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By: Tina Gonsalves
The Chameleon project is built over ten prototypes (2008-2010) with a cross disciplinary group of an artist, social neuroscientist, emotion neuroscientist, affective computer scientists, technologists, human computer interaction scientists and a curator. The project investigates the scientific foundations of emotional contagion. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England, Australia Arts Council, ANAT, Lighthouse, UCL, MIT Media Lab, Solent University and SCAN.
# 56 [27 August 2009]
JANE MCGRATH MA DIGITAL MEDIA ARTS
After a few weeks away I am trying to connect back with the project, its interesting to be so deeply emotionally and intellectually engaged and focused then experience a sudden rupture and complete shift of perspective.
I am about to start writing the introduction to my dissertation and I suppose it feels llke its the beginning of a Harvest Festival, the collection of the fruits of my labour and a proud introduction of all that I have learnt. But what have I learnt and what do I know now that I did not know before the summer, before the residency with Tina?
I know that I am not very good at articulating my research question, that I stumble and fall about over my words. I know that the most exciting conversations I have had about my research question have been focused on the tiny observations, on pauses and moments, conversations that have dissected the unique moments involved in the experience of interaction with the project.
It is clear that the things that work and the things that don't are as deep and rewarding for research purposes - with a rich mine of information located in both areas. I am really excited that potentially the project offers a great wealth of knowledge and research for me to get my teeth into - it is a unique opportunity. But I need to keep things simple and focused and Im not there yet, this Bank Holiday is set aside for major writing session - dawn - dusk, for pulling in, harvesting.
When I am clear structurally about how The Chameleon Project will support my question I will prepare a series of further research questions to ask Tina. I will also no doubt need to ask permission to dig deeper with others who were researching and developing alongside. Crucially I want to make sure that my questions are the right ones in context of my own research area and that as a result my dissertation adds value to the project not just duplicates and regurgitates.
But I'm frightened sometimes and panicked that my research might all fall through my fingers, that my question is weak and irrelevant to the project. I have mad moments when I think how did I get here and why am I asking that? Why am I fascinated with powerlessness and empowerment and liminal spaces? But when I consider my younger life and time spent in a women's refuge and in courts fighting to be free from living in fear my inspirartion is evident.
So other days I am bold, confident and excited - look I'm doing an MA - me!!
I have a unique opportunity to do some fascinating work and to explore empowerment as an artist. So, now is the time to start bringing it all together - I have butterflies...but I know what a precious thing it is to feel so alive, so free and so empowered.
# 55 [24 August 2009]
Its the 24th, August. The ending of the Lighthouse Residency was nearly ten days ago - and it feels like a life time ago. Incredibly busy time, which lead to the next stage of the work - implementing prototype 08. The week in London was spent in meetings. I spent a day down at Southampton with the Rapid Prototyping lab - moving closer in on a more final iteration of the screens. I flew up to Edinburgh on Wednesday to look at In space for a potential show next year. I have started to prepare for the amsterdam show at ACII which is in 20 days. I have decided not to go to ISEA. I am preparing for the show at Fabrica - re-looking at all footage - edit points - trying to get the interaction worked out - trying to get the video engine ready. We need to buy four more computers - they need to be prepared.
I spent a day trying to organise all travel for the states/Uk/ and all the australian exhibitions/meetings.
Anyway, i will come back to this when I have had a bit more time to reflect and take a breath.
# 54 [24 August 2009]
Natacha Roussel/experientiae electricae.
While Pixy was a large part of the residency, I had no time to write on this blog,since I was up to now caught by all the manual work that is implied by so called "physical computing", ie building and testing Pixy has caught a large amount of my time at Lighthouse.
However I feel I should at least upload a closure comment.
Building Pixy for Chameleon was quite a challenge, the aim was to get as much possible from Tina's footage, all those expressions she has documented. At scratch Pixy is about percetion and deconstructing the image keeping only the necessary information to allow recognition, most of the time this occurs when movement happens, the in between is the trigger.
For chameleon, the aim was to allow identification and communicate emotions that normally happen through slights tranformations of faces.
Pursuing that goal I spent a large part of the residency putting up one pixel after the other of the double sized pixy that we all thought was needed to get as much possible from Tina's footage. As Tina and Lighthouse had gathered a great team, we managed to do a quite fine and precise job.
In the basement of lighthouse, We got to enjoy an the most sculptural and detailled Pixy ever built. It gave rise to some amzing images of faces deconstructed in space. However as conflicts clearly emerged between the aims of the two projects both technologically and content wise, I still think this residency was a unique occasion to experiement with such a great team.
# 53 [16 August 2009]
The talk went well on Saturday - more time dedicated to discussion than anything else. We ended up at the pub afterwards for a few hours. We then made our way back to london. We were carrying all baby stuff, 5 computers, 10 cameras, all cords, keyboards, all clothes. We had to get a cab from Victoria.
So, Monday morning and we are back in our flat in London. Yesterday was spent sleeping, reading papers, going to Coram's field park with Pablo. He could have spent the whole day on the swing if he had his way. Matthew, my husband, cooked an incredible dinner and desert which left us asleep on the couch pretty early. Oh my god, I can't explain how good dinner was after a quite a few nights last week eating what ever was about to fill me up. Pablo sort of shifted back into his normal routine - big night sleep, morning sleep and day sleep. He seems happy to be back in London.
A lovely chill out day after two weeks of intense activity.
Its always a funny feeling leaving a residency. You have intense times where your work foregrounds everything. Ofcourse, its not enough time, so things are sort of panicked. Over the two weeks, i tried not to think about any other projects, any other administration that was needed. Matthew was looking after Pablo and every other part of my life. I just thought about Chameleon. and now you re-adjust into normal life. Its a bit strange to get your head around. I still need a lot more time to think about everything, and make a list of all the points that were working for me, and all of the things to leave behind.
Natacha was supposed to come to London and stay for the night, but she found a bus to Stansted. She rang to thank me for the experience. It was both great and challenging for everyone. Its not an easy thing to get up and leave your family for two weeks like Natacha just did. I find I am still at a place with Pablo that I can't leave him over night - but i will start to soon. Its a bit crazy dragging your family everywhere, but in some ways it makes it easier. I can just relax and work instead of thinking that all I want to do is go home and see how pablo is. Matt and Pablo are still enjoying it. When we all find it too difficult - it will stop.
# 52 [15 August 2009]
I have written up todays talk, but I am trying to keep it short - and mostly concentrate on the process of our residency here at Lighthouse. There are lots of pics in this presentation, more like a big scrap book. I have tried to keep pretty aware of documenting the process of this residency. Just so when I have more time, I can go back and reflect on what worked , what didn't, what took the most time, what was easy, what were we talking about, what were we thinking about? It really informs my practice. This residency was 2 weeks, but the amount of work that was pushed through was much more.
Its been a pretty intense time but really wonderful as well. The basement of Lighthouse has become a big contagion soup. Many ideas, emotions floating about infecting each other to a video soundtrack of people emoting. It been dark in here, while sunny outside. The screens are running heaps of electricity through them making it all more intense. Its been hard and also fun for everyone. But we all tired now... Natacha heads back to Paris in the morning - 6am from stansted.. not fun.. she heads back to her family... michael is going to deal with the pack up of Pixy. My husband Matthew is packing up the house we have been staying at (thankyou david and rachael!), getting my son pablo few toys, cots, and all together. And then later tonight we will head up to London.
Its been fantastic to have Jane McGrath in - I think she has found the time valuable. Karl was great - great insight, great chats.
I am sure we will all be glad when we start packing up tonight.
I am trying to structure todays talk so we can concentrate on discussion - 40 minutes talk or less - 30 minutes discussion. Phil fro Lighthouse is going to video tape it. I wish I had some automatic transcriber.
# 51 [15 August 2009]
its 1.30 pm, and all is quiet in the basement of Lighthouse. Ofcourse, Micheal Roy from experentia Electricia hasn't slept - he spent the night here working away. I am not sure how many nights he hasn't slept for. He tells me not to worry about it.
We saw the first bits of light to go through the second display - still no video yet. Jeff Mann sent another patch so we can run the two screens from the one display. I still haven't tested it yet as I am waiting for the second display. I can't wait to see it as the first time we saw it - it looked fantastic - brighter and more tones. Interestingly, it hung more as a curtain, which sort of soften it - I feel for Pixy to have worked with Chameleon we would have needed some diffusion - it felt to 'pixel' which is what natacha loves - but for Chameleon, it didn't quite work. Looking back, we needed much more time to come to a better solution for how the projects met/integrated. We got the software integration, but that was about it. Its been interesting to collaborate - but the problem was that the collaboration came in from two projects at different stages with different needs. Maybe we just never got that meeting point right for those reasons.
Phillip Carr from Fabrica came in today to interview me for a small film to run on the TV at Fabrica. Its hard to contain something into 3 minutes. We tried.
Harry Witchell and Carina Westling came over last night for a bit of a chat. Harry Witchel is research the science of the body and its language. I am hoping Harry might come to the talk today so I can get him into a discussion about body language and mimicry. Carina does some interesting work in performance
When I was last in Brighton the HCI group interviewed Carina and her response to one of the protraits. "I was just feeling the shape of that person and how they are to be near, and whether is a soft or hard surface. Whether its one way or two way, whether they are coming out towards me, or whether there is an interface or give and take. And that’s kinda the empathy bit. And I think with the ‘actory two’ its sort of a shiny sort of surface. It doesn’t allow any sort of pushing in. With the other one (susan) there is more a sense of a soft/open ended territory between the two people, me being one of them. It feels like there a sort of tentative listening. Which I guess is the empathy".
# 50 [15 August 2009]
JANE MCGRATH MA DIGITAL MEDIA ARTS
I am participating in the Chameleon project as part of larger research for my MA dissertation. I can see so much potential material in the project, when you explore it on a micro level it’s so deep - such a rich area of knowledge embedded in one place. As I am typing away I’m thinking more and more of just how much learning will come out of the project for me. I am becoming more and more convinced that using just this one project as a basis for my dissertation question will be enough to write a PHD let alone an MA. I wasnt expecting that.
Firstly there is the excitement of a live Arts / Science Collaboration – just quickly running through the people whose work I have seen, whom I have personally met or simply heard talk on the project - Tina, MIT, UCL, Gordon from Solent Rapid Prototyping Lab, neuroscientists, Carl a sociologist, Helen Soane, Experientae Electricae not forgetting Lighthouse, Fabrica and Incubator. No wonder Im so excited - its like a term of study crammed into two weeks.
Also in view of my personal research I have been involved and so can be subjective as well as objective which is a great. But I need to keep asking my self - how does it relate to me question about using new technology to construct liminal spaces? And where does my question of powerlessness/emowerment come in, in fact I keep asking my self - does it?
After a really helpful chat with Carl on the train home, I need to define for me what exactly a liminal space is –I need to (re)read Victor Turner and Van Gennep, I do love the Betwixt and Between notion and the notion of pure potentiality. I find that betwixt and between situated in Tinas work – in human emotion, in technology. The potentiality is an area of further research and Natasha from EE was explaining to me the Deleuzian concept of potentiality. Very valuable and helpful.
Carl had a very important question when he asked me how constructing an experience where I wanted to control the outcome of an experience – ie powerlessness – to empowerment could create a liminal space because there was no option for pure potentiality because the outcome was predefined.
Thinking aout loud I had said that althouh the destination would be set – ie point A – B each person would have a different potential subjective experience, a different journey where emotionally and intellectually anything could happen. That the emotional end point could be a very different experience for the user.
Carl has some excellent advice that was that it would be beneficial to take the meaning of liminality back to its original meaning (Turner, Van Gennep) and use this as the structure on which to base the ‘liminal’ . So much could be seen as liminal and the question would always be are they ‘truly liminal’ spaces or just thresholds.
# 49 [14 August 2009]
JANE MCGRATH MA DIGITAL MEDIA ARTS
My experience has been very exciting, there is something wonderful about the meeting of many creative minds in one space, the ability to move from room to room and engage in or simply listen in on very exciting convestations.
At moments these are practcal, relating to producing screens, sizes, cameras and tracking onto deeper matters of engagement and interaction ....then back to the process of rapid prototyping - in its self something that sends my mind into a spin!
Move on and Micahel is sitting in the corner working dilligently on his pixy boards as a scientist who is visiting the work is discussing his theory on how the electrronics are working with his friend .. Carl is discussing the context of the engagement process to The Shyness Project..Tina is introducing new arrivals to the work.
People are engaging both with the work and with each other. There is a dynamic contagious energy that circulates within the space ... just like the movement across the Pixy... or the movement of emotions between screen, software and the viewer -it bursts forward and retracts depending on who is where ...you can almost touch it and feel it... this residency seems to me to be a constant process of becomming - of pushing forward, of change. Not only is the work it self pushing forward but it is pushing outwards and affecting the visitors.. all of this played out to a sound track of the works pre recorded emotions...laughter and whooping, crying and long bitter accusations. Its a very emotive space.
So for me the 'experience' starts as soon as you reach the bottom of the stairs and will not end until you close the main door on the way out. The emotions are so strong that they can not fail to affect you, your mood can not fail to be changed.
There is definately a move from emotion A to emotion B - I feel that there is a very hoilistic kind of contagion going on. Whether this comes from interaction with the work or interaction with the people or the process seems somehow irrelevant.
I believe that if you stand back and take a longer perspective on the residency at Lighthouse as a live installation, a piece of work in it self - it has the fingerprints of real time emotional contagion all over it.
A case of process immitating art?
# 48 [14 August 2009]
And the now we are nearing the end of a residency. I feel sad that this is the end of something, but also aware that I need a lot of time to reflect about it all.
Now how to go ahead with Fabrica. We are either talking about a two screen option or six screens. Micheal and Matthew from Fabrica are heading toward the six screen and Helen is heading toward a two screen version. We are all aware that it opens in six weeks.
For a six to eight screen version to work I need a lot of projectors. I need to work on the interaction. I need to finish the screens with Gordon. Its a major install. I can see Michael is apprehensive of the hang. I am worried that Fabrica is so big it would completely over shadow the work.
Helen believes the use of the two larger screens rather than several smaller screens will facilitate a more sustained immersive experience for the viewer for several reasons:
The aim will be to have two large screens/projections facing each other across the gallery with the visitor driving the emotional dialogue between the two. During the residency at Lighthouse we have discovered that the camera and other technology necessary for operating ‘mind reader’ have frequently been a source of distraction for visitors, thus preventing a prolonged and immersive experience with Chameleon. The use of two larger screens will demand more sustained attention, and will lead to visitors focusing upon the two screens/film projections for a longer period of time, and therefore enabling a more qualitatively rich experience of emotional contagion. Importantly allowing visitors greater opportunity to register their own affects upon the exhibit and the overall affective quality of the gallery space. This latter point is of key significance as the exhibit sets out to foreground emotional contagion for the visitor not only through their interactions with Chameleon, but also through the overall production of a profoundly affective gallery space. The size of the screens/projections and their capacity to display film at such a scale will be another of way of producing and communicating the affective intensity of the exhibit –the sheer volume of their presence will be emotionally ‘demanding’ and hopefully overwhelming to the extent that in this context the technology itself takes second stage.
# 47 [14 August 2009]
I came to a conclusion yesterday that we shouldn't progress with Pixy with the Chameleon Project. It wasn't a light decision, I hardly slept at all. Primarily, I think I was anxious about the nature of the collaboration, and about how much we could adapt Pixy to work with Chameleon. I was anxious about delivering the project on time. I was anxious about having very limited video to work with, I was concerned about too much complication, and how Pixy brings a very different reading of the work. If we hung Pixy as a display for Chameleon, I would have wanted it to investigate emotional contagion, and Natacha told me that she didn't think it was about emotional contagion anymore. I guess alarm bells went off, and I started to retreat away from the development of Pixy and Chameleon. I wanted it to be the meeting of two great projects, and I wonder if it ended up competing more than anything else? Pixy bought a very different reading of Chameleon, and maybe one that I felt might have been to confusing. I was also aware that both Pixy and Chameleon are quite innovative in their nature, and wondered if audiences would ever see past this. My work, although I use technology is about humanity, about visceral responses, about relationships, trust and intimacy. I don't want it to concentrate on Technology. I realised part of the reason that I wanted to explore Pixy was also so Pixy could be seen more by people. Bringing Pixy to Fabrica would have been a great opportunity for Experientiae Electricae. Anyway, I am sure they will get other opportunities in the UK after the Lighthouse residency. Pixy is beautiful.
I talked the decision through with Fabrica, whose main concern is really about what I want to show, as well as what works in the space. The opening at Fabrica is October 2nd, and I always had told Fabrica I would give them a decision by the 12th of August. I sit here now, still feeling confused. Fabrica is a big space with a personality of it own.
I talked it through with Natacha and Michael and they understood. They could see the disconnects that were never truly resolved. We discussed the type of imagery that Natacha might explore with Pixy. Interestingly she wants to explore video's of 'atom bombs'. How very different to my own approach to Pixy.
I feel sad about the potentials that were developing between Pixy and Chameleon - that were never truly resolved. When I thought about Pixy coming into Chameleon, it took effort - we needed to find somewhere to host a residency, I needed to discuss it with the collaborators, I needed to work out timings, we wrote 3 grants applications and were successful with one Arts council England application. 100's of emails and discussions later. Both Natacha's and my own family up-routed to Brighton... Sleepless nights and hardwork from everyone.
Gonsalves' current work investigates the intersections of art, technology and science. She is currently working with world-leaders in psychology, neuroscience and emotion computing in order to research and produce moving image artworks mobile and wearable technolgy works respond to emotional signatures of the body. Tina Gonsalves is artist in resident at the Wellcome Department of Neuroimaging London, UK, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, USA, Nokia Research Labs Tampere, Finland and Brighton and Sussex Medical School Brighton, UK.