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DESCRIPTION of PROJECT
The Symbiont is an interactive installation. It uses, as interface, the breathing, body temperature and other vital signs of a willing participant .
By engaging with the Symbiont, a feedback loop between human and machine is created as the subject and the Symbiont develop a co-dependency.
Physically, the Symbiont is an amalgamation of the mundane, specialized, and obscure: a vinyl massage chair , various TV screens, digital video equipment, and obsolete military/ industrial materials.
Aesthetically, the physical construction of the Symbiont is informed by drawing and sculpture as much as by technical considerations. The innards are not enclosed. The structure and shape of the video content is influenced by the mechanical motion of the sculptural elements as well as by the viewer's behavioral responses to the machine.
The Symbiont is programmed using Cycling74's MAX/MSP and m9ndfukc.org's nato 0.55 modular. The interface technologies are a combination of Infusion Systems, iCUBE, the EZIO, Paia's, MIDI to CV, and the MTP2 MIDI. The actuators range from stepper motors to DC motors, pneumatics, and hydraulics. It utilizes a b/w G3 300 and an 8500/ 180 Power PC's.
The Symbiont has been in the research and construction phase for five years. Its construction has required extensive research in fabrication, programming, mechanical movement, and electronics. The process of its creation is ongoing, constantly mutating and recombining as new questions arise and new technologies are discovered.
Introduction to the Experience
A single viewer is led into a private room where The Symbiont lies sleeping in near darkness. Lit only by soft pools of light, it idles in a hypnagogic state, appendages twitching in fitful repose. As the viewer approaches, the Symbiont's assistant puts down his newspaper and rises to help the viewer into the dreaming contraption.
The viewer sees a collection of screens sprouting cables and wires, around a gold vinyl chair. They are mounted on various mechanical and hydraulic devices that begin to stir, acknowledging the new presence in the room. Lights begin blinking and indistinguishable sounds are emitted as the Symbiont emerges from sleep.
The Nipple Speaker
The viewer is seated in a 70s era massage chair facing three monitors. The Symbiont awakens as it senses the viewer's body heat. To converse with it's new acquaintance, it tentatively extends it's robotic arm offering a sterile nipple. By biting down on the nipple, the viewer is able to hear the sounds uttered by the Symbiont. The sound vibrations travel from the nipple through the teeth to the ear like an inner voice. Inside the nipple are pressure sensors that determine the intensity and frequency of the sucking.
The viewer then "consumes" the images on the screen as the video skews and scales according to the chewing motion. The nipple's tip is removed so that viewer's respiration can be monitored through a breathing tube which allows the Symbiont to pattern its own rhythms and responses to the viewers breathing pattern.
As the viewer inhales and exhales the vibration of the chair ramps up and down, echoing the participant's breaths. When the breathing rhythms go out of phase, the viewer is compelled to compensate. The distinction between who is controlling who becomes blurred.
The eye-tracking element of the Symbiont is currently being re-developed. Seated in the chair, the viewer will gaze towards the main screen. As her eyes follow the action of the images, the path the eyes traverse will draw lines that slowly reveal another image. This visual experience will also be translated into an analogous aural expression. As the eye motion scratches the surface off the top image a parallel sound transition will be created, gradually combining one sound's phase with another's amplitude.
This phenomena can be compared to a synesthetic state were the confusion of the senses causes a dis-connect between mind and body. The viewer listens with her/his mouth to what is created with the eyes
The Symbiont nurtures a malingering need for constant attention. When it becomes evident to the Symbiont through the eye tracking device that it has lost eye contact, it begins to act like a child having lost the attention of its mother. It pinches and clings retracts its nipple until it regains the attention of the viewer. During the whole event, the assistant is there to offer both technical and moral support.
The Symbiont is a commentary on our increasing desire to have interdependence with technology, acting as a parody for machines we depend on in our daily lives. These machines range from the Stairmaster to personalized home entertainment to life support. As technology moves into more areas of our lives and brains, the technology conversely becomes more dependent on complex human machinations to survive. What results is a more complicated, emotional experience between ourselves and our creations.