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Thecla Schiphorst and Susan Kozel

whisper: wearable body architectures

Thecla Schiphorst, Bodymaps: artifacts of touch, 1995-1996 (video)
Thecla Schiphorst, Bodymaps: artifacts of touch, 1995-1996 (video)
whisper: wearable body architecture is the working title of Thecla Schiphorst and Susan Kozel's new piece. It is a new media participatory installation. The term "participatory installation," which was coined by the artists, refers to a participant's involvement in the evolution of the piece.

The installation is a networked ecosystem that contains small wearable computer objects. It is located in an exhibition/performance space. whisper aims to analyse the conditioned reactions and physiological behaviours of performers and audience members in order to represent them as common and shared signals in a multiple networked system. Past states or behaviours and current intentions are examined and restructured into a new system of perception. Thus the work introduces the concepts of future memory, which is an exploration of past behaviours into present interactions and intentions. The work reveals our preconceived physical responses to data or signals produced by our bodies, and elevates the audience to an awareness of new senses.

whisper's operating model is inspired by the body as a metaphor for a networked system. Extracted physical data patterns are mapped onto linked devices which form a group of interconnected and autonomous sensors. The latter, together with a local processing module or micro-controller, are worn close to the skin or on clothing. The public may wear these devices and use them to interact. Their aesthetic is inspired by qualities of the skin and by innovative and seductive elements of fashion. These small computer wearable gadgets function as both an input and output apparatus: to receive a range of physiological signals and to send visual or audio information to a central database server.

A computer workstation functions as the database server. Based on a participant's movement and intention, the wearable tools can emanate his or her state. Information data derived by the objects or sensors are controlled by the server and the processing module. A participant's physiological information, such as the breath, the heartbeat, the brain's wave patterns, the body temperature is transmitted as data into the wearable devices. Using small motors and sensors, the objects respond by vibrating, tickling or sighing when receiving data signals associated to a pre-configured pattern.

The intention of the piece is to create new physical, technological, kinaesthetic and affective vocabularies in our human environment. The Foundation is supporting the creation of whisper's devices and movement vocabularies as well as the project's methodology. whisper is a collaborative project involving an interdisciplinary team of artists, designers, computer scientists and hardware/software engineers.

Last June 2002, V2_Organization in Rotterdam hosted in a research residency the whisper team to co-develop the project's research and development component. The results of the project will be featured at the DEAF03 (Dutch Electronic Arts Festival) in March 2003.

Dominique Fontaine © 2002 FDL