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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The broader rubric for this theme touches on interaction design as well as the practices of media artists who develop dynamic and/or embodied processes for interactive artworks. The theme carries as well a strong interest in shared agency within the performativity of interaction, such that user and system co-construct interactions. In general, the papers in the theme explore co-constructed experiences across bodies and apparati, and across a mix of realities (for example, across "first" and "second" life). The theme points to concerns about computation carrying with it values that possibly work against the affective and embodied dimensions of digital media. Thus, several of the papers propose counter-values and counter-aesthetics, for example, by finding meaning in noise, by re-imagining the body/image that inhabits a virtual space, or by exploring forms of embodiment that challenge traditional representational aesthetics of the figure. Papers range from theorizing the audience and its role in actualizing an artwork, to considering the body as shared, rearranged and even immaterial in a technologically-saturated environment, to breaking with preconceptions about how the body is able to perform and which senses afford perception. The range of papers also speaks to how people in the different worlds of digital media - e.g. art, computation, design - can establish conceptual points of contact that enable bridging across domains.

Theme Leaders:
Nell Tenhaaf, Associate Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts / Associate Professor, Department of Visual Arts York University
Melanie Baljko, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, York University,

Cover page of Taro(t)ception: Eliciting Embodied, Interoceptive Awareness through Interactive Art

Taro(t)ception: Eliciting Embodied, Interoceptive Awareness through Interactive Art


This paper brings together multiple theories regarding the role of the senses in the construction of embodied experiences. Embodiment, we suggest, is not a visual or auditory phenomenon, but rather an ontological one, that is, one of being. Employing accounts from cognitive science, existential phenomenology, and interactive art, we argue that the inner senses have a special role in the construction of these ontological experiences.

We present an interactive artwork titled Taro(t)ception designed to elicit an embodied aesthetic experience and heighten awareness of inner states. As well as being an artwork, Taro(t)ception is an exploration: the system provides a tool through which we can explore proprioceptive illusions in order to develop methods for transforming viewers' experiences of their own bodies and their own movements.

Our approach attempts to bridge the gap between third-person investigations, which rarely take in to account the quality of experience, and first-person accounts, which are easily dismissed as anecdotal.

Cover page of The Mother of All Demos

The Mother of All Demos


This paper analyses the documentation of the special session delivered by Douglas Engelbart and William English on December 9, 1968 at the Fall Computer Joint Conference in San Francisco.

Cover page of Embodied Presence: The Imaginary in Virtual Worlds

Embodied Presence: The Imaginary in Virtual Worlds


This research has previously used the term ‘embodied narrative’ to explore the imaginary in virtual worlds. Using narrative as a method, it explores and de-codes the complex layering of conflict between the real and the virtual. Second Life is a performative space par excellence. Hayles explains that when the pov (Hayles' terminology) is ‘metaphorized into an interactive space, the datascape is narrativized by the pov’s movement through it’. The performativity of interaction in this shared space moves across geographical space though the temporal dimension remains. This paper explores embodiment and performativity as a strategy to understand the impact of new technologies on our real and virtual bodies, and on the imaginations that breathe life into the post-human.

Cover page of Liberate Your Avatar: The Revolution will be Social Networked

Liberate Your Avatar: The Revolution will be Social Networked


This paper brings together the practice-based creative research of artists Charlotte Gould and Paul Sermon, culminating in a collaborative interactive installation that investigates new forms of social and political narrative in multi-user virtual environments. The authors' artistic projects deal with the ironies and stereotypes that are found within Second Life in particular. Paul Sermon’s current creative practice looks specifically at the concepts of presence and performance within Second Life and 'first life', and attempts to bridge these two spaces through mixed reality techniques and interfaces. Charlotte Gould’s Ludic Second Life Narrative radically questions the way that users embody themselves in on-line virtual environments and identifies a counter-aesthetic that challenges the conventions of digital realism and consumerism.

These research activities and outcomes come together within a collaborative site-specific public installation entitled Urban Intersections for ISEA09, focusing on contested virtual spaces that mirror the social and political history of Belfast. The authors' current collaborative practice critically investigates social, cultural and creative interactions in Second Life. Through these practicebased experiments the authors' argue that an enhanced social and cultural discourse within multi-user virtual environments will inevitably lead to growth, cohesion and public empowerment, and like all social networking platforms, contribute to greater social and political change in first life.

Cover page of Coping and Choreography

Coping and Choreography


In this paper, I study the choreographic process of Merce Cunningham in order to understand better how refined kinesthetic and proprioceptive responses come to constitute the expressive matter of dance. Employing first chance operations then a software program to generate unexpected sequences of movement, Cunningham strains the coping mechanisms of his dancers to the limit. His choreography requires dancers to become experts at adapting their own sensorimotor instrument to the situation at hand. When dancers are asked to imitate the movement sequences of a computer-generated avatar, their bodies can truly be said to be “co-constructed”; they evolve muscle memories and skills that correspond to the technology with which they interact.

Cover page of In Situ  Δ ~ The Embodied Search: Creating Zones of Indetermination

In Situ Δ ~ The Embodied Search: Creating Zones of Indetermination


A strange form of sustenance can be derived from the profusion of networked social interactions and operations, yet the resulting condition also reveals a certain poverty in our relationship to nature, our bodies, and to other bodies. In this milieu, digitally mediated systems are simultaneously enabling and disabling in regards to the human body. The contours, exchanges, and outcomes of this reciprocity are as complex as the mitigating technologies which impact and alter the physiological and psychological dimensions of our contemporary existence.

At the same time, emergent and organic multiplicities of beings proliferate within a very real material system composed of silicon, plastic, metals, energy, and ideas. In the given example, In Situ Δ ~ The Embodied Search, the viewer searches through nature by way of their proximity to a given milieu. Instead of the disembodied intellect being the agent of the search, the body is the agent of the search. By transposing the body onto the place of the intellect, the author explores embodied influence as a form of ontological polymorphism, and as a means to address intensities of bodies, space, time, and materiality through the creation of zones of indetermination and fields of affective influence.

Cover page of Embodiment and Instrumentality

Embodiment and Instrumentality


This paper investigates the relation between embodiment and instrumentality in interactive new media art. It discusses three artworks that encourage embodied interaction within a completely abstract visual and/or auditory system. Whereas David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System invites visitors to engage with a soundmovement composition by means of embodied performance, Tmema’s Manual Input Workstation encourages them to manually explore the basic characteristics of sound and form. Sonia Cillari’s Se mi sei vicino, on the other hand, invites them to reflect on the effects and perceptions of touch and bodily proximity. All three works are not representational in the sense that the visitor contemplates a visual or auditory statement created by the artist. They are rather systems that enable the manipulation of processes that generate ever new outcomes. As such, they might seem comparable to (musical) instruments, but their complexity and unfamiliarity to the users characterise them more as apparatuses. This paper argues that their operators’ struggles with apparative resistance can be identified as creative exploration, which constitutes the core of the aesthetic experience of interactive art.

Furthermore, the works analysed challenge the dissociating effects of the apparatus by inviting different modes of bodily engagement, from the figurative via the subconscious to the emotional. As opposed to the operation of musical instruments, here the relation of bodily actions, apparatus and audiovisual configurations is not based on physically causal effects, but on settings determined by the artist. The exploration of these settings is characterized by an oscillation between playful immersion and moments of distanced reflection, guiding the aesthetic experience of the work.

Cover page of Intimate Encounters: the Mixed Reality Paradigm and Audience Responses

Intimate Encounters: the Mixed Reality Paradigm and Audience Responses


Our lived experience is that of a mixed reality. The online and the offline—the real and the virtual—are becoming increasingly blurred and enmeshed. Humans take on the virtual form of avatars to interact in cybernetic virtual environments. Computers become ‘social actors’ interacting face-to-face with human audiences through the screen interface or by leaving the screen to interact as physically embodied robotic entities. This paper investigates the phenomenological nature of our embodied and lived experiences with both screen-based and physically embodied entities and explores the way sensorial and emotional affects are distributed between the physical and the virtual. Examples are drawn from a range of new media art projects focusing on the audience experience of different screen-based (virtual) and embodied (robotic) entities and the mixed reality terrains they inhabit with their human audiences.

Cover page of Body from the Machine: the spectral flesh

Body from the Machine: the spectral flesh


The Einstein’s Brain Project is a group of scientists and artists working together to develop installations and environments exploring ideas about consciousness and the new constructions of the body. Recent work has used strategies taken from paranormal science to explore how pareidolic and apophenic impulses might contribute to the construction of our worlds.

The paper considers the unbidden emergence of phantoms (the felt yet absent body) in systems of meaning making that rely on pattern recognition, and explores consequences for the flesh, in shared machine/human constructions of the body.

Cover page of Unfolding and Refolding Embodiment into the Landscape of Ubiquitous Computing

Unfolding and Refolding Embodiment into the Landscape of Ubiquitous Computing


This paper advocates the future of the body as a distributed and shared embodiment; an unfolded body that doesn’t end at one's skin, but emerges as intercorporeality between bodies and the technological environment. Looking at new tendencies within interaction design and ubiquitous computing to see how these are to an increasing extent focusing on sociality, context-awareness, relations, affects, connectedness, and collectivity we will examine how these new technological movements can change our perception of embodiment towards a distributed and shared one. By examining interactive textiles as part of a future rising landscape of multi-sensory networks we will exemplify how the new technologies can shutter dichotomies and challenge traditional notions of embodiment and the subject. Finally, we show how this ‘new embodiment’ manifests Deleuze’s philosophy of the body as something unstable and changing, and how his refolding of the body can be useful for future interaction designers to understand the context they work in and the challenges they will meet.