26 February 2007

Cybersomatic Interactivity

LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age

After four years at Columbia, I returned to Israel as founding president of a regional college in the Negev Desert and as Associate Professor at Bar-Ilan University. I established an art school at the college in which the students joined me in creating conceptual and environmental artworks in the desert environment that addressed ecological, spiritual, and cultural issues.

In 1984, after seven years of desert life, I returned to the States as Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies. I taught the graduate seminar “Art, Technology and Culture” and developed a workshop for artists, scientists, and engineers, “Mindleaping: Developing Creativity for the Electronic Age.” In collaboration with MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies director Otto Piene and our MIT colleagues, I created a major exhibition, LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age, for Yeshiva University Museum in New York. Harvard University psychologist Rudolf Arnheim wrote the catalog introduction. The ARTnews critic wrote: “Rarely is an exhibition as visually engaging and intellectually challenging.”

We created 25 artworks using laser animation, holography, fiber optics, biofeedback-generated imagery, computer graphics, interactive electronic media, spectral projections, and digital music. My cybersomatic interactive system was born in my realization that the Hebrew words for face panim and for inside p’nim are written with the same four letters PNIM. I knew that I needed to create portraits which create a dialogue between the outside face and inside feelings.

As an MIT artist with access to electronic technologies, I designed a system for creating digital self-generated portraits in which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue. I constructed a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor places her finger in a plethysmograph, which measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera. Digitized information about her internal mind/body processes triggers changes in the image of herself that she sees on the monitor. She sees her face changing color, stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, or replicating in response to her feelings about seeing herself changing. My artwork, Inside/Outside:P’nim/Panim, created a flowing digital feedback loop in which p’nim effects changes in panim and panim, in turn, effects changes in p’nim.

Educating artists in a digital age should provide opportunities for learning to create artworks that are systems of cybersomatic interactivity that forge a vital dialogue between mind and body and between human consciousness and digital imagery. Significant developments in future art will occur at the interface between cyberspace and real space where virtual worlds interact with our bodies moving in our physical environments to shape consciousness. New directions in aesthetic creativity are being realized through elegant cybersomatic feedback loops that flow between dry pixels and wet biomolecules, between silicon-based cybersystems and carbon-based biosystems to create what Roy Ascott calls “moist media artworks.”

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