Embodied Ecology; visualizing biological data with dance and technology

Koryn Ann Wicks and Piper Wallingford

Embodied Ecology; visualizing biological data with dance and technology

interactive environment in which dance manipulates visual representations of biological data in real time to depict the effects of climate change. This project combines Koryn Ann Wicks’ research in dance and augmented performance with research by Piper Wallingford from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Embodied Ecology,” fosters education about climate change by appealing to both logic and emotion through an interdisciplinary project.

Piper Wallingford’s research deals with predator-prey relationships in tidal ecosystems along the West Coast. Wallingford’s preliminary data predict a spatial mismatch of predator and prey distributions due to the increasing thermal stress predicted over the next century.i Data from her upcoming research on environmental gradients will illustrate how predator-prey interactions may change as a result of climate change.

Embodied Ecology utilizes an interactive video system that allows dancers to manipulate visual representations of Ms. Wallingford’s data through movement. The video system combines Microsoft Kinect technology, Max visual programming language, and Active Space intermedia system for live performance. The system is projected into the performance space and responds to the dancers in real time. To convey the scope of human impacts, the data is interpreted choreographically by manipulating distribution patterns using spatial relationships between dancers representing different species.


Lauren Sarah Hayes


Hybrid analogue/digital live electronic improvisation

Shimmera was formed out of a playful exploration of my most recent hybrid analogue/digital performance system. An excessive number of components mutually affect each other through an ecological network of sound analysis and DSP. Engaging with different parts of the instrument through tangible and haptic controllers, I bring a sense of immediacy into my hands: the slightest movement may trigger a mechanical relay bank, which in turn may active digital processes. The idea of sound sculpting (Emmerson 2011) suggests an active process of deliberately shaping sonic material through tangible interactions. As a performer, not only do I want to be able to manipulate the material that I create, but I want to be able to feel this sense of the malleability of sound through my audio-tactile interactions, and to be able to sense that I am approaching the thresholds of my electronic processes both with my hands, as well as my ears.

The resistances in my performance environments lie within the extreme potential for activity through interconnections within the audio signal path. Yet, a joystick-centred controller is so easy to move, that musicality comes from resisting this: a movement of even one millimetre can drastically alter the sound.

Furthermore, in this piece I develop the notion of live performance as perceptually guided action. Digital audio has no real-world physical source, compared to, for example, the resonating body of a piano. As such the performer senses this loss of vibrational feedback. I employ vibrotactile feedback, sent directly to my skin through a custom wireless haptic device, in order to reintroduce this physical sensation and enhance my engagement in the shared participatory space between performer and instrument.

Evening Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

I am a philosopher who works in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, Phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophy and contemporary Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy and science. In July 2013 I moved from the University of Toronto to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where I am Professor of Philosophy. In 2013 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. I am the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015), Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007), Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995), and the co-author of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991; new expanded edition, 2015).

Afternoon Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Giovanna Colombetti, Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter.

In my work I have emphasized that, if we think of cognition as embodied and more specifically ‘enacted’ by living organisms, then we need to acknowledge that cognition is also inherently affective, in the broad sense of motivated and non-indifferent. This point, I believe, is highly relevant for understanding our engagements with the material world, including those occurring in artistic practices. In my talk I will emphasize that we often manipulate the material world to modulate our affective states—either to maintain our current condition, or to achieve specific experiences. To use an increasingly popular term, we manipulate the material world to scaffold our affective life. Supporters of the idea that cognition is situated tend to overlook the motivational and affective value of our material engagements, emphasizing instead that we rely on the environment to aid our memory, orientation skills, or decision-making processes. This is certainly an important and intriguing phenomenon, but it is not the whole story about our relation to the material world. If we think of cognition as inherently affective, then we also need to emphasize that interacting and structuring the material world also profoundly shape our drives, moods, emotions, and more. In my talk I will thus provide a variety of examples of how affectivity is ‘materially scaffolded’.

Morning Plenary Session

Keynote Speaker: Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Independent Scholar and Courtesy Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon.

In her first life, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone was a dancer/choreographer, professor of dance/dance scholar. In her second and ongoing life, she is a philosopher whose research and writing remain grounded in the tactile-kinesthetic body. She is an independent, highly interdisciplinary scholar affiliated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon where she taught periodically in the 1990s and where she now holds an ongoing Courtesy Professor appointment. Her book publications include The Phenomenology of Dance; Illuminating Dance: Philosophical Explorations; the “roots” trilogy–The Roots of Thinking, The Roots of Power: Animate Form and Gendered Bodies, and The Roots of Morality; Giving the Body Its Due; The Primacy of Movement; and The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader. She was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK in the Spring of 2007 for her research on xenophobia.

Workshop: The Embodied Musician: Creating the Foundation for Interpretation and Movement

Workshop: The Embodied Musician: Creating the Foundation for Interpretation and Movement, Anita King

This session is based on the following premise: In performance, one’s movement must be as nuanced and complex as the music. Dr. Anita King explores how the music itself is the catalyst for musicians’ coordination by examining the parallel organization of musical structure and coordinate movement. She explains how music organizes in a layered way; the many details of the melodic/rhythmic “surface” of the music are organized and shaped by the deeper, slower-moving elements revealed by the harmony and phrase structure. The musical “text” can be “translated” into movement which also organizes in a hierarchical manner. The slower-moving parts of our bodies (our legs and torso) organize and support the faster movements of arms, hands, and fingers.

A music teacher’s job is thus two-fold. Teachers must simultaneously give students tools to understand the structure of the music they perform as well as information about the organization of their bodies. Music study reveals how relationships on multiple levels create a piece of music that is an organic whole. In an analogous way, when human movement is truly coordinate, the individual parts of us also work together in constant relation to the whole.

This integrated approach to performance pedagogy represents the culmination of King’s work over two decades as a performing artist and university teacher of advanced music analysis and performance courses. Since 1997 she has engaged in research and training in human movement as it relates to performance, becoming a certified teacher of Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique.

The workshop is highly interactive and combines lecture-demonstration, performance of illustrative excerpts at the piano, and short movement activities and explorations with the participants. The workshop introduces Body Mapping, anatomical information relevant to musicians’ coordinate movement.

Panel: The Performance of Experience

Camille Buttingsrud, Embodied Reflection

Philosophers investigating the experiences of the dancing subject (Sheets-Johnstone 1980, 2011; Parviainen 1998; Legrand 2007; Legrand & Ravn 2009; Montero 2013) unearth vast variations of embodied consciousness in performing experts. The phenomenological literature provides us with definitions of reflective self-consciousness as well as of pre-reflective bodily absorption, but when it comes to the states of self-consciousness dance philosophers refer to as thinking in movement and a form of reflective consciousness at a bodily level – as well as to dancers’ reported experiences of being in a trance and yet hyper-aware – we are challenged in terms of terminology and precise descriptions.

After empirical research on dancers’ experiences and studies of the above-mentioned philosophies of dance, aligning this material with Husserl’s and other phenomenologists’ descriptions of reflection and embodied self-consciousness, I find it plausible to acknowledge the existence of a third state of self-consciousness; a reflective state experienced through and with the embodied and/or affective self.
The interviewed dancers describe their bodily self-consciousness on stage with terminology phenomenology traditionally uses on the order of reflection: they are (bodily) attentive, explicitly aware of the other and the world, disclosing their experiences through transformation (by means of the body), (affectively and/or bodily) articulating what they experience pre-reflectively. This could indicate reflection, yet, there is a simultaneous lack of thinking and rational control, reports of artistic black-outs, someone else leading their arms and legs, being in a trance.

There seems to be an experientially lived as well as theoretically seen experience of the self where the subject’s bodily aspect of self “thinks”/reflects/accesses herself as object through/in/by means of her embodied activity, in which she is completely immersed.
Embodied reflection is neither mystical nor exclusively experienced by artists. It is the universal human experience of being profoundly focused through non-conceptual aspects of the self.

Ivani Santana, The Network and The Dance, or a cognitive artifact embodied by a situated cognition

This article discusses the dancer in the telematics environment according to the Embodied Cognition perspective. Grounded on the concepts of Situated Cognition, Extended Mind, Cognitive Artifact (Clark, 2003), “Actionism” (Noë, 2004, 2012) and Body Image and Body Schema (Gallagher, 2005), two artistic projects will be analyzed: “Personare”, networked performance between Brazil, Chile and Portugal (Santana 2014) and “Memoirs in Time”, an interactive telematics installation with three distributed niches (Santana, Canavezzi, 2014). If the perceiver (the dancer) knows this world through her/his sensory motor skills and these are in play when s/he interacts with this milieu (Noë, 2004), it’s possible to conclude that the telepresence brings to the dancers different ways of how to perceive the partner and how to perceive oneself, and so, new body images and body schemas will arise, which are responsible to play an active role in shaping our perceptions (Gallagher 2005). This embodiment process in this environment is consonant with the understanding of the human being as a symbiont who has coupled the artificial devices created in our culture (Clark 2003). Thus, the humans can be considered cyborgs because their mind and self are coupled in cognitive artifacts, it means, the humans are able to use no-biological systems to solve every kind of problem. The artists (choreographer, dancers, musicians, etc.) and the engineers/programmers off-load cognitive work into this world making the telematics field a cognitive niche built with cognitive artifacts involved in a process of organizing functional skills into cognitive systems (Hutchins, 2000:8). The artists, engineers/programmers and audience are embedded in a cognitive niche full of artifacts that expand their minds and re-size their bodies.

Stahl Stenslie, Embodied Perception in Somatic Sound – telepresentation

The paper presents artistic and practice based approaches to innovative haptic interface technologies for creating interactive compositions and user experiences inside of a periphonic, 3D sound space. Somatic sound is here presented as a) as technological innovative musical instrument, and b) as an experiential art installation. One of the main research foci is to explore embodied experiences through moving, interactive and somatic sound. The term somatic is here understood and used as in relating to the body in a physical, holistic and immersive manner.
The Somatic Sound project explores sound installations where the user can i) corporally control the playback of multichannel sound through touch, and ii) simultaneously experience a three-dimensional audio space as a physical continuum. The project combines the production of music through touch-based, multi-channel 3D sound with the simultaneously placing the performer into the position of a listener. The research investigates how this enables new and innovative interpretations.

The paper will discuss different theoretical approaches to somatic sound from Descartes to Pragmatism and Phenomenology. It will apply Heidegger’s description of breakdown scenarios to analyze ‘natural attitudes’ in the meeting with human computer interfaces and more generally with technology. Fundamental here is the often-misunderstood difference between Heidegger’s Present-at-hand and Ready-at-hand concepts. Focusing on the importance of physical experience, an argument for embodied consciousness is advanced. This argument follows from a dialectic comparison of Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the natural attitude: the way we behave in the world as if it is not problematic with Shusterman’s notion of Somaesthetics.
Contributions of the paper will be introduction of new discourse of what embodiment implies in media art and demonstrating this through artworks where embodied interactions turn action into meaning. Further the paper will outline new practices of inquiry and knowledge making through the emerging field of Somatic Computing.

Doris Dornelles de Almeida, Multisensorial experiences and embodied knowledge of professional dancers during ballet class

This research aims to understand the role multisensorial experiences plays in professional ballet dancers’ acquisition of embodied knowledge in their daily ballet class. Ballet classes, rehearsals and performances are all situated in specific socio-cultural settings, and form the core of the professional and symbolic embodied knowledge dancers experience. The ballet class is a daily practice that has a special place in the dancers’ lives as it that follows them even on holiday.
Whilst this research is rooted in Dance Studies, other fields such as Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology (Cognitive Science), Humanities (Philosophy, Anthropology and Phenomenology of Perception), will be touched upon when relevant.

Although academic interest in the senses has grown (Van Ede, 2009), there is a neglected field within ballet studies concerning the relation between sensual information and acquisition of skills by dancers in the daily ballet class. My personal experience as a professional dancer for the past twenty-four years and as researcher for the last five motivates this study. My earlier work on dancers’ embodied identity in ballet class, rehearsals and performances was useful as a stepping stone for this sensuous ethnography with professional dancers.

The methodology included ethnographic descriptions, my active participation in ballet class and rehearsals, interviews with dancers, video recordings from these practices and performance analysis of ballet practices.
I argue through a phenomenological perspective, that in the ballet class professional dancers acquire embodied knowledge through a dynamic interplay of sensorial bodily experiences, such as vision, audition, smell, touch, breath, heartbeat, body temperature, pain, pleasure, kinaesthesia, fatigue, energy and emotion. Better understanding of this thematic can enhance teaching and learning methods in dance.

Panel: Embodiment and Evolution

Jondi Keane, Art and the Realization of Living

Descriptions of life in the sciences, through experimentation and observation, may provide an accurate snapshot of ‘what a body is’. For artists, these snapshots are a seductive challenge to experiment with what a ‘body can be’. In this paper I will address the ways in which artwork and art processes perform and contribute to the understanding of the enactive approach to cognition.

Darwin ‘s (1859) pre-adaption, reframed by Gould and Vrba (1982) as expaption and Kauffman’s (2000) autocatalysis and adjacent possible will be used to discuss experimentation in Art that deploy James’s radical empiricism (experiences are themselves experiencable) and affordances that can themselves become affordances (Post–Gibson). Examples drawn from the sciences (Gallese, 2011, cognitive reuse; Bach-y-Rita, 1972, sensory substitution; the case of de-afferent Ian Waterman) will be discussed alongside selected artworks that explore this exaptive potential. In particular, the works of Arakawa and Gins (2002) and their procedural approach offer insights into using the built-environment as research devices for asking questions in a 360degree body-wide fashion.

Art can be positioned as a space for 1:1 scale experimentations on life, offering opportunities to build the conditions that challenge automatic perceptual and conceptual modes of processing. The experiential prompts within artworks enable the distinctions between organism-person-environment to be reconfigured, inviting daily research and collective devising. The key proposition for this paper is: Art prompts and primes the reconfiguration of boundary identities across organism-person-environment to bring the higher levels of expanded and social cognition to bear upon processes of selection and self-organization.

These re-orientations of thought, feeling and making, expand the concerns of art to address the collective capacity and interaction of processes required for “the realization of living” (Maturana and Varela 1980).

Margaret Wertheim, Art as Embodied Evolution telepresentation

As Varella and Maturana have noted, “life” is characterized by its dynamic, autopoetic qualities. The totality of life on Earth constitutes a planetary-wide body that continually morphs and self-generates in time. Just as living systems are inherently process-oriented, so in the art+science practice I have developed over the past decade at the Institute For Figuring, a primary concern has been to produce aesthetic projects which evolve through dynamic embodied engagement brought about by communities of people. The artworks we create at the IFF – such as our Crochet Coral Reef and our fractal origami projects – all begin from humble material seeds (a crochet hook and a ball of yarn, or a stack of business cards), whose structures are allowed to evolve under the influence of simple algorithms enacted by many participating contributors. Our Crochet Coral Reef has now engaged nearly ten thousand women in a dozen countries on five continents and constitutes one of the largest, longest-running participatory art+science endeavors in the world. These projects are open-ended experiments in which surprisingly complex forms emerge, demonstrating through material craft practice insights of complexity theory that now inform our thinking about life. Here, acts of making become the driver for vast unexpected taxonomies of form that parallel the development of life itself and which collectively constitute bodies of knowledge realized in mediums such as yarn. In this talk I will discuss the IFF’s practice at the intersection of art, science and craft, with particular attention to the interplay between material and form that begins to develop when one opens up a project to the generative space of community engagement.

Christine Wertheim, Transformative Structures

Craft practices are the original digital technologies, literally performing with our digits complex algorithms embodied in knitting patterns and other notational systems. This talk focuses on the evolution of algorithmically structured digital crafts, contextualizing these within contemporary understandings of mathematics, and considering its manifestation in various materials including Jacquard weaving, pre-transistor ‘core memory’, and Crochet Coral Reefs. The talk draws on the thoughts of Charles Sanders Pierce, recent work in the philosophy of mathematics by Fernando Zalamea, and current feminist theories of embodiment.

Takashi Ikegami and Victoria Vesna, Bird Song Diamond installation in Large Space

We will present and discuss our collaborative work based on the interactive installation Bird Song Diamond. This installation integrates evolutionary biology, artificial life, spatial sound, mechatronic art and interactive technologies. The BSD interactive installation design is based on the patterns of communication within the spatial networks of birds in nature initiated by Dr. Charles Taylor, ecological biologist at UCLA.

The BSD installation was constructed for the Empowerment Informatics Virtual Reality Space in collaboration with Dr. Hiroo Iwata at Tsukuba university (dimensions are 18 (m) width, 9 (m) depth and 7.4 m height) at the University of Tsukuba. Participants can enter the 3D stereoscopic projection of an artificially programmed flock of birds called boids model. Parametric surround sound pointed at specific quadrants of the space also allude at the reality of the experience coordinated with the passing of the virtual flock.

Participants are also invited to fly inside the space utilizing a harness that lifts the person based on the flapping of wings we provide for them. They have markers that track the position of each participant allowing them to interact with the virtual environment and become part of the flock. During the demonstration, participants were lifted and suspended in mid-air using the motion base and at the end of each show, he landed on the ground quietly where a diamond crystalizes from there. A tracking system consisting of twenty ceiling cameras were used to track the positions of program participants. The EMP Large Space is suitable for making larger immersive display with respect to effective screen volume.

Our contribution to the panel, we will be to discuss the advantageous of cross-disciplinary collaboration based on the experience of the BSD installation in relation to embodied and enactive theories of cognition and their implications for understanding evolutionary processes.

Panel: Embodied Pedagogy

Ivano Gamelli and Nicoletta Ferri, PEDAGOGIA DEL CORPO- EMBODIED PEDAGOGY: AN ITALIAN PERSPECTIVE – telepresentation

In this contribute we want to present and share the perspective of Pedagogia del corpo-Embodied Pedagogy, a quite recent teaching in Italian Academic System.
It was founded about fifteen years ago by the researcher Ivano Gamelli at the University of Milano Bicocca, Department of Science of Education.
The basic assumption of this pedagogical approach is to reconsider the role of embodied knowledge in educational processes, connecting areas that in Italian schools but also in the curriculum for professional educators are traditionally divided like thinking and perceiving, speaking and acting, moving and teaching/learning.

The aim is to draw educational principles from different practices and body disciplines with artistic, rehabilitative and educational background (Dance, Theatre, Feldenkrais Method, Psychomotion…), and transfer them into educational settings.
Through a constant field research work, which blends narrative and autobiographical techniques with moving and body expression, this academic teaching wants to retrace new pedagogical approaches for projects addressed to children and adults.

Describing practical examples, we will outline the theoretical landscape of Pedagogia del corpo. In particular we will present some paradigmatic frames coming from workshops with students at the University of Milano Bicocca.

The workshops are built with an interdisciplinary approach that involves body expression, dance and theatrical techniques, autobiographical writing and sharing materials.

The aim is to give students- who are going to become teachers or educators- the chance to contact and work on embodied knowledge, especially on Presence and Listening, as important resources for their future profession.

The educative training to somatic experience makes our perception more sensitive and open to what happens around us; and this is precious for educators, because they are always deeply and dynamically engaged in a living, perceiving relationship with the others.

Raphael Sieraczek and David Hay (CHAIR), Using theatre and art-based pedagogy to achieve the practices of science in the student body

One of the most important goals of university science education is to prepare students to design and carry out their own experiments. Despite a well-developed literature on science-practice teaching, however, this goal is difficult to realize in conventional science education. The most intractable problem is that an experimenters’ knowledge of potential scientific objects immures the agency of matter which by definition currently eludes disclosure. As Barbara Maria Stafford shows in her work on “Body Critiscisms” and analysis of “Echo Objects”, however, the non-linguistic pedagogy of performance has potential for developing the silent, kinesthetic and effective sensitivities project the materially plausible, yet also imagined contours of a future experimental research project.

In this paper we describe an art-based pedagogical model informed by the “Imagine a Spectacle” theatre concept. In particular we show how this idea and its consequential actions achieve the elusive goals of learning science practice through a gradual disclosure of latent material potentialities. We exhibit our approach in documentary of one interdisciplinary performance: “Performing Antibodies” in which student of the arts, the sciences and social sciences collaborate with young artists, dancers, and musicians, bringing to light an embodied drama of antibody structure in and of their corporeal bodies. Drawing on contemporary philosophy of art and science, including the feminist turn of science studies and Andrew Pickering’s account of the dialectics of resistance and accommodation in experiment, our analysis exhibits how human and non-human protagonists can interact in unfolding drama in order to bring about science-like discovery. Our paper exhibits the essential features of our model and illustrates the stages of disclosure using the students’ choreography and emerging script of “being antibodies”.

Maiya Murphy, Take Up the Bodies: Understanding Body-based actor training through Enaction

Focusing on the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq, this paper outlines how an enactive view illuminates the workings of body-centered actor training. Using the framework that DiPaolo et al. outline for Enaction in “Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play ”–autonomy, sense-making, emergence, embodiment, and experience–this presentation articulates some specific ways body-based actor training takes advantage of cognition to shape the aesthetic sensibility and abilities of the actor. Therefore in this sense we can see how training is not merely engendering aesthetic skill, but shaping a particular kind of cognitive engagement for the actor-creator and for the spectator as well. Enaction can subtly trace the ways in which both biology and environment are employed to take up bodies, cognition, and imagination in the corporeally focused practice of Lecoq pedagogy. This presentation zooms in on the notion of “satisficing” to understand one of Lecoq’s major approaches to the student-teacher relationship where the teacher focuses on negating student proposals, while largely refraining from praising success.

Sarah Klein and Tyler Marghetis, Shaping Experiment from the Inside Out

Beginning from a performative premise that art and science are both entrenched in embodied and situated methods for enacting their phenomena, this paper explores the cognitive scientific experiment as embodied performance. Scientific experiments require the ongoing enrolment of participants, who are regimented in subtle ways to perform both as data sources and as ideal subjects. We elucidate embodied routines of reflexive regimentation that stage this enrolment at the microscale of laboratory interaction. What emerges when, instead of intervening on submissive subjects, the experiment becomes malleable and responsive, conforming to subjects’ impressions of and aspirations for science? Blurring the boundary between research report and artist statement, this paper describes a collaborative performance made for the cognitive psychology lab.

EXPF: Shaping Experiment was a collaboration between a cognitive scientist and an ethnographer of cognitive science. EXPF inverted the agential structure of the cognitive psychology experiment, rendering it responsive to the impressions of its subjects rather than testing a hypothesis of the researchers. After having subjects complete what appeared to be a standard, computer-based cognitive psychology task, we elicited impressions about the experiment’s purpose and suggestions for improvement. Our performance score required that we respond to subjects’ feedback by revising the experiment before the next subject arrived, whose impressions revised the next version of the experiment, and so on in an iterated chain of performance and revision. In becoming responsive, experiment and experimenters became instruments to capture the invisible routines, expectations, and formalized power relations that make the experiment possible at the scale of laboratory interaction. This paper will report on the process and results of our collaboration. By rendering the cognitive psychology experiment as malleable bodies-in-interaction, this paper provides performative context for cognitive scientific facts, and intervenes in that activity, opening up possibilities for novel methodological relations and enactments.