Affective Environments is a media art project co-developed by ixdm’s Jan Torpus that invites visitors to interact with three spatially arranged installations in an exhibition space. People get intimately involved in a public setting by connecting their breathing, heart-rate and skin conductance to the exhibits, thereby measuring their affective reactions. The psychophysiological data, which are processed in realtime, alter parametric values and create new affective stimuli, establishing a human-in-the-loop feedback system. Visitors get influenced by and at the same time influence an abstract immersive game-world (Sense! VR system), a video narrative (Reveal! AV system) and a group of robotic creatures (Inspirit! Physical Computing system). Each of the three installations invites the visitor to engage in a game-like activity, challenging him/her to find a system of rules in an unknown surrounding.

The work explores possibilities of interacting with artificial environments on a primordial level, by excluding reasoning and decision-making, thus establishing a more direct interconnection between humans and artificial surroundings. We calibrate, filter, average and map the biofeedback data to make the systems recognizably responsive but yet as personalised as possible to create an individual experience for each visitor. Interacting with an artificially staged object or environment based on personal emotions creates an intense encounter with one’s primal self. First of all, showing intimate emotional reactions in a public setting can lead to an uncomfortable situation and cause considerable distress. We are used to being able to hide or suppress what is now suddenly on “public display” and visible to other exhibition visitors. Nevertheless, visitors sometimes become playful and develop surprising ideas as to how they can influence the system. Others uncritically accept the artistic setup as a mirror of emotions and personality and seek confrontation with themselves, at times to the extreme of worrying about their physical and mental health.

The installation invites the visitors to attentively observe, contrive and verify modes of communication. On the one hand, the entourage can be seen as a spatially arranged ambient display that represents personal emotions as a fancy data visualization, replacing simple diagrams. On the other hand, it can be perceived as a counterpart with artificial intelligence and emotion that mainly evolves from the visitor’s interpretation. This tension between perception of intrinsic processes and encounters with something unfamiliar gives rise to interesting questions regarding people’s awareness of their own impact on the respective surroundings and their personal identity.

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