Enhancing a Sense of Presence: An Insight into the Impact of Interactive Visual Experiences on States of Human Consciousness
This thesis seeks to address the nature of the interactive relationship between a human and a choreographic installation. Placed in the context of an increased dissemination of modern technology that reduces an individual’s sense of presence within the space that they occupy, I discuss concepts of visual consciousness, human perception, and awareness of the movement of one’s body as they relate to augmenting a participant’s sense of presence in an interaction with an installation. I argue that the integration of the attention and consciousness of the user through variations in visual stimuli are pivotal in achieving this objective. This analysis is then applied to the research I have conducted through the development of Lumina, an interactive choreographic installation, which seeks to encourage users to gain greater awareness of their body and presence through the varied use of light to provide interactive feedback to participants. I assess the extent to which Lumina has been successful in its objectives through a discussion of its place within the academic debate on embodiment, particularly with respect to Metzinger’s (2014) three-tier classification. I argue that Lumina currently sits just short of the second tier of this framework, and I posit that this schema shows the ways in which achieving higher degrees of embodiment through greater autonomous behaviour would result in more successful outcomes for the project.
Keywords: interactivity, sense of presence, perception, visual stimuli, embodiment, consciousness.
In recent years, there has been a proliferation of the use of digital interactive technologies to generate experiences for public use, thus bringing such advancements away from purely specialist use, and into the mainstream. The influence on people to participate in such advancements in arts can be exemplified by the technological, social and economic developments that have been increasing particularly rapidly from the first decade of this century, when, for example, Apple introduced the first iPhone, which represented a major breakthrough in the public use of interactive technology. Nowadays, after barely more than a decade, billions worldwide own smartphones that have become an essential part of people’s daily lives. The availability of low-cost and high-quality digital systems, such as the Kindle store or iTunes, and the widespread accessibility to information through online media has been tremendously influential in the opportunities for higher productivity and creativity through these emerging technologies. These advances have radically redefined the interaction both between humans and technology and between people themselves in a relatively short period of time. This raises key questions regarding people’s experience of their environment and the nature of the human-technology relationship as it compares with its human to human equivalent. As a result, it has become important to consider the extent to which interactivity can be harnessed to modify and augment user experiences. In this dissertation, I will specifically address this relationship in relation to body movement and the ways in which interactive technology can be utilised to augment a participant’s self-awareness in this respect.
The primary motivation behind this attempt to answer questions regarding how to enhance a sense of presence within an interactive space pertains specifically to the need to address the way in which technological advances have drawn people away from a focus on their bodies and presence within a space. My research seeks to explore the potential of an interactive installation to reverse this tendency. Interactivity has been generally defined as exchanged communication between individuals involved in a specific situation that varies across a wide range of media technologies and contexts. However, for the purpose of this paper, I will discuss the concept of interactivity within the scope of digital and media arts with respect to how this interaction is able to enhance a sense of presence and involve sensory perceptual skills on the part of the users during an art installation experience. In this respect, I aim to address two primary aspects of the interaction between a human and technology. Firstly, I assess the ways in which interactive experiences enhance a sense of presence on the part of the participant. Secondly, I analyse the effects of stimulus variation with regards to how this alters an individual’s experience, state of consciousness and perception of their environment.
In this study, I aim to tackle these questions by analysing both sides of the interaction, particularly with respect to the relationship between body movement and the nature of an individual’s visual consciousness and their sense of presence. Moreover, I will mention Brown’s (2004) modes of arts participation framework based on the level of creative control by the user oscillating between total control (Inventive Arts Participation) and no control (Ambient Arts Participation) in an attempt to explore beyond simplistic and inaccurate classifications as being either an “active” or “passive” participant during an interactive experience.
This research focuses on the application of stimulus variability and how an organism is able to tackle cognitive tasks in their environment with the help of their sensory perception skills. In this study, perception can be understood as the process by which the information from the environment is absorbed by the senses and thereby processed to experience and interact with our surroundings. I will primarily focus on the visual aspect of this process; whereby visual stimuli affect the user’s perception of an interactive installation. Visual perception has an important role in the development of cognitive tasks in the sense that it is a key component in the process by which the brain gathers information to give meaning to what we see. Furthermore, I will study the differences between multiple techniques of stimulus variability such as sensory and perceptual deprivation with the purpose of engaging the user with the installation to induce them into a state of conscious awareness.
To demonstrate the magnitude of the importance of visual perception, I will also examine key works from contemporary neuropsychological academic literature to explain how enhancing visual consciousness can intensify the quality of experience. There is certainly room for additional study on the different degrees to which interactivity can alter user experiences relating to other senses, but scope of this study will remain limited to the visual aspect and its relationship with the body movement so as to more clearly identify the potential of interactive technologies to enhance user experiences.
In order to elaborate on the discussion of these ideas, I will introduce a project developed in the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, entitled Lumina. This project is an interactive installation that aims to generate a sense of presence by exploring the personal and peripersonal space of the user. In this context, personal space refers to the space that the body physically occupies and peripersonal space to the space surrounding the body which can be reached by the limbs. I will thus use Lumina as a framework within which to understand how an interactive installation is able to alter our perception of the world around us and how our visual consciousness can be altered according to the degree of interactivity between the user and the installation.
However, it is also important to consider the ways in which an installation falls short of the interactive experience between a human and another human. This is particularly relevant in the case of dance, as this is a discipline which has historically been dominated by human to human interaction. As such, I elaborate on the concept of embodiment, which I shall define as when an agent has its own physical body and sensory system to experience and react to its environment. I use Metzinger’s (2014) framework of embodiment in which the author describes the three distinct levels of embodiment that an entity can achieve. I will discuss what differentiates each order from the other to detect which is the most appropriate to describe the functionality of an artwork in order to consider the nature of interactivity and reactiveness on the part of an installation. This framework allows a better understanding of the ways in which an installation falls short of the interactivity ideal, but also helps to show the ways in which these shortfalls can be overcome.
I will subsequently analyse the behaviour that can be recognised in Lumina and use Metzinger’s framework to investigate how the system could be improved to offer an immersive experience and how these applications could create a stronger connection with the participants and space in contemporary arts. I will argue that Lumina can currently be classified as an interactive installation in line with Metzinger’s Second-Order classification. Subsequently, I will discuss the extent to which modifications to past iterations of the project have better achieved the status of an immersive interactive experience between all participants and observers. I will then propose that it is necessary to target learning through memory and behavioural experimentation described in the Second-Order classification. The primary consideration will be to realise the transition from representing an obedient system to embodying a system with its own agency during an interaction. This analysis will help to elucidate the applicability of Metzinger’s framework to understanding how interactivity alters the user’s consciousness of and presence within the space of an installation. As such, I will demonstrate that valuable insights can be drawn from this into the augmentation of interactive experience across a range of works and experiences.
How can we produce a sense of presence and enhance self-awareness during interactive experiences?
- How does visual stimulus variation alter an individual’s state of consciousness and perception of the environment?
- How does an analysis of Metzinger’s embodiment categorisations contribute to understanding the functionality of an interactive installation to increase the level of engagement with participants?
2. Interactivity in the Arts
2.1 Interactivity versus Responsiveness
In order to more specifically identify the ways in which Lumina can better achieve its objective of creating an interactive experience between participants, it is necessary to clarify the main definitions as they are to be used in the context of this study. Foremost amongst these is what it means to for an installation to be interactive. Haque (2007) discusses the historically prevalent use of the word interactive to denote a ‘circular mutual reaction’ rather than a ‘linear causal response’. This meant that the term was used to describe a more dynamic human–machine relationship instead of receiving pre-programed outcomes. This is due to the fact that output criteria would be adjusted according to the personalised input criteria of each user. He claims that the concept of interactivity has subsequently lost this original meaning due to descriptions of mobile phones or computers as interactive, even though it is the fundamental feature of these items. It is also argued that some artists who dedicate themselves to interactive design use the word interactive in the sense of ‘responsive’ since they create a mutually reactive human-machine relationship. As such, I shall use the term responsive to mean that the system is not able to plan ahead, and with respect to the concept of interactivity, I shall refer to the more traditional definition to mean human-machine circular mutual feedback.
To better demonstrate this point, one can use Glynn’s (2007) Performative Ecologies (Figure 3) as a clear example of an interactive environment in which the artist raises questions about the potential that interactive architecture offers over reactive environments. The installation introduces a community of autonomous robotic sculptures that act out a conversation between each other through displaying a range of choreographies while lighting up their ‘tails’ to invite the audience to be part of this conversation. Each robot can take its own decisions but also has the ability to collaborate and negotiate future choreographies with each other. These creatures can learn from past experiences and errors by using genetic algorithms and facial recognition, rather than responding according to a pre-programmed algorithm.
In this project, Glynn builds upon Gordon Pask’s (1967) Colloquy of Mobiles installation with the use of contemporary media technologies that were inexistent in the 1960s. The aim of these installations is for the human to enter in a dialogue with their environment based on Conversation Theory (1975), in which, within a cybernetic framework, Pask attempts to explain the process of learning between living organisms and machines that occurs through “teachback”, in which one individual teaches another individual what has been learnt. Pask proposes two learning methods: Serialist, which represents progress through an entailment structure in a sequential fashion; and holists, who look for higher order relationships. The principle of this theory is that individuals must recognise the relationships between all concepts of a subject matter through explicit explanation or manipulation to aid their understanding. Subsequently, each individual explores serialist or holist methods as their preferred learning technique.
A useful point of comparison can be made with Locus (2018) which is a kinetic installation that responds to the body movement in the context of contemporary dance arts. The artwork focuses on the boundaries between the performer, the physical installation and the audience and explores these to produce a bodily active experience between all participants. After having directly collaborated with Locus during its latest stage in 2018, it was clear that the project is capable of receiving and responding to data in the form of mirroring the body movement by reshaping itself and following specific rhythms. However; since the system lacks capacity to learn through memory and take own decisions, but rather displays a “linear causal response”, it falls short of the status of interactivity, and therefore can only be recognised as a responsive installation.
2.2 Participation and Engagement
Interactive installations provide members of an audience with opportunities to actively be part of the artwork, and as such multi-sensory and perceptual participation become interesting new avenues through which to engage the user during an experience. On the other hand, in non-interactive installations, the actions and inputs of the user are not a requirement to operate. Engaging the user with an interactive installation can create a meaningful connection with the senses in which perceptual skills are tested to perform specific actions. Moreover, this engagement can be a playful manner of exploring the meaning of the artwork from the artist’s perspective, as this can be easily lost without more active user engagement. Brown (2004) argues that in order to achieve the engagement between an art installation and the user, it is crucial to understand the level of both audience and artist participation . Nowadays, it is clear that the boundaries between designers and spectators are collapsing to provide the opportunity to create a stronger link between the two. As a result, Brown proposes five modes of arts participation:
(1) Inventive Arts Participation which refers to the act of artistic creation in idiosyncratic fashion, regardless of the skill level of the creator.
(2) Interpretative Arts Participation which is a self-expression of existing artworks that adds a personal value.
(3) Curational Arts Participation in which the selection, collection and organisation of artwork is the reflection of one’s own sensibility.
(4) Observational Arts Participation in which one experiences a selected artwork with expectations of value.
(5) Ambient Arts Participation in which one experiences an artwork without a purposeful decision to do so.
In the past, the general assumption was that the audience belonged to the Observational Arts Participation category, as demonstrated by the quiet observation of a concert or painting. Consequently, the first three modes were considered to belong to the artist. Given this framework, the possibility of mapping the individual’s arts participation helps in understanding how it is possible to measure the level of involvement of the participant with an art installation. In this way, an artist can seek to modify this involvement so as to achieve a sense of being present in a specific moment and to thereby increase the level of engagement during the interactive art experience.
2.3 The Sense of Presence
This sense of presence is an important topic in relation to this study, so it is necessary to clarify what I shall be referring to with respect to this concept. Torisu (2016) analyses three levels of presence: firstly, social presence which is the feeling of ‘existing or being there with others’ in a specific time or period; secondly, personal presence, which relates to the feeling of ‘being there’ as an isolated agent with one’s self, separated from other organisms and the environment; and finally, environmental presence which introduces the existence of a virtual space and how we allocate ourselves within it. While this final category is certainly relevant to Lumina, in the sense that the installation creates an environment for the participant to be aware of and to explore, it is primarily personal presence that this project seeks to augment. Personal presence is such an important feature of this type of experience since it reflects the feeling of being in a particular place and being aware of one’s existence while immersing oneself in the experience through one’s senses and mind.
This research aims to address the key issues identified above, particularly with respect to the difficulties of the human-machine relationship in the arts. Through Lumina, the aim to enhance the user’s sense of presence by producing an interactive relationship with the installation, and thereby making the user more aware of the impact their movements have on the outcomes of the interaction is essential.
By these means, the objective of Lumina is to offer a more engaging and immersive experience for the user to explore distinct levels of participation, thereby creating unique experiences and contributing to a feeling of importance on the part of the participant.
3. Consciousness and Perception
It is important at this stage to elaborate further on the human side of the human-machine relationship that has been addressed thus far. Of particular significance on this side of the interaction is the concept of different states of consciousness, and how these can be altered by external stimuli. This is a key aspect to consider in the design of immersive spaces given that the distinction between the states, and how they can be produced, plays a vital role in defining means of engagement with participants. In Tye’s (1995) work The Burning House, the author describes twelve everyday cases that help to clarify four classes of consciousness. Each one of these discusses distinct states of consciousness that are present in activities we normally perform, and we are not aware of the presence of consciousness. I will focus primarily on two of the author’s classes, namely Phenomenal Consciousness and Higher-Order Consciousness, which are clearly pertinent to this research. The sixth of the cases described by Tye – the pain in the night – introduces a situation in which the author has fallen asleep, but during the night he is awoken by a pain of which he was not conscious while asleep. The author argues that if there is feeling, there must be a sense of consciousness and to feel the pain one must be conscious of it. The pain, in this case, has a phenomenal quality called Phenomenal Consciousness, which represents what Tye refers to as the ‘raw feels’ and this is integral to experiences and feelings in general. This is in contrast to thoughts, that have no phenomenological context, and which he describes the first case: the distracted driver. In this case, the author drives along the road and finds himself lost in thought. In this sense, he is not conscious of the driving, despite changing gears and keeping the car on the road. After some time, he realises that he has been driving for a long time without being conscious of the action. This introspective awareness is called Higher-Order Consciousness and Tye concludes that this type of consciousness does not form part of the visual perception of the driver. To understand in a simple way these hypotheses, the author illustrates the example of thinking that water is wet; yet this thought has no phenomenal value, unless it is accompanied by visual images or bodily sensations such as feeling thirsty.
A second classification system that I will examine on the subject of consciousness by Underwood & Stevens, discusses a hypothesis of two modes of consciousness that relates back to William James’s initial attempts to categorise consciousness. The authors claim that James was the first to describe human consciousness in 1880 and he had no one’s insight to prove his theory but his own. James’s theory states that every conscious state is always an integral part of an individual and that for each person it is changing constantly. Considering that personal consciousness is continuous, he suggests that ideas and images are more captivating than the transition between them. To this point, James relies on the idea that consciousness and thinking must encompass images, ideas, words and thoughts and for this reason, he introduced the idea of the “stream of personal consciousness” in which consciousness consists of two parts: the main line, called the “focus” which is the primary awareness of the scene, and the surrounding halo called the “fringe” in which the attention is partially reduced.
Figure 7 shows Lumina in a scene highlighting this theory graphically to help understand how our visual consciousness is capable of selective attention and altering the perception on the environment. In the diagram, the light which is the output of the installation represents the focus and the fringe is represented as the transitional flow between the primary awareness and the non-awareness representation.
“Whatever else I may be thinking of, I am always at the same time more or less aware of myself, that is, of my own personal existence.”
James, 1910. (p.176)
These two concepts of consciousness help this research explore in depth the ability of human mind in interpreting and reacting towards the environment. Tye’s types of consciousness classification, particularly in the cases of Phenomenal consciousness and Higher-Order consciousness, play an important part in designing immersive experiences and, from a perceptual psychological perspective, help to comprehend in a more accurate way the insights into what one might be aware of during interactions in designed spaces.
Furthermore, I argue that to enhance the visual perception of the participants to build a stronger connection with an interactive installation that I addressed in the beginning of this paper, it is crucial that the object integrates attention and consciousness in the user, where attention allows the individual to select the information that the visual apparatus makes available and become conscious of it to be able to describe it in an accurate manner.
3.1 Visual Consciousness
Given that Lumina displays visual cues, it is important to now draw the connections between vision and the concepts of perception and consciousness that have already been covered. O’Regan (2001) proposes that vision is a form of exploring the environment. He claims that all seeing involves some degree of awareness and unawareness, and visual awareness depends on the perceiver’s skills, such as reasoning and decision-making, that is conducted by the visual consciousness. To become visually conscious, one must be aware of aspects of a scene. Crick and Koch (1995) claim that visual consciousness is vital when it comes to decision-making tasks, since it provides the means by which the most critical features of the external world are sent to the executive part of the brain where the information is crucial to determine our own behaviour and future actions.
As previously mentioned, the movement of participants is the stimulus modality to which Lumina responds, offering them a visual awareness of the environment. The user is poised to generate a following movement, creating an internal representation of what is to be seen in the brain. This activity gives the capacity to the user to modify the input before it is sent to the system. O’Regan claims that these internal representations are forms of exploratory activities that abide by certain laws of sensorimotor contingency. These laws differ depending on the different types of senses.
However, specifically relevant to this study is the visual component of the analysis, which relates significantly to Friedenberg’s (2013) work Visual Attention and Consciousness, in which he focuses on the study of perceptual consciousness. Despite their close conceptual relation, the author highlights a key point of distinction between attention and consciousness in that one can be conscious of something and not paying attention to it and vice versa. The author describes visual attention as the action that is allocated to process visual items, in which the latter becomes prioritised. He also describes consciousness as a subjective phenomenon, since we never have the same experiences. These experiences are always first person and only the individual is capable of describing them, even when various participants are looking at the same scene. Friedenberg states that consciousness cannot be proven objectively, and it cannot be monitored. This can be problematic from a scientific perspective, since science provides objective concepts about what happens in the brain when we are conscious of a scene. Specific data can be collected from a physical or neural examination while we are having an experience, but it cannot explain the subjective quality of that experience. This brings an explanatory gap between subjective and objective concepts of consciousness which is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe and one of the major goals of cognitive science.
The American philosopher Thomas Nagel (1974) explores this divergence between subjectivity and objectivity, arguing that reductionist theories fail to understand the relationship between body and mind. Reductionism here refers to the idea that the mind does not possess independent status and it is not recognised as a physical object, and as such it cannot be accounted for within physical terminology. The author emphasises that in order to understand the body-mind relationship one must therefore address consciousness. Nagel states that consciousness has a subjective aspect and that to approach the gap between objective and subjective concepts we can pursue a more objective understanding of mental states. He proposes bats as an example to help elucidate this issue since these mammals are highly related to humans in many respects, yet their sensory apparatus is much more complex. Nagel explains how bats use sonar or echolocation as a form of perception of the outside world. These work by the use of the emissions of calls to the environment that return as echoes after bouncing on objects near them. Among other functions, this is used to trace prey, identify the shapes and textures of objects, as well as motion. This is something that no species other than those with the capacity to use sonar can experience or imagine. We can imagine the experience of hanging upside down or living in almost complete darkness or even experience echolocation, but we will never be able to have the quality of experience of a bat. Nagel suggests that challenging a new form of objective phenomenology that is not dependant on imagination or empathy would give us the ability to explain the subjective character of experiences to those who cannot have those experiences, for instance, to explain to a person blind from birth what it is like to see.
3.2 Stimulus Variability and the Perception in the Arts
In this part of the paper, it is important now to study the relationship between conscious and unconscious modes of seeing and the possibilities of manipulating our visual perception. It is clear that as space designers, the establishment of a strong connection between our creations and the participants within those spaces is critical. While immersive spaces are created with the aim to facilitate deep concentration on one’s self and the present moment, it can be argued that visual perception plays the key role in the human mind and consciousness during these moments to become the central piece of the experience. According to Hunt’s (1962) research, the importance of environmental stimulation is critical in the development of intelligence, self-reflection, aspects of self-awareness and other benefits that lead to becoming a more accepting person. This leads us to consider the work of light artist James Turrell as a key reference for the development of Lumina in regard to the introduction of the notion of living in a reality that the participant’s own mind and body creates. Turrell’s background in perceptual psychology led the artist to explore light as a medium to create illusionary and hallucinatory spaces that can play with one’s mind and senses subject to human sensory limitations.
“My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing. I’m also interested in the sense of presence of space; that is space where you feel a presence, almost an entity — that physical feeling and power that space can give.”
His focus on making light manifest in a sensory form raises questions regarding how stimulus variability of an environment affects the way we perceive our surroundings. Ganzfeld – a German word to describe the phenomenon of the total loss of depth perception as in the experience of a white-out – also known as perceptual deprivation (PD),  is the overexposure of one type of stimulus that results in the perception of its opposite, due to the neural constant adaptation that concludes in neural fatigue. Turrell’s Ganzfeld series is one of his most striking artworks in which the artist projects a light onto a white room with curved corners that enacts a transition from one state of mind to another. This is the result of the subtle changes in saturation and colour, which creates a sense of floating and explores alterations and effects in our visual perception within the space in which the viewer is expected to experience self-awareness and a heightened sense of consciousness.
An interesting point of comparison with influences on human subjects is restricted environmental variation. This technique is known as Sensory Deprivation (SD), which in contrast to PD, is the absolute reduction of input intensity, for instance, the total reduction of light and sound in a complete dark room. After a few environmental restriction experiments at McGill University in Montreal, it was noticed that reduced levels of stimulation can affect our sensory perception in a way that, depending on the length of time of restriction and the type of experiment, one can start experiencing hallucinations or social isolation. “The longer the period of SD, the less severe the SD conditions and the fewer the number of subjects of study.” According to Zubek (1969), one of the most used techniques in SD is water immersion, or water tank (Figure 9), which is generally limited to hours rather than days. The water tank is a technique that is generally used for therapeutic applications and psychological processes, which as highlighted by Suedfeld (1975), entails a low level of danger and high value through potential benefits such as relaxation, stimulation and dealing with addictive behaviours.
These techniques are great examples of how our consciousness and minds are simple to manipulate depending of the stimulus variability in our environment. Moreover, since these two methods range from subtle alterations to psychological damage, their relevance in the development of the relationship between participants and Lumina is essential. Considering how the variation in visual stimuli can affect participant behaviour, this is a key component to discovering and studying the type of experience Lumina aims to offer. This aim is closely related to Turrell’s style regarding the immersive experience and heightened self-awareness within a sensory environment. However, our interest in enhancing the sense of presence by exploring body movement in accordance with what is visually perceived by the users is paramount.
4. Introducing Lumina
Lumina is an interactive installation that is currently being developed in the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. The project enacts user movement as a visual interface that aspires to enhance self-awareness on the part of the user. Furthermore, the project seeks to better understand how the variation of visual stimuli through user participation generates differences in the user’s perceptions of their surroundings.
4.1 Design and system
The current prototype is composed of a 600mm static concave mirror that emits RGB light from a 4.5° light aperture in the centre towards a 300mm tilting convex mirror which is positioned underneath. The convex mirror is tied with metallic ropes in strategic points around the circumference to avoid instability. The motion of the convex mirror is driven by servo motors that rotate from 0° to 135° to pull and push the ropes in order to modify the angle of the mirror through Arduino Uno. By modifying the angles of the tilting mirror, physics of light were applied by determining the normals and angle reflection of the light in order to draw the boundary around the user.
Lumina generates a boundary of light around the user that is drawn and adjusted by the movement of the body. The intensity, colour and shape of the boundary is modified when the user extends their limbs towards and retracts away from their maximum scope. The installation operates with the use of a real-time system in Unity 3D and tracks the movement of the performer by using Microsoft Kinect V2, which is a motion-sensor webcam-style system that is able to read specific parts of the body depending on the input and output criteria of the designer. In the case of Lumina, the system responds to the respective positions of the head, spine and limbs of the user within the space.
Diagram of Communication System
Graphics of Current Prototype
During the first stages of development for Lumina, a system was designed to respond to both hands and the centre of the torso, with the aim of drawing imaginary lines with the body as a compositional technique based on Forsythe’s (1989) Isometries. He defines this concept as “learning to develop a feeling for transferring the shape or form of one part of the body to another part.” For architecture, drawing plays an important role as a medium in the representation of ideas and Forsythe aims to represent performatives arts through the thinking of drawing methods in an architectural context.
“Choreography is about organizing bodies in space, or you’re organizing bodies with other bodies or a body with other bodies in an environment that is organized”
William Forsythe (2005)
To use Forsythe’s technique, the head was selected as the middle tracking point with the aim of detecting the height and the distance from each hand to the centre of the body of the user. These measurements provided us with the opportunity to design an algorithm that would respond idiosyncratically to each individual in order to give a more personalised experience. However, in subsequent iterations, the position of the feet relative to the body has been introduced in order to provide additional nuance and complexity to the range of responses to user input that Lumina can produce.
4.2 Testing Lumina
Lumina has been tested with a wide range of participants during past live demonstrations, from members of the public to professional dancers. It was notable that the user quickly became aware of the importance of the position their hands with respect to the installation, and they would start to test with the movement of their feet but there would be no response. These observations were of major importance in the exploration of body movement and prompted us to start testing with different tracking points. In addition, we sought the feedback from professional dancers specialising in contemporary and experimental arts. These contributions were of particular importance since one of the main goals of Lumina is to understand how different levels of complexity of body movement may affect capacity for communication through performative arts. Through collaborative work with professional dancer Tia Hockey from Alexander Whitley Studio, there was a chance to test different tracking points to comprehend to what extent Lumina could achieve a clear level of understanding of the movement of the body. We were thereby able to better determine how Lumina could become an adaptive installation which is able to adjust according to the complexity of a performance. It was thus concluded that detecting the head rather than the torso would give us more scope to explore within the space. Furthermore, the detection of the feet and spine was added to the system which provides a greater range of motion to which Lumina can respond and thereby achieve more output variability during the experience.
During Lumina’s recent exhibition in the Ars Electronica Festival 2019, the opportunity was taken to test a transition from passive to active behaviour and vice versa. This change was designed to allow the installation to respond distinctively according to the user’s body movement exploration, as well as to display a range of motion without environmental input. Through this adaptation, Lumina was able to produce a feeling of being another entity with its own agency during interaction and non-interaction sequences, despite as yet being unable to plan ahead. Moreover, the installation invited people to explore a wider range of body movement irrespective of their skill level due to Lumina’s ability to act instantly. As a result, a significant number of participants were able to focus on their own selves and their existence in the specific moment of the interaction.
Nevertheless, there were cases in which the experience was not sufficiently engaging for the participants to spend a longer period of time in the interaction. There are a few possible explanations for this shortcoming. Firstly, external and internal sensory interference in the form of the noise of neighbouring projects and Lumina’s own motors; and secondly, interference and inaccuracy of the infrared camera in reading depth may have contributed to imperfect responses from Lumina to the input of the users. This type of feedback is vital in exploring potential applications and improvements that will be mentioned in the following chapters for future exhibitions.
4.3 Lumina’s Achievements and Objectives
At this point of the dissertation, it is necessary to outline the objectives towards which the project has been moving, and the progress that has been made thus far in this respect. These goals are essentially two-fold: the first seeks to explore the effects of changing visual stimulation on the perception and consciousness of the participant; and the second relates to producing a sense of presence on the part of the user, primarily through the exploration of body movement.
Lumina requires the involvement of the participant’s visual senses through the variation of visual stimulation by reshaping colour and altering the intensity and form of the boundary of light, when behaviour is activated by the user. Furthermore, after the addition of Lumina’s capacity for passive behaviour, the project has become a greater focus of visual attention. This feature was achieved due to the smoothness and speed of the system in responding to changes in input in a clear fashion, in which the user could actively reflect their body movement or lack thereof in the behaviour of the installation. This point of the exploration of body movement is key to understanding the main goals of this project. Interactive spaces are where sensory stimulation can be manipulated by individuals and by the space itself. Thus, the installation encourages people to explore further body movements that usually, in everyday situations, they do not perform. With this body movement discovery, users are able to feel the connection and power that the movement has over the space. This is the moment in which the user explores the boundaries between their own physical and mental existence.
Fundamentally, for the users to achieve a heightened sense of presence and conscious awareness during the interaction, it is also necessary to meet the essential conditions and considerations to overcome the underperformance of the functionality of the machine for future development. For this reason, after having explored in depth the human side of the human-machine relationship in the preceding chapter on consciousness and perception, in the next section, I will address the second part of this relationship. I will explore the theory regarding the extent to which Lumina can be understood to represent a proactive participant within the interaction, in order to better comprehend how the installation can further improve the user experience through augmenting Lumina’s behavioural experimentation to gain agency within a cognitive approach.
5. Embodied Systems
5.1 Intelligent Bodies
While Lumina has come some way towards achieving its objectives of improving experiences for the user through enhancing their self-awareness and presence in the interaction, it is clear that there remains significant room for improvement in the aim of reproducing the interactive aspects of a human to human relationship. In order to understand how this goal might eventually be achieved, one must first consider the concepts of intelligence as it relates to a machine, and how an installation might be able to achieve higher states of embodiment to thereby come closer to the interactive ideal.
In this discussion, The Reactive Manifesto (Bonér et al., 2014) introduces a few characteristics that are being applied in current architectural systems to achieve effective interactive feedback. One main aspect is to focus on providing an immediate response. At the same time, the system must be resilient in the sense that the failure of one isolated module does not compromise the system as a whole. Elasticity is another property that can be achieved by adapting the system to respond to a variety of inputs. Based on these three requirements, it is clear that Lumina does indeed have the capacity to receive and respond to movement as input data, but also to react to various other sources applied into interactive installations in scenographic spaces such as light and sound. This introduces an important concept, namely intelligence, which Metzinger (2014) explores in greater depth to classify systems which we can use to analyse such intelligence. However, it is necessary to first define the scope under which I will consider intelligence for the purpose of this analysis: I will use Poole et al.’s (1998) definition, in which the authors describe an intelligent agent as one which acts appropriately for its circumstances and goal, and that its behaviour is flexible to its changing environment. This definition is relevant to Lumina as it encompasses the ways in which the system perceives and responds to inputs, and also allows exploration of the ways in which the system falls short of its potential full application.
5.2 Embodiment Types
This leads onto a key theme with respect to the development of installations that are able to achieve true interactivity with users, namely embodiment. In general terms, I will employ Schilling & Cruse’s (2006) definition that embodiment means that an entity has its own physical body and means of detection of its environment in order to directly experience and react to its surroundings. Metzinger’s (2014) work First-Order Embodiment, Second-Order Embodiment, Third-Order Embodiment helps to better understand the intelligence achieved by Lumina and the relationship between the project and the three systems he proposes – which I will henceforth refer to as 1E, 2E and 3E. 1E-systems are purely physical and reactive, and although Metzinger states that they are able to achieve intelligent behaviour without software as a central processor, I will disregard this requirement for the purpose of this study, as this is not a requirement in the other classifications and it adds no meaningful distinctions to behavioural characteristics, which are the key point of focus of this study. 2E-systems own a body model and are capable of learning and adapt; and 3E-systems exist where a system represents itself as embodied but also possesses bodily self-consciousness. In this context, Metzinger refers to consciousness as ‘the presence of a world’, where we view the world through our own lens that is activated in our central nervous system. In the Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (2009), Metzinger claims that “we do not see the window but only the bird flying by”. This suggests that to possess a self-conscious body, it is crucial to become aware of all aspects that surround the body and are playing a role in the scene.
5.3 Embodying Lumina
Since Lumina is a system that mirrors the movement of the user as well as responding to inputs from its environment, it is clear that it meets the necessary conditions to be considered a 1E system, but its classification as 2E was not appropriate in the early stages of development. Metzinger describes the body model under this framework being used to test behavioural solutions to new problems posed by the environment. With this in mind, the way in which further work on Lumina’s programming is leading it to become a 2E system is by giving the system the chance to tackle cognitive tasks such as decision-making processes, adaptability and displaying a behaviour without body movement as input. In its current form, Lumina has different behavioural states, depending on whether the system detects a user, or remains by itself within the space.
At present, Lumina displays passive behaviour that modifies the speed of motion over the course of time which gives the impression of the installation that it is looking for someone to play with or that it feels alone. This behaviour is perceived in the form of a sine wave that the mirror generates to reflect a sharp beam of light travelling all over the environment in which the system is placed. This feature gives Lumina a sense of personality that plays a key role regarding the level of engagement with the user.
From displaying behaviour without a performer, Lumina is able to decide which way is best to perform, for instance, when the system interacts with non-experienced users or general public, the output is subtle and easier to understand, whereas when it interacts with experienced dancer or users exploring wider range of motion, the output is adjusted to a more complex and engaging experience, in other words, the system is capable of understanding the behaviour of the user and is able to adapt to it. Another important aspect to consider in order to create this link with the user is for Lumina to become a self-directed system. This is the key issue which remains to be overcome for Lumina to achieve 2E status.
In order to transition from a 1E-system into a 2E-system, Lumina must be trained to follow cognitive tasks, such as remembering past experiences as well as planning future states. Moreover, Schilling & Cruse (2006) argue that to achieve fast goal-directed movements, it is important to give a 2E-system the capability to predict its behaviour without actually displaying it. This can be achieved by testing a wider range of sensor data to the body model or by using new combinations of inputs or algorithms, as well as applying an “emergency” sensor with the aim for Lumina to decide whether the reactive or the cognitive mode should be displayed in the case that one of these fails. With this having been achieved, we could suggest that Lumina has evolved from a merely reactive system to become a cognitive system that could thus be described as a 2E-system.
From this point however, there would remain significant obstacles to achieving 3E status, as this would require the potential to experience its own being in the form of consciousness. As such, I maintain that the most important first step to improving the effectiveness of Lumina in producing an interactive experience between users and the installation would need to be grounded in achieving a capacity for learning through memory and behavioural experimentation outlined in Metzinger’s 2E classification.
In the modern world, the lifestyles we lead and the routines we habitually practice are essential factors in the way we perceive our surroundings. Increasingly these lifestyles are dominated by a dependency on technology which can absorb our consciousness and draw us away from a sense of presence in the moment and in our bodies. However, in this study I have sought to introduce a technological counterpoint to this tendency. In the context of dance, a relationship that has been factually dominated by human to human interactions, Lumina represents an attempt to introduce new elements to an interaction between two entities. However, while early iterations of the project remained reactive rather than interactive, Lumina now is able to display passive as well as reactive behaviour, encouraging users to explore the movement of their bodies and the presence that they have within the space. In this respect, this research has demonstrated how through the use of interactive stimulus variability and targeting participant’s visual perception, technology can be harnessed to allow users to understand the importance of their movements and thus to enhance their sense of presence within the moment.
Both sides of the participant-installation relationship have figured significantly in this thesis, with a focus on the consciousness and perception of the user, while on the installation side, I have tackled questions of embodiment and how Lumina can better achieve the key aspects of the human to human interactive ideal.
From these studies I conclude that, enhancing sense of presence within an interactive experience is of crucial importance with respect to immersing the participants in their surroundings. Moreover, as Brown’s (2004) analysis emphasises, it is essential to analyse the level of engagement of the user and how they can perceive their behaviour being reflected and answered in the space during an interaction with an installation. This is relevant to comprehending the impact of conscious experiences on users that is mentioned in Tye’s cases of Phenomenal and Higher-Order Consciousness, to understand the insights of one’s mind with respect to attention and learn how to emanate an empathetic behaviour towards Lumina during the encounter. Furthermore, Turrell’s work was critical in the consideration of how visual stimuli can affect user sensory perception, behaviour and mind. This analysis of the importance of conscious and unconscious modes of seeing to comprehend to what extent the human mind is able to manipulate visual perception, is of particular relevance for understanding the development of this human-installation interaction.
In this respect, through analysis of the current functionality of Lumina within the context of contemporary theories of consciousness and interactivity, I have demonstrated that the project currently achieves its objective of enhancing the sense of presence for participants and remains an interactive installation along the lines of Metzinger’s 2E-system proposal.  The ability of Lumina to transition from passive to active behaviour during live performances has endowed the system with the status of another proactive entity. In past performances, Lumina could only be categorised as a responsive system that was able to mirror body movement and would stop working without input from the environment.
Potential to improve user experience during the interaction lies in augmenting its capacity to learn though memory, as Glynn’s (2007) project exemplifies above. Lumina could turn to the use of machine learning algorithms in order to make predictions without explicit programming. This feature would give Lumina the capacity to reach a degree of self-consciousness, which according to Metzinger’s embodiment classification, would give Lumina the potential to become a 3E system. This would be achieved through data analytics, which is the process of teaching computers to perform tasks which would come naturally to humans and animals through experience.
Future advancement will be based on the final prototype, which is still in development. The aim is to explore the addition of two prototypes to the existing environment, after the modification and improvement of the current instrument.
After numerous experiments and live performances to recreate an interactive experience with Lumina, participants’ feedback made it clear that it is necessary not only to create a connection between the participant and the installation, but also to focus on the perception of the audience. For this reason, the aim to design an environment that is able to respond to inputs from the audience is key, for instance, manipulating the intensity of light depending of the proximity of the audience to the instrument. However, this application does not intend to interfere with the first-person experience, this is a proposal to amend the overall experience by opening the possibilities to offering group experiences as well as individual ones.
By adding at least two more elements to the environment, there are open possibilities of reinforcing the visual aspects of the experience, since Lumina is a light installation, this decision can strengthen and intensify the experience for a larger group. With this new system in mind, the aim for the instruments to collaborate with each other, as well as understand the external inputs from the environment in different manners is crucial. Ideally, the system will be able to perform with all three pieces working in unison, but it will also be capable of performing and responding individually. Additional elements would permit greater variation in the shapes that Lumina could form and thus the types of spaces that it could occupy. Furthermore, this development would allow Lumina to achieve a greater degree of elasticity as described by Bonér et al. (2014) to become an adaptive installation with the capacity to operate within a wider variety of environments.
From this dissertation, the case of an installation such as Lumina raises important questions for future consideration, particularly as this regards the status of the technological counterpart in the human-machine interactive relationship. Of course, it is not possible for a machine to achieve the full extent of consciousness that a human is capable of, but questions are raised regarding the means by which machines can achieve some degree of conscious behaviour that would lead to the human mind beginning to perceive an installation as having true agency within an interaction.
 Spiro Kiousis (2002)
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 Danniella Vizcarra & Claudia Cortés, Lumina (2019)
 Sandeep Vaishnavi et al. (2006)
 Malte Schilling & Holk Cruse (2006) pp.78-9
 Thomas Metzinger (2014)
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 Ibid. (p.26)
 Ruairi Glynn (2007) p.4
 Gordon Pask (1975)
 Amanda Simo & Anthos Venizelos (2018)
 Alan S. Brown & Associates LLC (2004)
 Takashi Torisu (2016)
 C. Heeter (1992)
 Casanueva & Blake (2001)
 A. Carassa et al. (2005)
 Michael Tye (1995) p81-90
 Ibid. (p.85)
 Ibid. (p.86)
 Geoffrey Underwood & Robin Stevens (1979) p.32-36
 J. Kevin O’Regan (2001) p.939
 Ibid. (p.939)
 Ibid. (p.971)
 Ibid. (p.960)
 F. Crick & C. Koch (1995) p.121-123
 J. Kevin O’Regan (2001) p.941
 Jay Friedenberg (2013)
 Jay Friedenberg (2013) p.8
 Ibid. (p.4)
 Ibid. (p.134)
 Thomas Nagel (1974)
 Marcelo H. Sabatés (2005)
 Thomas Nagel (1974) p.449
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 Thomas Nagel (1974) p.449
 Yulia Marouda (2016)
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 James Turrell (2019). Introduction. [online] available at: http://jamesturrell.com/about/introduction/
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 Jay Friedenberg (2013) p.37
 Colin Herd (2014)
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 John P. Zubek (1969) p.5
 Ibid. (p.27)
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 Danniella Vizcarra & Claudia Cortes, Lumina (2019)
 Roslyn Sulcas (2001)
 Steven Spier (2005) p.352.
 Tia Hockey (2019). People. [online] available at: www.alexanderwhitley.com/people/
 Lumina in Ars Electronica Festival – Out of the Box 2019
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 Malte Schilling & Holk Cruse (2006) pp.78-9
 Thomas Metzinger (2014), p.273
 Ibid. (p.272)
 Thomas Metzinger (2009) p.14
 Thomas Metzinger (2014) p.273-4
 In conversation with participants, Ars Electronica Festival 2019
 Malte Schilling & Holk Cruse (2006) p.81
 Alan S. Brown & Associates LLC (2004)
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Figure 1. Spaces around the body. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 2. Interactivity vs responsiveness. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 3. Performative Ecologies – VIDA 11.0 Artist: Glynn, R. 2007.
Figure 4. Colloquy of Mobiles, Location: ICA London, Cybernetic Serendipity. Author: Pask, G. 1968.
Figure 5. Locus during Performance. Location: Here East, London. Photography: Simo, A. & Venizelos, A. 2018.
Figure 6. Five Modes of Arts Participation Framework. Author: Brown, A. S. 2004.
Figure 7. Diagram of the Stream of Personal Consciousness. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 8. Ganzfeld – The Substance of Light. Location: Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany 2018.
Figure 9. Water immersion therapy – Sensory Deprivation. Author: Rivas, R. Location: Mexico 2016.
Figure 10. Prototype of Lumina. Location: Ars Electronica Festival, Austria. Photography: Cortes, C. 2019
Figure 11. Previous iteration of Lumina. Testing physics of light on reflective surfaces. Photography: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 12. Lumina in Performance. Location: UCL Here East. Photography: Chris Culley, 2019.
Figure 13. Lumina Communication System. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 14. Axonometric View of Prototype. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 15. Exploded View of Prototype. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 16. Improvisation Technologies. Isometries in the Space and in the Body. Author: Forsythe, W.
Figure 17. Current tracking points in the Body. Author: Vizcarra, D. 2019.
Figure 18. Body Movement and Physical Boundary Exploration. Location: UCL Here East. Author: Culley, C. 2019.
Figure 19. The Passive Behaviour. Location: Ars Electronica Festival, Austria Photography: Cortes, C. 2019.