This piece is composed of a delicate ceramic lattice structure incorporated into a brass jewelry piece. The piece holds the wearer so that her head is turned to the side, as though she is averting her gaze. The wearer may move, but movement would break the ceramic structure. A projection on the wall across from the performer shows her body animated as textile-like lines.
Though the performer cannot see her own projected image-as-other, viewers have a privileged view and may watch the projections.
“When we eliminate uncertainty, we forfeit the human replenishment that attaches to the challenge of asserting predictability in the face of an always-unknown future in favor of the blankness of perpetual compliance with someone else’s plan.”
-Shoshanna Zuboff, The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism
For the projection, I used a Kinect and openFrameworks, connected to the arduino used in the sculpture.
Shatter ResearchAlgorithms gone awry are a familiar user experience. It has happened to me when a Pandora station morphed from blues to top-40 country, or when Amazon began aggressively suggesting Gregorian chant techno remix albums. Most recently, Instagram began providing me new content suggestions emphasizing wedding dresses and guns. In each of these cases, I wondered: what are the impressions of me compiled by these companies? What does it mean that Instagram views me as someone interested in wedding dresses—is there something I haven’t yet observed about myself that machine learning has gleaned? As I navigate digital spaces, what do I see—and what is not shown to me? These questions are important because the practices of consumption that I cultivate online, and the feedback loop created as I receive content tailored to my algorithmically-read preferences, affects my personal identity and physical body. What I see, and how it impacts my identity, alters the way I dress, the way I behave, and the things I do and create.
In my research, I have looked at the way a person’s digital identity is constructed. I’ve also looked at current medical research. I’m interested in the encoding of data that occurs through DNA and bodily systems—and the thorny prospect of decoding this data. In previous work, I’ve addressed the issue of DNA testing for the BRCA1 gene, and the issues of surveillance and knowledge that the test raises. Similarly, machine learning has had success in predicting things such as patient prognosis, echoing actuarial tables (Das et al. 2017). Machine learning has also been remarkably accurate in predicting suicide risk (Walsh et al. 2017). In her article The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshanna Zuboff writes about the rise of Google and machine surveillance as an economy of fortune telling, writing “When we eliminate uncertainty, we forfeit the human replenishment that attaches to the challenge of asserting predictability in the face of an always-unknown future in favor of the blankness of perpetual compliance with someone else’s plan,” (Zuboff 2017, 5).
The cases of machine learning for content delivery, machine learning for medical prediction, and new capabilities for DNA analysis all share parallels: in each, technology decodes information and offers a probabilistic truth. My final project explores the difficult choice of looking at this information and reckoning with it, or averting one’s gaze from it and living with uncertainty and the slow unfolding of truth. I am addressing the tensions between predictive information and personal identity, and want to examine how the patterns that make up a person’s online presence conflict with, align with, and impact a person’s internally understood identity and physical presence.
The final piece I have made this term is composed of a delicate ceramic lattice structure incorporated into a brass jewelry piece, intended to be worn in a performance. The overall piece holds the wearer so that her head is turned to the side, as though she is averting her gaze. The wearer may move, but movement would break the ceramic structure. A projection on the wall across from the performer shows her body animated as textile-like lines.
With her head turned to the side, the performer cannot see the projections of herself. The ceramic piece incorporates sensors: as the wearer turns her head and incrementally shatters the ceramic piece, the projection reflects the destruction by becoming increasingly distorted. The performer’s ability to see her projected image is mediated by the fragile restraint of the jewelry. By creating a structure that causes increasing discomfort in an averted gaze—and increasing curiosity about the projections on the person’s own body—I want to set up a challenge for the wearer. To look is to break a structure that feels too delicate to damage.
Throughout the year, I have focused on the ways that technology and systems control and discipline the body and physical space: how does technology map physical space? How does this “mapping” of physical space extend to both the body and the environment? How does it affect the space and bodies it maps? My final project is more focused on the question of agency and action of the wearer, but it still wrestles with the way algorithms view a person and extrapolate fitting or dissonant constructions of a person’s identity, feeding that back into the content that an individual experiences. As the subject is turned away, she cannot see her own image as it is being constructed by the projections—even though the other viewers in the room can. Though intangible, I’m interested in the potential for tactility and intimacy as the projections alter their depiction of the wearer’s body.
In creating the projections, I have researched physical touch, polyrhythm and dance, and the body politic. Erin Manning writes “Touch instantiates an interruption, it forces me to turn towards you, not necessarily face to face but skin to skin, hand to flesh…” (Manning 2007, 11). In her book The Politics of Touch, Manning argues that touch is an act that defies the sociopolitical power structures limiting the body politic. As an act that both incorporates a pairing while also reinforcing the physical limits of bodies, touch creates a fertile area for new power alliances and power structures. Her writing as it discusses bodies echoes the “close coupling” that Haraway envisions in her Cyberfeminist Manifesto (Haraway 1984). I intend for the projections to evoke touch as a strange interaction and conversation between an algorithm and a physical body. Manning discusses tenderness as an element of political touch: it is crucial for me that the projections appear tender, an “…intent listening to(ward) an other,” (Manning 2007, 15).
The subject may choose to turn her head or not; my projections convey tenderness and are in turn gently manipulated as the structure breaks. Still, this isn’t a benign sculpture, and I don’t want to convey a message of self-determination. In the context of robotic sculpture, I’ve been careful to situate myself outside of an industrial aesthetic—but still within the realm of polished mechanism. Stelarc is an artist who has used kinetic art to constrain his body, permitting viewers to control his arm in the piece Re-Wired / Re-Mixed: Event for Dismembered Body (2015). In another piece, Exoskeleton (1998), he experiments with a piece that gives him control over a powerful machine. Both of these pieces are industrial and materially punishing: whether he has complete or no control over the mechanism, the piece itself manifests power. In contrast, I’ve attempted to question agency of machine vs. human by creating a delicate, breakable structure. Obedience to the machine is not compulsory. Still, both the subject and the machine are subject to the overarching structure of the piece: any action take is a response to the situation in which they are confined. Similarly, an individual may choose to investigate the identities that technology predicts about them, but the knowledge gained in the process is indelible and will inherently alter the person’s internal self-understanding as well as the person’s digital fingerprints, as new knowledge enters into the digital feedback loop.
In discussing the relationship between the body and systems, I have used charismatic materials to explore the intersection of hand craft and digital fabrication. These materials are functionally important, as they create a breakable structure. I tested a range of breakable objects, including natural materials and handcrafted items. Testers were much more hesitant to destroy handcrafted objects vs. readily available natural items. I also learned that the shape of an object mattered: testers mentioned that they did not mind breaking a stick, because it remained a stick even in smaller pieces, but to tear apart an origami crane destroys the structure fundamental to the object, and so gave testers pause. In the final piece, I created a ceramic breakable section because it is clearly delicate and handmade, and references a history of clay as a metaphor for the body. The ceramic piece is also defined by its structure: as an ordered lattice, it will be fundamentally different after it is broken. The delicacy and crafted-ness of the ceramic section conveys fragility and a protective impulse: central to the piece is how the ceramic lattice prohibits destruction and generates anxiety. Material histories and small-scale structure have been critical in this piece: In using ceramic and delicate metal, I have worked to create a sense of touch and bodily structure in the sculpture itself.
As I designed this piece for a performance, I looked at How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, (2013), by Hito Steyerl, a critical work using the form of a documentary to address the shifting boundaries of the globe, land, and bodies as imagery vs. as visual media. Her use of the resolution target—for both analog and digital photography—speaks to shifting large-scale systems and technologies. The idea of "how not to be seen" addresses the way people are surveilled and seen as media (with the mechanisms of "not being seen" such as pinching an image smaller) but also exist as embodied creatures navigating digitized spaces. She's directly speaking to the "digitization of surface space" as mentioned by the USPS in my research (USPS 2013, 2).
In her video, Steyerl discusses surveillance, and engages the viewer as a watcher and surveyor of the video and the subjects within the video. I’ve considered ‘How Not to be Seen’ as I create an experience not just for the subject wearing the piece, but also for viewers in the room. These viewers can see much more than the webcam or the subject. Because the subject may not see the projections on her own body, the viewers have a privileged and surveilling perspective: they can see more, and they are the only ones who may bear witness to what is being seen.
Although this is only one wearable, I have worked on two others in my prototypes, and would eventually like to create a series that ranges from plausibly wearable to overtly critical. My audience will be people who might actually want this wearable technology—regardless of irony—as well as an art audience that will read these pieces as critical design. I began with an interest in the feedback loops created by surveillance systems and data collection: by creating a series, I would expand upon the idea of the accrual of control and gathered information. An initial innocuous convenience or acquiescence grows to entrapment, manifested in the piece that I am working on for the final. One of the technical challenges that I faced in this project was creating a piece that was fitted enough to break easily: the jewelry had to be precisely calibrated in order for it to shatter upon movement. In the future, I would like to work with generative pieces to create jewelry for a range of users and to incorporate specific aspects of users’ identities.
The final piece I’ve worked on is designed to be presented in a performance. The piece addresses the experience of wearing the jewelry, but the viewers in the space are also participants, as they are able to see the projections when the performer cannot, and therefore have privileged and surveilling knowledge about the performer’s own physicality. There are some literal parallels here. In the real world, observers inevitably have a perspective that cannot be shared by a subject, and this extends to a digital presence, as well: It’s difficult for me to perceive my own online content bubble. In the piece, I’m also thinking of the viewers more broadly as surveyors, contributing a gaze that may be read as the privileged gaze of the machine.
My work provokes awareness in the viewer and wearer about unseen systems, and I want both viewer and wearer to feel implicated and altered by these systems. The subject must choose to be trapped as she averts her gaze, or to look straight on as projections distort her own body. This choice she faces mirrors choices presented by contemporary technologies that offer predictive information about an individual’s identity and body. The viewers in the piece must bear uncomfortable witness and navigate uncertain sympathies between the wearer, the delicate sculpture, and the projections. I use this performance to point to issues of control, information gathering, and fragmentation of bodily systems and experiences, and draw a line between this small-scale fragmentation and larger-scale systemic breakdown in the body politic.
Editing by Chouchou Li and James Wheeler (Writing Center)
Research SourcesAlgorithms Haraway, Donna, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in The Cybercultures Reader ed. Bell, David, and Barbara M. Kennedy. London: New York: Routledge, 2000. 291-324.
Walsh, Colin G., Jessica D. Ribeiro, and Joseph C. Franklin. "Predicting Risk of Suicide Attempts Over Time Through Machine Learning." Clinical Psychological Science 5, no. 3 (2017): 457-69. doi:10.1177/2167702617691560.
Das Ritankar and David J Wales. “Machine learning landscapes and predictions for patient outcomes.” Royal Society Open Science. 4.7 (2017): 170175. doi:10.1098/rsos.170175.
Trevor Paglen. “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You).” The New Inquiry. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 Nov. 2017.
Postal Service Office of Inspector General Risk Analysis Research Center, Us. “The Untold Story of the ZIP Code.” (2013): n. pag. Web. 10 Sept. 2017.
Manning, Erin. Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. NED - New edition ed., Minneapolis; London, University of Minnesota Press, 2007. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsxrz.
Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.
Sable Elyse Smith. “Esctatic Resilience.” N.p. Web. 19 Oct. 2017. http://www.recessart.org/sableelysesmith/
Turner, Victor W. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995. Print.
Scott, James C. Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. STU - Student edition ed., Princeton University Press, 2012. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.cttq95jt.
Robyn Autry. “How Racial Data Gets ‘Cleaned’ in the U.S. Census.” The Atlantic. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Nov. 2017.
Shoshana Zuboff. “Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 Nov. 2017.
Hito Steyerl. “A Sea of Data: Apophenia and Pattern (Mis-)Recognition - Journal #72.” e-flux. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 Nov. 2017.
Bruno Latour. “The New Climate.” Harper’s Magazine. N.p., 2017. Web. 20 Nov. 2017.
Stelarc (1998). Exoskeleton. [performance, robotic machine] Hamburg: Kampnagel.
Stelarc (2015). RE-WIRED / RE-MIXED: Event for Dismembered Body. [performance, new media] Perth: PICA.
Steyerl, H. (2013). How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File. [documentary video] New York City: MOMA.
Week 11: Three Prototypes
Week 12: User Testing
In his article Invisible Images, Trevor Paglen writes, “To mediate against the optimizations and predations of a machinic landscape, one must create deliberate inefficiencies and spheres of life removed from market and political predations—“safe houses” in the invisible digital sphere. It is in inefficiency, experimentation, self-expression, and often law-breaking that freedom and political self-representation can be found,” (1). In this project, I will explore how to introduce productive or protective inefficiencies, and also examine predatory efficiency and its manifestation in the human body.
For my final project, I’d like to investigate interactions between the body, identity, large-scale systems, and technology. How does technology map physical space? How does this “mapping” of physical space extend to both the body and the environment? How does it affect the space and bodies it maps? I'm specifically thinking of the ways that technology and systems control and discipline the body and physical space, and have focused my research on the way computer vision and surveillance systems view people and extrapolate fitting or dissonant constructions of a person’s identity, feeding that back into the content an individual experiences. I've been researching these topics as they relate to physical touch, polyrhythm, ritual, and the body politic, and have compiled academic sources analyzing these issues, as well as some real-world examples like the Sleep Cycle app.
In this project, I'll focus on wearable objects: jewelry that manifests the impact of systems on the body. I'm planning to make piece that forces the wearer to hold their body in a set position, but is easily breakable, allowing the wearer a choice of moving and shattering the jewelry. I hope to create a series that ranges from plausibly wearable to overtly critical. My audience will be people who might actually want this wearable technology—regardless of irony—as well as an art audience that will read these pieces as critical design. Alongside the wearable objects, I'll make an interactive digital piece that shows slow, progressive distortion of a viewer's body on video. I'm planning on using openFrameworks to make this portion of the piece, and it might also be connected to the wearable piece using sensors and arduino.
To begin exploring my topic, I’ll make a small series of test pieces, using both textiles and metal, that each relate to specific formal elements in surveillance systems. These will be fast prototypes, designed to inform me about how a wearer might experience different designs and how interactive elements are best incorporated. Throughout the first half of the term, I've found that I work best when I can spend time in a studio making physical things. In my D4TC manifesto, I discuss the importance of material histories and small-scale structure in designing experiences. I argue that material structure can inform users about the function of an object, and create a richer interaction. In discussing the relationship between the body and systems, I'd like to use charismatic materials and explore the intersection of hand craft and digital fabrication.
Stills from 'How Not to be Seen,' Hito Steyerl
I’ve looked at How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, (2013), by Hito Steyerl, as a critical work using the form of a documentary to address the shifting boundaries of the globe, land, and bodies as imagery vs. as visual media. Her use of the resolution target—for both analog and digital photography—speaks to shifting large-scale systems and technologies (see images). The idea of "how not to be seen" addresses the way people are surveilled and seen as media (with the mechanisms of "not being seen" such as pinching an image smaller) but also exist as embodied creatures navigating digitized spaces. She's directly speaking to the "digitization of surface space" as mentioned by the USPS in my research (2).
Ornamental Hands: Figure One, Jennifer Crupi
Jennifer Crupi is another artist who addresses the way the body is socially and politically constructed and disciplined in a critical design format. Formally, I appreciate her use of craft and the way her work references both aesthetic adornment, medical tools, and technology (all with rich histories that reflect systematic discipline of the body). She makes work that explores the space between convincing functional objects and obviously impractical art pieces. Like Crupi, I will be making physical objects.
I would like my work to provoke awareness in the viewer and wearer about unseen systems, and want both viewer and wearer to feel implicated and altered by these systems. I’m also interested in focusing viewer and wearer attention to the small details of the piece, provoking heightened awareness of physicality and materiality. Using wearables, I will point to issues of control and fragmentation of bodily systems and experiences, and draw a line between this small-scale fragmentation and larger-scale systemic breakdown in the body politic.
Editing by Chouchou Li
Neither utopian nor dystopian
Rather than an alarmist take or a rosy vision, I’d like to explore systems in a nuanced way that reflects how the functional elements of the piece may be useful or destructive depending on context.
Rich in structure at micro and macro scales
It’s important to me that the microstructure/materiality of the piece speaks to the overall function and messages, so that as the viewer focuses in, they have a rich experience with a consistent message.
Spanning functionality and criticism
This piece should not be so far away from the formal structure of “functional” jewelry or clothing that it feels irrelevant. At least some elements should be convincingly “real” and careful in their reference to the elements of the objects they cite.
Meaningful for a diversity of users
This should not be wearable or usable by only myself, but should create an experience that conveys my message for many users. Most importantly, these things have to fit multiple people (not just me.) To achieve this, I’ll have to do some user testing.
Experiential for both wearer and viewer
I want to not only engage the wearer, but also engage viewers of the piece being worn, by provoking them to question their role in the systems that are directly affecting the wearer.
Precedents and Sources
Hito Steyerl, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, (2013)
Hito Steyerl is a German filmmaker who addresses issues of surveillance, globalization, and mass media imagery. This video specifically deals with the shifting boundaries of the globe, land, and bodies as imagery vs. as visual media. Her use of the resolution targets--for both analog and digital photography--speaks to shifting large-scale systems and technologies. The idea of "how not to be seen" addresses the way people are surveilled and seen as media (with the mechanisms of "not being seen" such as pinching an image smaller) but also exist as embodied creatures navigating digitized spaces. She's directly speaking to the "digitization of surface space" as mentioned by the USPS in my research.
Jennifer Crupi, Jewelry Designer
Crupi's work fall within a broader category of adornment that directly addresses the way the body is socially and politically constructed and disciplined. Formally, I appreciate her use of craft and the way her work references both aesthetic adornment, medical tools, and technology (all with rich histories that reflect systematic discipline of the body). Crupi doesn't deal as directly with technology as I'd like to, but I'd certainly lean towards making objects, as she does.
Sleep Cycle App
I've always returned to this app as an example of strange relationships between the body and technology. I used it briefly: it uses movement and sound to map a user's sleep cycles and wake them up at an optimal time. While using the app, I wondered if it was helping: does a graph of my sleep quality truly reflect how I feel? Does it helpfully inform me as to my physical state? Does the quantification of my sleep turn it into another category of life I can optimize, or strive for high achievement in? Am I keeping up with my peers regarding sleep debt? What is the desired sleep debt? What does it mean to gamify rest?
I've looked at a lot of critical theory for this project. Facing the challenge of coming up with a creative response to the academic ideas I've looked at, I went to the beach. I like to take in ideas for formal elements in a piece, and find that whatever the subject matter, formal elements in the environment offer themselves as metaphors.
Below are some photos I took. Images of beach trash are nothing new, but these were helpful photos for me to take and process as I considered systems--environmental and digital--juxtaposed with individual actions and identity. What formal elements help to convey these ideas?
I also found relief in being away from the city, and space to think in the simple expanses of sand, water, and sky. In the city, it's rare to see untouched space or evidence of long-term slow, natural systems. The way sand washes away, worn down rocks, and tidal evidence all stood out to me as unusual.
The softness and animal presence in this first image has lingered in my mind more than anything else.
Week 11: Three Prototypes
My first prototype was a series of ring in varying sizes, from 2" in diameter to 6" in diameter. I wanted to test scale, and see when people started to stopped accepting a piece as jewelry, and instead viewed it as art.
I made them out of black paper in the shape of jewels, in order to reference existing jewelry and make them seem plausible to testers. As I was making these, I expected them to be too small. However, in testing, I learned that these pieces were mostly too large. They did not read as jewelry, and at these sizes, people expected them to do something: contain objects, or make noise.
These two prototypes were an attempt to create jewelry that would break if the wearer moved from a specific position. I was also working on making pieces that would fit a range of testers, and would look delicate so that the entire piece would feel jeopardized by a user's movements.
In class, people responded much more to the stick vs. the paper, and said that the natural element made them much more hesitant to break it. I'll test the paper version using some other pieces of paper (a check?) but also will test it with natural objects (a leaf? A butterfly wing?) to see if the difference with a natural object holds true.
Week 12: User Testing
This week I presented five users with a series of objects, which I asked them to examine, then break.
I then asked them to place the object in order of their most reluctance to break vs. least reluctance. In pictures: top = most reluctant, bottom = least reluctant. The last picture, with everything in a pile, was from a user who responded that he did not care at all about any of the objects.
With the exception of one user who ranked the leaf most difficult, most ranked the foil and the crane most difficult to destroy. People mentioned the evidence of work and craft in these pieces as reasons they were reluctant to damage them.
The stick was always the easiest: users said they have broken sticks before, and were used to the action. The leaf, too, seemed to be something that people felt was readily available and fairly expendable.
Based upon these responses, I'll work towards a finely crafted object to include in my project, versus a natural object.