Introduction and Research Questions
How does human movement drive the phenomenology of space? Can interactive video modulate specific aspects of this phenomenology? This paper presents examples of ongoing artistic research that explores movement perception and its influence on our experience of our surroundings.
My artistic research is built on the theory that movements, responding to visual stimuli and motor planning, are processed in parallel and functionally distributed pathways. Current neuroscientific research suggests that action comprehension consists of a vast library of representations – motor and sensorimotor, visual, and semantic - that connect to build our full understanding of movement. In other words, motor imagery, visual imagery and motor production are discrete neurological functions that contribute to diverse facets of our understanding of movement.
In addition, over the past twenty years, research on processing of visual perception of motion and motion performance have prompted speculation about a new class of neurons, “mirror neurons,” which suggest that “action understanding” is facilitated by internal simulation enlisting both motor and sensory systems in the brain. This research supports the idea that the neural description of an action includes motor and visual components- in other words both a participant’s view and an observer’s view. Further, there is mounting evidence for the theory that motor-imagery is not only function-specific but also body-specific. “According to the body-specificity hypothesis, people who interact with their physical environments in systematically different ways should form correspondingly different mental representations.” So a commuter who repeatedly performs at a location rather than simply passing through that location, may gain a unique impression / understanding of it over time.
Based on this scientific framework, I hypothesize that interactive video works eliciting body movements, alter our experience of space. Examining how this happens can help us better understand some of the basic contradictions in motion perception.
- Take a kick. How do we “perceive” it as a concrete, highly physical, action, but “conceive” of it by re-constructing a complex multi-modal lattice of representations and memories in our mind – that might link the sound, the feeling, the look and the impact or purpose of that kick?
- Take a breath. Is this movement instantaneous or enduring; past or present; continual or discrete; individual or collective; something we see, do or know?
- Take a fall. Can different modalities (motor, visual, semantic) trigger simultaneous but different comprehensions of the same action?
The experience of movement has a fractal-like capacity to scale, to be one thing and its opposite simultaneously (now and just now, an internal sensation and an external form, a unique instantiation and a universal language). It is a physical manifestation of the human condition that shifts continually from present to past – the physical shell for our “ephemeral” state of being alive. Movement also conveys a purity of expression. How we move is both idiosyncratic and distinct, like a portrait. Movement physically expresses our unique qualities of energy, marking how a soul “issues forth” out of its body, in an irrefutably truthful form of self-expression.
Performance, and dance in particular, is a highly traditional means for framing the body in action. The stage acts as a physical framework to convey narrative, social, political, physical and emotional drama. The viewer, by remaining still and separate from the moving artwork, can readily identify the artistic frame and vantage point that is prescribed.
 Andrew Schwartz. “Distributed Motor Processing in Cerebral Cortex,” Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 4 (1994): 840-846. Prut, Perlmutter & Fetz. “Distributed processing in the motor system: spinal cord perspective,” Progress in Brain Research 130 (2001): 267-278. Andersen, Snyder, Bradley, Xing. “Multimodal representation of space in the posterior parietal cortex and its use in planning movements,” Annual Review of Neuroscience 20 (February 1997): 303-330. Marsel Mesalum. “From Sensation to Cognition,” Brain 121 (1998): 1013–1052. De Lange, Hagoort, and Toni. “Neural topography and content of movement representations,” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 17 (2005): 97–112.
 Op. cit., Damasio et al.,168.
 Giacomo Rizzolatti and Laila Craighero, “Mirror neuron: a neurological approach to empathy,” Neurobiology of Human Values (2005):108-109.
 Roel Willems, Peter Hagoort and Daniel Casasanto. “Body-specific motor imagery of hand actions: neural evidence from right- and left-handers,” Association for Psychological Sciences (2009): 1-8.
 Daniel Casasanto. “Embodiment of abstract concepts: good and bad in right and left-handers,” Journal of Experimental Psychology General 138 (2009): 351–367.