Invisible Prosthetics


“Invisible Prosthetics” is an online exhibition that showcases several contemporary works which serve as experiments in the field of embodied cognition, carefully curated from research based performances, interactive installation art and responsive environments. These works will be discussed from the lens of technogenesis, body politics, space, time and empathy. In these works, the role of observer and performer will be examined through mirror neuronal mappings [ mind’s body representations mapped to visuals, sound, proxemics, metaphors etc. ] by analyzing the shift in perspectives and cybernetics that provide for resonating and impactful cognitive awareness and memory states.

With recent research on mirror neurons, the basic mechanisms of empathy and embodiment have been brought to life in a variety of contexts (temporal, social, cultural, personal factors etc.). [1]

Mirror neurons provide the neurophysiological basis for the capacity of primates to recognize different actions made by other individuals: the same neural motor pattern that characterizes the action when actively executed is evoked in the observer. [2]

Embodied mechanisms involving the activation of the sensory–motor system, of which the mirror-neuronal system is part, do play a major role in social cognition and grounding it into the experiential domain of existence, something that classic cognitivism has totally neglected. [2] They influence language, thought [2] and might be involved in the process of meaning.[3]

Wolfflin’s speculations on body response to architectural forms (1886), Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel, Theodor Lipps’ writings on space and geometry (1897) and aesthetic enjoyment (1903), Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological relationship between embodiment and aesthetic experience, etc., influenced experiencing art substantially, as can be seen progressively in Stephan von Huene’s kinetic and sound sculptures (1964-2000), Myron Krueger’s Videoplace(1972-90), Utterback’s “Textrain” (1999), Juha Huuskonen’s mirror++ (2000), Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Body Movies (2001), Scott Snibbe’s installations, Compliant (2003), Cause and Effect (2004) etc. With technogenesis and distributed cognition [4] now; body, technology and space are being explored and represented more and more, from personal to public art paradigms.

Pablo Palacio’s Neural Narratives 2 : Polytopya (2014-15) and gestural instruments (Interactive stochastic swarm synthesis sextet, Ataxia, Interactive Dynamic Stochastic Step Size Modulator, Interactive Sound Shredder, Blink Morpher..) discuss the relationship between body gesture and sonic gesture. Polytpoya aims to form connections between the performer’s body with the corporeal, audio-visual representations created through artificial neural networks, commenting on how “the scenario becomes a laboratory of processes of technogenesis and the progressive virtualization of the human body and stream of consciousness”. [5] Similar works like Transcranial (by Klaus Obermaier, Kyle McDonald and Daito Manabe), Integration.04 (by Dieter Vandoren) are research based performances inspired off of and experimenting in embodied cognition with the viewer as observer.

The next series of works showcased in the exhibition consider viewer as part observer and part performer. OpenEndedGroup’s Into the Forest [2011] provides a stereoscopic 3D, mixed reality experience with a part-interactive narrative. It pulls the viewer from reality into childhood dreams where they can see the narrative evolve in the imaginary virtual ever changing forest. Body Language by Nathaniel Stern [2000-13] is a suite of 4 interactive installations (elicit, enter, stuttering, and scripted) with text-based bodily representations to explore relationship between materiality and text, bodies and language. “Each piece stages the experience and practice of bodies and language in a different way, enabling in-depth explorations of how they are always implicated across one another.” [6]

Marco Donnarumma’s work on biophysical acoustics adss Nigredo [2015] to this exhibition. Viewer’s hear their own heartbeat, blood flow and muscle contractions (digitally processed and fed back), in a small dark room. The representations of invisible bodily interactions become sonically aware. Flow [2007-11] by Studio Roosegaarde is an interactive wind installation as a social subversion where “visitors trigger an illusive landscape of transparent fields and artificial wind. Flow heightens the visitor’s consciousness into a collective body becoming one with space and technology.” [7]

The next series of mixed reality works highlight role of viewer as a performer by placing them in immersive worlds constructed in real spaces. Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield’s Artificial Nature [2009], Adrien M and Claire B’s XYZT [2015], Umbrellium’s Assemblance [2014] and Design I/O’s Connected Worlds [2015] provide embodied interactions in diverse immersive and collaborative environments. Artificial Nature, an ongoing project, gives embodied interaction of real bodies with artificially projected organisms to create connections and empathy. XYZT was an exhibition of embodied audio-visual installations with metaphorical representations in the abstracted landscapes meant to develop connections. “Assemblance is a collaborative immersive environment filled with three-dimensional interactive light-structures sculpted by people's gestures and movements.” [8] This poetic experience reconfigures space and reality and is aimed towards collaboration, co-operation and co-existence.

Connected Worlds comprises of 6 large scale, interactive, connected ecosystems. The intent lies in teaching children about sustainability and encouraging systems thinking as they manage and distribute a limited amount of water across the different environments. SMALLab Learning creates embodied learning environments for schools, museums and homes, offering “ kinesthetic, collaborative, and multimodal scenarios with technology” [9] for engagement and learning.

Embodied cognition involves awareness of body, relation to the environment, phenomenology of thought, empathetic action, ecological aesthetics etc.; critical in understanding role of our bodies in this technological age, and the deep cognitive impact it can provide.


Neural Narratives 2 : Polytopya by Pablo Palacio [2014-15]

Neural Narratives 2: Polytopya is a 50 min interactive performance where the performer’s body interacts sonically and forms connections with bodily, audio-visual virtual extensions. These extensions are projected behind the performer to generate a shared, connected real and virtual world. The work comments on the hybrid corporeality of our existence and progressive virtualization of human body and stream of consciousness with technogenesis.

Into the Forest by OpenEndedGroup [2011]

Into the Forest is an interactive 3D installation, commissioned by the Museum of Moving Image in 2011. An ever changing forest (visual aesthetic almost as paint strokes) is circularly projected using polarized projectors in stereoscopic 3D. When the viewer enters the spotlight, their figure (interactive silhouette) gets placed in the virtual world with the other children and they see it play and explore the forest with them. The experience attracts the viewer and pulls them from reality into the virtual narrative to evoke feelings of childhood, day-dreaming and nostalgia.

Body Language by Nathaniel Stern [2000-2013]

Body Language comprises of 4 interactive audio-visual installations by Nathaniel Stern from 2000-2013. The works explore complicated relationships between body and language. elicit connects the body to a constant stream of characters (from a poem) emanating in different colors and sizes on the projection screen. In enter, user interacts by grabbing the words (appearing, disappearing, moving around rapidly) triggering the corresponding spoken word. Metaphorical Representation of how saying and doing, affection and reflection, are often one and the same. stuttering is an asymmetrical projection grid of user’s outline, invisible text and audio trigger points (“virtual buttons”[6]). As body movement goes from fast and erratic to slow and controlled, it goes from stuttering to revealing of meaning in both text and body. scripted lets users digitally draw with their heads and the system matches the traced path with the closest looking character in the English alphabet.

Nigredo by Marco Donnarumma [2013]

In the 8 min private experience of Nigredo, the user is accompanied by an assistant into a dark room where he/she sits on a chair facing a mirror and put bioacoustic wearables on the skull and near the heart. User’s heartbeat, blood flow and muscle contractions are sonically processed and fed-back through the high-powered infrasound devices leading to mechanical vibrational patterns. The patterns are designed to go in opposite directions in the rib-cage causing standing waves and resonance. Flickering lights, surround sound and audio-feedback from the visceral body provoke physiological, physical and neural alterations.

Flow by Studio Roosegaarde [2007-2011]

Flow is a wall, a modular system composed of hundreds of ventilators that interact with visitors, sensing their body movements and triggering an “illusive landscape of transparent fields and artificial winds.” [7] The wall augments reality providing control in the airflow to the passers by. Their consciousness is heightened into a body as one with technology, space and ecology. The system is made of ventilators, aluminium, sensors, electronics, software and other media.

Archipelago by Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield [2013]

Archipelago is one of the 5 works developed as a part of Artificial Life, a research project and an evolving series of art installations in 2013 by Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield. Users interact with a projected group of islands as interconnected ecosystems on a landscape constructed out of 3 tons of sand, using 4 projectors and 4 kinects. Some of the interactions include: users’ shadows kill the organisms but increase fertility in those areas, movement of users generate wind forces, transportation of organisms because of the forces etc.

XYZT by Adrien M and Claire B [2015]

XYZT (Horizontality, verticality, depth and time) was an exhibition at Le Palais de la Découverte, Paris in 2015 by Adrien M and Claire B, exhibiting 10 interactive installations through touch (Discrete Collisions, Kinetic Sand, Coincidence #1), walking (Field of Vectors, Anamorphosis in Space), dancing (Shifting Clouds, Anamorphosis in Time), blowing (Typographic Organisms) and contemplating (Paysages Abstraits, Letter Tree). The works exhibited construct a mixed reality, multimodal sensory experience with “mathematical paradoxes, typographical illusions and metaphors in motion” [10] based on research on human body and digital objects in motion.

Assemblance by Umbrellium [2014]

Assemblance is a collaborative immersive environment containing interactive 3D light structures that can be shaped through users’ hands, feet and body. The installation draws on metaphors of collaboration, coexistence and empathy in a networked urban infrastructure as the users construct, morph and destroy ephemeral structures through light. Through embodied cognition and play, the work poetically touches on our greater societal and ethical roles in developing connected infrastructure.

Connected Worlds by Design I/O [2015]

Connected Worlds is a large scale immersive installation developed for the New York Hall of Science by Design I/O in 2015. The installation is composed of six interactive ecosystems spread out across the walls of the Great Hall, connected together by a 3000 sqft interactive floor and a 45ft high waterfall. [11] The water can be diverted using logs, seeds can be planted using hands, creatures grow/die and exhibit behaviors, clouds bring water to ground through rain etc. With a limited amount of water, Connected Worlds makes the children manage and distribute water across different ecosystems, providing an opportunity for them to develop systems thinking, understand global consequences of local actions in an embodied way.

SMALLab Embodied Learning Environment [2010]

SMALLab (Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Lab) is an embodied learning environment for schools that is delivered and installed with the necessary hardware and software at campuses aimed at transforming education. It is a kinesthetic, collaborative and multimodal learning environment that works by tracking students’ 3D movements in the immersive space. “For example, as students are learning about a physics concept like velocity, they can hear the sound of their actions getting faster. They can see graphs and equations that represent their motions in real time. They can feel the weight of an object in their hand as they interact in real physical space.” [12]


[1] Freedberg, D. and Gallese, V. 2007. "Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Aesthetic Experience", Trends in Cognitive Science

[2] Francesca Bacci and David Melcher, 2010, "Art and the Senses"

[3] Gallese and Lakoff 2005; Gallese 2007, 2008

[4] "Hayles: Technogenesis, Distributed Cognition and Hyperattention." Publicly Sited Hayles Technogenesis Distributed Cognition and Hyperattention Comments. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[5] "SONIC DANCE." SONIC DANCE. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[6] "Body Language – Nathaniel Stern." Nathaniel Stern. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[7] "Studio Roosegaarde." — Flow Info. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[8] "Umbrellium." Assemblance -. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[9] "About Us - SMALLab Learning." SMALLab Learning. Accessed May 12, 2016.


[11] "Design I/O - CONNECTED WORLDS." Design I/O - CONNECTED WORLDS. Accessed May 12, 2016.

[12] "SMALLab Embodied Learning Environment from SMALLab Learning." SMALLab Learning. Accessed May 12, 2016.