Thoughts About Artwork and Audience
Media art using biometric data, specifically pulse data, has been used in recent works that allow the audience to experience their body data as art in real time. This blog entry will look at selected works outlined in a paper from the Graduate School of Advanced Imaging Science, Multimedia, and Film at Chung-Ang University, whose outline is as follows:
“From the psychological viewpoint, real time and expression are very important because they can help self-recognition and expansion of communication based on understanding of ones own emotion and body.” (Kim and Kim 2014, p.129)
The purpose of this blog entry, however, is to evaluate state of the art research in context of my own project, that also uses a biosensor interface. Kim and Kim describe the relationship between artwork and audience:
“A subject’s pulse data is expressed through an object in real time and he or she views it as an artwork as an audience. For this process, interactive art acts as a medium and, naturally, the audience form relationship with the artwork and learns the intent of the artist.” (Kim and Kim 2014, p.129)
This is an interesting point to consider; does the audience become closer to the artwork by becoming part of it? And to what extent does the artist influence the spectator, if at all? Rokeby has discussed the role of the spectator in relation to the role of the artist in a non-interactive art work:
“As the role of the spectator is questioned and transformed, so is the role of the artist… Cage’s intent in reducing the control he had over the final result can be inferred from his suggestion that “the highest purpose is to have no purpose at all” (Rokeby)
Rokeby discusses this question in relation to Cage’s chance compositions, where the outcome is generated by a list of rules and a toss of a coin. Here, the intent of the artist is to have minimum control over the outcome. Here it can be asked, does the audience have more freedom as the artist has less control? This can also be linked to McLuhan’s light bulb theory, where the example of a lit bulb illustrates the argument that “the medium is the message”. Rokeby also discusses Cage’s work in relation to interactive art:
“Unlike Cage’s work, interactive work involves a dialogue between the interactor and the system making up the artwork. The interactive system responds to the interactor, who in turn responds to that response. A feedback system is created in which the implications of an action are multiplied, much as we are reflected into infinity by the two facing mirrors in a barber shop” (Rokeby)
Intrestingly, Rokeby outlines a kind of loop between the machine responding to the person which in turn generates an action from that person and then another from the machine. From this perspective, the audience is an integral part of determining the outcome of and thus the effect of the art work. So, as much as it is important to consider the influence of the artist, it is important to consider the influence of the audience. Another point to consider is the importance of audience experience with an interactive work. Rokeby argues that audiences expect ‘proof’ that the work is actually interactive:
“Because explicit interactivity is still a relatively new feature in artworks, the audience often approaches the works with scepticism. The audience requires proof that the work is interactive” (Rokeby)
With my own project in mind, this is very important. A piece of art may well take data from a person’s body to create a visual effect, but how would the audience know that? Unless they of course had some kind of knowledge of the working patch itself. From this point of view, it is important to make sure the pulse sensor generates an obvious outcome that allows the audience to see a clear difference between before and after placing their finger on the sensor.
Two biometric works mentioned by Kim and Kim that interest me are as follows:
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – “Pulse Room” (2006)
“Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs, 300 W each and hung from a cable at a height of three metres. The bulbs are uniformly distributed over the exhibition room, filling it completely. An interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects his or her pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of his or her heart. The moment the interface is released all the lights turn off briefly and the flashing sequence advances by one position down the queue, to the next bulb in the grid. Each time someone touches the interface a heart pattern is recorded and this is sent to the first bulb in the grid, pushing ahead all the existing recordings. At any given time the installation shows the recordings from the most recent participants” (Antimodular Research 2006)
As my project will be motivated by phenomenology – thus the interdependence between mind and body – it will see this as an example of the body influencing the mind, and in turn the mind influencing the body, also as a kind of feedback loop. What I mean by this is that an outcome from the body, the flickering bulb, influences an outcome by the mind, and in turn generates another action by the body either to eventually let go of the sensor or to feel own pulse to check it etc. The purpose of my project, however, will be to highlight this mind-body interdependence but also to perceptually distort the audiences experience, so that they will be, representationally, displaced from their usual way of experiencing this interdependence.
George Zisiadis – “Pulse of the City” (2012)
“Figure 3 is George Zisiadis’s Pulse of the city, which was first exhibited in Urban Prototyping Festival in San Francisco in October 2012, and now in five areas of Boston streets as an interactive public art installation. It is made in a heart shape, and when the viewer holds the handle on the either side, it immediately detects and checks the heart rate in real time for one minute, which is then used as a beat to make music that will be played through the built-in speaker. In the confusing noise of the city, pedestrians listen to their biometric data and are entertained by it” (Kim and Kim 2014, p.131)
In context of my project, this will be reviewed with theory, specifically from Marc Leman, about embodiment and music cognition in mind. Leman considers the body as a mediator between mind and matter, and suggests that action is the foundation for music perception. Leman argues that embodied action by music is expressed through movement, and this is corporeal. Leman also argues that “mediation technology” allows the body, and mind, to become extended into a digital music realm. My practical project itself will allow the pulse biosensor to influence a pure data patch to change in correspondence with the audience’s individual heart beat, exemplifying the body’s influence over sounds that the mind is hearing.
Another example, connected with music, is the Heart Chamber Orchestra, who play music from a score generated by their pulse in real time. Their pulse also generates a visualisation.
Heart Chamber Orchestra – Pixelache (2006)
“The Heart Chamber Orchestra – HCO – is an audiovisual performance. The orchestra consists of 12 classical musicians and the artist duo TERMINALBEACH. Using their heartbeats, the musicians control a computer composition and visualization environment. The musical score is generated in real time by the heartbeats of the musicians. They read and play this score from a computer screen placed in front of them.
HCO forms a structure where music literally “comes from the heart” (HCO)
This is perhaps more literally relevant to Leman’s research, as a large part of his theory is modelled on the movement of musicians themselves and embodied action during performing. Of course, my project will not involve the literal performance of musical instruments, but it will involve the generation of sound from the medium of the body itself.
Antimodular Research (1992-2014). Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. [Online]. Available from: http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/pulse_room.php [Accessed 2 July 2014]
HCO (2014) The Heart Chamber Orchestra. [Wordpress]. Available from: http://heartchamberorchestra.org/wordpress/ [Accessed 2 July 2014]
Kim, D. and Kim, H. (2014) Biosensor Interface: Interactive Media Art Using Biometric Data. International Journal of Bio-Science and Bio-Technology 6 (1) 129 – 136. Available from: http://www.sersc.org/journals/IJBSBT/vol6_no1/14.pdf [Accessed 2 July 2014]
Leman, M. (2008) Embodied Music Cognition and Mediation Technology. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
McLuhan, M. (1994) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. First Edition. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
MUTEK (2011) Pulse Room by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. [Vimeo]. Available from:https://vimeo.com/17099770[Accessed 2 July 2014]
Pure (2010) Heart Chamber Orchestra – Pixelate. [Vimeo]. Available from:https://vimeo.com/11717447[Accessed 2 July 2014]
Rokeby, D. (1996) Transforming Mirrors : Interaction in the context of Art. [Online]. Available from: http://www.davidrokeby.com/mirrorsart.html [Accessed 2 July 2014]
Zizaidis, G. (2013) Pulse of the City – Turning Heartbeats Into Music. [Vimeo]. Available from: https://vimeo.com/74476899[Accessed 2 July 2014]