The Thinking Through The Body (ArtLab’08) project is about exploring what a human-centred approach to body-focussed interactive art could be.
We have explored a combination of methodologies drawn from the fields of Human-Centred Design, Pragmatist Aesthetics, and Somatic Bodywork Therapy.
All three disciplines take bodily experience as a starting point for their practice, yet all three have particular and bounded areas of knowledge which are complimentary to one another.
How the body is structured – as lived experience and observed spectacle – through the various interactions we provide as artists, designers and therapist/bodyworkers is of vital concern to each member of the Thinking Through The Body research group.
By ‘human-centred’ we refer to a way of working with technology and the body that evaluates a work’s success on the basis of the range of actual lived experiences – in contrast to what might be termed ‘technology-centred’ approaches where the primary goal is to develop or propose new technological capabilities (i.e. a camera to track body movements, a sensor to measure muscle activity etc.).
By ‘body-focussed interactive art’ we are referring to participatory artworks that sense and reflect back the physical/physiological dynamics of the person interacting with the work (i.e. muscle tone, heart rate, limb movement etc.) – we create situations and interfaces that draw attention to people’s felt sense of themselves.
This focus on the processes by which we locate and define our selves (as bodies) in space and time – has led to a special interest in kineasthesia and proprioception, and the sensations of touch, pressure and balance from which these perceptions are assembled from.
Human-Centred Design methodologies provide us with ways to think about and evaluate the interactive systems we design, from the perspectives of the people who are likely to be interacting with our work. These perspectives are particularly important for interactive systems – that depend on the motivations and abilities of the people using them – to achieve their intended goal.
Pragmatist Aesthetics, a field first proposed by the American Pragmatist Philosopher John Dewey describes an approach to the evaluation of art based on the idea of ‘art-as-experience’: art as a process of interaction and unfolding that takes place between artist, artwork and audience. Instead of thinking about art works as discreet, autonomous objects defined by their situation in specialized art institutions, Dewey proposed we consider art in terms of the work it does – it’s effects on the lives of the people who interact with it…
We draw on the methodologies somatic bodywork as a way to approach the potential of touch, movement and proprioception – a way to move beyond gross manipulations toward a more focused form of interaction, based on how these sensations can inform our sense of ourselves in the world.
The term ‘somatic bodywork’ describes a wide range of psychotherapeutic approaches used to assist in the treatment of a variety of movement and posture related issues – ranging from back, neck or shoulder pain, to training to improve performance. Instead of ‘treating’ the body as a passive material to be kneaded into shape or physically re-alligned – somatic bodywork approaches like the Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique and Body-Mind Centering address the subconscious sensori-motor skill learnings that cause these conditions. Subtle sensations of touch and movement are provided as information to the client, in such a way as to support the formation of new more efficient musculo-skeletal coordination.
The learnings that take place in somatic bodywork sessions can often reach far beyond the alleviation of specific pains or learning of new movement skills – leading to broader attitudinal shifts in ones approach to issues (and aesthetic) of creativity, risk and appropriate effort to name but a few.