Art and Technology Creative Coding | Programming Culture Criticism Observations

Come Out and Play Festival & Exhibition Game Test Experience | Sensoree’s Galvanic Extimacy Responder (GER)

What if you could physically see and identify a person’s emotions through visible biofeedback? Or gauge a potential mate’s interest? How many times have you wanted to know what someone else was feeling? Growing up, it’s common to wonder what any of us might do with extra-sensory perception or abilities. Although there is no way to implant programs and download directly into our bodies or hardwire our brains (yet), creative technologists are constantly finding ways to work with how we learn and engage through game play. Aside from language, one of the defining features of human nature is the ability to express emotions and feelings. Whether it’s through our facial expressions to the tone and pitch of our voices, advancements in technology allow us to figure out ways to learn more about human interaction. Sensoree’s Galvanic Extimacy Responder (GER) may provide fascinating answers to many of the aforementioned questions. GER designer, Kristin Neidlinger, created a soft wearable device reflecting the mood of the wearer. Although taking the intimacy of emotions and offering up a tangible and experiential connection to others might seem playful and whimsical, it speaks to the human desire of connection. The Sensoree website provides a simple yet robust description of the GER,“The high collar, bowl positioned with LEDs reflects onto the self for instant biofeedback and acts as a tele-display or external blush for the other”.

Last Sunday, a group of eager game testers gathered at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. Armed with anticipation, the testers included game designers, ZERO1 art ambassadors, developers, engineers, art patrons, avid gamers, artists, and creative technologists. The diverse range of participants resulted in a wide array of feedback for the Sensoree design team. With an affinity towards anything psychologically based, I opted to test Sensoree’s GER, which is defined specifically as the “sensor that detects excitement levels and translates mood into a palette of affective colors”. The game participants wore a large soft fabric ring that resembled a cowl neck scarf. The GER fabric was translucent enough to display soft colors with a corresponding emotion:

  • Green = Zen | Peaceful | Placid
  • Blue = Calm | Relaxed | Focused
  • Purple = Inspired | Alert | Perked
  • Pink = Excited | Aroused | Eager
  • Red = Nervous | Delirious | In Love
  • White = Nirvana | Bliss | Transcendent

Variations of game play included teams of approximately four individuals deciding on a particular emotion and eliciting that particular emotion for the team mate wearing the GER. At first, one of my teammates tried to make my scarf a steady red. Not so surprisingly, he asked me to imagine a very angry editor wanting changes to a work that took me quite some time to finish. Yes, it went straight to red. For the team challenge, I wore the GER and my teammates instructed me to close my eyes and imagine overtly serene landscapes (i.e., babbling brook, a quiet mountain side, etc.) while encouraging me to focus on my breath. Hoping this would translate into green lit GER, it took my team about ten minutes to have the GER emanate green and consistently keep me in a ‘zen, peaceful, and placid’ state. Yet, the GER works differently for each person. For SOMArts Gallery Director and Curator Justin Hoover, the GER was constantly lit at Blue with very seldom color changes. Later, the group learned he studied Martial Arts! Not too entirely sure what that says about me or my sweat glands other than I probably need to meditate a bit more to control my emotions! Either way, Sensoree’s GER had the entire group of testers discussing the overall design and objective of the GER, which seemed to provide Neidlinger and her team some useful information on how the GER might perform within a larger audience.

On our daily commutes, we see faces turned downward to phones and headphones or ear buds blocking out the sounds of the environment. Therein lies the conundrum of how we interact and evolve alongside rapidly changing technology. In looking at the intersections of art and technology, ZERO1’s biennial theme ‘Seeking Silicon Valley’ aims to showcase innovation emerging far beyond the physical region as well as deepen our understanding of cultures and sub-cultures on a global scale. Although the Galvanic Extimacy Responder (GER) may be based in technology, it necessitates and reminds us that human interaction is the catalyst for connection in our search for the meaning and understanding of Silicon Valley.

Originally posted to ZERO1, please view here

Art Performance and Conceptual

Sophie Calle: Absence of the Artist

A (recent) short paper I wrote on conceptual artist, Sophie Calle, for the course, Contemporary Art: History and Theory taken at UC Berkeley Extension (for Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Visual Arts).


There’s nothing overly theatrical about Sophie Calle’s work yet the response seems to illicit overwhelming feelings and emotions from the viewer.  From the documentation of sleepers to a man’s description of his life through the experiences of his colleagues, friends and family, Calle’s work emphasizes the absence of the artists to create portraits and capture universal ideas of contemporary life.  However, many people may beg to differ on her observations and speculation of peoples’ lives as a way to create something similar to what the paparazzi does with celebrity life.  Yet, she doesn’t glamorize and she is unapologetic in her creation of these individuals.  Strangely enough, she is mirroring back what is already there just not through the eyes of the subject.  They do that themselves.  Calle’s work, strangely, offers a therapeutic side effect as stated in an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian:

“Exquisite Pain (2003) was prompted by her then lover’s failure to meet her in New Delhi. On each day of her journey there, she had taken a photograph and written how she was looking forward to seeing him. This became a book, which also included other people’s worst memories – a woman who had given birth to a dead child, a boy hearing his father had died.  Their stories did have a side effect: they made my pain manageable”.

Calle’s work serves as an example that post modern art involves the viewer within a much more voyeuristic perspective while eliminating herself from the artwork and examines the human condition, identity and intimacy.

Throughout Calle’s work, there is a strong sense of detachment between the art and the artist.  Calle presents her work in such a way that there is a definite detachment between the art and the artist.  She depicts this best in her work entitled, The Sleepers (1979).  Detachment from the subject matter allows her work to take on the distance necessary to capture facts necessary for the viewer to form emotions and/or thoughts.  In the sciences, we see the necessity to detach the clinician from the patient, the subject to come to conclusions about disease states and reach some hypothesis that brings the researcher to some idea of standard of care.  To some degree, this is what Calle’s work tries to show the viewer.  That her experiments necessitate a distance for the observer to piece together the connections between the relationship of the artist to her subject in their minds.  To have the viewer engage in the way that Calle was unable to do so.  To show a rift of some sorts.  Weintraub states,

Calle exposes the causes and symptoms of today’s soullessness by identifying various profes sions that serve as proxies for personal relationships.  For instance, psychologists plumb meticu lously preserving “professional distance”.  Memories, motives, passions, fears, and obsessions are ferretted out utilizing the dispassionate tools of science and cognition.  In her best-known work, Calle dramatizes how psychological research has replaced love and affection as the means to access intimate aspects of personality (Weintraub, 66).

Aside from emotional detachment, Calle presents her observations as findings through the most minimal of aesthetics in this particular work.  It has been observed that the camera is her uncongenial tool that she uses to exploit its intrusive lens and accedes to its mechanistic anonymity.  Through it, she formalizes her role as an observer, not a friend or a lover, of her bedroom partners (Weintraub, 67).  As I viewed photographs of The Sleepers (1979), my first impression was a strange sense of intimacy even though the pictures were in black and white and followed one right after the other within columns and rows.  I wanted to know the stories of each person and to be included, somehow, in the room as well.  The minimalist look and feel of the photography provoked me to imagine the relationships Calle may have, inadvertently,  formed through this work.  Even though she separated herself and is showing and telling of the participants, the permanence created within the documentation achieves what Calle was wanting from the viewer – to show the effect of detachment and the ambivalence it creates.  The viewer is unintentionally drawn into an intimate moment that has been made public and to have the viewer create what they will.

Detachment is crucial, Calle creates an unusual dynamic where voyeurism and scrutiny of the subject play an integral role in our desire to know what is unknown.  In the work, Suite Venitienne (1980), Calle follows a man to clandestinely capture a portrait based strictly on his daily activities in the hopes of an adventure or drama.  Classified work, espionage and intrigue pique our collective interest.  From film noir to horror films, individuals seem to seek that which thrills them and excites the senses.  Yet, it’s not common practice to follow people around to see if anything interesting comes to fruition.  Frankly, we leave this activity up to detectives or conceptual artists like Calle.  In Suite, Calle equips herself with the detective paraphernalia of a Grade-B movie and embarks on a thirteen-day escapade that mimicked a romantic melodrama but was devoid of its most essential ingredient-passion (Weintraub, 68).  Only every now and again does one stumble upon something on the street or walking through an empty corridor and serendipitously find something unique (i.e., a receipt, a movie stub, or a note) that we can fathom of a life other than our own.  That is what most of us do from childhood into adulthood.  We imagine when we’re young and as we age, we still imagine.  Yet, what we imagine is usually derived from our own neuroses and inclination to compare and contrast our lives.  Weintraub claims, “The narrative reverberates with the ache of a loveless life.  It is a reminder that the only romantic adventure in many people’s lives is contrived.  Suite Venitienne is an artistic fabrication, but it tells the true story of people whose erotic sensations depend on fantasy (Weintraub, 68).

Although entertaining to some degree, Calle also shows that identity is dichotomous because it is both private and public.  Personal information becomes public for specification and nominal purposes.  Yet, when is it permissible to utilize an identity for the sake of creating art?  Calle oversteps the boundaries and limitations of real world situations to create art work for the masses in such a way that is not too dissimilar to what celebrity writers and inquisitors have been doing for ages.  The only difference is that Calle asks the art world to examine through a different lens, universal ideas of social constructs through self-eradication (as Weintraub titles her essay on Calle’s work).  This dual nature of identity must be seen as a voyeur and she sets this up perfectly through The Notebook Man (1983).  She takes the liberty of creating an investigative report out of a found object – an address book.

Interviewing and photographing the individuals listed in Pierre D.’s address book, Calle gathered information about his professional, social, and personal life.  The results comprise an artwork that took the form of thirty installments published in the Paris daily newspaper between August and September 1983.  The newspaper setting escalated the power of this intrusion.  Art may be a fic tion, but newspaper reports are assumed to be factual (Weintraub, 69).

The use of a an address book and other people’s accounts of an individual to create a portrait and summation of an individual other than the individual themselves is what Calle tries to show may actually be the truth.  Maybe, her ability to investigate the notion of a self through others is meant to show how self-reflective others perceptions may truly be.  This is prevalent in most contemporary art.  The idea that the process and the actual searching and finding of the subject is much more interesting than a final product.  In showing us the personal and intimate moments of a stranger (even herself), Calle shows something universal, our ultimate solitary existence with the compulsion to be interconnected.  Yet, with all the trappings of modern technology, her older still remains relevant in our own examination of how we place ourselves within a community, a culture and within the global landscape.  As one reads in Weintraub’s conclusion of Sophie Calle’s work,

Today’s workplace and home life often deprive people of opportunities for human interaction.  Surveys report that social disintegration is rampant.  Community bonds are rarely established because we move frequently.  Our network of acquaintances is dominated by work, not family.  Single-person households proliferate.  Home is often a refuge from danger and not a center of congenial social exchange.  Televisions supply mealtime conversation.  Hallmark cards express our intimate communications.  The computer, bureaucracy, and the media impersonalize life.  We can dial for shrinks, sex, jokes, and horoscopes.  These are some of the causes.  Sophie Calle documents their effects (Weintraub, 70).

Works Cited

Weintraub, Linda.  Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s.  Litchfield, CT: Art’s Insights, Inc., Publishers, 1996.

Wikipedia entry for Sophie Calle

UK Guardian Article, Sophie Calle: Stalker, Stripper, Sleeper, Spy

Reference and brief description of The Sleepers on Art We Love