Urban Cyborganics: Experiments


WALK ONE. Two cyborganic pioneers walked 2.1 km from Vesterbro Torv to Frederik Nielsens Vej, encountering five biodiverse sites on their journey. In addition to the Bamboo Whisper Cyborganic, Minke is also wearing a biodata tracker, which registers her body’s affect-response and saves her GPS coordinates, when emotionally triggered. Unfortunately Minke’s GPS had some issues getting a decent fix, and so missed most of the hotspots, whereas in contrast the Biodata tracker seemed excessively triggered. UC_walk01After the walk Winnie, who is an assistant professor at Aarhus University in Digital Design and Minke, a dutch anthropologist and doctoral student from the University of Amsterdam, spoke about their experiences on the walk:

Interview Transcript (very lightly edited for clarity):

Raune: if you had only three words – now it’s a little bit difficult because obviously for you [Minke] it wasn’t really working out so well…

Winnie: I thought it worked at some point?

Minke: In the end it worked, so..

Raune: But I mean it’s a different thing actually like going through it so – but if you had only three words how would you describe your experience?

[Pause: Thinking]

Minke: I think heavy just, you know, like getting used to having a different shaped head. That’ll be one.

Raune: so you actually felt you had a different shape head as opposed to I have a weird hat on?

Minke: Yes, it kind of integrated well with the way it formed but then at the same time there were certain movements I couldn’t do so I didn’t really feel like it was on the top of me it was more because it was on the back as well. I felt kind of like from the alien movies [Laughing].

Winnie: Wondering. Wondering. I also have the same feeling as yours, like so heavy I mean…

Raune: Wondering? Wondering as in thinking?

Winnie: Wondering as in thinking, yes. Both. I mean as in thinking and also as in my gestures wandering around. What is happening and especially I’m still not quite sure when it vibrates and when its not? And how and why is it vibrating with this rhythm and what kind of things trigger this movement?  And wondering also about my own bodily sensation in a way. How my body responds to the vibration. Of course its not like massage per se, its not like that but also gets me kind of alert. Like “okay, here, okay, you know, it vibrates, what happened?” You know, sort of. I can’t really move very freely but then I know there’s something happening and I’m wondering, what is it?

Raune: Did you feel that the device was a very different experience when it was vibrating? As when it was active as to when it was passive? What’s it’s still that same feeling of the head [being big]?

Winnie: for me.. the same feeling really, but I’m still super cautious, I think cautious is the word,  because I’m so afraid this thing will drop off. So I’m very cautious like I have to walk in a specific way, look in a specific perspectives, as well as even like whether it vibrates or not you have to [take care] nothing goes wrong.

Raune: yes because yours is a little bit smaller. So that’s sort of like a construction fault that is hindering the experience quite a bit because you are constantly worried about losing it?

Winnie: Yes.

Raune [to Minke]: I don’t think you were worried about losing it. That one sits quite a bit better with the headband, but I’ll see if I can do something about that.

Minke: But it was still – you don’t know what’s gonna happen when you move. Like I didn’t feel that I could test out whether it would drop if I did something [moving head around] because I knew that wouldn’t be good. But I think because yours [Winnie’s] did vibrate..

Winnie: A lot! I was wondering, when will it stop?

Minke: I was still wondering, mine didn’t do it, but I was still attuned to okay so something’s going on, I don’t know what it is, mine is not doing it, I don’t know why that is, and so, if you [Raune] hadn’t said like  “oh yours, there’s something wrong with the GPS”, I could have just been wondering that it might have been a different kind of head with different kind of experiences or different reasons why its not. So I guess it’s a setting for me.

Winnie: And I think, I somehow want to get control as well – which I’m not, in control of the device – I want to get control in a sense. Like I want to foresee or predict when I walk towards this environment it will vibrate you know, but I couldn’t.

Raune: You want to see if you can somehow manipulate it with your body?

Winnie: Yes, so I constantly think about the logic behind it, the computational logic because thats pretty much my background. And this kind of uncertainty you know, of course I know it’s safe right, but then I’d love to decode what’s happening..

Minke: Even if it’s vibrating, when the head is active, you are still quite passive. Because you can’t, you don’t know what, at least we didn’t know what it came from, so you were still dependent on what was around you, you can’t play around with it, “oh now I want more vibration or less”. I think that points to an interesting perspective to it because we’re not used to that as humans.

Raune: Yes, but it’s also a question of time right? Because at some point you would be able to. Like I can because I know how it works.

Minke: Yes, but I think when I move through a city there are very few thing I don’t have control over and don’t know why something’s happening unless I go to a city where I don’t speak the language or don’t know the rules. So this was a very different interaction even though like buildings are familiar to me, everything’s familiar to me, but this was unfamiliar to me so that makes it a different experience.

Raune: So the perception of the city actually changes ?

Minke: Changes, yes. Even though I was lost most of the time, because I don’t know where I’m going,  but this is definitely a different kind of perspective of the city. I think even if I did know where I was going it would be different.

Raune: And you say you don’t know where you’re going because you’re not from here so you don’t know the place or because you actually couldn’t see anything?

Minke: Yes that to a little bit, but also because I’m used to looking up for landmarks and you can’t do that. So we are dependent on you for guiding where it is going which is also…

Raune: Well you seemed quite relaxed I mean you were chatting all the way about just normal stuff, who knows what, which was really nice because it was not like “oh my god we’re doing this thing”.

Winnie: No, but I think it’s because we know you and I especially know you have been developing this for such a long time and you were there with the bike to sort of guide the way you know, so we actually were in a very safe atmosphere.

Minke:  Yes.

Raune: I’ve been thinking about letting people loose with just a map, I don’t know, not at this stage obviously because it still needs some tinkering and some some sorting out.

Minke:  It would have to be with someone who isn’t wearing a hat I think because otherwise it might be dangerous with crossings streets and stuff. Because then you get people are going to do this [tilting head backwards] and they will lose it and it might break.  But otherwise I don’t think, the design doesn’t look threatening, even if it’s unfamiliar and it’s not a hat I would regularly wear,  it doesn’t look threatening. I don’t know if its the materials or anything. It was heavy, but then I mean sometimes you wear heavy backpack you know.

Winnie: It’s quite fun actually. I quite like the shape.

Minke: Yes and when it rattles its, like pleasant.

Winnie: And I think I recognize the rhythm at a very late stage.

Raune: Okay?

Winnie: I thought it just vibrates and then at a certain point, quite a while actually I felt the pace, ah there are different ways.

Raune:  Yes, there is actually quite a few parameter which stop up and down, so it should give some sort of different – not like a random thing – but it will be different depending on your proximity to these hotspots that are around.

Raune: I think we had that: the relationship to your body, if that feels any like… the perception of the city and also the perception of the body, like giving it a different shape..

Minke: Definitely

Raune:  And giving a different perception also, like things that you normally can see that you …

Minke: Cannot. Yes and how to hold, I mean because I had this thing I was like “okay how do I hold my hands?” but at some point you forget. You’re doing the things you usually do like – oh wait I have these – I should probably make sure that I don’t pull anything out [Laughing]. But the head you could never forget it because of the heavy middle..

Raune: Yes, so I actually need to make something more awkward for the hand because it’s triggering the sensor. I think a lot of the triggers of the sensor is actually not because you’re that excited but because you’re talking with your hands. But the situation was so nice I didn’t want to interrupt it, but actually you are supposed to hold it still.

Minke: Oh ok I didn’t know

Winnie: Oh ok I see I see..

[Both Laughing]

Raune: So I think a lot of the triggers,  because it was triggered all the time, but I think it’s it’s actually just because of this ..

Minke: The hands..

Raune: Yes moving a little bit around.

Minke: I think if it would have, you know Danielle [Wilde] was showing this sleeve that was restricting,  if you had something like that?

Raune: But then again the sensor thing on the hand is actually not part of the project it’s sort of supposed to not be intrusive. The other one [the headdress] is supposed to intrusive but not this one, its actually just sort of like a sidekick you know, so maybe..I’ll have to I think of something..

Minke: I think if I had put my bag on the other shoulder it would have been different because then I cannot move my hand but because it was here….I was able to [moving arm and hand around].

Winnie: Is the vibration logic different between our heads?

Raune: No, it was just because she was not getting the same GPS signals. The idea is actually to make them different, so they have different sensitivities but I thought for the beginning it would be better if they were the same. But I thought they should be different so that they have different kind of personalities but basically they start, I think now,  10 – 15 meters around a certain point but then the GPS and the points are not exactly 100% . It’s based on when an insect could actually start perceiving the flowers, actually start even seeing, because they don’t see the city, to them it’s just  like a few islands [the biodiverse hotspots] in in a big vast something that doesn’t have any connections. Last question, of course it’s not like having someone who doesn’t know what they [the hats] are there for. You know about the project, you [Winnie] know it better, than you[Minke] do. You know me and you know about the project did that make any.. Did you feel you could make that connection because you knew the project? .. it’s a difficult question to ask but do you think you would see it maybe differently if you didn’t know? If you’d met me first time downtown and I’m talking you into wearing these weird hats?

Minke: I didn’t know much about the project, Midas [Raune’s colleague and Minke’s brother] told me you were doing this but I didn’t know much about them. Midas told me you were doing this but I didn’t know about the idea of them being an insect. I had no idea about that. So I’m hearing that for the first time now.  So I would still have done it but just because I like this experimental thing and getting to my body in different ways.

Raune: Yes because you mentioned quite in the beginning I think “oh it’s like a cricket” or something like that, insecty..

Minke: Yes.

Raune: So what’s that? Just the sound or also, did you also feel that?  Because the connection that it is the insects that makes it vibrate in the city, I don’t think that’s obvious at all.

Minke: No.

Winnie No, no.

Minke: For me it was just the sounds and the rattling and just memories from childhood like when we were camping there was always these wheat fields where they were in, and this ¿tensting?  [feelers] kind of look.

Raune: So when you were wearing it could you still make that sort of connection or was it just a different creature?

Minke: No it was..

Raune: More alien like?

Minke: Yes for me. Once it did work it was definitely crickets.

Winnie: I’m wondering whether it’s because I know you but maybe also because I used to be so interested in this kind of sensor stuff. So even if you were someone else who gave me this experiment,  I think I will still feel similar in a way that this must be something sensing around the city. Something about the nature, something about maybe the sound of the city, maybe like other kinds of components you know…I usually make those kinds of connections, especially with the design of the head and the sensor is so apparent. When I have to wear it I have to be very cautious so it’s quite easy for me to make that kind of connection.

Minke: But I think it requires a certain technological socialization, kind of knowing what kind of fields usually work with sensing and what kind of things it does –  so if you’re not familiar with that and you just use your smartphone – because I think it might be different for people not knowing what [this] kind of stuff is. But I think it would still be fun just because you’re going to wonder, it kind of probes questions.

Winnie: Yes.

Mine: And then you can talk about it later, or while you’re walking ,so then it still works I think.

Raune: Cool. Any comments? Anything.. thoughts you had on the way you want to share?

Minke: Yes I want to know more about your research because as I was wearing it was like “okay I want to know what is this actually about?” So I guess that’s the fun thing you can actually show your research and do something with it. I’ve never done that..I’ve only ever listened to talks which is really boring, so this was fun for me to see how that works now.

Winnie: Yes I think because it’s so different from my usual practice and from my own works – I don’t have like this body element in my works usually, I just more show an installation you know or something – so for me it’s an interesting experience in a way that I can feel something invisible but you make it visible in a way. I think somehow we are doing similar things, but a very different approach and I do see the value. I do see how we experienced the city in a different way, how we think about [the] invisible and what might be the value of the invisible and how might we give a voice to the invisible you know. So I do see the value in it and it’s also a way maybe easier to communicate to the audience as well because it’s so sense-able, you know you can sense it. And its not something we show up there that’s abstract. It’s just so concrete.

Minke: Yes it is, and then I reckon if they could start probing my mind with “oh this would be fun if you are meditating and it has this kind of thing” or would be fun if the trigger is like a sound or something, like a car comes by thats when it starts firing or you get text message. So you start to think more and more like “oh this would be fun” and you actually become aware of more experiences that you might not you usually see or experience or feel that much by yourself. So that’s for me that really probed it,  also because it was on your head so you really couldn’t ignore it, which is good because sometimes it’s too ephemeral. If you’re trying out something even just on the hand I would have forgotten about it so fast but because it was on my head I really got to know my body a little bit differently.

Winnie: and something that is so different from [using the] eyes and also hearing. I mean, you can close your eyes or you can turn the other way around right? But with the head-thing, you’re just forced to be alert you know, you’re just forced to wander around like so [showing the imposed restrictions of the headdress]. I kinda like this control experiment in a way.

Raune: Well, thank you. Thank you for spending almost half a day – I promised you it it would only be an hour…

Minke’s affective coordinates: