Body and the Digital Space

Digital Performance in Networked Public Spaces: Situating the Posthuman Subject by Marcos Pereira Dias/ The Fluctuating Border between Architecture and the Body in Shiver by Colleen Karen Ludwig/ Vessels for infinite veracity: theatre machines and the body by Nancy Mauro-Flude/ Flying, Spinning, and Breaking Apart: Live Video Processing and the Altered Self by Todd Winkler/ The Eyes that Stop the Trains by Iona Pelovska/ That strange feeling by Ian Haig
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
Banu Pekol
Marcos Dias
Colleen Ludwig
Nancy Mauro-Flude
Todd Winkler
Iona Pelovska
Ian Haig

Digital Performance in Networked Public Spaces: Situating the Posthuman Subject

by Marcos Pereira Dias

In The Metropolis and Mental Life, George Simmel exposed the objectification of life through the rationalisation of the metropolitan life at the start of the twentieth century, arguing that "modern mind has become more and more calculating" and the world becomes an "arithmetic problem" (Wolff 1950: 412). Similar arguments sustained the cybernetic construction of the posthuman subject throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century. Advances in computational power and the increased importance of information flows over physical space fuelled visions of a posthuman subject free from the constraints of embodiment and of a revitalised public space in a virtual environment.

Katherine Hayles refuted these visions in How We Became Posthuman, arguing that, rather than downplaying or erasing embodiment, we should embrace a posthuman vision where the possibilities of information technologies do not succumb to the rhetoric of unlimited power and disembodied information. She also reminded us that “human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity”. (Hayles 1999: 5).

Digital performances in networked public spaces foreground the embodied posthuman subject envisioned by Hayles. The term digital performance encompasses works where both embodiment and electronic flows converge, while networked public spaces bring together (private and public) urban and electronic flows. These performances have generated high hopes of both a revival of the public sphere and of public space.

I argue that we must test these assumptions by situating the posthuman subject’s participation and engagement in digital performances through their own prior experiences of networked public spaces and their engagement with everyday media according to their specific social and cultural contexts. In the relationship between digital performance and posthuman subject, collaboration becomes an important feature, especially when previously inaccessible and expensive technologies used in the past by digital performances are incorporated into our everyday technology devices, such as mobile phones and videogame consoles.


Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Wolff, Kurt H. (1950) The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: The Free Press.

The Fluctuating Border between Architecture and the Body in Shiver

by Colleen Karen Ludwig

I created the artwork Shiver to poetically talk about my ideas concerning the relationship between architectural and bodily space in creating a sense of the self.  In this paper, I will review my theoretical research and discuss how that research informed technical decisions I made in designing Shiver.

 Shiver is an immersive, interactive environment.  The title refers to the chill or slight tickle felt on the skin if activated by light touch or closeness.  Upon entering the artwork, visitors initiate trickling flows of water.  These cling to, and seek paths along, the walls’ minor topographies.  A sensor matrix tracks the direction and speed of people’s movement in the room.  The information is used to move the curvy, crawling water rivulets along the wall’s surface.  The reaction of the water flows gently bring visitors into a conversation with the artwork, encouraging them to move slowly and change perspectives in order to cause the room to react.

 Skin is used as a mechanism and a metaphor for shifting boundaries between self and space.    My premise is that there are fluctuating borders between body and space. Our skin encases the viscera of our physical body. Our senses extend that border beyond our corporeal selves.  Skin is incredibly sensitive and helps us gauge the size and ambiance of space.  Boundaries between the self and space shift with psychological, physiological and environmental fluctuations.  Various organic elements in my installations, such as wind, water, heat, light and motion, serve to create subtle shifts of air movement, humidity, temperature and vision to activate the body surface and bring it into direct relationship with its environment. 

 Through activating the skin, a connection between our inner and outer ecosystems is made palpable.

Vessels for infinite veracity: theatre machines and the body

by Nancy Mauro-Flude

The everyday silent conversation that we carry on when perceiving with our proprioceptive facilities, is it a continuous ideokinetic dialogue, for instance, when the hand readily navigates the space between the fingers and the keys on the computer?

The complexities of culture shape the individual, the ongoing interchange between the body and the machinic & humanoid entities that surround it can be seen as a form of an expanded software script. Both the internal patterns and habitus which illuminate the body's lived experience and the designs of information systems are to a large extent shaped by cultural, political and economic interests. Transferring information into systems and managing machine language communication is a learnt practice and ritual that one has to monitor, just as there are idiokinetic techniques that are often used for longevity and kinetic practices used to imagine ones own self, as a vessel of infinite veracity. I reflect upon the internal micro choices and actions our automated nervous system performs every moment of our living existence, which plays a large part of the instrumental process of learning a new set of movements, tools or even machine operation for managing processes.

Recent developments in nanotechnology, virtual world simulation and high-definition industry standards, for the most part, conjure up a strange sort of vanity based on form and surface, which becomes more and more removed from embodied human complexity and requires virtually no interaction or maintenance from the user.

We experience our world as fabric woven together out of inextricable sensory threads, not as individual sensory media, nor as individual data. The human form is ephemeral, not concrete and never quite what we think, I ask what this all means for daily modes of engagement and embodiment with an electronic medium whilst referring historically to how objects, props and machines have long been emblematic of deception, trickery, charlatanism and healing (often combined) in many cultures.

Flying, Spinning, and Breaking Apart: Live Video Processing and the Altered Self

by Todd Winkler

As realtime video representation of the body becomes more and more common through video chat and smartphones, some people will want to exert creative control over their image. And although the video image is wholly constructed with digital data, and therefore capable of infinite manipulation, it is tethered to a live human being. No matter how abstract the image may become, its gestures are not that of an algorithm, but a spontaneously acting person – the language/expression of a moving, sensing body.

This paper draws upon examples from the past ten years of the author’s creative work in multimedia dance and interactive installation to examine the experience of live video processing and the body. In these works, scale is important - all of the projections are approximately life size to act as a mirror to reflect back the viewers’ movements. Whole body movements are also important – the viewer or dancer is fully engaged with freedom of movement, a sense of balance, and kinesthetic response. These works show a translation from the physical to the digital, a common theme in digital media research. However, what is most interesting is the feedback loop back: the digital image alters both human movement and sensation, which, in turn, alters the processed image. Viewers tend to imitate their altered image, finding a limited repertoire of movements that “resonate” with their digital double.

How do these processed images add new knowledge of our selves? How do we “feel” when observing our bodies extended, warped, colored or delayed in time? How are group dynamics affected when people find themselves interacting with others in the same altered world? Just as a distorted guitar effect adds new harmonic content to a plucked string, altering its expression with tremendous weight and power, video processing adds new information, changing the meaning and perception of our own image.

The Eyes that Stop the Trains: Time, Movement and Agency in Moving Image Technologies

by Iona Pelovska

The cinematic moving image arrested viewers' bodies while immersing their minds in a projected reality. Interactivity has promised to re-integrate the body in the experience of the technologically rendered moving image. From lenticular animation to movement capture technologies, lately popularized by Kinect, interactivity has come a long way.

Departing from a Heideggerian understanding of new technologies, this paper examines ways viwers bodies have been disciplined and mobilized by moving image technologies. Informed by the art practice of the author, the paper focuses its theoretical lens on the experience of movement and vision as mediated by analog and digital media.

That strange feeling

by Ian Haig

That strange feeling,

20 min paper, Ian Haig

I plan to present a paper on how different kinds of technologies can evoke the uncanny, while tracing the emergence of electricity as a kind of uncanny phenomena to more contemporary instances of the technological uncanny in the work of various artists and other assorted pop cultural references.

The uncanny as defined by Freud is that which is uncomfortably strange finds a special kind of resonance when combined with various kinds of technological media.

Perhaps one of the most striking and memorable experiences of the technological uncanny, occurred on a personal level on visiting an exhibition with my at the time  one year old daughter featuring the work of artist Tony Oursler. On entering the  darkened room and upon seeing one of Oursler’s familiar ‘electronic effigies’ of projected video onto a small mannequin, all was calm as both myself and my young daughter contemplated Oursler’s piece. However once the video started to move and talk, my daughter let out a blood curdling scream of sheer terror, which I haven’t witnessed since. Clearly she was disturbed by what she believed to be an inanimate object ie: a doll, suddenly come to life, however the uncanny effect was more so seeing her react in such an extreme and distressing  way, as if she herself was possessed.

Such an episode recalls Freud’s notion of epileptic seizures  and of madness having their origin in the uncanny, of the body being momentarily taken over  or possessed. Indeed the middle ages saw  such behaviors as ascribed to demonic influences.