baltan session at Holst centre

Receiving an invitation from Baltan Laboratories to do a workshop with a group of researchers from the Holst Centre was a pleasant surprise for me. It was especially nice since I already knew some of the people there. I’ve received advice and help from Bernard Grundlehner from IMEC on the e-Pressed project. Now I would have the chance to work with a range of researchers, I felt very honoured.

The program would be as follows: in the morning I would show some of the tools from my ‘tools for awareness’ toolbox, in the afternoon we would explore questions around the Hermitage 3.0 concept that I’m working on. The topic for Holst Centre’s monthly High T presentation would be emotion monitoring.

The group
There were 5 researchers from the Holst Centre present: Marc, senior scientist of the integration team; Yvonne, a process development engineer; Marco, a PhD researcher on wearable sensors; Herman, program manager; Juan Diego, development engineer. Also present was Alessandra, a journalist and independent curator.

Toolbox session
For the morning session I chose to present a varied selection of works going back to 2005. I started out with Lovescape. This is a piece of software that allows you to map the things you love and print out the map. It was presented in a museum where people could sit down and work on their map. This is an older piece and didn’t expect to get so much reactions on it from the group. The way in which the work transfers the personal to public was immediately commented upon. This is of course a central issue in my work. Because I’m in complete control of what I share I don’t have a problem with that. But when I asked the group if they would like to create a Lovescape they all declined because of this issue. There were some nice ideas to work with online data to create Lovescapes. The idea of mapping dear things and people can be taken a lot further.

The next work I presented was Collecting silence, a project for which custom hardware has been developed to collect location data, stress level, decibel level and images of silent locations. A website shows the data on a map and a multimedia scrapbook page for every location. Here the discussion centred around data collection and the senses. I use only Galvanic Skin Response as a sensor to detect stress. IMEC in their Body Area Networks uses 4 inputs to detect stress/arousal. Here you see a clear discrepancy between art and science. As an artist you don’t have the means and knowledge to work with sensor technology in that way. Also the portability has to be taken into account. For me the stress level is just indicative of an inner state. But there were some issues with the GRS sensing. Moving also makes you sweat which influences the measurements. Using a protocol can eliminate some of these issues as would combining different sensors. We talked about how to determine the real influence of noise by excluding other senses. Also knowledge and context will influence the way you perceive what you hear and experience. How much does the mind interfere with awareness? It would be nice to set up an experiment to try this out. There is a dead chamber at TNO and as a side step it would be nice to do a measuring there. All were eager to learn about the correlation between silence and stress. I still have to work on an application to visualise that.

The next piece we discussed was Numuseum input and mood_movie. Numuseum input is custom desktop software that asks for my mood, energy level, stress level, state of peacefulness and a comment every two hours. mood_movie shows my mood of the last 28 days in an interactive animation. We talked about how we could make this work mobile and what to do with the large body of data that I collected over the last seven years.

Finally I demonstrated breathing_time a piece that I was still working on at that time. This is a networked wearable with software developed for a performance at the TIK festival. It sends and receives breath flow data from five people at different locations and creates a combined animation with sound in near real time. We talked about the CommonSense platform I used for this work. The researchers were pleased to see that the visuals not only create insight but also make something surprising and artistic from the data.

I think the goal of the workshop – to present a different view on how to use technology in same environments but with a completely different approach, and to be inspired in the interaction – was definitely reached. For me the most valuable insight was realising the difference in viewpoints. As an artist my works are always very personal and individually motivated. I want to discover things about myself and my life. But the scientific point of view is more about how to make this knowledge available for everybody and apply the same method to different or broader questions.

Hermitage 3.0 session
In short the Hermitage 3.0 project is an attempt at making a not only a sustainable, self aware house, but a house that helps its’ inhabitant reach non material goals like relaxation, awareness and wisdom. With the collected data artworks can be created.
As a starting point for the workshop I’d made a list of questions about how to tackle and optimise this project. We didn’t get round to answering all of them but some important issues were looked at.

My first and most pressing questions concerned feasibility. How realistic is the idea of monitoring “everything” to improve quality of life and more specifically mental and inner states? When I asked: “Is this technically possible?” the whole group replied “yes” without hesitation. All the technical knowledge is present to achieve this.

The next issue is of course how to research this. The suggestion was to look at similar undertakings, such as Philips’ HomeLab, now ExperienceLab, to do all kinds of research related to my project. Also projects like MARS-500 and Biosphere spring to mind. Inspiration can also be drawn from architects like Phillipe Rahm and artists like Chris Salter.

The costs for a state of the art hermitage were estimated at around 2 million Euros. So how to go about funding it? There are a few options:
- Find a big company interested in ‘the next experience’ like Sony, Nokia or Google. I would be heading the project and work with the researchers.
- Find a university to team up with for research
- Launch the project as an Open Source project and have people from all over the world to contribute both knowledge and data.
It could also be a combinations of those. Start off as Open Source and then get funding as a Kickstarter project. It could also be part of an EU Framework project where you can collaborate with universities, companies and for example media labs from Europe.

Another question was: What techniques for changing the environment will be most suitable for influencing states like mood, relaxation and alertness? Actually this list could be endless. But parameters like smell, light, sound, temperature (air and surface) and body monitoring could all be researched as separate subjects. In the automotive industry there has been a lot of research into local heating. We joked that I could just rent a car to research the influence of temperature. The project itself would show which parameters have the most impact.

For tracking objects and people in the hermitage there are several solutions like RFID for proximity, beacons with triangulation or video tracking.

The afternoon was very valuable to me for looking at ways of solving the uncountable issues that are involved in this ambitious project. Talking to experts has given me confidence in the relevance and feasibility of the project.

High T
The monthly high T presentation was dedicated to emotion monitoring and visualisation. I presented my installation Eden that uses the emotion recognition software FaceReader to transform real time facial expression to landscapes.

A different take on emotion monitoring was provided by Bernard Grundlehner from IMEC. He presented the VALENCE project that uses alpha brainwaves and brain activity detection in the different hemispheres to determine positive and negative emotions and relaxation. The students from St Lucas art academy in Ghent made a game with the headset output.

After the talk I wanted, of course, to try it myself but unfortunately my head is too small for the headset. Bernard tried an older version but that didn’t work very well. I had a nice opportunity to talk to Bernard again. He explained more in depth how the system worked.

Many thanks go to Baltan Laboratories and Holst Centre for this inspiring day.

Alessandra Saviotti has written a nice article about the Baltan Holst workshops in general and this workshop in particular:

sharpening the senses

Another inspiring workshop at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Today we
sharpened all of our senses except the eyes. We took a walk whilst being
blindfolded trying to stimulate the other senses. It was quite an
experience. The sounds, the sun and wind and the smells become an aid to
navigation. I was pleasantly surprised at how calming it was not to see and
at the richness that is hidden in everything that surrounds us when we have
room to pay attention to it.
Later we combined all our experiences in an imaginary walk over a bridge. I also joined the talks later that evening.


exploring smell

Today I joined a very inspiring and hands-on workshop, all about smell. We
searched the city looking for typical city smells. As it’s autumn I wanted
to catch the smells. I was lucky as the were doing maintenance and were
cutting river banks and trees etc. After chopping up the materials (fresh
cut wild flowers and oak leaves in my case) I respectively ground and heated
them both in vodka. You put the substance through a sieve and voila! you
have captured the smells. It’s so easy and smells is something I’ve wanted
to work with for a long time. We made an aromascape of Eindhoven and a nice
quiz to let the visitors discover what they’re smelling.


EMF orchestra

Yesterday I went to the EMF orchestra workshop organised by Baltan Labs in
Eindhoven. ( We built our own EMF
antenna, which is actually very easy. Then we set out to scare the city by
catching EM fields and immediately turning the waves into sounds through a
mobile amplifier. We hunted for frequencies that were not just the standard
50 MHz and found some nice spots. Using our different antennas and
amplifiers we managed to create an impressive piece and attract an audience.
The pictures show me with my antenna and amplifier and the group acting as
an orchestra. Pictures by the workshop leaders from Constant vzw.


Eco maps

Last week I went to PICNIC, a cross-discipline platform for creative conversation and collaboration. They offered a workshop and seminar on visualizing eco data, Ecomap Lab.
The seminar was inspiring. All speakers were interested in citizen participation, which isn’t really my starting point but maybe my finish. I always start from what effects me personally and what I want to know and make. But these maybe things a lot of people want to know.
Most interesting for me were:
1) The Green Watch A watch that shows time, ozone and noise level. They wanted to involve a lot of people so they could measure many different locations. That’s why the watches needed to be low engagement. People can just wear them and don’t have to be bothered by them. The maps displays individual watches in real time and collective results. They want to aid an ‘ecosystem of initiatives.’ So that everybody who’s doing similar things can also display their collected data. The watch interface was numbers, the separate mobile phone had a graphic display of noise and ozone.
2) Pachube  a web service for sharing and reusing (sensor) data. This could be interesting for comparing data with others and having others use my data. For me it’s still not quite clear how to connect but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Third parties are developing apps which holds a promise for future uses.
3) Urban Ecomap, San Francisco a global project by Connected Urban Development showing eco data per city and neighbourhoods. They also offer ways to take action as an individual and share your efforts on Facebook. The whole website is made with Flash and has a nice integrated feel. They’re working on an Amsterdam version.
4) In the Air is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid´s air. I love this project. It has a smart looking, animated 3D visualisation of different gasses and particles (Sulfur dioxide / Carbon monoxide / Nitrogen dioxide / Particulate / Ozone.) Apart from the website they have also experimented with a physical prototype using water vapour. I especially liked the domestic versions that people can place on their balcony or window, and the kids version with coloured balloons.

Screen dump of In the air visualisation tool

Screen dump of In the air visualization tool

In the afternoon we discussed issues and possible success scenario’s. I found it inspiring to thing about ‘natural’ ways of displaying data (embedded in the environment) and low-tech ways of collecting data using your body as a sensor.