Exhibition History
Beall Center for Art + Technology, Irvine, CA
Currents New Media Festival, Santa Fe, NM
ACRE Projects, Chicago, IL
Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia, PA

Publication History
Art Practical

Excerpt from Art Practical essay by Laura Splan [Read Full Essay]

Swallow hard.
Blink now…and again.
Squint to make it out.
Furrow to make sense.
Frown in failure.
Smile. The work begins.

Corporeal expressions of wonder are the basis for my series of data-driven sculptures, collectively titled Manifest (2015). For this series, numerical data was collected from electromyography (EMG) recordings of electrical activity produced by my body. I performed neuromuscular activities associated with experiences of wonder. While I acted out facial expressions and bodily movements (such as smiling in delight, frowning in confusion, and blinking in disbelief), an Arduino EMG device recorded the electrical levels in different muscles during these movements. Each activity produced unique data that defined the form of a sculpture: SwallowBlinkSquintFurrowFrown, and Smile.

This project examines the potential for objects to embody human experience and to materialize the intangible. I wanted to generate forms via bodily function, both voluntary and involuntary. While my work is often associated with handcrafted techniques, my first thought for this project was to use digital tools. I wanted to transform bodily function into data precisely to disembody it—to remove it from the gooey, visceral source and rematerialize it using inorganic means. The variations among the sculptures seem to imply some distinct experiential differences. Much of my work interrogates the ways in which our understanding of our bodies is mediated by the outside world. This series questions how a bodily function can punctuate, illuminate, and even enhance our experience as we interface with the world around us.

The title, Manifest, is a nuanced word that offers a variety of interpretations. As an adjective, it refers to the way the sculptures render “clear or obvious to the eye or mind” the unique neurophysiological phenomenon of each performed movement. As a verb, it refers to the emotional significance that performed movements communicate (for example, frustration or happiness). As a noun, it objectifies the body as a vessel whose contents are to be cataloged in detail. I was also inspired by Charles Darwin’s facial feedback hypothesis from 1872, in which he posits, “Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” His theory suggests that physiological changes caused by an emotion not only express that emotion but also enhance it: we can manifest feelings by performing their expression.

I was interested in creating digitally fabricated objects to foil the conventional associations of objects of wonder with objects from nature. Furthermore, I wanted to take up the task of creating sculpture that could resonate beyond an object defined solely by its formal qualities. The series makes the technical process pervasive in the viewing of the objects. At the time that I proposed the work for the exhibition Objects of Wonder (at the Beall Center for Art + Technology in Irvine, California), I was exploring the potential of Arduino microcontrollers and Processing programs to serve a generative role in my studio production, as a kind of collaborator. I stumbled upon a neural interface workshop at Genspace, a community biotechnology laboratory in Brooklyn, where we performed neuromuscular experiments with an Arduino EMG reader. From there, the Manifest project evolved in the direction of bio-data visualization and careful consideration of the recorded movements as they related to notions of wonder.

Project Credits
Additional Technical Support: ACRE Residency
Photo Documentation Assistance: Sasha Charoensub