Inner-Active Art: An examination of aesthetic and mapping issues in physiologically based artworks

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Much art seeks to describe or stimulate the feelings and emotions of the viewer, through both abstract and literal representation. With the exponential increase in computing power over recent years we also seek new ways of interacting with technology and exploring the virtual world. Physiological signals from the human body provide us with a view into the autonomic nervous system, that part of the nervous system largely unmediated by the direct intentions of the viewer. With the appropriate choice of signals and processing, we can even develop systems with the ability to interact with us on an emotional level - machines that know how we feel and can react accordingly (Haag et. al., 2004). This gives us the ability to see into and map the interior worlds of artists and viewers through a direct and visceral connection, the human body itself. A key issue in the development of physiologically based artwork is to make the observer-artwork dialogue meaningful to the observer, a question of translating the input bio-signals to visual, auditory or experiential events. We have yet to develop a suitable language for this dialogue and so this paper seeks to explore some potential mappings for bio-signal art, illustrated using several case studies from past and current works (Knapp, 2008) (Gonsalves, 2009). We also examine some of the other philosophical and artistic issues involved in 'affective' and bio-art such as monitoring emotion v. engendering emotion, the involvement of the observer in creating and contributing to bio-signal art and strategies for effectively developing such works.