Panel: Embodiment and Materiality in Art Experience

Emanuele Quinz and Samuel Bianchini, BEHAVIORAL OBJECTS : A New Paradigm for Art and Design?

The notion of behavior and even the power to act (agency) is becoming increasingly central to contemporary art. But instead of situating behavior on the side of living, as is usually the case, how can we invert the perspective and consider this aspect in connection with the works, objects, dispositifs, and environments themselves? How to analyze, understand, theorize, test, and design artworks that include a behavioral dimension, that is, possess the capacity (especially the “physical” capacity) to act and react in relation to their environment and their audience? While more work is being done on this subject in engineering, it is mainly in the areas of robotics and artificial intelligence, primarily using a functionalist approach and with a focus on representational robots. Relatively little research, however, is occurring in the fields of contemporary art and design.
In the frame of the research project “Behaviors: Strategies and Aesthetics of Behaviors Between Art, Science, and Design” (2012-ongoing, in partnership with Université Paris 8, the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), we proposed the notion of “behavioral objects” : non-anthropomorphic, non-zoomorphic, and more broadly speaking, non-biomorphic roboticized objects that do not intrinsically possess an expressive capacity through their form, but express behaviors by their movement.
The Lecture will address this notion, and retrace a genealogy in the field of art and design – notably going back to the historical avant-gardes and to their intersection with scientific and technological research, from cybernetics to electronic engineering, robotics, from cognitive sciences to computer programming.

Frances Joseph, Sapient Textiles: Materiality, mediation and embodiment

The traditional role of textiles as a second skin, mediating between body and environment, is being reconsidered in light of technological developments and new theoretical perspectives. The notion of skin as a sensory interface or ‘fringe of the virtual,’ has been recognized in digital embodiment theory, New textile processes involve physical and digital dimensions, both in terms of the processes of making that constitute textiles as material artefacts, and through the development of fabric based electronics in the form of smart textiles that can sense, communicate, respond, and even harvest energy. These ‘second skins’ and the new frameworks and sensibilities produced through such technological infrastructures are the focus of this paper. Smart textiles are considered in terms of materiality, mediation and embodiment in relation to a series of projects investigating the development and performance of knitted e-textile structures.

The emerging field of e-textiles is an interdisciplinary domain that is underpinned by a radical repositioning of bodies, textiles and computing. These ‘wearable, washable, drape-able computers’ pose questions about dualities of material and immaterial; exterior and interior; body and mind; object and subject. The notion of ‘sapient materiality’ where consciousness and cognition are part of the specifics of materiality rather than defined in opposition to a material world, is discussed in relation to ongoing research into knitted textile transducers that translate variations in physical quantities into electronic signals. Relationships between the structure and behavior of smart knitted textiles are considered in terms of configuration and performance as embodied interaction.

Elisabeth Nesheim, Physical sketching, abstract movements and creative processes – the promise of updating the body schema with haptics – telepresentation

What is at stake when the sense of touch, postures and gestures of the hand, aided by haptics become key players in a creative process of designing tools, services or even artistic works? Although haptic technologies are becoming more common we still do most of our everyday computing through screens. Such ocularcentric interface design offers an unbalanced mediation of the multisensory way we experience the world. The sense of touch has long been noted as a reality checking device in what I touch is real. By downplaying the role of touch and motor-sensory perception data in interface design, we ignore a vital source of information of the world—which in turn has its impact on our thinking about the world. This paper develops Mark Hansen’s claim that new media technologies can broaden the what he labels the pre-personal domain—“the organism–environment coupling operated by our nonconscious, deep embodiment” (2006, 20), as it offers us the option of translating the unobservable (or rather the pre-consciously perceivable) into the visual realm, granting us access to new multi-sensory and synesthetic experiences. I do so by unpacking the two points present in Hansen’s claim: 1) the notion that the pre-personal domain is extendible, and 2) that new media technologies (digital, haptic and sensor technologies) are in a distinct position to do so. Hansen’s idea has its roots in Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the body schema. By identifying the processes governing the extending, revising and preserving of the body schema—unpacking MP’s concept of abstract movements and investigating embodied cognition researcher David Kirsch’s hypothesis on physical sketching—we are given a clue as of how the pre-personal domain is expanded. Finally, I discuss a particular haptic technology (the data glove) and connected artistic practices, to see how such technologies are in unique position to extend our body schema.

Aurélie Besson, Senses of movement and embodiment in interactive artworks

Interactivity in art has opened a whole new research field in which the visitor’s gestures have become central since they modify the artwork and the visitor at diverse degrees. These artworks require from the visitor to enter in relation, in motion, with them.

What happens during the interactive artwork experience, between the perceived artwork and the visitor’s body? And what does it imply at the level of the five senses and the body’s movements?

This presentation is based on a study that analyzes the experience of interactive artworks, conceived with or without computer technologies, that have the particularity to provoke the visitor’s gesture or movement. This research is based on the fact that we actually perceive with the whole body and numerous embodied sensory channels. As described by Alain Berthoz (1997), the gesture is both an initiator of an action and a mode of perception.

This presentation is based on an interdisciplinary study I am leading during my Phd research, at the crossroad of aesthetics and cognitive sciences questioning how these artworks destabilize or stimulate the senses of movement (proprioceptive, kinesthetic, vestibular senses, etc) and offer an embodied experience that enables a certain degree of conceptualization. I am leading an auto-ethnographic analysis based on researches made in the fields of interactive art and embodiment, art and perceptions, and embodied cognition.

Yelena Gluzman, Interdisciplinary Approaches to Interaction

In the past twenty years, neuroscientists found evidence for embodied and inter-subjective theories of human cognition, suggesting that higher-order cognitive events (e.g., learning and creativity) in the central nervous system are non-trivially contingent upon interactions with the body and social environment. This has led to a widespread effort to identify specific neural correlates of embodied social behavior in humans, and this work is often done using non-invasive brain imaging techniques, like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Such work, as in the case of the Pineda lab, often focuses on populations with social dysfunction, like people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and investigates whether behavioral deficits are linked to atypical neural function. One of the challenges in doing such work is the limit imposed by technologies like EEG and fMRI, which often require subjects to be immobilized and/or isolated. Tests of social behavior are therefore done based on interactions with video screens and highly constrained movement. Efforts to address this problem have focused on the development of imaging technologies to incorporate data from traditional brain imaging, body motion capture, and eye gaze tracking, allowing for participants to move and interact, while also affording researchers information about the bodily and visual actions of participants.
Though new technologies hold great promise for more ecologically valid ways of analyzing the coupling between neural, bodily, and social events, the experimental paradigms used in concert with such technologies remain largely unchanged from those used with more limited imaging technologies. In traditional experimental paradigms, researchers will choose a fixed sequence of “social” stimuli that participants observe, and measure brain activity during the perception of and response to these stimuli. This approach can yield a great deal of legitimate data about what brain systems are involved in particular tasks. However, since stimuli do not change in response to participants’ behavior, such studies cannot analyze a dynamic interaction in real time, in which participants collaborate to interpret and make sense of each other’s action.
Both theater and social science offer resources to explore this problem. In theater, it is widely acknowledged that the design of fictional situations can facilitate actual experiences and interactions; moreover, these theatrical experiences are available to performers as well as a variety of co-present participants. Therefore, using theatrical paradigms as experimental situations allows for both a repeated, experimental structure, while also allowing for an emergent and actual social interaction. Social science is also interested in how the social emerges from interaction. Sociologists and communication scholars have been able to ethnographically observe dynamic interactions and, using approaches from semiotics and ethnomethodology, could show the minute steps through which interacting pairs coordinate to achieve local instances of shared meaning, learning, and collaboration. Such research has been able to identify semiotic, multimodal resources that participants use to coordinate with one another. Of course, the studies done in this manner can only address interaction at the scale of behavior, and do not seek to relate these to biosemiotic events at the scale of neurons, muscles, etc.
This paper reports on an ongoing research project in which we attempt an interdisciplinary approach, combining methods from theater (performative enactments), with social science (multimodal semiotic analysis), with methods from cognitive neuroscience (brain imaging) to develop a novel paradigm for the analysis of social interaction. Such an approach can both examine neural correlates of social behavior, while also considering the social to be not fixed, but rather emerging through embodied interaction. Concretely, the project will look at two-person interactions in which either member spontaneously takes on the role of a fictional character in order to coordinate with the other. These interactions, situated within the context of an interactive performance installation, are instances of dynamic social interaction that are then analyzed in the lab. In the preliminary findings of the study, we report on embodied strategies used both by interacting pairs to coordinate with each other, and also by the researchers themselves as they attempted to code and analyze these interactions.

Panel: Embodiment in Criticism and Connoisseurship

Joanna Ganczarek, Daniele Nardi, and Marta Olivetti Belardinelli, Am I here or there? Space and Action in Aesthetic Experience

When viewers approach a canvas that delivers a life-like, almost photographic rendering of a scene, the person’s perception of space and body might change considerably. Through a combination of perception and imagination they are transported from ‘here’ to ‘there’. They remain in the physical space surrounding an artwork but also engage in imaginary actions within the pictorial space. This situation exemplifies the account of multiple states of existence and the flexibility of cognition. It also highlights the connection between perception of space and actions that can be performed within it.
The aim of the paper is twofold: presenting experimental data on subjects’ experience of space and action when viewing Vermeer’s paintings (1) and framing the data within the wider theoretical context of embodied cognition paradigm (2).
Regarding the first objective, physiological measures (eye movements and body sway) will be described with particular attention to the indices that suggest that the imaginary actions and places have an effect on viewers’ bodies. With reference to the second objective, relevant aspects of embodiment theory will be discussed such as the concept of motor components of spatial cognition and affordances.

Daniel Weiskopf, Embodied Encounters: The Role of the Body in Art Criticism

In “The Body/Body Problem”, Arthur Danto argues that while the medical and biological sciences deliver new kinds of theoretical and practical knowledge about our bodies, art cannot do so. Rather, we understand artworks through engaging our “folk” embodied knowledge. I survey three ways that the body enters into the interpretation of artworks and argue that while embodied knowledge can be an essential tool and a corrective to certain theories of artistic representation, it also has sharp limits.

First, bodies are represented objects, and are therefore sites of interest, attention, and empathetic engagement. Mimetic theories such as Kendall Walton’s give a central role to imagination and pretense. Embodied cognition also emphasizes simulation in understanding bodily and mental states. But the limits of mimetic theories show up when encountering art that deals with detached or disassembled bodies, and thus aims to subvert these reactions.

Second, artworks, like bodies, exist in space, with surfaces and skins, interiors and cavities, skeletons and supports. Attending to these helps show the limits of philosophical theories of depiction, which treat images as if they were disembodied or purely formal structures. Our bodies are vehicles for spectatorship, and viewing artworks requires specific standpoints, postures, and contortions, which can produce their own emotional and discursive responses. Theories of interpretation that rely on a “disembodied” relationship to artworks, treating them as abstractions, overlook crucial facts about critical appreciation.

Third, bodies are a reservoir of analogies and metaphors. James Elkins argues that the body often serves as an abstract formal grid that can be projected as a scheme for interpreting the non-bodily world. But not all images and objects fit this formal grid, and where they don’t, embodied spectatorship breaks down. It is an open question how much remains comprehensible in artworks that stretch or break the limits of bodily metaphor.

Jonathan Chou, Phenomenology in Practice: Implications for the Art and Craft of Fiction

What can phenomenology teach us about the art and craft of fiction? Why and how does one write? Drawing primarily from the preface of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s seminal work, “The Phenomenology of Perception,” this paper explores a phenomenological theory of the art and craft of writing. Beginning from the dissolution of the Cartesian mind-body split, I argue that the imaginative act of writing can no longer be thought of as a translation or reification of a mental image, but must instead be conceived of as the means by which one creates the world and establishes the truth of one’s consciousness, or one’s being-in-the-world. Yet, as writing is not equivalent to perception, the art of writing must be distinguished from its craft. If the act of perception is always already begun, our understanding of our relation to the world is not; the work of description is an infinite task and cannot be completed so long as we are in the world. This is the responsibility of philosophy, Merleau-Ponty contends, to invite us to take notice of our relation to the world. I argue in similar fashion that a successfully crafted work of writing inserts a space between its reader and the world and by doing so awakens the reader to his or her own thoughts. Writing thus stands to suspend the movement of our being-in-the-world, to loosen “the intentional threads that connect us to the world in order to make them appear.” As the attempt to provide a direct description of embodied experience, to “[rediscover] that actual presence of myself to myself,” phenomenology may bridge the divide between philosophy and art and above all give writers new ways to imagine the purpose and execution of their work.

Claudia Villegas-Silva, Embodiment and Post- Human Aesthetic in Contemporary Latin American Theater and Performance

This paper explores three performances by Latin American directors and artists: Juan Carlos Zagal, director of Cinema teatro (“Historia de Amor,” 2013); Raúl Miranda (“Domus aurea” [Golden House], 2010); and Trinidad Piriz (“Helen Brown,” 2013). The three performances considered here constitute examples of the diversity and search for renewal of theatrical codes using new media in latinamerican theatre. Many practitioners of theatre today are in search of new aesthetic practices capitalizing on the many advances in technology. In order to demonstrate the way in which technologies are staged, I will discuss three plays which show innovative and compelling uses of technology that compel the audience to speculate on what it means to be human and critically question the post-human position.The three artists construct alternate spaces by mediating technology and gender as well as the idea of real time, space, and presence, consequently creating a post-human aesthetic. The use of new media lead s to the construction of new physical structures to house these types of performances because of the transformation of spatial and temporal perception caused by different technologies. These new spaces urge us to (re)consider notions of identity, consciousness and the organic body.

Susanna Melkonian-Altshuler, Knowing-how and artifact concepts

This talk is about the explanatory role of knowing-how for understanding the structure of some abstract artifact concepts. A non-intellectualist view of knowing-how will be presented according to which our phylogenetic capability to create new worldly items derives from trial and error experiences. This evolutionary notion of knowing-how will then be used to characterize artifact concepts.
In metaphysics, it is generally held that making objects involves productive intentions (e.g. Hilpinen 2011). The problem with this view, however, is that it is incapable of accounting for the nature of productive intentions. Where do productive intentions come from and how did we develop our very first ideas of artifact production? I am going to argue that artifact production knowledge can be derived from sensory-motor experiences. When our ancestors first manipulated new items they did not have any productive intentions, but rather developed them in terms of experimenting with nature and perceiving effective results of their actions.
An advantage of this evolutionary view of artifact production is that it connects to grounded views of cognition. On a modified view of grounded cognition, I will argue that the conceptual structure of some present-day’s abstract artifact concepts such as PIECE OF MUSIC or PIECE OF ART can be effectively explained if it is taken into account that “visual recordings” of first observed result objects played a major role in developing abstract artifact concepts.

Workshop: Research Methodology as Embodied: The Phenomenological Interview, PRE-REGISTRATION, Click Link

Workshop: Research Methodology as Embodied: The Phenomenological Interview, Simon Høffding and Kristian Martiny

In this workshop we will put you to work!
First, we present a research framework called a “phenomenological interview” based on our phenomenological research on expert musicians and people with brain damage. After this, you will work in small groups discussing how to use this research practice to improve your own research.


Read Høffding & Martiny (2015) “Framing a Phenomenological Interview” Phen Cog Sci. The document is uploaded CLICK HERE.

Register for the workshop CLICK HERE.