Embodiment & Architecture

This project is concerned with creative audio-visualisation derived from an empathy for the kinetic and kinesthetic properties of space. Via the synchronisation of choreography and audio-visuals—through the use of computer vision technology—this reserach seeks to elaborate on the pioneering work of artists such as Klaus Obermaier and Gideon Oberzanek's, Chunky Move. Their aesthetic endeavours concern the creation of an "overall immersive kinetic space / a virtual architecture that can be simultaneously fluid and rigid, that can expand and contract, ripple, bend and distort in response to or [exert] an influence upon the movement of the performers" (DeLahunta, 2005a). Their compositions ask questions of the subject who is seen as both coupled with the system, yet a singular, isolated self struggling to cope with "inner darkness—mortality, sexuality, desire" (Oberzanek, 2008).
By using advanced computer-vision techniques the project seeks to augment embodiment and architecture via dynamic media systems, thereby posing questions about the self and the perceptible. It is anticipated that the research will open up epistemic questions pertaining to the political / sociological impact inherent in any notion of vision; such as, surveillance and the resultant difficulties arising from an obliteration of critical distance—inhibited vision—the panopticon.
In collaboration with Monika Bieniek (Dancer & Choreographer) and Colin O'Sullivan (Digital Media Programmer), this reserach is intended to externalise bodily movement via the "electro-physical flux of built space"—public/private spaces that visualise independent and collective trajectories of people (Bullivant 2006). The concept of connectivity has literally seeped into the skins of buildings; by virtue of cybernetic systems individuals have been absorbed into the fabric of urban environments, creating a sort of dualistic conflict between embodiment and disembodiment. My work reacts to this symptomatic theme of embodiment: The sensation of being in one's body, or not.
What is my body? "Do I have a body? Am I a body?" (Ploum 2009). Since the analytical musings of Aristotle, questions like this have dominated philosophical tradition, where the body is conceived as subordinate to the mind. "The analytic distinction between matter and form has become a site for critique in the information age" (Ploum 2009). Digitalization and virtuality have fragmented the distinction between psychology and biology; therefore, "technologies are no longer perceived as extensions of the Enlightened mind separate from the body, but as media that merge body and subjectivity" (Ploum 2009). This paradigmatic shift in how we perceive embodied humans, interacting with concrete and etheral aspects of reality, is ontologically and epistemologically significant because it provides important insights into understanding the contemporary human subject. 
This reserach does not seek to replicate utopian fantacies of disembodiment within cyberspace — which are themselves derived from myths of the Enlightenment — but rather to help provide nuanced gradation between pedestrian binaries which we use for relating to others and the outside world... to avoid dualist frameworks. "An understanding that delineates the physiological and cultural constructiveness of vision could contribute to re-imagining the relations between body, subjectivity and environment" (Ploum 2009).
With this in mind I would like to propose the term Haptic Visuality as an expression associated with the experience of sensuous memorizing within visual representation. Laura U. Marks coined the term Haptic Visuality in relation to intercultural cinema. However, I would like to repropose the term to indicate an exploration into redefining notions of the perceptible in digitally enabled built space. This extends the argument on representational expressions towards an understanding of the embodied experience responsive environments convey for a technocratic and increasingly transnational, cybernetic world view.
Via a series of experiments and live, choreographed tests coupled with abstract audio-visual expressions this project aims to explore this said reading of Haptic Visuality. In the spirit of Obermaier and Oberzanek, the project will aim to depict both subjects and objects as animate beings, mutating in and out of organic form, into unfamiliar, sensual and uncanny entities, and to abstractly evoke themes concerning biopolitics and the complexities of human intersubjectivity.
The approach of motion-tracking a live performer with digital technologies makes it possible for technology and the body, space and non-space to generate light, video, sound and movement in real time in response to their movement; thus architecture and the self connect and respond to one another in real time. In Apparition, Avant-Gardist, Obermaier, utilises motion-tracking, interactive video technologies and electronic sensing techniques, to create a responsive, audio-visual landscape that is generated, in real time, in response to the dancers' movement; thus, the body’s gestures are extended by and in turn manipulate the video world that surrounds it. But more significantly yet is the statement that, "the inherent kinetic properties of these simulations inspired our view that the overall interactive system is much more than simply an extension of the performer, [it] is a potential performing partner" (deLahunta, 2004). It is my assertion that this element of Obermaier's reserach, and the success of elevating the computer to performance partner , was a fundamental departure from all previous aesthetic endeavours in live performance. The objective of this project, and my own work, is to continue to investigate the interplay between subject and computer system, where system becomes a symbiotic performance partner in an exploration of immersive, kinetic space.
The goal is not to develop a new narrative art form, or to celebrate technology. Instead I am seeking to extend traditional perceptions of behaviour and architecture, and to support the use of interactive media in live, artistic expression. I am investigating expressive techniques through collaborative workshops, and in doing so I am attempting to help extend boundaries, by posing questions about virtual and corporeal architecture.
1. Scott deLahunta, “Klaus Obermaier :: Apparition — Project,” 2005, http://www.exile.at/apparition/project.html.
2. Gideon Oberzanek, “Mortal Engine — Current Productions,” Chunky Move, 2008, http://www.chunkymove.com/Our-Works/Current-Productions/Mortal-Engine.aspx.
3. Lucy Bullivant, Responsive Environments: Architecture, Art and Design (Harry N. Abrams, 2006).
4. Inge Ploum, “Understanding Embodiment in the Age of Virtuality | Inge Ploum’s Research Blog,” Blog, New Media and Digital Culture Research Blog, 2009, http://ijploum.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/understanding-embodiment-in-the-age-of-virtuality/.
5. Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2002).