Archives for posts with tag: body position

The V&A Museum has an exciting exhibit currently open in the Sackler Centre. ‘Digital Dragons’ makes two Chinese paintings ‘come alive’ through digital projection and a whole body interface supported by Kinect devices. Stepping on the floor influences the projection of the painting: depending on where you step, the landscape painting gains colour and human activity and in the other painting, dragons begin to chase coloured pearls.

WBI V and A

At MODE we’ve been observing children as they interact with the exhibit. In a series of naturalistic observations, we videoed 1-4 year olds interacting with the exhibit with their parents. In the next phase of research, we observed 7-8 year olds from the same school interacting with the exhibit, and then interviewed them afterwards to see how they had made sense of the experience.

Our questions in conducting these observations have been broad. We’re interested in how children make sense of their movements in relation to the projected visual activity; how the involvement of the whole body in this experience might influence the children’s interpretations of the paintings involved in the exhibit; and how social interactions are configured and coordinated in this type of interactive museum space.

In-depth analysis will begin soon. Our preliminary thoughts and ideas have centred on where the students focused their attention. For the first cycle of the interaction with the paintings, many of the children seemed to focus exclusively on the colour and movement they saw on the floor. Over the course of their interaction however, they became increasingly aware that their movements were having an impact on the projected image and began to make sense of exactly what this relationship was. This might suggest that exhibits that make use of two separately located sites of activity (here the floor and the wall) may require sustained interaction if students are to understand how activity in these spaces is connected.

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I found jotting down 10 things I know about phenomenology a helpful exercise for consolidating and summarizing knowledge of a central approach in embodiment research. Over the last few weeks, I have repeatedly come across the term ‘Somaesthetics’ in relation to embodiment and have done some preliminary reading on the term. In an effort to make sense of the fledgling understanding I’ve gained, I decided to try the ’10 things I know’ approach again. Without looking at books, notes or papers, I scribbled down the following:

1. Somaesthetics is an emerging discipline primarily proposed by Richard Shusterman, who argues for it to sit within Philosophy, and more specifically the philosophical sub-discipline of Aesthetics.

2. Somaesthetics as a discipline foregrounds the role of bodily experience in aesthetic appreciation. Shusterman argues that it will offer a more substantial and systematic framework for research on the body.

3. Somaesthetics comprises three branches: Analytic somaesthetics; Pragmatic somaesthetics; Practical somaesthetics

Somaesthetics Diagram

4. Analytic somaesthetics comprises interpretive studies of bodily practice. These occur on a theoretical level and would include research linking the body and bodily practices with the organization of society and the individual psyche. Shusterman argues that the work of Foucault, Bourdieu and Merleau-Ponty would all constitute analytic somaesthetics.

5. Pragmatic somaesthetics comprises bodies of thought that suggest ways of training or harnessing bodily experience. Practices such as Tai Chi and the Alexander Technique are accompanied by ideas and theories of the body and these would belong to this branch of pragmatic somaesthetics.

6. Practical somaesthetics consists of the practice itself – the Tai Chi, or the yoga, or the Alexander Technique. It is not entirely clear which bodily practices Shusterman chooses to accept within practical somaesthetics. He seems to place less value on athletics or football, and much more on solitary practices that reference bodily understanding more explicitly.

7. In foregrounding the body in aesthetic experience, Shusterman argues that a distinction needs to be drawn between representational foregrounding and experiential foregrounding. In the former, the body is seen and treated as an external object. In the latter, the body is a fundamental part or vehicle of lived experience.

8. Critiques of somaesthetics include the linking of the discipline to normative approaches to the body. Somaesthetics places a value on the physical cultivation of the body and this is reminiscent of doctrines that treat the body as an object to be molded into a form that conforms to the social ideal.

9. Shusterman’s response to this critique rests on the distinction he makes between representational and experiential foregrounding of the body. Thus, he argues that cultivating the body as it is experienced (rather than as it is represented) does not relate to social norms, but rather to the improvement of individual perception and action.

10. Shusterman advocates that there is a role for somaesthetics in education since it enables us to ‘feel better’ in both senses of the phrase. Cultivating bodily practices heightens our sensations and perceptions of the world around us; they also encourage us to be more in control and more caring of the self.

The combination of theoretical and practical approaches to the body certainly makes the discipline of somaesthetics an interesting prospect, but I am left with questions about the possibility and worth of trying to merge these perspectives. Shusterman’s framework makes such a sharp and convincing distinction between analytic, pragmatic and practical somaesthetics, that it isn’t clear how it draws these together at all. How are Foucault’s theories of the body related to the theory or practice of yoga? How can somaesthetics help us to access this relationship? Is this a relationship that should exist given how different the objectives related to each project are? Certainly, I believe that theorists of the body can learn much from bodily practices and practitioners who work with the body, but what is the benefit of binding them together in a single discipline?

Shusterman, R. (2008) Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shusterman, R. (2006) Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. The journal of aesthetic education, 40(1), 1-21.

By Mona Sakr

An overview Loke and Robertson’s ‘Making Strange’ methodology and a discussion of its relevance to embodiment

In Loke and Robertson’s (2008) ‘making strange’ methodology, the way we perceive and feel the moving body is actively unsettled in order to find new perspectives on the body and bodily interaction. The practice of ‘making strange’ builds on the work of dancer Maxine Sheets-Johnstone who explored the phenomenological consequences when individuals disrupted their familiar or habitual movements. In ‘making strange’, our assumptions and habitual understandings about the body are unsettled through explicit inquiries into movement. Loke and Robertson argue that de-familiarising the movements of the body can open up new spaces in the design of artefacts and technologies. It can help us to invent or devise new types of movement; it enables an investigation into the experience of movement; and it encourages us to find new methods for re-enacting or recording movement.

 So how does ‘making strange’ work? Loke and Robertson suggest a range of techniques that can facilitate innovative thinking about the body and movement:

  • Scoring – a simple score might consist of three movements e.g. walking, standing and crouching, but by improvising in terms of the speed, duration, order, focus, or use of space, these movements can be radically altered.
  • Falling – unorthodox movements, like falling, can help us to re-feel and re-negotiate our relationship with the moving body.
  • Somatics – certain practices, like Qi Gong, can help us to become more aware of our felt sensations and to prioritise these over the external perception of movement.
  • Finding Pathways – what part of the body do you lead with when you move, and what would happen if this were changed? Try walking left shoulder-first, or leading with your elbow when you lift your arm.
  • Imagery – the language we use to talk about the body and movement can help us to enact movements differently. Think of the ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ game that you may have played when you were younger. Chanting these words as a group while lifting one of your peers changes the experience.

For dancers, these techniques are a way of accessing, inventing and designing new forms of movement. For researchers of the body though, we also need methods for capturing responses to these movement techniques. And as designers, we need to link these responses to, or ‘write’ them into, systems that depend on movement.

Some ideas for recording responses might include:

  • Video to capture the movement
  • Transcriptions of the movement through visual plots e.g. plotting the motion of particular points on the body
  • Photography to capture the moments that define the essential points of the movement e.g. when we raise our hands, the essence of the movement is in the fingers raised towards the sky
  • In situ comments on the phenomenological consequences of the movement
  • Oral or written reflective commentaries

‘Making strange’ is an exciting starting point in the design of embodied interaction. Beyond the techniques it suggests though, we need robust methods for capturing the outcomes of practising these techniques, along with guidelines for implementing them in the design of systems that depend on whole-body interaction. For me, the next step in understanding the ‘making strange’ methodology will be to try the techniques suggested by Loke and Robertson and to capture my responses in the ways I’ve suggested.  Will the outcomes be useful in thinking about and designing for whole-body interaction?

Loke, L. & Robertson, T. (2008) Inventing and devising movement in the design of movement-based interactive systems. OZCHI’08 (81-88).

By Mona Sakr

Some thoughts about the role of gaze in students’ historical inquiry a digitally augmented local site of interest

I’m currently analyzing data from a project looking at students’ exploration of a digitally augmented local site of interest. The students used iPads to engage with the WW2 history of the local common and the experiences of people in the area during the war. One of our research focuses is how being in situ can facilitate students’ inquiry about the past. How do students use both the physical and the digital environments to support their learning and interactions?

In coming to a multimodal analysis of students’ embodied experiences of time and place, I suspected that movement would be important to students’ inquiry. I had hypothesized that movement would enable them to make links between different areas on the common. However, what I hadn’t  previously thought much about was the way that gaze would also be an essential tool in enabling inquiry about the past.

Research on gaze has tended to position it as either an indicator of attention (as in psychological research) or as a key instrument in social interaction (as in sociology and conversation analysis). But in our project on students’ inquiry on the Common, gaze acted as a thinking tool. In particular, the movement of their gaze back and forth between the digital environment of the iPad and the physical environment of the local common enabled them to engage simultaneously with the past and the present, comparing these points in time.

Gaze as a thinking tool 1

Gaze as a thinking tool 2

In an illustrative clip (picture above), two students are discussing how they think they would have felt if they had had to live in a deep shelter under the common during WW2. They talk about what they would have missed and constantly their gaze moves between the image of the shelter on the iPad screen and the physical environment that surrounds them – an environment that they describe as ‘free’. Gaze enables them to regularly re-engage with the present day environment so that they can work through abstract ideas or associations they have about the space.

To see more about this project, watch our video about embodied experiences of Clapham Common and students’ historical inquiry.

An update on a current research project looking at body and space in the context of mobile technologies

By Mona Sakr

Mobile technologies have particular features that are likely to change individuals’ embodied experiences of places. Here at MODE, we’re conducting a research project to look at the influence of mobile technologies on young students’ navigation and exploration of a local site of interest and its cultural history.

We have designed a digital environment on the iPad for 10-11 year olds that allows them to explore the WW2 history of Clapham Common. The modified Evernote app, which you can see in the figure below, encourages individuals to move around the common while accessing visual, written and audio information about the history of the common. Users are also encouraged to upload their own photos and audio recordings about their experience of the common.

App environment for exploring Clapham Common

App environment for exploring Clapham Common

Our research questions probe the possibility that particular features of mobile technologies change the way individuals experience a place. In particular, we are interested in how these features change what the body is doing (the embodied experience of the place) and how this in turn affects the overall experience.

A mad flurry of data collection has happened over the past  fortnight. Working with 60 students at a primary school in Clapham, we collected a range of video data on their experiences of the common while using the mobile digital environment on the iPad. This data included researcher-generated video, headcam video and bodycam video. The video was supplemented with GPS trackings, and the photos and audio recordings that the students created while exploring the Common in pairs.

Researcher-generated video

Researcher-generated video

Headcam video

Headcam video

Before and after the experience, the students recorded their thoughts and feelings about the common via a series of classroom activities, including map-making and recounting the route they had taken on a mapped floor.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll begin to get to grips with all the data we’ve collected. As well as engaging with the research questions about embodied experiences, we are trying to determine how different forms of digital data can enable us to engage with embodiment and embodied experiences of place on an empirical level.  

  

By Mona Sakr

In my last post, I talked about the link between bodies and ‘self’ and I suggested three ways of thinking about this relationship:

PERFORMANCE (bodies perform the ‘self’)

MOMENTS (bodily moments make up the ‘self’)

MEDIATION (experience is mediated by the body)

boat race 1

Watching the boat race this weekend, they seemed like a good way of making sense of the part that bodies played in this spectacle, and a starting point for further questions about the body…

PERFORMANCE: In sports, we use every trick we have to create the conditions for our success. Part of this is using our bodies to perform to others. We use our bodies to perform competence, to perform victory. Before the boat race began, the competitors inhabited their bodies in particular ways. They sat up straight, they looked straight ahead, they embodied the role of fierce and focused competitor. In moments of physical exhaustion, the performance crumbled… At the finish line, the individual in ‘stroke’ position in the Oxford boat, collapsed backwards and was dribbling. It took him a few minutes to regain composure and embody the role of victor. When can we perform and when can we not? What role do the moments of non-performance play in the making of ‘self’?

MOMENTS: I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that the individuals taking part in the boat race will remember it for a long time to come. What will they remember? Will they remember the physical exhaustion and exhilaration? They might well talk about these aspects of the experience, but is it possible to remember bodily experience? Try remembering what it’s like to feel cold when you’re hot, or what it’s like to feel nervous when you’re relaxed. What is the relationship between body and memory?

MEDIATION: Not everyone can participate in the boat race. Not everyone has a body that fits the bill. Only the men’s boat race is televised. Bodies allow us to own certain experiences and not others, so can they be conceptualised as currency?

By Mona Sakr

Yesterday, MODE hosted a training day on embodiment in digital environments. The day was brimming with ideas, approaches and contexts. They all stemmed however, from the central concept that the body plays an essential role in human experience – so essential that theoretical divides between mind and body are difficult, if not impossible, to make.

Digital environments highlight the need to prioritise the body and help to explain why embodiment as a framework has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. But these environments also call into question the very idea of the body (ie. what we mean by ‘body’) and its role in learning and experience. They enable us to grapple in new ways with old ideas about embodiment, and at the same time they demand that we ask new questions about embodiment as a concept and theory.

New and old questions about embodiment were explored through a wide range of research contexts as represented by the day’s speakers and in the mini-workshops:

  • Caroline Pelletier questioned what it means to represent the body realistically in the context of surgical simulation, and the different genres of representation that can be invoked in such environments.
  • Carey Jewitt and Sara Price looked at the positioning of the body in children’s scientific inquiry using tangible technologies. Using multimodal analysis, they demonstrated the importance of the body for setting the rhythm and pace of social interaction and learning.
  • Anton Franks and Andrew Burns introduced the concepts of frame, affect, action, role and voice in analysing the computer games that young people construct.
  • Niall Winters introduced the possibility that individuals’ tactical spatial practices are changed through their use of mobile technologies. Participants in the seminar had hands-on experience of how this might happen by exploring the area surrounding the London Knowledge Lab while using apps that encourage users to engage with space differently.