In this long-term, practice-based research and creation project, we are engaging biosensors as a means to question relationships between bodies and technology in performance. The project began with a plan to create an evening-length production for music an dance (still to come), in which the heart rate of each dancer is used to guide the tempo of a corresponding musician in real-time, in correlation with the musical score. As we began to collaborate, we realized that we needed to address some basic but enormous questions that underlie our interdisciplinary methodology with biosensors, such as: What is a body? What does a stream of biodata actually represent? What types of relationships are we constructing between physiology, movement, and music? How do our own values as artists and individuals colour the design process, implicitly and explicitly? These questions are at once philosophical, artistic, and technical, and we are approaching them in a number of ways, including: practice-based experiments with dancers and musicians; performances for installation and stage; scholarly research and publications; and the development of biosensor hardware and software specific to our curiosities.
We believe that biodata can be repurposed, creatively, to subvert positivistic and normative accounts of singular beings, and instead point to plural and relational becomings. Considering the increased accessibility of biosensors in contemporary culture, artists have a vital role to play in upsetting the implicit values that inform correlations between bodies and data. Through practice-research we engage biosensors to intervene in reductive analyses of physiology as an internal and involuntary phenomenon, from which human experiences are often explained. We resist seductive accounts of technology as a means to reveal or represent invisible aspects of bodily experiences. In place, we invite biosensors to instigate promiscuous and poly-rhythmic relations between physiology, movement, music, media, and environment. We are using electronic stethoscopes and electrocardiograms specifically because the fractal rhythms of the heart produce aesthetic complexity, and suggest multidirectional flows between performers and observers—animate and inanimate. Our research is at once “part constructive… and in part constructively destructive” (Hanstein 1999: 25), by means of contributing novel tools, techniques, and perspectives through choreography and writing, while challenging inherent values within common approaches to performance with biosensors.
Significantly, our initial focus on ‘internal’ time, referenced in the title, has directed us not into the body as a closed system, but rather towards the body as an open network of connections between self, other, and environment. Current experiments within this project have been designed to examine potential for interoception (sensing the physiological condition of the body), enaction (an immediacy of action and cognition) and entrainment (non-causal attunement and flow between entities). Through this research, we seek to ground our creative practice with a fundamental understanding of embodiment as entangled and inseparable from biology, behaviour and context.
Our evolving vision is guided by a set of principles regarding encounters of bodies and biosensors, which we have come to articulate through our own practice, as well as via engagements with related work by artists, scientists and philosophers. These principles can be summarized as follows:
- It is impossible for the human body to be measured in its entirety, no matter how many biosensors are used. This is not due to a shortcoming in the biosensor technologies, but rather, it is because there exists no stable, complete body to be measured in the first place.
- Bodies are in continual becoming, through co-articulations and modulations across physiology, behaviour and context; these complex systems of relationality will always, necessarily, exceed representation.
- Biosensor data must be understood as meditated by aspects of the hardware and software tools, as well as the network with which it is recorded and shared. Thus, biodata is never only a result of biology, but rather carries traces of the system design from which it derived.
- Analysis of biosensor data, especially in relation to body, behaviour and context, requires interpretation and imagination on the part of the designers, users and observers.
It is within this interpretive and imaginative space – between bodies, biosensors and networks – that our collaborative research and creation is thriving. Our ambition is to articulate and actualize biorelational frameworks for performance with biosensors that are not based on causality, control and representation, but rather, which manifest through shared awareness and agency across multiple, fluid assemblies of self, other and environment.