People are increasingly communicating through computers, tablets and smartphones. One element that is lacking in all of these screens is actual proximity. The artist and TU Delft doctoral candidate Karen Lancel hopes to use online touching to change this.
Artists design experiences.’ Frances Brazier stated this in a 2011 interview with Delta. The knowledge generated by these experiences is crucial for designers of participation systems, said the systems engineering professor. Designing experiences is exactly what Karen Lancel is doing in her doctoral programme in Professor Brazier’s group. Using internationally presented performance-art projects with such titles as E.E.G. Kiss, Saving Face, StalkShow and Tele_Trust, she is searching for the connection between looking at a screen and actually touching the other person.
Lancel and her husband, the artist Hermen Maat, are designing ‘social laboratories’. ‘Our work is about communication, for which we are making increasing use of machines – computers, tablets, and smartphones. How do I experience you and me if I meet you through a screen? There is no reciprocity, no form of reflecting each other’s behaviour, as happens in the physical world. Such reflection is needed for understanding and trust. How do you trust your own observations of the other person via a screen? And how can you make designs that deal with this? We are investigating this’.
This work is aimed at the introduction of forms of online touching that can provide a sense of trust and togetherness. ‘We want to make a sensitive social space through the screen. One way we are doing this is through the rituals we have designed for touching and sensor technology.
The most recent project, E.E.G. Kiss, is one example. People are able to kiss each other using EEG headsets. Their kisses were converted into two graphs using the data from their brain activity. Lancel is looking for ways of assigning meaning to these data. ‘Neurological research into social reciprocal experiences is a new field. Can I convert the data into an experience, and how would that work? The University of Vienna’s Digital Synesthesia Group has asked us to convert the kiss data into sheet music. This will be presented in Vienna, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York in 2015 and 2016.’
Lancel was moved by the reactions that some people had to the E.E.G. Kiss system. ‘One woman said to me: “Those data are a portrait of my intimate relationship with my husband.” Incidentally, the graphs all look very different; they are unique. And they don’t say anything about the state of your relationship.’
Lancel observes that her doctoral research is helping her to establish a position for herself within the realm of scientific research, and it is teaching her how to work according to a scientific method. ‘At TU Delft, I am able to add intuition and experience as part of a design method. When it comes to development based on experience and designing for experience, my knowledge is ahead of the game.’