Digital art explores what makes us human

Jun 04, 2014
Newcastle University's Eye Resonator

Digital artists at Newcastle University are using technology to help focus our minds and make sense of the chaos around us.

Although an impressive artwork in its own right, the Eye Resonator (2014) also gives away subtle clues about our personalities without us even noticing.

Created by Brigitta Zics and John Shearer, this interactive ecosystem is boring for some and thrilling for others, reacting to an individual's gaze by changing visuals, temperature, sound and lighting accordingly.

To begin with, a large copper dome is placed over the person's head, which calibrates the system for an individual's eyes. They will then be presented with a series of swarming images on the screen in front of them, which they control simply by their eye movement.

As part of their research, the artists are inviting people to come along to the University's Culture Lab this month to experience it for themselves.

The beautiful copperplate work of the 'cupola' or dome, which is the centrepiece of the artwork, was completed in Brigitta's native Hungary and contains within it complex technology which has taken years to perfect.

By detecting subtle behavioural changes, Eye Resonator stimulates a process of self-observation by guiding the visitor through a sequence of experiences and feedback loops.

Newcastle University's Eye Resonator

During the experience, which lasts from about two to about ten minutes, pupil dilation and behavioural shifts are tracked as people try to control increasingly complex swarms on the screen in front of them – from a flock of birds through to insects or fish and onto plankton.

They can pass onto the next level once they have managed to control that particular swarm until they reach an optimum state where they are completely immersed in the visuals in front of them.

"Often we're expected to understand certain social, political or cultural references around an artwork but this is simply a 'naked' experience, where your reactions are purely intrinsic," explains Brigitta. "In a way it also reinvents what these technologies might be used for and brings a human touch to it, such as finding beauty in a simple moment.

"We're inviting people to step back and reflect in a way that we rarely do – much the same way as meditation does. It's a chance to step out of life for a few minutes and just be with yourself. And unlike gaming, there is no reward.

"Technology is always moving towards a better user experience, so why not art galleries too? Art needs to be more responsive to people who are engaging with it and this work is really exploring that, looking to understand better what makes us human."

There are a series of scenarios designed by curator Gabi Arrigoni to subtly shift how visitors perceive the visual information in front of them. Some people will be given the role of someone seeking therapy, others boredom machine dealers or job applicants.

The exhibition Eye Resonator: Fictional Interludes I will be in Space 4/5 of Culture Lab, Newcastle University, Grand Assembly Rooms, King's Walk, Newcastle, NE1 7RU from 3-5 June 2014 from 11am until 5pm. Visitors are welcome to try the experience. For more information visit www.eyeresonator.com/index.html

Brigitta's work is part of Digital Media at Culture Lab research, practitioners working with art, interaction and information to shape future technologies.

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