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Palpable Creativity, Cognition, Collaboration

Washington, D.C.
We're now in the wrap-up session for Creativity & Cognition 2007. Programme co-chair Elisa Giaccardi begins by highlighting the range of themes, topics, and disciplinary backgrounds represented here, and introduces keynote speaker Thecla Schiphorst. Thecla begins by noting the increasing miniaturisation of computing technology, and the invisibility of the object which follows from this increases the visibility of our own presence and contributions. She frames this in a field of somatics: the felt experience of the self, through lived experiences, first-person methodologies, tension and movement, and a phenomenological understanding.

Somatics provides an opportunity to attune our perceptual space, account for experience as skill, cultivate our skills of experience, and rebalance the subjective and the objective. It offers a set of rigorous definable physical processes, which can be learnt and whose application produces repeatable results, based on the direction of attention in order to affect, alter, or produce body state; perception can be learnt utilising directed attention, enacting directed intentional movement; first person methodologies access and construct knowledge through the body.

Perception, then, is not something that happens to us, but something we do; it depends on capacities for action and thought, and is a kind of thoughtful activity. Experiencing and conceptualising are one and the same activity; experience is active, it is a skill, and perception and thought are entwined. Through this, agency at the bodily level opens up agency at the social and political level; somatics has an instrumental value.

Thecla's Whispers project and research group explore such somatic possibilities using the notion of the a-wearable self, weaving together self-observation and the observation of others through the use of wearable technologies and interactivity in group workshops. For example, participants were asked to listen to the interior sounds of their own bodies, to experience wearing shirts sown together at various places, to use stethoscopes to explore the sounds of their bodies; often, they used such tools innovatively, subverting conventional uses.

The Exhale project worked with networked breath as an empathic response: six skirts were networked together, and breath itself was used as the data connecting people, a material, a source of information connecting people, and a pattern of communicating that information. The wearer's breath was sensed through technology, and transformed into external actions performed by the skirts; such actions both communicated breathing to the other skirts and the outside world, but also impacted upon the wearer's own breathing as areas in the skirts would vibrate or perform other actions triggered by breathing; as breathing became unison across multiple wearers, lights in the skirts would also turn on. The skirts were also exhibited without wearers, enabling their actions to be manipulated by participants in the installation space.

Finally, the Soft(n) project created a collection of soft objects with tactile interactive surfaces with in-built lights, speakers, vibrators, and accentuators which respond intelligently to being touched and moved (that is, produce different responses to gentle and more physical interactions): they are able to identify a number of different interactions (touch, throw, push, hug, etc.). This leads to the development of a semantics of caress, and the objects respond to such different forms of use by lighting up, vibrating, making sounds, etc.

Such projects, then, explore the possibilities of somatics.

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