cc brain is an adequate biological form. It cannot cope with the quantity, complexity and quality of information it has accumulated; it is intimidated by the precision, speed and power of technology and it is biologically ill-equipped to cope with its new extraterrestrial environment."

We are thinking about the edges of perceptual capacity in new performance works -- most recently "Sanctuary" by Roger Reynolds, premiered at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Atrium, Washington DC 18 November 2007. Sanctuary [[sanctuaryproject.net]] is a work for percussion ensemble and computer-generated sound...and sonic architecture to address the atrium space.

In thinking about this work, Reynolds and his team (of which I am a minor collaborator) are mindful of these fundamental perceptual limitations and the framework they define. This framework, in turn, defines and limits what might be "usefully" conceived/composed/created/produced. We are reflecting on two articles from the peer-reviewed journal world (from a generation ago) in this regard. I thought they might be useful in thinking about this:
"What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain" Lettvin et al, 1959
[[http://jerome.lettvin.info/lettvin/Jerome/WhatTheFrogsEyeTellsTheFrogsBrain.pdf]] and "The Magical Number Seven..." Miller, 1956 [[http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/]]

A question, among many, for performance art might be: how can technology be usefully integrated into performance itself, and how can technology most usefully provide options for audience experience to enhance, accelerate, expand the "bandwidth" of perceptual, and therefore, aesthetic experience...how might we design, compose, fashion performance art to utilize such bandwidth?

Hope this makes some contribution...

David R Curry
Visiting Scholar
University of Pennsylvania

Managing Principal
davidrcurryAssociates

Re: Monitoring the body

Wow, there is a lot of interesting points here!

I would like to disagree with Stelarc. Compared to processing power of modern computers the brain is still very much on top - we can't even get simple OCR right all the times and early modern prints I can read easily confuse the hell out of any computer. And, as you rightly say, this has a political dimension as well - who determines what the human body has to cope with and what are the demands that it is measured against? Also, I fail to see what biotechnology has given us - beyond ScFi - that really improves the body/brain significantly. True, you can put RFID chips into people and monitor their movements, but why would you want that?

[quote=bencraggs]My own interest in the work of Stelarc and others is linked more to an individual body's ability to adapt to an environment or certain external factors. It is not just the body organs and processes that we can become accustomed to - technology too can become an integral part of the body that we rely upon but forget is there. One example that I am particularly aware of is my glasses - without them, I can not see - they have become central to what I understand to be 'my body'.[/quote]

That is a good point - but is that really biotechnology? Or does it matter? Regarding your glasses example, I was just reminded of new sensor implants that help blind people to 'see' obstacles etc.

[quote=bencraggs]Is there an argument to be made that with increasing opportunites to monitor the body processes there is also more opportunity for normative practices that seek to identify new pathologies. [/quote]

I think there clearly is a danger of that!

Re: Monitoring the body

Torsten,

Thanks for pulling me up on my concentration on 'biotechnology' - as you hint at, I do not really think there is a distinction between 'technologies' and 'biotechnologies'. Technologies are a means of interacting with 'the world' and with our own body, how this interaction is facilitated, whether biologically, electronically, mechanically or whatever is a bit of a red herring. What is interesting is how we 'are' and how we learn to be in a world which highly contingent.

I also agree with your response to Stelarc, I have found myself very alarmed by the assumption that we can somehow transend our biological body with an upgraded 'body 2.0'. It, at the very least exposes a simplification of the body's function, and assumes we have somehow got it 'in hand', now readily regulated, packaged and ultimately resold.

- What I do think is interesting however is how the body may develop differently in co-habitation (not sure if thats the right way of saying it) with technologies. Given the body's capacity to respond to external factors and adapt to certain environments a child born surrounded by technology may grow and develop differently to one born completely isolated from these factors? But I think that the celebratory, technocist view of 'improvement' is misguided.

Your point about the glasses and the implants is an interesting one - my initial reaction was to say - of course, there is no difference between the glasses and the implants - however there does seem to be an ibteresting point that glasses work in 'cooperation' with my eyes - do the implants simply seek to, in a very simplified way, replicate the function of the eye and then bypass it?

Ben

Re: Monitoring the body

I think there are two levels on which one could look for the body adapting to technology. Taking the example of the child growing up with technology I would assume that the child's idea of what body means, how it is to be used and in which context the body is understood, interpreted and felt, that these ideas will be different from those of a child that grows up in a different environment. This may be just about 'ideas' and 'perception', but as these shape our lifes as much as physical influences, I think they are quite important.

Another issue is how the body as a physical thing reacts. There are simple examples such as a growing number of people with back problems (spending too many hours sitting in front of computers). Of course a not so interesting example, but for more interesting developments we might have to wait a couple of decades or, more likely, centuries.

Regarding the glasses I tend to agree: traditional glasses can only work as long as the eye is at least partly functional; sensors would not require the eye any more. Of course, the image that they give (at least currently) is quite different from the image a healthy eye would give. But mind you, the eye and the sensor both pick up analogue signals of some sort and translate these in electric impulses. It is the brain that actually creates the picture - and that is a very constructive process and not a simple mapping of reality. Sensors add a different filter or layer of interpretation to that.

Torsten

>> RE: body and interiority

Adams hopes that viewers will explore “their personal reactions and interpretations whilst interacting with the cardiac image data which responds to their presence.” The viewer can also “observe that cultured cardiac cells have grown into a microscopic simulacrum of a beating human heart, as if the vital, functioning interior engine of their own body were laid bare before them.

HI Marina,

I wasn't previously aware of either of these works, thank you for highlighting them.

Yes, I agree. Fascinating examples - In addition to the pieces responding to the presence of the audience these seems to highlight the sensitivity of 'our biology'. Body temperatures adjust, heart rates change, indeed our entire physiology continually shifts and mutates in interaction with 'external' factors, be they human or non-human, animate or in-animate.

Machina Carnis, in isolating a single set of cells or cellular processes draws attention the importance of external influences on its behaviour.

I will post back in a bit when I have a better look at these works.

Best

Ben

Ben Craggs

mariko mori

Hi Ben,
glad to know I've let you discover something new.

One of the most recent artworks in this field is "Wave Ufo" by the japanese artist Mariko Moro (more here, though I don't understand what they say :)).

Wave UFO: Real Time Brain Wave and «Connected World» - The video projection that takes place inside consists of two parts, which flow seamlessly together. Each viewer is outfitted with a set of electrodes, which gather brainwave data. This information is instantly transformed into visual imagery, in real-time correspondence with the actual activity of the brain, and projected onto the screen: Six undulating bio-amorphous cells represent the left and right lobes of each of the three participants' brains, and a waving line moves in correspondence with blinks and other facial movements. This instant biofeedback thus incorporates the experience of watching the projection, and the interaction between the three viewers. The forms change shape and color in response to three types of brainwaves, showing which type is most dominant. Alpha (blue) waves indicate wakeful relaxation, Beta (pink) waves indicate alertness or agitation, and Theta (yellow) waves indicate a dreamlike state. When the two cells come together, that demonstrates 'coherence' between the two lobes of the brain. Mental functions such as thinking in other languages or doing math problems immediately transform the characteristics of the graphics. The second part of the projection, «Connected World,» links the individual experience to the universal through a graphic animation sequence, based on a series of paintings made by Mori. Colorful abstract forms slowly expand and evolve into shapes like single cells and molecular structures, creating a dream world that is at once primordial and ethereal. With this sequence, Mori brings the viewer from the live biofeedback stage into what she describes as «a deeper consciousness in which the self and the universe become interconnected.»
[ from Orbit Sapace Place ]

Non-Spirituality in Wave UFO

I have a problem with Mori’s UFO installation. Surely a "deeper consciousness" is not just a question of technology being able to render brain activity visible. I also have a more serious problem with the way the work wants to connect technology with spirituality. My main criticism is around her understanding of spirituality which assumes that it comes from the brain. Quite clearly this is the case; motionless bodies lying down, reducing all human activity to a discrete representation of micro-movements of the brain, as perceived by technological instruments.

How is it possible to connect the “self” with the “universe” through what is essentially physical isolation? Users are invited to see information about themselves; a concrete representation of their mood by submitting their bodies to solitude. Arguably, it could be suggested that the users must be immobile to render more effective the idea of the “dreamworld” Mori wants to portray, which is fair enough. But in that case there is no connection between spirituality and the self, for the simple reason that spirituality is not the same thing as imagination, dreamworlds, or any scifi fantasy land.

Mori claims to be inspired by Bhuddism. I am not an expert in this field at all but I do know that it is not just about the ethereal, the future, salvation and reification, or any other kind of mentally projected imaginary. It consists of a decisive material presence that enables finding an equilibrium between the mind and the body. A spirituality that is centred on the here-and-now that includes one’s physical presence, ones material identity and its related agency. Take the example of Tantric sex. It is not seen so much as a skill to reach a goal, but as a form of meditation. It is a practice that finds pleasure by living through, and raising awareness of the connections between mind and body. Most importantly, pleasure is not an end in itself, it does not lie in the future, or in an abstract(ed) representation; it is always already part of the here-and-now, the presence that bodily performativity creates and lives through. And not (just) a “higher consciousness” as devised by abstract thought. In this sense, reaching a “higher state of consciousness” according to Buddist Tantric beliefs is not about imagination, but about the way bodies and minds are connected. It’s not a question of distance or separation but a question of proximity. Meditation is about opening the senses, about embodiment. Instead, Mori’s UFO restricts perception to vision, to what you see on a projected image, and the tactile (affective) proximity of the bodies is entirely irrelevant.

As I said before, there seems to be a serious confusion between spirituality and imagination – as if presenting a “vision of a cosmic dreamworld” equates to spirituality. As far as I can tell, there is not even an awareness of the proximity between body and mind, let alone “self” and “universe”. Instead, the installation only succeeds in further confirming the user’s separation from spirituality as well as from each physical-other through this imagined dreamworld.

Art needs to be critical, it needs to question rather than re-affirm. I don't see any critical aspect in the piece, and it doesn’t question the way art has previously been represented.

The transformation of brain activity into imagery is no new concept. It merely validates a modernist idealisation of art-as-skill through scientific practices, (see Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin) making apparent the technological dimension that was already present between the painter who materialises his or her thoughts, imagination, emotions onto a discrete platform/canvas/screen. In the UFO, the projected images represent a discrete materialisation of the artist’s imagination, and adds projected images of brain activity of the users; another materialisation of discrete images (in this case patterns of brainwave data). It is essentially placing two autonomous results together to create an edited sequence or mapping of images.

Although the users’ bodies need to be present, this presence is taken for granted and reduced to information. The subject becomes an objectified representation of autonomous parts that claims to represent the whole. In traditional film, the production of (moving) images only reproduces referential images, a language of information fundamentally based on autonomous parts with clearly defined borders. In the same way the connection established between brainwaves and the projected image is equally composed of autonomous bits of brain information.

So the user becomes a source of knowledge, a database of information that the sensors are able to read and project onto the screen. But how does that amount to self-awareness, or spiritual connection? And how does that make the installation as a whole critical? The users become participants only insofar as their “selves” are reduced to information banks, sources of information. (I would actually argue that it is in fact not the users’ mood being projected on screen, but rather the language of technology, but I won’t start with that now). By incorporating the users as an information source for the resulting screening, the exchange of information between viewer and screen has merely become materialised since the traditional passive viewer scenario in non-interactive art. Making the users’ bodies necessary for the installation has equally given a material dimension to the disembodied nature of passive audiences. While this makes apparent the way the user/viewer is connected to the projected screen, it does not say anything new about the way the “self” and “universe” are connected. The change in scale/size does not necessarily lead to an ontological difference.

So, to get to my point, Mori seems to suggest that the interactivity between self and universe represents the Buddhist principle that all forms of life in the universe are interconnected. I am not disagreeing that this ispossible, but rather I am questioning the way the artist attributes this connectivity only to technology, and extends this assumption to spirituality.
What is vital here is not that connectivity between scientific representations of the body and informational representations through technology are incorrect, but that her installation leaves no room for an actual spiritual connection – understood by Buddhism as a peaceful proximity between mind and body. In the absence of the material-spiritual body (maybe we can call this an embodied affective body instead) the connections being established in UFO are limited to technology. The problem I have with this is not just about the inanimate presence of bodies, but that they are present and excused from having agency despite their presence. The event becomes a demonstration of technological abilities, and is then presented as art. How can art and science amount to the same thing? Surely there is a problem there. The biofeedback may be live, but the only performativity in this piece is enacted by technology.

The mis-interpretation/ mis-representation of spirituality and predetermined structure/programming spatial organization makes this installation a perfect example of a closed circuit and a classic example of art that amounts to nothing other than itself; an exemplification of a controlled technical skill. The boundaries that are set at the beginning are in no way challenged, by the users. We could ask perhaps, what then is the point of having them there at all?

I want to suggest that Ben’s “body temperature and club visuals” is a more interesting context in this sense because it has the potential of playing technology and biofeedback into a space where affective agency is already very powerful. Being a body is far more interesting than owning one. The club context already blurs the boundaries between bodies, technology, spirituality, “self” and “universe”. I also want to say that I love the fact that the hot temperature of the club impacted Ben’s installation the way it did. The boundaries that were set on the thermostat were challenged by the heat generated by the clubbers; clearly, bodies are not just containers of information that can be extracted and represented externally, they are active agents in creating an outcome. The UFO installation only engages with technology as being able to gather information about bodies and forgets the extent to which technology can be affected by bodies. Ben’s example proves the point that there is more to art than programming and technological skill. Non-informatic elements (i.e. affective energy) must not only be accounted for but also must be allowed to participate in order to avoid presenting a closed circuit as art. In fact, the “failure” of Ben’s installation has a crucially critical dimension that the UFO lacks; it surprisingly calls into question the understanding that art is a tool to merely reflect back to us the way we understand the world. Indeed. Art is about surprise, about uncertainty, about questioning boundaries rather than conforming to them. It is about drawing connections where they have not been drawn before rather than shifting existing connections and patterns to different epistemological categories.

Sanne

'Little by little the work of becoming oneself combines continuously with that of the other in an interweaving of spaces and times where visible and invisible alternate' - Irigaray

.

Sanne, i totally agree with you: I don't think being aware of some of our physical processes could ever lead us to a spiritual experience. Though I'm sure that in certain cases our body responds to inputs we receive form the external world in ways we are not actually aware of. I clearly see that the technical way to reach this knowledge doesn't enable us to "connect with the universe", but I think it can be useful and interesting for better understanding some of our unconcious reactions to the external world.
Someway I'm also interested in the visualization of the feelings Mori tries to realize: the association with colors, and the externalization of feelings that her work tries to reach. I'm not saying that's THE way to do it, not either that there's actually a way to do it: it's just a very interesting experiment to me.

Body temperature and club visuals

I have actually developed an installation that works in similar way to this. The intention was to use it in a club setting, I was promoting dance music events at the time.

The work responds to the temperature of a room, warmer temperatures add reds and oranges and increases the speed of development of 'generative visuals'. Lower temperatures and the visuals become blue and white and evolve more slowly.

As the bodies in the room were not made overtly aware of their interaction in the piece, and as the temperature only slowly rose the colours and speed of adaption did not change that often, especially late at night when the room was much hotter than the highest point I had set the thermostats.

I haven't developed this piece much, but may return to the concept. I like the unconscious feedback loop that it implies, the bodies increasing the reds and oranges in the visuals and the reds and oranges of the visuals increasing the temperature of the bodies.

Not quite as exciting as your examples Marina but the only first hand experience I have of developing pieces that use bodies or biology as controllers or sources of data.

Ben

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