Marshall McLuhan laid a groundwork for thinking about the sensory affordances of technology in
terms of a theory of sense ratios. Every device allows certain senses to thrive while others are
pushed into the background. It has been said that our western culture is primarily visual, a tradition
that can be traced to the emphasis on objectivism and analysis at a distance of the Enlightenment
and Renaissance eras, but even farther back to the invention of the alphabet and literacy during
the time of Plato. Prior to literacy human culture was oral – information and ideas existed through
the mediums of stories and memory. More importantly, oral culture was not abstract. The world of
stories was situated, experience was lived.
Walter Ong describes the era we live in now as a “secondary orality”, a time where oral culture is
subservient to the written word and itʼs many manifestations (we could include computer code,
hypertext and digital telecommunications amongst these). But could technologies, instead of
enforcing a visual-symbolic understanding of the world, be used to create a world-experience that
is intensely subjective and situated?
This question led me to search for mediums that would allow me to create such radical devices. I
came across the work of Thomas Zimmerman, who as a student at MIT in the mid-90ʼs developed
a technique for transmitting information-carrying signals through the human body. This technique,
he proposed, would introduce a new era of humanist telecommunications technology, where
information would fuse with the body and touch would become a primary mode of mediated
communication. The utopianism of Zimmermanʼs vision is irresistable, and the technique itself,
while deemed error-prone and impractical for use in consumer technology, holds huge potential as
a technique for creating artworks that emphasize touch and bodily awareness. In late 2013 while
working on an early sketch of what would later become Satellite Skin, I had the good fortune to
meet Zimmerman in Amsterdam. He was enthusiastic about my work and is eager to developing a
working relationship around the artistic exploration of his inventions.
Satellite Skin is my most recent work and the first outcome from my research into creating hypovisual
experiences and technologies of lived experience. It is a performance for two dancers
entangled within an acoustic feedback loop that is transmitted through their bodies (intra-body
electrical signals) and through the space (acoustic sound signals). The performance itself explores
the tensions of space – the larger acoustic space around the dancers which has great effect on the
qualities of the feedback loop, and the intimate space that exists between the dancers. The work is
in a way Voyeuristic, but sensitive and fragile.
Like human affairs, technology is often presented under the mask of perfection but in reality can be
erroful, fragile and even vulnerable – carrying with it unique desires and personal cosmologies.
Satellite Skin reflects this spirit.
Most recently I have put great effort into developing the stage apparatus into an installation that
can be enjoyed by an audience in any space. The stage allows visitors the opportunity to touch
one another playfully within the context of a gallery space. This installation version of Satellite Skin
is on display at Kunstruimte TETEM until Nov 15th of this year.
This work trajectory is only beginning to bear fruit yet already shows such potential. As part of my
work plan over the coming year I wish to work further with dancers and the scale of the stage
environment to experiment with both technique and poetics. I would also like to explore new forms
of entanglement between sound, space and the body through different forms – such as with worn
devices and larger scale immersive installations. Tom Zimmerman is also eager to work with me in
the future to assist with the technical side of these explorations.