When in doubt, move your head around… A final SBM Project

This final project has been an interesting process. Through conversations with friends I gained new perspectives on the meaning of Zoom in our life and what we can make of this Zoom University experience. Through much experimentation with different shaders, I now feel more comfortable with P5.js and navigating too many subfolders in the terminal.

The Question(s)

My final project resolves around the question of how we connect (or don’t connect) through Zoom which has now become a central element with classes and social gatherings taking place virtually. Do we feel a connection to the people we see on our screen? Why? Why not? How do we connect? We see each other, though only our faces, constantly. Our body is somewhat reduced to whatever we show/see in our little rectangle. So does the body play a central role in our connection? If so, which parts?

The process • Part I • Part II

For me, part of this final was an artistic way of exploring present realities, trying to make sense of them, and trying to somewhat visually transmit where I see the body in Zoom meetings inspired by the thoughts shared by the friends I interviewed as well as my own thoughts.

I asked several friends to share their view and experience with “Zoom connections”, specifically asking which role they attribute to the(ir) body in those connections. There were thoughts on keeping the camera on to be “physically present” though “mentally absent” or also keeping the camera on to encourage themself to stay engaged. There were thoughts on feeling watched or watching others, as in a Zoom meeting, you never knew who was looking at you or at somebody else. There were thoughts on people being very still, almost like a picture of themselves, and thoughts on people constantly moving around, perhaps changing space. These thoughts inspired me to create this little video which is all about being watched/watching as bodies are still or in movement. I initially wanted to overlay it with voice recordings I have from the different interviews but decided to stay with the somewhat uncomforting not completely silent silence coming from the different recordings I put together – a silence I still feel weird about when nobody speaks in a Zoom meeting but everyone stares at their screen.

Part I – Many Bodies. Many Eyes.

Besides this more research based outcome, I also wanted to create a simple, fun, more interactive outcome which resulted in an idea for a real time Zoom intervention. If you have some synchronous classes left, give it a try 🙂 For this, I edited the delay shader we looked at in class to have many more layers. I capture the browser window in OBS, start a virtual camera from OBS and use that camera as my Zoom camera. As long as I don’t move, everything is fine. But once I move, it first seems like unstable Internet and if I move faster, like many versions of myself. Unfortunately, my laptop reached its limits with this experimentation and the video output in Zoom was much slower and not as clean as the one in the Browser or OBS but maybe that makes this end-of-semester mood even more realistic.

Part II (Demo) – Weirdly moving my head here – this is were the project title comes from. Also don’t focus too much on what I say 🙂
Here is a “behind the scenes” so that you can employ this effect in your next Zoom meeting yourself.

Week 11: Final Progress

Edit: During class, Aaron and I talked about the idea of bringing the shader effect live into a Zoom meeting which would place the piece in a context unexpected by others, surprising, maybe prompting reflection but also allowing to amplify my own mental state through the visual effect.

• • •

This week, I asked more friends for their thoughts on ‘connecting through Zoom’ and gathered some interesting ideas on the role of our body in making virtual connections and the role of the mental/physical space we find ourselves in while trying to connect virtually.

One person talked about how they considered the interpersonal relation and the content of their conversation more relevant to connecting than their physicality which is an important perspective since many facilitators prefer cameras on as first step to “connecting”.

Another person talked about the difficulties of entering different mental spaces while remaining in the same physical space which sometimes also made it difficult to connect virtually. This goes a bit off topic to the role of the physical body in connections though it relates to our mind.

My piece will be interactive in the process but less so in the final outcome as it is more a way of artistic research and presentation. Those who watch the final video will not be able to interact with the shader but are invited to reflect on their own experience prompted by the different ideas voiced in the piece.

I am currently editing the shader I want to use and mainly exploring how my body can represent different ideas voiced. I will record and then bring everything together using FinalCut.

Here is a sketch of what I envision the final video to look like:

Very rough sketch of my visual vision.

Week 10: Final Progress

This week I focused on content and interviewed my friends about the ways in which they connect (or feel like they don’t connect) virtually and which parts of their body they use to express themselves. Some of them said they leave their camera on just so that their professors “does not feel alone” or feels acknowledged but the majority also felt very tired of zoom and constantly “being watched”. This made me thinking that filters could actually a good mask or ‘ comfort layer’. We would still see each other and our movements – in essence our presence – but maybe we don’t need to see each other’s faces in full resolution with every yawning and scratching your nose unless we speak…

I was also looking at the new shaders of this week and particularly like the masked mosaic delay (Example 22). I was initially wanted to prerecord everything and insert my own video or animation as texture to be masked but with this example, I liked how the face/body was made up of close-ups of its parts, i.e. the area of the eyes had close-ups of the eyes and the same goes for the mouth (do you know what I mean?). This made me think that it would actually be nice to have this real time experimentation so that my final is not just a ‘finished product’ going out there but also an experimental experience for those interacting with the shader as well.

I am looking forward to learn about our class content today as it might allow me to take input from an actual Zoom meeting and pull it into my shader which might refine my idea of final presentation or performance.

Week 9: Holons/Tidal/Shaders

TW: please lower your expectations(:

HOLONS –My life considered in wholes and parts

The exercise to write down holons that make up our life (and that our life is part of) was fun. I limited the time because I could go on and on otherwise.


For this exercise, I wanted to represent the different holons in and beyond my life through the tidal sounds mainly and have the shader visual to represent the idea of wholeness for which I actually quite liked the circle example in the tutorial video.


On shadertoy. com I also found some other shaders I liked but was not quite sure how to connect visuals to sound in a way that made sense in my understanding of the holons in my life. I wanted to work with water again but that shader had too many different tabs so I did not feel ready to work with it. I found another shader that was simpler with a glowing circle in the middle and tried connect that one to our 02_texture_basic template but it was more difficult than I expected. I also did not manage to connect my previous voice recording based tidal script to the shader.

OUTCOME – still a draft

I faced some difficulties with MIDI and for some reason tidal sounds (though not all) connect to the shader but not the script that makes the circle change shape. I definitely want to work on this assignment again once I have more mental space for creative projects.

W9: FINAL ideas #1

Central question & emphasis: How do we connect and express ourselves during Zoom calls? 

Idea: Asks friends about their experience of connection and self-expression in Zoom calls. Record the body parts they use (eyes, mouth). Use “cut outs” (through frame differencing or else) to recreate Zoom meeting with only these parts of their expression. The final result would be a) a video to be hypothetically installed in an exhibition or b) a video of a single person (like Zoom filter but prerecorded because I won’t hack Zoom to add my own filter) that shows for example only the mouth when the person speaks (I)  and the other members in the Zoom meeting will become the uninvited spectators to the piece.

Concept: connecting through/beyond the frame. With which part of ourselves do we connect to others virtually? (Voice, eyes, body language, words, text, attention through eye contact, trust)

Direction: real input and experiences shared by friends + recordings of the parts of their body they use to connect (voice, eye, mouth, etc.)

Further questions: How openly can we talk about things? Can we form new friendships? 

Use of Body: How much body is needed for human expression? What part of the body do different people in different situations tend to?

Clarity & Consistency: Q to Aaron: Is pre-recorded and edited video installation ok? Could also create a video or maybe a “zoom filter” that I play during class as an experiment how people react to only seeing my eyes and not my whole head for example.

Week 8: How are you?

Inspired by Aaron’s comments in this week’s video, this work is about “how these times make us feel”. For me personally, I know *these times* pose difficult challenges (and opportunities) for different people and I have felt overwhelmed myself by the amount of tragic and negative news that seemly flood our inbox and social media every day. But less than these news, it is how people talk about what is happening. It seems that in every new encounter with somebody we might not have seen for some time, the same topics are brought up again… sometimes “my brain turns off” during such moments. I might have asked the other person a very simple question, and they somehow manage to bring the topic away from themselves and to global events. This work shall be a rough exploration of my inner feelings when I ask people again and again about themselves and how they are feeling but get, again and again, unrelated answers that do not serve a constructive conversation.

I used the Displacement Map Shader and added a news recording about COVID-19 for the person going “off topic” and bringing up current events in non-constructive ways. For the maybe calmer person, insisting on an answer about the other person themself, I used the Delay Shader as the colors are very playful and happy and I consider the delay effect fitting when giving the same reaction that “this it what it is”. I then edited everything together in Final Cut Pro using voice recording of the voices from iPhone and Google Translate.

Week 8: A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilbur

This week’s listening introduced me to interesting new vocabulary for a concept I already thought about. Rather than just thinking of of everything made of atoms, I think that framing the universe as made of holons allows so value different levels rather than thriving more continuous evolution in one direction. Ken Wilbur refers to a philosophical world view defining holons as something that is simultaneously a whole and a part with different ambitions as well as external pressures or pulls. As a whole, they possess identity and agency, but as a part, they are also communions and need to fit as part of a bigger whole. Whereas evolution somewhat describes a continuous optimization and development into one direction, the idea of a universe made of holons describes movement and development (or rather change as development seems to have a ‘one-way direction’ connotation) on one level but also up and down. These are called self-transcendence when a holon becomes part of another holon, and self dissolution when a holon loses its integrity and agency and dissolves into the previous holons it was made of. I am not sure whether this is part of the holon philosophy but I have the impression that self dissolution does not have a negative connotation. Ken Wilbur brings up an interesting critique of common evolutionary theory as he argues that for a leg to evolve into a wing, hundreds of evolutions need to happen at the same time because any umalfuntioning transitionary form of a leg-wing in-between evolutionary steps would lead to death. Relating this philosophy vaguely to the evolution of creative ideas, I would say it encourages to see create ideas as evolving in various directions, not just up and better and better, but encourages to also take steps back, examine how we got somewhere, what are the parts that make an idea, what these parts are if considered as whole, what whole ideas can become when they are just smaller parts of something else…

Week 7: made of water

Loving visual collages, I really enjoyed this weeks exercise. I used the mask + blur + threshold example provided by Aaron and replaced the video by a slow aerial footage of waves. In the recording, you can also hear them 🙂

The most interesting part of (self) exploration was how light and color play together. First I was confused and thought I made a mistake, when when trying again at daylight with a unicolored background it worked…

Then, I made another interesting discovery about myself: The threshold picks up the color of a pixel. Sure, I had seen that in the code but only when ‘playing’ and exploring with my body did I realize that for the threshold I was using to get a decent outline of myself, I needed to wear more black, all black in fact.

I usually dress very colorful – the stereotypical all black Berliner would probably not have these ‘issues’ – so I improvised and pulled together all dark fabric I had. I put on black socks as gloves, black tights as headscarf – because yes, my blond hair and light skin was too light for threshold – and played around with a dark coat and a dark towel.

This embodied experience really highlighted to me how sensible computer vision can be and also essential it is to consider accessibility in various ways. I clearly had an idea of what kind of output I wanted, but then needed to adjust it to my lighting conditions, time of day, skin and hair color, and color of my clothes… such artwork can be an interesting exploration of self. Can you see me? Can you not? Who is seen in our society? Who is not? What structures do we create to see / not see/ be (not) seen?

On another note, I also enjoyed how my body wanted to move with the waves but also wanted to just see the waves pass through… are we part of it or are we observer?

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on accessible interactive art – not just in relation to skin tone and context but also ablebodydness.

made of water / observing water
This is my improvised all black outfit.

Week 6: GridEye SparkFun

For this week’s exercise I experimented a bit more with voices. The used recordings are older and the content talked about is unrelated but I would like to start a new project and actually ask friends to send voice recordings talking about a topic relevant to this time (idea saved for later 🙂 ).

With the GridEye SparkFun project, my main goal was rather to experiment with positioning sound in space. I started out with assigning different parameters of one tidal line to squares in close proximity but realized it will be more interesting to space them out more over the area so that any movement in the space would trigger different parameters and it becomes less predictable for an audience uninvolved in the setup.

Experimenting on different days and German fall weather being very moody, I also realized how important it is to adjust the mapping and threshold according to the temperature in the space which can be very important for setting up an actual installation.

Here are some stills from my setup. Instead of using my whole body, I decided to use my hands as miniature versions of human bodes moving around in space.

And a video of the browser window here.

Week 6 // What is Somatics?

(Thomas Hanna)

Thomas Hanna defines somatic as the study of the body as perceived from within by a 1st person perception and highlights that both the 3rd person and 1st person perspective on the body are equally valuable but whereas an outsider can online observe the body, the soma (inside perception) involves immediate proprioception, meaning immediate reactions to the observation. There is constant self-regulation. Thomas Hanna thus proposes to change Descartes’ philosophical statement to “I am self-aware, therefore I act” to incorporate this element of reciprocity. He describes consciousness as a skill that can be expanded through focusing awareness on the unknown to learn and know it. This, he describes as somatic learning which is somewhat opposite to conditioning which aims to create an automatic response outside of voluntary consciousness. These so called reflexes, he expands, can eventually lead to a state of sensory-motor amnesia where the ability to consciously control our musculature is lost. Society often regards this as symptomatic of old age but actually somatic learning always allows allows to regain sensory awareness as response to such amnesia. Even more beneficial would be to make it part of one’s lifestyle to build and preserver a highly differentiated repertoire of response possibilities to environmental stimuli. Thomas Hanna calls a soma with such high voluntary control and minimized involuntary conditioning a free soma in a ‘fair state’ which from a 3rd person perspective would be seen as a body in optimal physical and mental health.

I was surprised to read about Moshe Feldenkrais in this IM course but it is appropriate when talking about self-perception and awareness / consciousness of the own body. As my family works with his teaching, I am relatively familiar with the effect his practice can have on the body from my own 1st person perspective.