Tina Gonsalves, The "Feel" series: An Overview:

The “Feel” series (2005-2007) are an interconnected progression of short films and interactive sketches aiming to sense, translate and provoke the psycho-physiology of the audience. Darren Tofts writes “(with the “Feel” Series), Gonsalves’ artistic sensibility absorbs scientific hypothesis and technological possibility into an interface, a psycho-somatic stage, at once theatre of cruelty, emotional catharsis and critical insight”.[i] The series forms the initial investigations of artist Tina Gonsalves and affective neuro-scientist Dr. Hugo Critchley. The collaboration extends research in the naturalistic embodi-ment of emotion, looking at what ways art, science and technology can converge to become agents that allow us to have a more intimate relationship with our own bodies; more embod-ied interaction, tools that crossover between art and wellness; tools that interplay between the external and internal.

Each of the works used varying collaborative methods to create and strengthen empathic interaction techniques and emotionally provocative audiovisual content. Each prototype was built in a chronological progression, exploiting the achievements, and answering the setbacks of the last prototype.

TINA GONSALVES, FEEL:INSIDE : Responsive bio-feedback installation (version 2)

Concept: Tina Gonsalves/ Dr Hugo Critchley
Authoring: Tina Gonsalves/David Muth Sound: Tina Gonsalves/Joel Cahen

Betaspace, Power House Museum, Sydney, AUSTRALIA 2006

Synopsis of “Feel Inside”:“FEEL: INSIDE” is a psycho-physiologically responsive video installation synthesizing art, neuroscience and technology. The project explores new, more embodied languages of active and emotional communication, investigating the inter-relationship of the internal body and the external world. The audience enters a darkened room. The audience is presented with a large video pro-jection of the artist’s face. A camera sensros the movement of the audience. The emotional expression of the artist’s face is reflective of the audience’s emotional state, appraised in a general way by audience movement. If the audience is calm, her face becomes still and meditative. Alternatively, anxious movement of the audience is mimicked in the anxiousness of the artist’s face. Over time, continued anxiousness leads to the artist crying, and the ence is confronted with a private and intimate moment usually only privy to close friends family. The audience realizes they have caused the upset, but then are asked to work out how to cure it.

Building of “Feel Inside”: With the second prototype, a focus was to move beyond the viewer being dressed with sensors and directed to sit in a chair as they were in “Feel Trace”. To capture a more ‘naturalistic interaction scenario, I wanted the audience to move freely with in the gallery space. After the potent images of “Feel Trace” I aimed to develop softer, more emotional and poetic audiovisual content, hoping this would elicit more empathy from the viewer/s.

The use of movement to trigger video in interactive design has been used quite often in the past. As a result of this, today, at interactive exhibitions, you can often see participants waving their arms around wildly (in non-naturalistic ways) in order to interact with the work. However, the interaction design of “Feel Inside” asks the viewer to be still. I was suggesting that by being still, the viewer may develop a sense of ‘presence’ both to themselves, and to the environment. Presence has been defined as the sense of being present in a particular environment,[i] often divided into ‘subjective presence’ and ‘objective presence.’[ii] With my experience of meditation and yoga, stillness allowed ‘a sense of presence’ to myself and to the world around me. It was in this state, that I felt more ‘empathic’ with others. I wanted to create an interaction design that amplified this feeling of ‘empathy’ I felt when still. When discussing this idea with Critchley, he agreed that “to some extent, attention on bodily processes requires 'psychomotor' disengagement from the environment. There is a fair amount of data relating to respiratory control in meditation and yoga, for example, impacting on heart rate variability. Simplistically, the autonomic nervous system is partitioned broadly into sympathetic (fight and flight ) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) bodily control systems, the latter becoming prominent during stillness”[iii]. Does this mean in order to become more aware of our own body we needed to switch off from the environment?

Research has suggested that one does not often think about their level of presence in the real world. They feel it[iv]. With the video footage used in “Feel Inside”, I sought to prompt a sense of empathy and catharsis in the viewer. The video was shot three years before during a residency at the Banff Centre for New Media. It was taken after an exhaustive weeklong shoot. My collaborator at the time, began asking me personal questions, while I my face looked into the camera. Over a period of 10 minutes, I started of laughing and ended up crying.

To create the sensing mode, I used a video camera to monitor the movement of the audience. After the failures of using Flash with “Feel Trace”, the software was written using Max MSP/Jitter[v].

Conclusion of “Feel Inside” The piece was tested four times, mostly at Wellcome Department of Nueroimaging (WDIN) at UCL (shared with the neuroscientists), and once at the Beta_Space at the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney. Parts of the work were successful.

Were the viewers taken on a journey or controlling the journey? “…there was an interaction which grabbed hold of you as you became more engaged - mainly because there seemed to be an obvious response to what one was doing in relation to the installation. I felt more in control of what was going on than I had when I experienced Feel Trace”.[vi] Initial audience responses showed that using movement as an interaction method lead to a stronger sense of engagement that what was achieved in “Feel Trace”,

It appeared that the interactive model promoting notions of stillness, allowed people to resonate more deeply with the images and sound of the installation. Most reported that they found the interaction more ‘poetic’. However, both spaces provided a difficult context to evaluate the audience experience of the work, as the piece required no movement in order to be interactive. When showing the work in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, the audience would experience the work in context of the other more interactive and ‘louder’ works in the space. Some participants slowly discovered the interaction and narrative, giving at least five minutes to the work. Others madly waved at the work, anticipating a stronger reaction. A percentage of the audience walked out of the exhibition space with in thirty seconds, not willing to spend more time investigating the work.

Some participants talked about the vulnerability felt by watching the crying portrait video. This was a success, as it seems (through self reporting) that the video did elicit emotional reactions in the user. On reflection, the narrative of “Feel_Inside” was too complicated for the basic interaction design. Also, if the project were to be exhibited again, the size of the display would be changed in order to make the work more ‘feel’ more intimate.

The coding for the piece was created in Max MSP/ JITTER with engineer David Muth. Using this choice of software was robust, with very few crashes. MaxMSP worked superbly with video and limited real-time effects. Using Max MSP was considered a definite success.

[i] Sheridan TB. Musings on Telepresence and Virtual Presence. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 1(1) (1992); 120-125.

[ii] Schloerb DW. A Quantitative Measure of Telepresence. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. (Winter 1995); 4(1): 64-80.

[iii] email correspondence

[iv] Huang MP, Alessi NE. Presence as an Emotional Experience. In Medicine Meets Virtual Reality: The Convergence of Physical and Informational Technologies Options for a New Era in Healthcare. JD Westwood, HM Hoffman, RA Robb, D Stredney. (eds). pp. 148-153. Amsterdam: IOS Press, 1999.

[v] Cycling '74. Cycling '74: Max/MSP for Mac and Windows. http://www.cycling74.com/products/maxmsp.html. 2004.

[vi] Transposed from email interview post exhibition with Rachael Maddock who took part in the UCL exhibition

Feel Inside, Betaspace, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney 2006