TO ELEUSIS, TO TANAYAN (2017)
To Eleusis, To Tanayan uses multi-user interaction with a musical virtual environment to explore situated connections between the body, environment, and social others. Through the strangeness of a computational system that entails collective biofeedback, the piece is meant to cultivate a peaceful sense of personal responsibility and accountability to a collective experience. This is done via a computational conceptual mapping where decreased agitation leads to increased amplitude/intensity of a vibrotactile experience. Intertextual associations serve to frame this multidirectional computational experience as a critique on the unidirectional imposition of colonization.
To Eleusis, To Tanayan is an interactive, hybrid performance-installation. It was realized in collaboration with Zachary Rosen (recreating an ancient drink to accompany the work), Timothy Wood (as dancer), and Alan Macy (providing biometric counsel). We showcased the piece for Re-Habituation, the 2017 UCSB Media Arts and Technology End of Year Show in the transLAB.
The performance features one dancer wearing a spatially-tracked vibrotactile glove and head-mounted display, interacting with a mid-air musical haptic sculpture in a virtual environment. Spectators can see the projection of the dancer’s virtual point-of- view on the wall. They are seated on vibrotactile benches that convey the sculpture’s feedback at the point where the dancer’s hand intersects with the object. Three volunteers are attached to biometric devices measuring for how calm they are collectively (specifically via electrodermal activity). Their calmness impacts how intensely the sculptures can be felt by all.
Upon entering the space, visitors receive a glass of kykeon, an ancient barley drink. The event then begins with the dancer’s performance (with the three volunteers) set to a composition for piano and voice, with original lyrics in ancient Greek. Following the performance, the piece enters an installation mode where others can take turns interacting with the virtual sculpture or attaching to the biometric devices, controlling its intensity.
On the technical side, the virtual reality environment and vibrotactile feedback were both developed in Max MSP. The vibrotactile sculpture uses a spatial scrubbing approach, where a sound file is mapped to the radius of a sphere, so that change occurs according to the depth of the hand.
On the poetic side, the work makes cultural references both to the Greek city of Eleusis and to Tanayan, the original Chumash village around where Santa Barbara Mission was built (Sánchez, 2010). Of these references, the virtual environment features a 360° photo of the nearby redwood forest in the Botanical Gardens, next to the Mission Creek Dam. The kykeon drink is also meaningful: a recreation from ancient Greece used as part of the Eleusian Mystery Rites, a sacred ritual in Eleusis that honored goddesses with connections to nature and sustenance (Demeter and Persephone). The ritual also carries associations of life, death, rebirth, and abduction (of Persephone) (S. L. Harris & Platzner, 2012, p. 150). A local plant to Santa Barbara/Tanayan, yerba buena, replaces pennyroyal from the Greek recipe in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Homer, trans. 2004, line 209), connecting Eleusis to Tanayan.
These associations are meant to emphasize Tanayan as a sacred site in its own right (in contrast to the Mission, in reality a site of genocide), urging recognition and honor of its history. The design of the installation, situated in these references, is intended to cultivate co-operation as an antidote for the unidirectional brute force characteristic of colonial attitudes. Instead, it emphasizes collective listening and appreciation: where multiple users are accountable to one another for the experience of the sculpture by calm attunement to their bodies, their surroundings (through biofeedback), and one another.