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Situated Aesthetics: Interaction and Participation in Biofeedback Performances

Kaushal, Vikram (2019) Situated Aesthetics: Interaction and Participation in Biofeedback Performances. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This practice-based PhD explores how the implementation of biofeedback in audio-visual performances can challenge the traditional divisions between the roles of the artist, the audience and the artwork. This was achieved by designing a system to accommodate these performances and iterating the system across three performances. At the centre of the system is the use of biometric devices to collect real-time data from audience participants. Their brainwaves and heart rates were interfaced with audio-visual outputs which were made both visible and audible to them, thereby influencing the original data and creating a biofeedback loop. The first of the four experiments took place in a controlled studio environment without an audience and served to establish which technologies were most suited to this end. The technologies were tested for their prospective reliability and accessibility in a live performance environment, with the ultimate aim of enabling the greatest level of interaction between the roles of artist, audience and artwork. The following three experiments took place between 2015-18 and were funded by commissioning bodies to be hosted in galleries and exhibition spaces with an audience present. Each of these latter three performances continued to iterate the system’s design, implementing changes in response to the obstacles and opportunities presented at each stage of the process. The research question took as its starting point the principles of practice as research and the fields of social practice and cybernetics. Broadly defined, social practice is a field of art whose theory and practice foregrounds participation and an awareness of context and process in the production of artworks. Cybernetics is a field of science and philosophy which studies how systems self-regulate within, and adapt to, their environments through mechanisms of feedback and circularity, exploring principles of situatedness, embodiment, interaction and control. By drawing on the respective theories and practices of these fields, this thesis will document how they each informed the experiments in addressing the research question. Little research exists on the points of contact between social practice and cybernetics. Considered together, they mutually inform one another and present a number of illuminating points of departure when considering the embedded hierarchies and relationships between the roles of artist, audience and artwork.

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