EN/GLOBE : Sensory Narrative Interface
EN/GLOBE, the most recent project by Marie-Eve Morissette [student member, UQAC_NAD], is an immersive, interactive installation that reveals a space for exploration and aims to raise awareness of sensory perceptions (tactile, auditory and olfactory). Comprising three unique spheres, the work invites the public to enter and experience each one in its own unique way. The work acts as an interface between the artist’s intentions and the public’s experience, leaving them free to draw their own interpretation and develop their own narrative. The work is presented as an interactive multimodal system that encourages self-expression.
The work was realized during a residency at Hexagram from October 2 to 13, 2023, and was presented to the public at a vernissage on October 10. During the residency, the public was also invited to come and see the work in progress, and to discuss the conceptual, technical and narrative issues involved, as well as its experience. This installation is phase two of a research-creation project aimed at assessing the fruitfulness of a novel, encounter-based approach to interfaces. The method is based on the principles of soma-aesthetics, a theoretical and practical approach developed by Richard Shusterman1. Soma-aesthetics is succinctly defined as “the critical study and meliorative cultivation of our experience and use of the living body (sôma) as a site of sensory appreciation (aisthèsis) and creative self-shaping” (Shusterman, 2010, p.15). She is also interested in the discourses and structuring knowledge of soma as a practical, embodied philosophy (Shusterman, 2007, p.32-33). “It allows us to account for [the participant’s] experience of relating to the work of art and the world it carries with it” (Formis, 2009, p.156). This approach helps to forge links between analysis and practice. This approach weaves links between analysis and practice. It instills an awareness that goes beyond the subjective state, where the body is both an object of observation and a means of understanding sensory, proprioceptive and kinaesthetic perceptions.
The installation consists of three white paper spheres. These light domes, approximately 90 cm in diameter, are suspended from the ceiling to support video projections. Within these spheres, various mechanisms create physical sensations, for example: a fan propels a gentle breeze, and diffuses a light scent of peppermint, known for its stimulating properties that sharpen the memory and soothe nausea; sound exciters transform the sphere into loudspeakers and create spatialized sound effects; and a servo motor rotates a disk covered with soft filaments that caress and surround the head. Visitors are invited to pass their heads through the domes and experience a variety of sensory stimuli from one sphere to the next. These subtle, singular experiences are conducive to immediate awakening through bodily (proprioceptive, kinesthetic) and sensory (tactile, auditory, visual, olfactory) experience. On the other hand, the work unfolds in space and time: sensory devices generate sound and movement, while the spheres are wrapped in generative visuals that evolve in different ways in response to interactions. The work’s universe is constituted by the conjugation of the installation with the public as a sensory environment. Its system and rules of interaction move away from the conception of a control-based interface towards the paradigm of the interface as an encounter that encourages individual expression.
A unique approach to interfaces
The approach advocated here is out of step with what is usually expected of an interface. The stimulation of senses not usually solicited by interfaces (smell, touch on the skin of the face and head) invites the exploration of more subtle sensations on different parts of the body. Its imposing size encourages whole-body movement, going beyond the manipulation or digipulation (finger movements) typical of touch screens and peripherals. By adopting a sensory-rich materiality associated with the electronic hardware and interaction data that generate generative visuals, the installation combines physical and digital matter to create a place of unprecedented sensory experimentation. This space offers itself to the visitor as a territory of self-expression and self-construction, like an interface: a zone of contact and exchange, a space conducive to interaction and encounter. Thus, contact with the work and the body’s movements give rise to an awareness of personal and immediate experience, as physical sensations surface and integrate with the flow of thoughts (Shusterman, R. (2007).
The method also includes an eco-responsible approach to recycling forgotten, neglected or superfluous everyday objects, using materials found in our immediate surroundings (in this case, newspaper) to avoid the production of new plastic, glass and metal objects that are difficult to recycle.
The project was inspired by a process of documenting and recording various pleasant sensory experiences, such as the search for more subtle or familiar sensory experiences: the cool breeze of a summer’s evening, the caress of wild grasses and leaves, fresh and fleeting smells, echoes of voices in a corridor or fragments of inaudible conversations picked up when passing people on the street. The aim is not to recreate an identical sensation, but to use this material as a basis for creating new experiences. For example, the soundscape is composed of extracts captured by field recording during Marie-Eve Morissette’s stay at the Ars Electronica festival in September 2023. The recordings were processed and rearranged to create a new soundtrack inspired by her wanderings through Post City, where the exhibition was held, in a huge disused industrial building. During editing, the acoustic properties of the sphere inspired the arrangements and spatialization of the sound.
In the experiment room
EN/GLOBE is a physical device that has greatly benefited from the space of Hexagram’s experimental room to be properly presented and express its spatial qualities – an implicit and important component of the artist’s work. Without access to this room with its infrastructure and equipment, this project would not have been possible.
In conclusion, since the notion of interface-encounter is at the heart of the process, the residency provides a favorable context for sharing the experience and a unique observation ground for assessing its interactive dimensions. Impromptu visits from other members of the Hexagram network and discussions during the open workshop were both technically and creatively enriching. Informal exchanges revealed that, in addition to the proposed sensory experiences, several people experienced optical illusions or synesthetic-type experiences that occur when a stimulus evokes another sensory perception, such as tasting images. All in all, this offers some interesting avenues to explore for future installations.
1 This approach was first systematized by Richard Shusterman in 2007 in his book Conscience du corps. Pour une soma-esthétique, Éditions de l’éclat. In 2009, Barbara Formis published a collection of texts – Penser en corps. Soma-esthétique, art et philosophie, Éditions L’Harmattan – which problematized soma-esthétique in order to establish its validity, principles and limits.
Formis, B. (Éds.). (2009). Penser en corps : soma-esthétique, art et philosophie. L’Harmattan
Formis, B. (2009). Richard Shusterman, Conscience du corps : pour une soma-esthétique. Mouvements, 57, 155-157. https://doi.org/10.3917/mouv.057.0155
Shusterman, R. (2007). Conscience du corps : pour une soma-esthétique. Éditions de L’Éclat.
Shusterman, R. (2010). Conscience soma-esthétique, perception proprioceptive et action. (P. Chemla, trad.). Communications, 86(1), 15-24. https://doi.org/10.3917/commu.086.0015
Shusterman, R. (2011). La Soma-esthétique de Merleau-Ponty. (B. Delay, trad.). Critique d’art, 37(Printemps 2011). https://doi.org/10.4000/critiquedart.1296
ON/CONTACT : When Art and Public Meet
ON/CONTACT by Marie-Eve Morissette is an interactive installation in the form of a haptic column that the interactor presses against his body. The encounter between being and device generates an immersive sound and vibratory environment that captivates the senses and invites touch, as does the bewitching materiality that envelops the structure.
This tangible interface proposes new ways of exploring our relationship to connected objects. The project is part of a change of approach based on encounter rather than control by offering different possibilities of interaction based on a logic of openness. In a post-pandemic context where proximity, closeness and contact have been severely tested, this anti-distanciation object reinitializes the fact of bodies touching, and being in presence.
This installation is the result of a research-creation process following heuristic cycles (Paquin, 2019). To support this process, the iterations, prototypes, and models that contributed to the creation of the haptic column were also presented at the July 22 public event as part of a residency at Hexagram (Salle d’expérimentation).
The residency: mise en espace / mise en perspective
The haptic column participates in a continuous process of creation where the mise en espace is an integral part of the approach because it serves a twofold perspective. First, it makes the work dialogue with its own evolution. The installation in two distinct spaces – one space for the process and the other for the work – facilitates the observation of the evolving links between the parts and the finality of the project. Secondly, it achieves the representation of the object as a work of art. This contextualization constitutes a form of autonomization allowing the installation to be considered for itself. The relationship to the installation thus renewed makes the project switch from the status of working prototype to that of work given to be seen and to be lived, and thus establishes the meeting of the work with the public.
The disclosure of the research-creation process creates a space conducive to reflection, experimentation and public encounter. This context allowed us to identify avenues of development, share memories and draw analogies in relation to the haptic column. Some of the proposals were tested live during the exchanges, notably those concerning lighting and interactivity.
The spatial setting in a vast and open space inspired the development of a new sound and vibration framework. The original sounds, reminiscent of a familiar soundscape, were filtered to make them more abstract in order to invite imagination, active listening and to awaken curiosity.
Finally, the soft and cosy material of the column is part of the encounter as a result of the tactile pleasure and the comfort it provides. The surface is modulated by the caresses and the touch that create textures and patterns as traces of the encounter. A closer embrace activates the tactile sensor and unfolds a new soundscape with each new contact, renewing the experience.
Paquin, L. C. (2019). Faire de la recherche-création par cycles heuristiques. Écritures récentes. http://lcpaquin.com/cycles_heuristiques_version_abregee.pdf
Photo credit for banner image : Yan Breuleux
Marie-Eve Morissette has worked for twenty years as a designer where her transversal practice has led her to work on different scales and in various fields. Her current research focuses on the concept of the encounter in installation devices that mobilize materiality, interface, haptics and sound. She holds a master’s degree in environmental design and a DESS in event design from UQAM, and is currently completing a master’s degree in digital design at NAD-UQAC. She is actively involved in other research projects such as the Mimesis laboratory (NAD-UQAC) and Médiane, the Canada Research Chair in Arts, Ecotechnologies of Practice and Climate Change (UQAM).
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