“Muscular tissues, blood, heart rate, the meat – as Francis Bacon would say – boom out.”
Hypo Chrysos (2011-2013) is a work of action art for vexed body and biophysical media. During this twenty minutes action I pull two concrete blocks in a circle. My motion is oppressively constant. I have to force myself into accepting the pain until the action is ended. The increasing strain of my corporeal tissues produces continuous bioacoustic signals. The sound of the blood flow, muscle contraction bursts, and bone crackling are amplified, distorted, and played back through eight loudspeakers using the biophysical instrument Xth Sense, developed by the author. The same bioacoustic data stream excites an OpenGL-generated swarm of virtual entities, lights, and organic forms diffused by a video projector. The work brings together different media so a as to creatively explore the processes wherein self-perception, effort, and physicality collide.
Below you can view a live recording of the performance at Inspace, Edinburgh, UK, February 2012. An HD version lives at this link.
Using my arm to pull two ropes tied to concrete blocks, I struggle to walk along the stage. The ropes are short, and this forces me to lightly bend the torso forward, while my hips move backwards to maintain the equilibrium. The combined weight of the blocks is 50Kg. Initially they are not extremely difficult to pull, but on the long run, the resistance of my (very thin) body is truly stretched to the limits. First, I feel the abrasion caused by the friction of the ropes against the hands; after about ten minutes, the tension in my arms becomes painful, and a few minutes later the spinal column feels like burning due to the continuous attrition of the vertebras. In order to keep moving in this condition, the body has to continuously optimise its response to the strain, and this provokes a hightened activity of the sensory system.
The scope of the work is to trasmit this sensory alteration to the bodies of the audience members. When the performer’s muscle vibration becomes tangible sound breaching into the outer world, it invades the audience members’ bodies through their ears, skin, and muscle sensory receptors. The sound makes their muscles resonate, establishing a nexus between player and audience. The listeners’ bodies, the player’s body, and the performance space resonate synchronously. The performer’s proprioceptive dimension has been magnified and now embraces the bodies of the audience members. The flesh vibrational force becomes a vector of affect. Here, the term affect refers to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s definition of a body potential to affect and be affected. It is a proprioceptive potential of interaction among bodies (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). Because of its position in between cognition and viscera, affect is autonomous and unactualised. For Massumi, affect is not an object relegated within the body tissues, rather it “escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is” (Massumi, 1995, p. 96). In Hypo Chrysos, affect expands beyond the boundaries of the player’s tissues in which it originates, and modulates the audience sensory system by activating resonances in their flesh.
Hypo Chrysos is freely inspired by the sixth Bolgia of Dante’s Inferno, located in one of the lowest of the circles of hell. Here, the poet encounters the hypocrites walking along wearing gilded cloaks filled with lead. It was Dante’s punishment for the falsity hidden behind their behaviour; a malicious use of reason which he considered unique to human beings.
- Massumi, Brian. 1995. The autonomy of affect. Cultural Critique, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II(31):83–109. University of Minnesota Press.
- Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Felix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press.
This work does not make use of computer vision, other motion tracking devices or proprietary, nor commercial hardware. All sonic and video material is generated in real time by the performer’s body using the Xth Sense, a free and open technology for musical performance and responsive milieux, developed by the author, and named the 2012 “world’s most innovative new musical instrument” by the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (US). It consists of wearable biosensors and a digital framework for real-time processing of acoustic biosignals. Muscle fibres and blood vessels produce subcutaneous mechanical oscillations (i.e. acoustic sounds). These are captured by the XS sensors and fed to a computer in real time. The machine deploys mathematical, evolutionary, and learning models so to become aware and interact with the muscular sound of the performer’s body (kinesis). During this two-way interaction the performer produces the sound material by contracting his limbs and the computer diffuse the processed sounds of the performer’s body through a variable array of loudspeakers. All sound and video manipulations, spatialization, rhythm and structure of the piece are defined in real time by the only physical behaviour of the artist on stage.
The use of open source technologies is an integral aspect of the research. The Xth Sense biophysical wearable instrument was designed and implemented by Marco Donnarumma, with the support of Andrea Donnarumma and Marianna Cozzolino. The Pure Data-based framework for real time analysis and processing of biological sounds was designed and coded by the author on a Linux machine, with inspiring advice by Martin Parker, Sean Williams, Owen Green, Jaime Oliver, and Andy Farnell.
Pictures courtesy of Chris Scott.
Heading images: stills from real time video.
biophysical technology, body, bioacoustics; sensory system, sensory alteration, proprioception; resistance, effort, friction, tension, vexed body, kinetic energy; performance art, action art, theatrical performance; real time, audio processing, gesture tracking, pure data.
- CYNETART Fest / Metabody Project, Dresden, DE, November 2013
- POLAND Tour: Contemporary Art Center Fabryka Sztuki, Łódź, PL, April 2013
- TEI, International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction, Barcelona, ES, February 2013
- Panorama Festival/Happenings, Rio De Janeiro, BR, November 2012 (supported by the British Council)
- Inspace, Edinburgh, UK, May 2012
- Trendelenburg AV Festival, Gijon, ES, December 2011
- PREMIERE Madatac Festival, Caixaforum, Madrid, ES, December 2011