Panel: SENSORIUM: Interdisciplinary Practices of Embodiment and Technology
The word medium and its cognates, such as media and mediation, have a strangely double aspect. On the one hand, a medium acts as an enabler, as a bridge, connecting things that might otherwise be completely disjoint. On the other hand, a medium is something that palpably stands between. Mediated experience is always second-hand; mediated experience is, by definition, not immediate. Even air as a medium through which we apprehend the World distorts. Worry about this led David Hockney, for example, in the late-eighties, to prefer photocopiers to cameras as he felt that the images produced by the latter were largely pictures of the air between the camera and the subject. The technologies of what might be called new or digital or interactive media have been intense cases of this doubleness, but this may change. In 2002, researchers at the Touch Lab at MIT shook hands across the Atlantic with researchers at University College, London. They shook hands using a fast computer connection, pressure sensors and actuators. That handshake may well herald a new era in communication across the Internet and could also be the harbinger of new ways in which we experience other people and objects through technological mediation. This change is much more fundamental than simply adding one more sense, arguably a relatively minor one at that, to the array of senses with which we interact with computers. Touch is very different from the senses-vision and audition-that, up to now, have been almost the sole ways of accessing the world through computing technology. The difference is bound up with the notion of distance and mediation. The things we see and the things we hear, even when not apprehended through machines, are almost always at some remove from us, mediated at least by air; the things we feel are things that are in contact with us, things that are touching us as we touch them. Once immediate senses-like touch and taste-are added to the engagement with computers, the experience becomes manifestly more immediate, more participatory, more part of a real world. As Steven Connor points out, in his article “The Menagerie of the Senses” (The Senses and Society, 2006) spiders are the one animal that routinely feels things at a distance (Conners, 2004). Spiders do this, fittingly, by feeling things on the far corners of their webs. In this paper I discuss possible future technologies and the kinds of engagements with a range of practices they enable, referring to Ludwig van Bertalanffy notions in Robots, Men and Minds (1967) with respect to arguing for a complex system of components in interaction towards fluid bodies and mental energy.
- Janis Jefferies is an artist, writer and curator, Professor of Visual Arts at the Department of Computing, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, Director of the Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles and Artistic Director of Goldsmiths Digital Studios. In the last five years she has been working on technologically based arts, including Woven Sound (with Dr. Tim Blackwell) and has been a principal investigator on projects involving new haptics technologies (with the goal of bringing the sense of touch to the interface between people and machines) and generative software systems for creating and interpreting cultural artefacts, museums and the external environment. She is an associate researcher with Hexagram (Institute of Media, Arts and Technologies, Montreal, Canada) on two projects, electronic textiles and new forms of media communication in cloth. She currently holds a Crafts Council Spark Plug curating award for a project that seeks to examine the creative and dynamic relationship between mathematics, mathematical forms and craft through an exploration of a particular maths and textile archive, called Common Threads. Key publications include, “Laboured Cloth: Translations of Hybridity in Contemporary Art”, in The Object of Labor: Art, Cloth, and Cultural Production, edited by Joan Livingston and John Ploof , and published by The Art School of the Art Institute of Chicago/MIT Press in 2007, and “Contemporary Textiles: the Art Fabric” in Contemporary Textiles: The Fabric of Fine Art, Black Dog publishing, 2008. Her essay, “Loving Attention: An outburst of Craft in Contemporary Art” will be part of the forthcoming anthology Extra/ordinary: Craft Culture and Contemporary Art (forthcoming, Duke University Press and edited by Dr. Maria Elena Buszek). Recent publications in 2010 include ‘The Artist as Researcher in a Computer Mediated Culture’, in Art Practices in a Digital Culture, eds. Gardiner and Gere, Ashsgate Publishing. She is co-editor of the volume Interfaces of Performance (Ashgate, 2009).
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