Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

Art & Theory
Interactivity & Ritual: Body Dialogues with Artificial Systems - Part 2 of 3
by Diana Domingues

Bookmark and Share


People say that the wall paintings of primitive societies are works created by shamans whose altered states of consciousness gave them powers to communicate with the world beyond and to intervene in the world through a dialogue with the spirits. In TRANS-E, My Body, My Blood, digital technologies provide us with an electronic ritual. Connected by interfaces, bodies communicate with electronic memories of the computer, and thus experience "virtual hallucinations" in real time. I offer an electronic trance through digital technologies in a dark room that simulates a cavern with illuminated images projected on a wall where by interacting, people can give life to the environment. I architecturally simulate a cavern to offer a space where people can have "visions" with shamanic powers, as the cavern is one of the spaces where shamans go to meet the spirits. Their visions are like images of light that appear on the walls. According to researchers, shamans believe that the stone has power. To the shaman, the walls are alive and as such, illuminated figures jump from the stone during the trance. The stone is considered a "veil" between their world and the spirit's. There are three screens in my own "cavern." The first is the wall of the room, and the second is a transparent screen that suggests a boundary between the virtual and the real. In the back of the room a big, curved, lit wall shows the metamorphosis of pre-historical inscriptions from Northern Brazil's Ingá Stone, thus simulating the three levels of a shaman's trance. A drum sound repeats a rhythm to stimulate the ritual trance, and the sound of heartbeats is altered by the body's actions. Simultaneously, a red liquid moves inside a bowl according to the infrared waves that read the body heat. The blood symbolizes an offering of life according to Afro-Brazilian popular religions.

By interacting, people communicate as shamans with the world beyond through the responses generated in the invisible and enigmatic world of data. During the journey with the spirits, the shamans materialize their visions through drawings that provide for other visions. Interactive technologies "materialize" the invisible data in ephemeral connections with electronic memories. Participants have visions where reality is distorted and they enter unreal and visionary worlds. People say the shaman's goal is to prevent illnesses, to bring rain, and mainly to establish the harmony of the community. In my installation, I simulate several behaviors through digital technologies to leave the real world and enter interactive spaces that connect psychic energy during propagations of consciousness in which new identities can emerge.

Shamans displace energies when upon interacting, people exchange invisible forces with artificial systems. The mutations of the sequences of images and sounds result from the visitor's behavior that is captured by sensors installed on the floor. The sensor dots then transmit body signals to the machines. The variables that determine the behavior of the network are the users' position in space, and for how long and how many people stand on the carpet with sensors. The carpet dots send the body signals in each sensitized stage, and from this the Neural Network learns certain patterns of the participants' behavior. The NN then manipulates this data and provokes "visions" in the room for an enigmatic experience of TRANS-E. The NN recognizes patterns and interprets signals from biological systems, translating them into computing paradigms. Acting as an artificial brain, although very limited, the NN receives and processes the biological signals metamorphosizing them as if administering powers of the beyond. Neural networks function in a non-linear manner, and offer multiple associations or "virtual hallucinations" in real time.

What is important in this living environment it is to provide worlds that we cannot achieve without technology. Ephemeral connections are provided by the dialogue between artificial and biological systems. Interfaces and electronic circuits receive and transmit signals, and the sensors of the body immersed in the environment become digitalized in a sensorial circuit of trompe les sens. The entire body activates a multi-sensorial circuit through the interconnection of various senses during the spatial exploration, thus creating a sinestesia (from the Greek sin and aesthesis, meaning sensation). In the interior of this environment of immersion where the body is closed, the body experiments states of the unforeseen, originated by concrete experiences mediated by technology. The interfaces of the interactive systems transform the movements of the participant into information. The computer programming utilized in the NN follows an architecture that determines the sequence and duration of the images.

The installation is divided in three environments, simulating the three stages of the shamanic trance. In the first stage, people only experience sensations of light and mutations in a neurophysiological way - brilliances, colors, scintillations, flashes of lights, dots, and fadings. The mind is stimulated by those images, as everybody has the same sensations. The images depend only on the biological apparatus and carry no symbolic or cultural weight.

In the second stage, the shaman experiences images loaded with religious or emotional significance. In TRANS-E, the participant interacts with crosses, chalices, lilies, swords, snakes, and other symbols whose interpretation depends on one's cultural background. The images invoke personal and individual experiences stored during one's lifetime. The mutations recall data from religion, geography, ethnic, political and social conditions, and then change according to habits, emotions, and other individual experiences. Many worlds can appear in the participants' minds.

In the third stage, the shaman experiences the deepest level of the trance. In this moment when the shaman goes into turmoil is when actual hallucinations take place. The shaman identifies with animals, is attracted by lights, and envisions natural phenomena such as volcanoes, water, sky, stars, and the moon that all immerse the shaman in a kind of whirlwind. In my installation, these images appear mixed with visceral views that the participant can distort to ephemeral identities.

It is fascinating to be able to capture invisible forces and control physical phenomena when we define the "life" of the interactive work. Biological and artificial systems communicate, thus provoking an enigmatic experience of TRANS-E. By interacting, people gain shamanic powers while inhabiting an elliptical zone in a symbiosis between analog and digital, organic and inorganic, real and virtual.

1 of 2 pages     next page

back to issues