Secret Body


There exists a section in every person that is tucked away purposefully due to fear of social stigma. SECRET BODY is an interactive art installation that explores themes of stigma and social interaction. The piece attempts to display human emotion through data visualization and measure emotion through affective science methods. The piece uses bioinformatic data to create a light pattern within ten human-shaped models, and uses the same data to create an interactive platform between the piece and the audience.

By using galvanic skin response (electrodermal activity) and heart rate sensors attached to 10 Arduino Megas and 70 LEDs, students at York University created an interactive art installation whose purpose was to explore our inner emotions and foster awareness of stigma in its sundry forms. The installation created by: Denise (Nichie) Enriquez, Dallis King, Anna Papazian and Samantha Puder for the LE/EECS 4700 course offered in the final year of Digital Media, whose focus was the creation of a group project (2014-2015).

One of the project’s goals was to illuminate and give life to emotions that we feel uncomfortable talking about or otherwise expressing due to the stigma associated with them. By using data visualization the students created a dialogue between the human and digital realms. When we think about emotions, we can reduce them to bio-electro-chemical signals happening within neurons and their dendritic synapses, but there is no digital analogue, yet. So the need to express this fundamental part of the human experience led these four pioneers (now graduates) to create visual feedback from a valence/arousal encoding schema. For more technical information please visit the project’s tumblr page.

We can feel ashamed or embarrassed by our deepest emotions and hide them away from the world out of fear that we will be stigmatized, judged and cast aside. It’s difficult to find ways to express how we feel— we use the tools of art, the brevity of language and even our physical bodies to give legitimacy and life to our inner emotional worlds. In Secret Body we see technology being used to visualize emotional data. And although I haven’t learned the lesson of stigma personally, I certainly could by opening up about what happens within the dendritic synapses and neural pathways of my own mind.

I feel just like everyone else does. Maybe not to the extent that some people feel, surely, based on how they express themselves, but I do nonetheless have the capacity to feel like every other human being, and even some (most?) animals. But it’s that social piece that makes it difficult for them all to be on the surface. We are conditioned at a young age to repress or control certain emotions for the sake of maintaining pleasurable social interactions. This makes it difficult, as we get older, because the more we keep buried and bottled up, the farther that cork will fly when pressure reaches that elusive critical juncture.

Having the fear of stigma myself, I trend towards not stigmatizing others for their experiences, but embracing the unique individuality within every human being. Our brains are all made of neuroglia and neurons, but our minds, whether you’re a dualist or monist, all react slightly differently to stimuli based on our own unique aggregated experiences— our inner narratives. We can, however, still share experiences with each other using empathy, but this is all very obvious. Our empathy should be at such a level that we no longer stigmatize others for their experiences, at least that’s what I believe.

These four young women showed Lion-hearted bravery in attacking stigma, creating a space for open dialogue and critical discourse about our inner emotional worlds. While emotions may be ephemeral this Digital Media project creates a lasting key to those doors we keep locked within ourselves.

I am very pleased by thoughts Secret Body catalyzed within me, and even though I have yet to experience the installation myself, I have been inspired by the project. I’m impressed by the use of Arduinos, sensors, algorithms and the interactive emotional interfacing achieved by these four young women. But now, I … I suddenly feel like watching Inside Out … and Mr. Robot … and Ghostbusters. じゃあ、またね!


Read more about Secret Body on the York Website, and on the project’s tumblr page.