Development and Evaluation of Participant-Centred Biofeedback Artworks

An exegesis submitted to the School of Communication Arts, University of Western Sydney in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Doctorate of Creative Arts.

This exegesis details the development of four interactive artworks that enable audiences to observe and reflect on aspects of their own psychophysiology, using the technologies of biofeedback interaction as a way of situating the participant’s subjectivity and bodily experiences within each other as reciprocal phenomena. The central theme addressed through these works concerns the representation and experience of subjectivity as a physiologically embodied phenomenon.

Although contemporary theories of psychophysiology and phenomenology have overturned the idea of mind-body separation, many forms of cultural practice continue to represent mind and subjectivity as a fundamentally disembodied phenomenon. In addition, bodily experience in contemporary culture is still framed almost for the most part through third-person perspectives: the body as object (the object of of admiration/desire/fear/disgust etc.). Such representations and experiences perpetuate feelings of mistrust and hostility towards our lived experience as body, in ways that inhibit our ability to fully engage with the world, and each other.

This problem of body experience and representation in contemporary culture has attracted the attention of many artists and theorists, generating a diverse body of works exploring and questioning the physiologically embodied subject as a medium for enquiry and aesthetic enrichment.

The artworks documented in this exegesis extend this process of exploration and analysis through the use of interactive bio-sensing technologies and audience participation. Interactive practices reframe subjectivity as a fundamentally active process, shifting our sense of involvement in the issues at hand from one of detached onlookers to active participants.

Each of the works creates a space where participants and observers alike can become present to aspects of body-mind process. Audience responses to these works have been studied as a way of evaluating the extent to which these interests have been realised through interaction and this exegesis contributes to an emerging but growing body of research into the use of audience experience as a tool for designing and evaluating interactive artworks.