RESEARCH AREA: MULTISENSORY IMMERSIVITY
PERFORMATIVE SPACES
BODY AS INTERFACE
 
Immersive and Responsive Environments
Sensorial and Generative Performances
 
Activated spaces
Perceptual mechanisms
 
Evolutionary models
Bioelectricity and Biomagnetism





Sensing spatial experiences. The essential nature of things.

1. Performative Spaces and the Body as Interface.

Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism: it keeps the visible spectacle constantly alive, it breathes life into it and sustains it inwardly, and with it forms a system (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945).

I was trained as an architect, then chose the art and science field to investigate the way human beings can actually ‘make experience’ of space and how we, as perceivers, reconstruct the internal and external worlds by means of our sensorial system.
My work aims to emphasize both the physical and the metaphorical ways in which human beings relate with each other and with their environment, mainly indicating the fundamental relationships between our internal and external worlds.

Over the years, my work has fused all these fundamentals into the creation of sensorial and perceptual mechanisms, immersive spatial works that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art; they are what I refer to as ‘Performative Spaces’ - the creation of physical spaces, perceptible to the senses, each segment of which contains potential realities, some revealing natural phenomena, some not. My artistic investigation examines how patterns of consciousness, perception and identity emerge in such settings. I used participation as a continuous mutation of the initial spatial conditions, to reinforce the ‘external-to-you’ as continuously variable.

Over the last years I have been specifically interested in a field of research related to the ‘Body as Interface’, therefore investigating bioelectricity and biomagnetism. My concern was to show that the boundaries of the self extend beyond our skin. Specifically, I was interested in what ‘skin consciousness’ is, and in how presence, proximity and touch can redirect the way we understand ourselves and others, exploring experiences of bodily expansion. A mutual element in these works is an experimental practice revealing a sense of instability and impermanence. From our individual subjective position we gain access to undiscovered shared phenomena.

Over the last years I have been specifically interested in a field of research related to the ‘Body as Interface’, therefore investigating bioelectricity and biomagnetism. My concern was to show that the boundaries of the self extend beyond our skin. Specifically, I was interested in what ‘skin consciousness’ is, and in how presence, proximity and touch can redirect the way we understand ourselves and others, exploring experiences of bodily expansion. A mutual element in these works is an experimental practice revealing a sense of instability and impermanence. From our individual subjective position we gain access to undiscovered shared phenomena.

2. How to redefine the way we understand interaction in contemporary art.

Recent achievements in physics have confirmed dramatically that all the concepts we use to describe nature are limited, that they are not features of reality, as we tend to believe, but creations of our mind. Our notions of space and time serve to order things and events in our environment and are therefore of fundamental importance in our everyday life: behind its mechanistic appearance, there is no absolute space and time independent from us.
In quantum field theories, indeed there is not a sharp distinction between particles and the space surrounding them, and the void is finally recognized as a dynamic quantity of superior importance. Physical space that surrounds us is not an empty space, but is the place where the most complex fluctuations of energy are happening.

Our bodies are in constant interaction with such environment; they inform and redefine each other into one single continuos existential experience. Human beings experience physical reality by means of their sensory system. Sensorial inputs enable our consciousness to map the world around us. As the process of ‘becoming aware’ becomes true by the acquisition of information through sensations, our modes of perception 'must' be stretched to physical reality in a deeper way.
It is important to enrich our perception with a different spatial sensibility, because our perception doesn’t identify the external world, as it really is - organic, fluid, centre of probabilistic waves - but only in the way we are 'allowed' to recognize it.
To create higher levels of dynamic physical interactions with our environment, new spatial behaviors and stimuli need to emerge; we need to apply multi-sensory immersivity to expand our experience of spatial sensibility and actuate the evolutionary ‘refinement’ of perception.

Contemporary art tends to neglect 'human' qualities in terms of possibilities for enhanced spatial experiences. The observer becomes detached from an incarnate relation with the environment through the suppression of the other senses, in particular by means of technological extensions of the eye (Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin, 2005).
The task of the ‘Performative Spaces’ is to enable us to experience ourselves as complete embodied and spiritual beings. These are all of our experiences that determine how things exist to us and how we make experience of the immense ‘non void’ that surrounds us, in which we are immersed as ‘body’ and as ‘agents of emotions’.
This challenging task needs the artistic pursuit of sensuality coupled with scientific concepts. The artist enquires into the essential nature of things.





PERFORMATIVE SPACES AND THE BODY AS INTERFACE
How to redefine the way we understand interaction in contemporary art?
[lecture at "UM, Experimental & Mixed Media", Extended bodies within Mixed Reality Spaces and Places, a conversation with Professor Paul Sermon (UK), Lisbon (PT), June 2008]

I choose this title because it highlights those that are my first and most recent approach to do art. And then, a critical question, a subject of discussion.
I was trained as an architect, and then I choose the electronic art field to investigate not anymore how to "realize space", but to investigate the way we as human beings can make "experience of the space", how we perceive the space reconstructing our internal and external worlds by means of our sensorial system. I have always been interested in various forms of "making" art in order to visualize "things" that are not in themselves visual. And one of my goal of my artistic research has always been to highlight both the concrete and the metaphorical ways in which we, as human beings, interact with one another and with our environment.
Over the years, my work has fused all these elements into interactive works that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art, and in which the personal experience of space is an "illusion" and in which movements, gestures, images, sound, objects, interface and "computer controls" play an important part. These are artificial spaces, each segment of which contains potential realities, some mirroring natural phenomena, some not.

THE SPACE
As I said, I was trained as an architect, and when I say "I was trained" I’m referring to what has been my first passion, the "space", this immense "not void" that surrounds me, and in which I’m immersed, immersed as "body" and as "agent of emotions".
In my studies of architecture, I began to do experiments within the same context of the digital space, I mean using the "parameters" of digital space. In the real world of "architecture" the functionality is essential, like the gravitational restrictions. But detached from those restrictions, and I began to think to an "ideal" space within the "black" space of the computer, a space that, like the same physical space that surrounds us, is not an "empty space" but the place where the most complex fluctuations of energy are happening. And it is like this that likely it happened my "passage" from "architecture" to "art": when while drawing my models I felt free from physical constraints and without a precise purpose. Therefore, in a certain sense, you are speaking more about you. You are expressing yourself.
My objective was to stimulate and to investigate the implications of spatial experience, conceiving the space not like an "inert receiver", a homogenous and permanent "external", but like a "generator of perceptions". The mind doesn’t inject forms in the space, and at same time the "absolute void" is not "inert" and only receives them. If it was so, every thinking being and every shape would exist in its own perfection, completely independent from the space. This conception takes a functioning character in the "representation" of the reality.
Against the rationalist notion of the objective space and "representation", my purpose was to study how we, as human beings, experiment the space and perceive our environment, and at same time to reveal the process of identification activated to perceive it: interaction human-environment.
For this reason my work explored the applications of dynamic and real-time systems, focusing on evolutionary and interactive strategies, on not-linear behaviors, on processes of movement and algorithmic events. Communicative space, which reveal emotional states, and which utilizes the participation as continuous mutation of the initial conditions, so that removing the concept of the Architecture of the invariables.
So, why it is so important to enrich our perception with a different "spatial sensibility"? Because in effect we cannot identify the external world in the way it really is, organic, fluid, center of probabilistic waves, but only in the way in which we are allowed to recognize it. We experiment electromagnetic waves, not like waves, but like images and colors. We experiment vibrations like sounds. And we experiment chemical compositions like smells and flavors. Colors, sounds, smells, taste are products of our mind, built from our sensory experiences. They don’t exist, as such, outside our brain. Where everything is "dynamics", also the Universe it is, also human beings, and these fields of probabilistic waves interfere each other.
My digital models utilize parameters like vectors of transformation, flux, transition, interference. The main theoretical line behind their creations is that the "movement comes before the space".

THE BODY
As you heard before, talking about "space", I say immersed as "body", because I, as "existence", "I don’t have a body", but "I’m a body", a body like vehicle of communication. Therefore, the future necessity to work with it in my work is obvious.
The body puts us in contact with the outside world. The human being, thanks to his own "poroi", that in native Greek means the "ways in" and the "ways out", and therefore by means of the own senses, is in fact in contact with the world. The body is understood like "space-centered", and it is placed in the space that is not an inert receiver, but a generative unity; the relation between space, body and mind is an infinite and continuous interaction.
The systems that live in a continuous exchange with their environment are called "open systems". All living systems are "open" and in a "stable state". This means that they are never in a "stationary equilibrium" but always in a "state of flux".

THE BODY AS INTERFACE
Over the last years, tired of objects representing interfaces between myself and my external world, I concentrated my energies in a field of research focused on the "body as interface", realizing some projects that registered the body as "input" in the space.
"If you are close to me" is the work that satisfies the main objective, because here, finally, is the "body" the real "interface". The main point of departure was the desire to show that the "boundaries" of the "self" extend beyond our skin and at the same time to measure "human encounters", "intersections" of our being with our "beings". Encounters that are visualized and sonofied thanks to the changes of proximity and to the contact of the bodies.
A last point, a point I really care about, is that this work problematizes the distinction between active performers and passive spectators. The fact that the audience is requested a full bodily commitment that includes movement and touch, besides sight and hearing, makes that the boundaries of passivity and activity are blurred; everybody becomes a potential performer. Visitors leave the role of observers and slide in the role of creators of an autonomous reality. If this is the introduction, naturally we arrive to the idea of "body" as object and subject.
Having lived abroad for more than 10 years it made me think about loneliness. For some reason, this became the central idea in this work. Through this piece I tried to visually express a kind of chemical reaction that takes place when people mingle with each other. Perhaps revealing into the open what was kept deep inside me or what somebody else felt and was trying to express to me; there is a big difference in reactions. The differences in the culture of communication from country to country somewhat influence the way people judge the work. People in countries like Spain or Italy have a very strong culture of physical intimacy. People in these countries seemed to have approved the meaning of the work, and they didn’t seem surprised about intimacy between people. Whereas in Japan, the audience was somewhat hesitant about scenes of interacting or being intimate with strangers. That is probably why the viewers in Japan felt more surprised than in any other country regarding this theme. Also, in China people often came to see the show in large groups but in contrast, in Japan, people mostly came in pairs.

CRITIC
Very important to me is to redefine the way we understand interaction in contemporary art, investigating how people's perception of their environment can influence their social interaction within that very environment - interaction in terms of the "intimate", the "personal" and the "social".
I am opposing the idea of "interactivity" how it is conceived today. The technology is so extended to give all the possibility to produce. It is based on the fact that it is possible to produce very fast and it is for this that is a very powerful tool. At present, a piece of so called "new media" is often simply a technological application, an empty experiment.
Art is something that has the power to move and inspire people. Art is not a software. New software may be useful as a tool to make something new and advanced, but it won’t be able to move me to tears. I believe that because there is passion and feeling inside art, a piece of work may have the power to really influence and affect your life and become something precious. Reflecting in a very radical manner on the meaning and on what it transmits a work of art, I consider like a part of new media art is not anymore "personal", having lost completely the sense of the person and pushing to the maximum the concept of "user". And it is actually to surpass this purely functional concept that the technology should be used at a “primitive level”, as medium of expression and not as the last goal. When you work with technology it is important not to lose the human aspects of the parts. Technology extends the present, as Peter Weibel said: the uses of technology frees us from instances of reality.
Referring socio-political issues: this is one of the topic questions for somebody that works in my field: performative and immersive spaces. The investigation on the "virtualization of the reality" already implies a clear position in our culture and in the way we should approach the "world as an interface". The artistic fascination seems to me the only way to demolish the reality conceived as what exists objectively and in fact. The obsession to reveal our existence as a potential attractor and container of interconnected events refuses any simple stable alignments of vision and hearing, such as any social, spatial or aesthetic linear organizations.
And here it comes the technological issue. Or better to say the use of "computer simulation", because the computer only "simulates" my thoughts. But I take very seriously in account the aesthetic dimension of the computer, which is until now the spatial extent more helpful to me to experiment how to increase our perception of complex visions and embodiment in human experiences. We are part of a world which we can only perceive from the inside as observers. From our lonely subjective position we gain access to undiscovered imaginative shared phenomena…





EMOTIONAL SKIN. PERFORMANCE SPACE EXPRESSION
Research area: the Body as Interface and Human/Environment interaction
[pubication, Rijksakademie Doc 04 (with DVD), Amsterdam (NL), April 2006, interview by Moniek Toebosch]

How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme.
(F. Varela, The Emergent Self, 1991)

As a media artist and architect, it fascinates me to explore how human beings experience space. How we, as perceivers, reconstruct the internal and external world by means of our sensory system. And how our senses achieve the process of consciousness in order to identify these worlds. I'm interested in knowing how we individually generate empirical concepts of the world, thus relating new impressions to existing ones. In other words: how the interaction between a person and his/her surroundings arises.
The core of my exploration is the creation of real-time systems in order to instigate interactive processes. Against the rationalist notion of objective space and body, my work includes sensory and perceptual mechanisms in immersive and augmented environments.

The last few years, I have been specifically interested in a field of research concerning the body as an interface, while at the same time developing a ‘performance-space expression' in which the personal experience of space is an illusion, and in which gestures, visuals and sound also play an important part. When I say ‘performance-space expression', I am referring to the creation of artificial spaces, each segment of which contains potential realities. And I'm referring to artificial spaces mirroring or not something which we interpret as already existing in nature. Indeed my investigation deals with a quasi-obsession which exercises illusion in searching for ways of transcending local event s. A quasi-obsession to reveal our existence as a potential attractor and container of interconnected events.

Lately I've been developing new works in relation to my investigations. The results are environments created by way of devices which in real-time register the range of the human performers' body signals . This cause to continuously generate mutations of the environmental initial conditions. My concern was with realizing that the boundaries of self extend beyond our skin. The idea of what skin consciousness is, how presence, proximity and touch can re-direct the way we understand ourselves and others is specifically what I'm interested in. Focusing on the subject of the body as an interface, my inquiry into sensors and interfaces led me to experiment with electric field-sensing technology. Its ability to detect presence, proximity and touch has enabled an exploration through the interaction between the body and space. This investigation results in a knowledge both sensory and kinaesthetic. The generated visuals and sound are a way to draw one in, but the interfaces are about the moment of sharing and contact, when the interaction occurs through our senses.
A mutual element of the works is an experimental praxis revealing a sense of instability and impermanence. With a peculiar interest into mathematic models, I was searching for new way of visualization, observations of behaviors, explorations in a psychoanalytical way of looking at things. Interactivity is been used to explore the possibility to distance oneself from its personal environment. As to play with ones own identity, developing a certain freedom to provoke experiences of extension. From our lonely subjective position to gain access to undiscovered imaginative shared phenomena…

An objective reality of matter doesn't exist. What exists is a reality continuously created by the presence and observations of man. (Quantum Mechanics Fundament)





AGAINST THE RATIONALIST NOTION OF OBJECTIVE SPACE AND BODY

Rationalist notion of reality
Objective Space and Time: homogeneous, permanent, absolute, linear exteriors
- Spatial inertia / Independent observer
- Inert objects with simple localization in Space and Time
- Dualism presence - absence / subject - object
Representation

Notion of reality as a learning process
Relative Space-time: heterogeneous, multidimensional, not linear system
- Generation of the exterior / Conscious observer
- Presence in the Space as modality of Time / Sensorial positioning
- Latency / Expression
Cognition

These two definitions are based on fundamentally different conceptions of space. The origins of the rationalist notion of space are to be found in Descartes’ mind-body dualism: neither reduction nor representation could happen without the homogeneity of the Newtonian and Cartesian space. Diametrically opposed to the objectification of space as alienated and homogeneous ‘outside’, the notion of reality as a learning process has as its chief features heterogeneity, movement and consciousness.
Descartes’ conception of space revolves around the central opposition between the empirical dimension, defined has having spatial features, and the transcendent or spiritual dimension, which characterizes mental features. We can doubt about everything, he writes in the Meditations, except that we are thinking being, because, even if we think that we are not thinking, we are still thinking. Thought is self-supporting, internally justified, autonomous from all kind of empirical support: though is absolutely primary and independent of anything is extended in space.
To make a transition from philosophy to architecture, for Descartes any thinking being exist in its own perfection and balance, completely independent from the space. The mind injects space with forms and, in turn, the absolute emptiness of space does nothing but receive them. This is the extremepolarization of activity and passivity, in terms of mind and body, form and space, which was essential in the history of the representationalist architecture. (see G. Borradori, Against the technological interpretation of virtuality, en AD Profile 141, 1999)
From Descartes the West inherited the belief that the mind can transcend the body’s passions and distractions to achieve a purely form of knowledge. (Karen A. Franck, It and I, 1996)

Con-Scio-Us-Ness
From Latin: Con (together) Scio (discerning, knowing). English adds to this a nice feeling of togetherness: Us-Ness.
One of the most revolutionary aspects of the emerging ‘Theory of life’ is the new conception of mind, or cognition, it implies. This new conception was proposed by Gregory Bateson and elaborated more extensively by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in a theory known as the 'Santiago theory of cognition'. The central insight of the Santiago theory is the identification of cognition, the learning process, with the process of life. Cognition, according to Maturana and Varela, is the activity involved in the self- generation and self-perpetuation of living systems. In other words, cognition is the very process of life.
It’s obvious that, implicitly, this is a radical expansion of the concept of mind. In this new view, cognition involves the entire process of life, including perception, emotion, and behaviors, and does not necessarily require a brain and a nervous system. At the human level, however, cognition includes language, conceptual thought, and all the other attributes of human consciousness.

The Santiago theory of cognition is the first scientific theory that really overcomes the Cartesian division of mind and matter, and will thus have the most far-reaching implications.
Mind and matter no longer appear to belong to two separate categories but are seen as representing two complementary aspects of the phenomenon of life: the process aspect and the structure aspect. At all levels of life, beginning with the simplest cell, mind and matter, process and structure are inseparably connected. Thus, for the first time, we have a scientific theory
that unifies mind, matter and life.

Guides to the notion of reality as a learning process:
- Our perception doesn’t identify the outside world as it really is, but the way we are allowed to recognize it. Around us, the space in which we are immersed is silent and void. But void space
it’s the place where the most complex fluctuations of energies are happening. We experience electromagnetic waves, not as waves, but as images and colors. We experience sound waves, not as vibrations, but as sounds. They don’t exist, as such, outside our brain.
- Cognition is a matter of interacting in the manner in which one is capable of interacting, not in processing what is objectively there to be seen. Cognition is a conseguence of structurally-determined and structurally-realized interactions.
- Individual organisms' cognitive activities are functions of their embodied experience. Cognition is a result of circularity and complexity in the form of any system whose behavior realizes maintenance of that selfsame form.





HOW WE EXPERIENCE THE SPACE. BODY AS SUBJECT




(a) We become ‘observers’ through recursively generating representations of our interactions, and by interacting with several representations simultaneously we generate relations with the representations of which we can then interact and repeat this process recursively, thus remaining in a domain of interactions always larger than that of the representations.
(b) We become ‘self-conscious’ through self- observation; by making descriptions of ourselves (representations), and by interacting with our descriptions we can describe ourselves describing ourselves, in an endless recursive process.
(H. Maturana and F. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 1980)

- Systems that live in a continuous exchange with their environment are called open systems. All living systems are open and in stable state. This means that they are never in a stationary equilibrium but always in a state of flux.
- Living systems (cells, multi-cellular organisms, societies, ecosystems), because they are open systems, are characterized by inputs and outputs and elements of transition. The relationship between input and output characterizes a flow of information throughout the system. A physical energy may influence the changes that may have an influence on other systems or system elements via the output.
- Living systems are units of interactions; they exist in an ambience. From a purely biological point of view they cannot be understood independently of that part of the ambience with which they interact: the niche; nor can the niche be defined independent of the living system that specifies it.
- The central concept to system dynamics is to understand how all parts of a system interact with one another. The various elements in an organizational system interact through ‘feedback’ loops, where a change in one over time affects the others, which in turn affect the first.
- We become observers through constantly generating our interactions, we become self- conscious through self-observation. By interacting with several stimuli simultaneously we generate relations from which we can then interact and repeat this process continuously, thus remaining in a domain of interactions always larger than that of the stimuli.

Human reactions to the environment are complex and best understood in terms of three psychological stages of human behavior: perception, cognition, and spatial behavior.
- Perception of the environment, in its most strict sense, refers to the process of becoming aware of a space by the acquisition of information through the sensations of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
- Cognition is the mental processing of this activities of thinking about, remembering, or evaluating the information.
- Spatial behavior refers to responses and reactions to the environmental information acquired through perception and cognition. We need to create environmental stimuli to direct these psychological stages as well as the secondary processes of motivation, effect and development.
How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme. (F. Varela, The Emergent Self, 1991)

Of special interest to psychology, Varela extends his ideas about autopoiesis to the biological bases of cognition as well. He refers to his perspective as ‘embodied’ or ‘enactive cognition’, which includes the following:
- Embodiment: The human mind is not confined within the head, but extends throughout and even beyond the living body to encompass the world outside of the organism's physiological boundaries.
- Emergence: human cognition emerges through self-organized processes that span and interconnect the brain, body and environment in reciprocal loops of causation.
- Self-Other Co-Determination: because open boundaries exist at all levels, which include the social, the individual human mind does not emerge in isolation, but instead is embedded within an interpersonal context. Through ongoing, dynamic interaction, self and other create one another at the most fundamental levels.

This view of cognitive autonomous functioning places the body, physical environs and even the interpersonal environment all within the purview of subjectivity.





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