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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Biofeedback between body and environment

Biofeedback between body and environment

In his book, Limbo, Bernard Wolfe describes the human body as:

The human skin is an artificial boundary: the world wanders into it, and the self wanders out of it, traffic is two-way and constant.

The body exists as a continuum between the environment and the mind; each not as distinct entities but entwined together in complex relations. In Arakawa + Madeline Gins’ book Architectural Body, they position the physical body in relation to its environment through what they term as landing sites i.e. perceptual awareness. This perceptual awareness (which is not just confined to visual awareness, but also tactile and kinaesthetic) is what drives us to act or move in certain ways in relation to our body and environment.

Inner Perceptual States

Alexandra has been working with the EEG headset, experimenting with using the data to reveal the inner perception of our outer reality. Rather than reading the body anatomically, the body can be read as a set of reaction to the environment, and the data gathered from the inner body be used as a representation of its environment. For the time being, we are working with the EEG headset but are also thinking of experimenting with galvanic skin sensors and heart pulse monitor.

Currently, most bio-sensing projects are data visualising projects where visual patterns are generated from the data gathered from the biosensors. Although aesthetically very beautiful, we think there is an opportunity for using the real-time data from biosensors to dynamically influence the environment. As such, she has been testing how virtual space can be used as a tool as part of the body / environment feedback loop, where the inner data can be used an input to actively reconfigure the physical space.

Body experiments

The article Ethics of the Viscous Body talks about our body’s constant negotiation with our material environment to seek comfort. It is through this negotiation that we become acutely aware of bodily relation to our environment.

Comfort is a state for which the presence of the material environment disappears.

We looked into body experiments, such as Gilbert Garcin’s Marriage Links (2002) and Counterweight Roommate (2011) by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelle, which use ropes to constrain movements. We thought it is interesting how by affixing new links between body parts and/or to external structures, we are forced to confront our own body’s mechanics and their limitations.

Marianna and I conducted a similar experiment using ropes and strings to connect different parts of the body together with a scaffold structure. For example, connecting the left leg to the right hand via the scaffold above. We then tried accomplishing simple tasks like sitting on a chair or picking an object up. It was a useful study to see how new tensions (created by the ropes) dictates our movements and how easily the body conforms to the new additions. Going through many sets of permutations — left leg to structure to right arm, left leg to right leg via the back of the neck, my right arm to structure to your left leg — we learned how our bodies receive tactile feedback via the ropes, and adapt to new complicities with another body or the environment.

[vimeo 255385441 w=640 h=360]

Body Experiment from Isabella Ong on Vimeo.

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