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See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception by Madeline Schwartzman

Architects are linked, wired and connected in unimaginable ways

The body as a ‘site for futuristic evolution’, ‘perception, neuroscience and the potential of the brain’ and ‘the body in telepresence, telerobotics and teleaction’ are among the key topics visited by Madeline Schwartzman in this stimulating survey of body-related art and design. According to the New York architect, her ‘goal is to track the influence of such experimentation on architecture, installation and new media’.

We are offered one glimpse of the author herself, a young woman on a subway platform being observed by two males simultaneously. It’s a still from a 2002 Schwartzman film entitled ‘Metro Tango’, an image captured via the now-ubiquitous surveillance camera.

The body is not, of course, new in architecture. Back in the Renaissance it was de rigueur to place the Ideal Man at the origin of mathematical systems, drawn spread-eagled at the centre of the world. By the late 1960s - represented here by Haus-Rucker-Co’s techno-fantasy Mind Expander (1967) - outmoded conventions of the body were discarded in favour of sexual liberation and, circa 1968, the body politic. Schwartzman’s contemporary avant-garde appears less communal in the sense of physical proximity; our bodies may even be strangely isolated by gadgetry. These architects, artists and technologists are, however, linked, wired and connected in previously unimaginable ways.

Schwartzman presents more than 100 projects, allocating most a few images and a brief explanation, and gathering them under five fairly porous categories. In ‘Reframers’, we discover the architects Diller + Scofidio and the interactive Braincoats envisioned for their Blur Building for the Swiss Expo in 2002. We meet Austrian artist Alfons Schilling who, renunciating the ‘tyranny of Cyclopic sight’, makes a wearable and thus mobile camera obscura, and integrates video monitors into goggle-like devices to tweak ‘notions of time, space and motion.’ And there’s Korean artist Hyungkoo Lee, one of whose face-distorting glass helmets graces the cover of Schwartzman’s book.

‘Environments’ is the most architectural chapter. It includes installations by such explorers as Ball-Nogues Studio, dECOi, Magma, NOX and Philippe Rahm. Philip Beesley’s Hylozoic Grove, re-configured for last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, is described as a ‘biological lattice of kinetic parts’ that ‘extends and then retreats on its own terms’. NOX reappears in ‘Tools’ with Son-O-House, a dynamic collaboration with sound artist Edwin van der Heide. In the same category is London-based design duo Auger Loizeau, whose witty proposals include a hypothetical ‘Audiotooth Implant’, a transparent molar to transfer sound information silently from mouth to inner ear.

In ‘Mediators’, the author/curator introduces Steve Mann, who ‘spent more than 30 years evolving versions of wearable computing… and testing them out on himself’, and artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, whose ‘wearable prosthetic device and helmet… allows one to see through one’s back’. Finally, in ‘Speculations’, we meet Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading, who has undergone surgery to become ‘the first human to connect his nervous system to a computer.’ The work presented by Schwartzman addresses all five human senses in ways that are geekish, fetishistic, carnivalesque, tender. ‘See Yourself Sensing’ points to a future where the human body and technology exist in radical harmony.

See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception

Author: Madeline Schwartzman

Publisher: Black Dog Publishing, 2011 

Price: £24.95

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