Emotion Studies in a Contemporary Art Debate

This research forum brings together leading artists and researchers in the field of emotion studies. Researchers/ scientists/artists and curators will debate digital artworks that primarily address emotions and autism.
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Barbara Rauch
Dee Hibbert-Jones
Heather Kapplow
Mark Palmer
Semi Ryu
Joan Truckenbrod
intraInter socialite
"Asymmetric Bodies" Video Sculpture

Chair: Prof. Barbara Rauch

Without doubt emotions are evolving as they are influenced by culture, context and behaviour. David Matsumoto (2007) elucidates these three influences on human emotion. Western and Eastern societies have witnessed change with the use of new technologies. Will our ability to read emotional expressions slowly change with the new communication systems? Might people soon no longer be able to read facial expressions? With the loss of the ability to read an emotion might come too the loss of the experience itself?

Steven Pinker (2002, p.40) stresses that emotions and behaviour always represent an “internal struggle”. It is not merely culture and society that directs human behaviour, but the mind has an innate system that generates endless possibilities to choose from.

Emotions and feelings have been studied by some important researchers in the field, including Darwin, Damasio, LeDoux, and Ekman. The discussion can now be expanded to include emotion research and emotional responses in Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, gaming industries, virtual environment studies and augmented reality systems.

This research forum brings together leading artists and researchers in the field of emotion studies. Researchers/ scientists/artists and curators will debate digital artworks that primarily address emotions and autism.

I have chosen the format of the forum over the panel to allow more debate between the speakers and the audience. A 2-3 hour time slot would be perfect. Questions raised by the panel will centre around how technologies influence emotional wellbeing.

Panelists will be asked to present a brief 15-minute position summary that will then be followed by discussion with fellow panelists, moderators, and the audience.  The focus of this panel will be more on discussion and idea sharing and less on paper reading.

Paper Abstracts

Political Emotions, Art and Affect: From Psychological Prosthetics to Living Condition

by Assoc. Prof. Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman

At a time when "politics" evokes feelings of alienation, passivity or abuse of power and perceptions are that individual needs and grievances are simply ignored, artists Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman approach visual art as a set of experiments to answer questions such as: Can hopelessness be transformed? Is there anything useful about guilt? Can anxiety fuel our desires for a better future? Can a belief in utopia be rescued and if so how? Hibbert-Jones and Talisman will present four current collaborative projects exploring the relationship between affect and political feelings in communities and in public space. Each project investigates social connectedness, emotional wellbeing, methods of coping and isolation. In Psychological Prosthetics, (“Helping You Handle Your Emotional Baggage in Political Times”) the artists utilize the persona of a corporate professional to offer a line of self-help products and services to the public.  While offering to measure insecurity, overcome anxiety, and help to literally, consume fear, the project engages the audience in discussion, critique and commentary on notions of conformity, coercion and resistance. At the other end of these experiments the artists produced Living Condition, a short animated film that explores the trauma faced by families of prisoners on death row. Collaborations with family members result in an animated short film based entirely on their stories. Each project will be presented through short video clips, images and descriptions of theoretical intent, conceptual approach, methods of execution and most importantly the responses from the public. 

The Umbrage Project 

by Heather Kapplow

Frustration is one of a small collection of emotional states that is as easily accessible in interaction with technology as it is in interaction with humans. Presented here is work-in-progress audio and video documentation of several artistic experiments, collectively called "Umbrage", that are being produced between 14 January, 2011 and 14 January, 2012. "Umbrage" is a curatorial project conceived by four Massachusetts (US) based artist-curators in subtle response to the American media’s focus on bullying in schools after a teenager from the region committed suicide (on 14 January, 2010.) Its aim is creative, critical exploration of the famous frustration-aggression theory (Dollard et al, 1939,) focusing in particular on the type of digital interfaces that are intended as an intermediary step to live customer service in commercial interactions. The frustration-aggression hypothesis’ main principal—that personal experiences of frustration are the direct cause of the kind of targeted aggressive behavior known as scapegoating—is creatively tested and observed within obviously constructed, but still familiar contexts. These works were commissioned out of an impulse to talk about the displacement of collective frustration and the recycling of aggression in the mundane activities of capitalist culture, but have begun, halfway through their duration, to become an interesting commentary on what the individual experience of frustration can teach about human-machine relationships, and where feeling lies within them.

Putting Users in the Picture: Embodiment, Affect and the Digital

by Dr. Mark Palmer

Our bodies are our primary means of knowing the world. In fact the body often reacts to events long before we perceive those changes. Similarly Damasio asserts the role of emotion as the primary means through which we engage with the world with feelings then being ‘thoughts that represent the body involved in a reactive process’.

This poses a series of questions with regards the notion of emotions ‘within’ the digital given emotion’s fundamental relationship to the body. For instance although it might be possible to emotionally react to events presented through the digital can there be an expression of that emotion beyond the immediacy of the emotions of those experiencing it? How might the body and its emotions become present within the digital? Is it possible to begin creating experiences within the digital that are capable of unpacking our reactions to events as other time based media are capable of doing rather that dwelling within the power of interactivity?

These issues will be examined through Damasio’s work on Spinoza as well as the opportunity to consider the centrality of the body through the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. These ideas will then be developed through the author’s research examining how biofeedback provides an opportunity to visualise the physiological processes that are a part of our emotions and consider whether the ‘expression’ of these emotions through these processes might in itself provide an opportunity to begin understanding our emotions through a new means.

Sensing without Sensing

by Prof. Semi Ryu

“Sensing without sensing” explores new dimension of sensorial experience shaped and suggested by virtual technology and interactive media. The core principle of "sensing without sensing" is lightening weights of actuality, in order to open the infinite space of meta realms, awakening underlying perceptive layers of our body transforming into intangible, indefinable, and spiritual. It is Korean experiential reality, continuously conflicting between actual and virtual layer: the chaotic state of neither here nor there, in a quantum state of paradox.
Sensing without sensing is a Korean ontological journey of taking off to the sky. It is quite an emotional journey, from extreme grief to joy, continuously dreaming, desiring, and eventually transcending sky. This process is based on cosmology of Sam- Tae-Guek demonstrating three basic elements and their dynamic swirling dance as a primitive eastern cosmological model before yin/yang.  Korean quantum psyche “Jung” explains the emotional aspect of swirling: nostalgic and unconditional love towards infinite oneness. Jung brings forth another cultural psyche called "Han", which is the first action of looking up to sky with extreme emotional state of grief, but with strong wish to overcome the situation almost seems impossible. Han is eventually transformed into ultimate state of playfulness called "Shin-Myeong". Finally, this journey detaches us from phenomena, returning us back to the position of looking at the sky but with no mind, which move attention from focus to horizon: finally looking at entire quantum fields of nature. The mode of sensing without sensing will be further connected to the ontological issue of the virtual body, exploring a rich meta sensorial experience of user and avatar.

intraInter socialite

by Kristin Stransky Mallinger

As part of my creative research, I have been investigating emotional interfaces, tactile methods traditionally associated with women’ work and the intersection of the social experience and technology. Garments integrate electronics seamlessly into the social experiment and create a corporeal computing experience. I am currently an MFA student at the University of Denver in the Electronic Media Arts and Design program.

I have created an Instructables.com tutorial on how to construct an emoticon jacket with LCD screen. The focus of the jacket, intraInter socialite, is to create subtexts for interpersonal human interaction. The user uses a limited "keyboard" with force sensors and buttons under soft silicone keys to create computer textual subtitles to human interaction (textual emoticons, i.e. :P). My investigation with wearable computing, particularly with this project, is an inquiry into the loss of intonation and body language that occurs at the intersection of computers and textual communication is evident in today's culture.

In this application, the effort we put into replacing the nuances of personal communication with punctuation and textual cues in the virtual realm helps subtitle and enhance (or confuse) the conversation and interaction that occurs in the physical realm. It creates a range of implied emotion from the wearer. This also introduces an imprecise control over the emoticon displayed and the perception of the emoticon in the context of the interaction. The user has the ability to change the experience of the conver- sation when they attempt to control the level of emoticon displayed. They have the choice to display reactions that they may or may not choose to portray physically. This changes who has access to this form of communication. Textual punctuation becomes its own graphically and internationally interpreted language.

Transforming the Physicality of Emotion

by Prof. Joan Truckenbrod

Where do emotions reside?  Are they the sole property of the body or do they resonate in the interstitial spaces between the material world and ephemeral realms; in invisible but palpable electronic spaces, in virtuality, in spiritual and ancestral realms in indigenous cultures?

As research develops in Affective Computing, creating computing devices that embody emotions, - recognizing, expressing, and simulating emotions in their interaction with users.  In the field of Emotion Design can we instigate spontaneous emotions?  Is there an electronic mimesis that can empathize with the user?

Inspired by the power of ritual and ceremony in indigenous cultures, in my artwork I juxtapose objects with video projection.  The object maintains a powerful reference with a cultural and social meaning, while multiple video projections intervene.  These video/multimedia installations transform the emotion embedded in the digital video, the ephemeral stream of electrons into the mimesis of the body, into spaces of memory and imagination.

Contemporary research shows that the engagement of emotions is essential for analytical and creative practice.  Historically, Marshall McLuhan advocated for kinesthetics in the activation of our sensory perception, calling for the integration of the senses.  Moholy Nagy, in his book Vision in Motion, says that we need to add emotional literacy to the development of our intellectual literacy, which includes an education of our sense, giving people the ability to articulate feelings and emotions through a means of expression.  As a multidimensional processing, transforming and communication environment, can the computed experience stimulate interactive kinesthetic emotional experiences.

Bios of the Participants

Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, working collaboratively, since 2004, engage in dialogues about power, politics and emotions. Their videos, sculpture, installation and street interventions investigate the ways individuals manage power systems and handle emotional baggage from the mundane to the extreme.

Their work has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the European Cultural Council, the Creative Work Fund and is exhibited in galleries, museums and festivals internationally. Hibbert-Jones holds an MFA, MA, and BA. She is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Talisman was born in Israel and she has an MFA from Mills College California, she works as an artist and media specialist. They both currently live in San Francisco, California.

Heather Kapplow

Heather Kapplow is a media, performance and installation artist, living in the United States. Her artistic focus is on the formal characteristics and textures of digital media, and on investigating very simple philosophical questions about the workings of daily life through performance. These investigations are generally playful, requiring audiences to be active agents in the exploration and art-creation process. Kapplow’s video projects are of low resolution and short. Her work has received government and private grants, and has been included in film and performance festivals in the US, Finland, and China. She also engages in curatorial work/runs an artist residency program with a collective known as the Berwick Research Institute. Professionally, Kapplow works full time in public television as managing editor for a website that showcases the work of emerging documentary filmmakers.

Mark Palmer

Mark Palmer’s research focuses on new the use of games and multi-user virtual systems to examine issues of affect and embodiment. Current projects include research into the development of tools to describe body image in conditions such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, the development of interfaces to pain management tools and the use of biofeedback in games. He is undertaking this work at the University of the West of England where he also teaches Games Technology in the department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies. He is presently a member of the editorial board for Digital Creativity and previous positions have included an AHRC Research Fellowship at Staffordshire University and a New Technology Arts Fellowship at the University of Cambridge.

Barbara Rauch

Dr. Barbara Rauch is an artist practitioner, researcher and academic scholar with a fulltime position at OCAD University. She has been Assistant Professor in Graphics, Animation and Visualization with the Digital Futures Initiative (DFI) since September 2009. Her expertise encompasses the theory, history and research of digital art at international levels, together with the discourses of professional practice in contemporary site-specific installations and with a particular focus on cross-disciplinary art projects. In May 2011 she accepted the position as Graduate Program Director for the Interdisciplinary Master's in Art, Media and Design at OCAD University.

Semi Ryu

Semi Ryu received her BFA from the Korean National University of Arts and an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She is an associate professor in the Department of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ryu is a media artist who specializes in experimental 3D animations and virtual puppetry, based on Korean shamanism and oral tradition of storytelling. Her works have been widely presented in exhibitions and performances in more than 15 countries, and her academic papers, which have focused on the ritualization of interactive media, have been published in international journals and conferences. Her virtual puppetry was recently performed at Chelsea Art Museum, New York. She is currently writing a chapter for the book “Point of Being” (editor: Derrick de Kerkhove,) and is a senior advisor for the project “Avatars for virtual heritage”, funded by the Nationial Endowment for the Humanities.

Stransky Mallinger

Stransky Mallinger is a native of the greater Cleveland, Ohio area.  Her Slovenian heritage is an important influence.   It is responsible for her interest in tactile media, particularly mediums associated with “women’s work.”  She is currently a MFA student at the University of Denver in the Electronic Media Arts and Design program.  She completed her BFA with a concentration in Sculpture.  The digital media program was in its inception and Kristin’s work electronic forms served as a guinea pig for a blossoming program.  Kristin currently works in eTextiles, web content and video, all within the context of installation.  Her interests include the potential conflict that exists between the personal/internal and the external spheres in which we all operate, social interaction, gender socialization and gendered cultural expectations.

Joan Truckenbrod

Prof. Joan Truckenbrod is a digital artist who has exhibited her artwork internationally in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago and Sydney, Australia.  Recently her “Video Sculpture” was exhibited in a one-person show at Rockford Art Museum. This artwork tangles the cultural meaning of objects with the narrative energy of video projection.   Her artwork was featured in the September 2007 issue of Sculpture  Magazine in an article by Chicago art critic Polly Ullrich.  Ms Ullrich also wrote as essay for a book published by Telos titled Portfolio Collection:  Joan Truckenbrod.  Ms. Truckenbrod has a long history of working with digital media beginning, early in the history of computer electronic art, creating drawings and digital paintings.