Over the past ten years, SWAMP (Studies of Work Atmosphere and Mass Production) has created a body of work that examines various socio-political phenomena. While we have experimented with a wide array of media, a certain subset of our studio practice we have defined as inverse biotelemetry. Coordinating data mining with physical computing, inverse biotelemetry has been a supervenient discovery in forming a meta-narrative for our research. In essence, inverse biotelemetry has clarified our observations regarding the effects of metahuman systems upon the individual person; systems such as: automobile-centric urban planning, big box retail, and the military-industrial complex.
Meta-human systems relate to demography, not the individual. For instance, thousands of individuals, both civilian and military, have been killed during the US occupation of Iraq. Many of these deaths are the result of the US military having little regard for individual Iraqi civilians or US soldiers. And while the news media (another meta-human structure) reflects on these events, it is out of an interest for the spectacle and the story being generated. As a result, an ambushed convoy receives the same design consideration on a web page as an announcement that Britney Spears is pregnant – diminishing the individual presence of the event.
Improvised Empathetic Device (2006-present) is one of many SWAMP projects that employ inverse biotelemetry to comment on this phenomenon. With IED, custom software monitors a database that tracks how many US soldiers have died in the Iraq war. Whenever a change is detected, a signal is sent to the IED armband housing a receiver and customized electronics. The signal actuates a mechanized needle for each newly detected casualty, inflicting a painful prick into the wearers arm. The armband, like other inverse biotelemetry objects, acts as a transducer, interpreting and exchanging data between the realms of computers, meta-human activity, and individuals.
- Douglas Easterly, School of Design, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
- Matthew Kenyon, School of Visual Arts, Penn State, State College, Pennsylvania, USA
Full text (PDF) p. 162-164