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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  February 2009

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING February 2009

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Subject:

bio-medically responsive interactive art (ok, i'm late)

From:

Jamie Allen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Jamie Allen <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 1 Feb 2009 15:43:35 +0000

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hey all,

firstly, "hi!"

i've been subscribed to this here list for some time, but really  
started having a look-see over january after Adinda asked me to  
respond to this whole biology, biosensor + art topic she would seem to  
have a mean hankering for.  some interesting discussions, and some  
downright good information, so thanks to all y'all (much more timely)  
co-respondents.

oh and for those who don't know me - i'm a multimedia artist and  
performer, out of Canada via NYC most recently working, teaching and  
making other noise at the Culture Lab, NCL, UK and environs (more here http://heavyside.net/jamie/about/i-am-jamie/) 
.  most of my work to date has dealt with the construction of public  
performance spaces and objects - hopefully open and playful  
incitements to disturb systems, me, media, others.

George Khut's earlier look on this list at the interpretational  
responsibility artists have to advocate a kind health-value in their  
work was really interesting for me.  this is a far reaching point, as  
i would argue that when George talks about getting people to reflect  
on "aspects of their health and selfhood", we're really dealing with  
an implied motivation behind any kind of creative work.  that is,  
there are values at play within any interactivity, interpassivity,  
what have you, that are necessarily goal oriented and reductive, so i  
am very supportive of the idea of leading people through these  
processes to help expose as many of these motivations as possible  
(call it translational, transactional, relational - whatever).  this,  
i think can be powerful whether or not health or physiology are  
involved, and this is perhaps partly why i enjoy doing workshops and  
the like so much...

as an instructor of interactive art and design workshops and classes,  
i often see students approaching physiological data as a kind of 'free  
information', as something the user is doing anyway, and as a way of  
'sneakily' inferring something about the user without their  
knowledge.  this is first problematic for some of the reasons around  
privacy, interpretation and just plain physical set-up mentioned  
earlier in this whole discussion, and generally results in a kind of  
awkward sensor-laden-chair-assembly or finger-clip-hanging from the  
ceiling type arrangement, and a whole lot of text describing what to  
do first, next, last.   why does this happen?  economics,  
accessibility, reference, oversimplification... but primarily a  
missing aspect of 'invitation' in the work; a need, i think, to design  
through these invitations to 'hook yourself up' to the machine as  
performance.  i find that often this invitation, this "staging," and  
this context of human-computer interaction can be as (if not more)  
interesting than what happens after someone plugs in, hooks up, and  
feeds-back.

which brings me to a recent project i've been working on with a  
fantastic group of neuroscience types (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/ion/ - my  
main collaborator is an excellent individual by the name of Simon  
Baumann).  we're currently building towards the presentation of a  
piece about fMRI and MRI imaging, which has two main goals.  the first  
is to look at the interpretation of fMRI for a kind of non-empirical  
knowledge of how to make audio visual art work.  this is most  
straightforward - trawling through and discussing the vast amounts of  
fMRI research now available, looking for a most recent understandings  
of how our minds interpret audio visual stimuli.  that is, essentially  
what the new science of fMRI is for -  so that's going well. ;)

the second goal (more in line with my own ongoing interests) is to  
reflect this medical science and medical research context as a site of  
performance - creating a work that shows not only the end-result  
("data" and interpretation) of this science but also, to some degree,  
the wider scene, aesthetics and social uptake of an area of the new  
medical-industrial complex (?) that has quite severe connotations for  
so many of us.  as an example, i've lately been in touch with the  
manufacturers of magnetic resonance equipment, to see if i can get a  
chat with the designers of the Kubrick-esque portals of health they  
wind up building and selling:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3375/3213087399_534fc82c1e_b.jpg
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3380/3213908506_339d052b29_b.jpg

i've also had the opportunity to sit in on a few clinical trials, and  
have been incredibly struck by how aware of this broader context the  
researchers conducting these events are.  there is a great deal of  
relational performance art going on, as people are explained their  
roles, the outcomes and the purpose of their involvement broadly.   
what doesn't happen, and what we'll hopefully be able to with our  
piece, is to show that this entire stage is set in order to develop  
new ways of looking at ourselves.

but, how to deal with medical science (physiological responsiveness of  
a this specific sort) in a way that sidesteps, for the moment,  
connotations and issues of illness and disease?  (Barbara Hammer's  
work is a great point of reference for doing this well, I think.).   
how to appropriately invite the viewer into a situation they'd likely  
rather not be reminded of, or reminded they may one day have to face  
in reality?  in what ways to highlight the (inevitable, for me)  
ridiculousness of these developed environments? (why the machine above  
has to look like a giant biomechatronic halo - or even the most  
general ridiculousness of sex, death, health, eating, shitting...)

so. these notes added to round out a take on earlier discussions of  
more realtime, inferential biometrics.  please feel free to get in  
touch with me directly, as i've just checked the archives and the  
esteemed ms. Cook has indeed posted a new list theme for February...

be well!
jamie


Lecturer in Digital Media
Space 8 - Culture Lab
Newcastle University
Grand Assembly Rooms, King's Walk
Newcastle UK, NE1 7RU
M: +44-7885-412-554
F: +44-191-246-4607

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