[iDC] Embodiment is about action in context

Khan, Omar omarkhan at ap.buffalo.edu
Thu Sep 28 13:11:51 EDT 2006

Karmen and list,

Karmen thanks for your very provocative post. I wanted to ask if you
could elaborate a bit more on the R&Sie work that "have some excellent
ideas of how to include the human-artifact-environment-... relationships
into an architectural form"... 
Also, I am very interested in this idea of 'tools' for 'offline
cognition'. The finger(s) versus the over-specialized app. I think Pask
describes something similar when he talks about the design of "machines
with underspecified goals". Both enable 'learning' through interaction
(person-tool -environment) on the LEARNER's TERMS. We haven't really
discussed the issue of human learning as a goal for situated
technologies. And the learner's terms is such a nebulous prospect that
designer inevitably eschew it. Perhaps "less information and More
Awareness" provides a way into this issue? But how?
Architecture as an unending work is not new. For one thing there was a
moment in the 70's where architectural departments disassociated
themselves from the term 'architecture' and became environmental design
departments. Environmental psychologists were hired as well as a host of
other 'design' experts. The reason was to move away from the
objectification of the work of architecture and include in it the
'performance' of the work post-occupancy. This 'behavioral' turn
resulted in the production of occupancy codes, accessibility codes,
color codes etc. whose legacy is not at all commensurate with the
ECOLOGY that karmen speaks about. What went wrong? What were the traps
and how do we avoid them this time around?


> -----Original Message-----
> From: idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net [mailto:idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net] On
> Behalf Of Karmen Franinovic
> Sent: Thursday, September 28, 2006 6:04 AM
> To: idc
> Subject: [iDC] Embodiment is about action in context
> Thank you all for inspiring discussions - they are moving so fast and
> I share Anne's feelings described in her last post.  I finally
> finished producing a new public installation Sky Hooks (together with
> Yon Visell for Happy New Ears Festival - it runs until Oct. 8), and
> found time to put some thoughts together.
> Usman says "How might the production itself of an architecture
> *really* be "interactive" (in the sense that Maturana or Pask use the
> word)? Surely such an architecture would never be "complete"? This is
> why I find it quite interesting that Omar, too, is interested in the
> notion of "performance": because performance is a work, the production
> of which is very much the work as well."
> Architecture is never complete. It is just that (some) architects wish
> it were, or just prefer to think it is. The building as a perfect form
> standing there for centuries, millenniums ... I've disliked this idea
> architecture as something unchangeable and static, as a kind of
> monument, an artistic/architectural trace in the city. Did blobs or
> deconstructivism in architecture of the late '80 and '90s change that
> "passivity" of the building? When built, is this architecture really
> that much different from Kiesler's infinite house, or sculptural
> monuments such as Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Of course, not all of the
> work at the Non Standard Architectures exhibition that Brian mentioned
> is focused on form as a frozen artistic expression (produced with the
> digital tools). R&Sie, for example, have some excellent ideas of how
> to include the human-artifact-environment-... relationships into an
> architectural form.
> If we don't want a static form as the final outcome of architectural
> design process, what is then that we are designing? What is that we
> want to activate? Architecture, things, invisible matter, people ...?
> Rather than dynamic/kinetic facades, I am interested in architecture
> that produces movements and relations between all of these elements.
> In this case, in addition to notion of performance, it might be useful
> to talk about ECOLOGIES (sensorial, social, cultural ...) and
> I have been studying cognitive theories of embodiment for the past
> year. The underlying idea is that embodiment is about ACTION IN
> CONTEXT. These actions emerge from the relations between our
> sensory-motor systems and environments that we inhabit (including
> people). Interactive artefacts through their
> sensors-mappings-actuators systems acquire agency similar to that of
> living stuff. Embodiments (and fascination with things) are
> interesting because of their capability to dynamically
> PRODUCE/AFFECT/ENHANCE ACTION. They are tools, elements of an ecology
> which makes us active (ethics of action can be different of course).
> This action/perception loop (or enaction) is an individual/subjective
> experience. I believe that this ACTION-ENABLING quality of things is
> more interesting and should be stronger than our fears of return to
> objectness/objectivity.
> The outsourcing that Trebor and others talked about is the process of
> offloading cognitive work by using the external "hardware"
> (environment) to remember - in embodied cognition this is called
> "offline cognition". However in these theories the world is not full
> of databases that help us remember, but is full of tools that make us
> think and act : an example is the child learning how to count by using
> his fingers. The primary problem that interactive tools such as
> delicious or flickr aim at solving is also related to outsourcing, but
> this time the amount of data is large and simply mapped. Flickr and
> the finger are very different tools. The former is a super-specialized
> tool for archiving photographs, while fingers are multipurpose and can
> be used for counting, cooking, typing ...
> The world of interactive things is/could be an activating world, in
> which artifacts are not only carriers of extremely complex physical or
> digital information, but also tools that engage people in interaction
> with the world. Also they are not automatic (see Jago Conde's
> "Architecture of indeterminacy"). They are artifacts-tools whose
> afforadances (J.J. Gibson, D. Norman) invite action and movement.
> Knowing something through words and images is efficient, but learning
> through doing/experiencing creates deep changes (see for example child
> development). The problem we have to deal with is that the market
> is/will be using the same strategies of agency to engage users in
> consumption.
> Embodied enactive theories rely on the hypothesis that all our
> perception is action: in order to see I must move my eyes (see
> F.Varela, A.Noe). Therefore, for a living being, to be passive in
> physiological/neurological sense is an impossible task. Yet we can be
> passive in our social, political, cultural ... lives. There are
> different types/levels of activity and action, and perhaps a useful
> way to separate them is by our intentionality towards and awareness of
> an action. We are always functionally active, but how aware are we of
> the consequences of our actions (or of what we think of as
> non-action)?
> As Trebor said in his post on "The "electricity" of near future
> participation", communication technologies such as the telegraph are
> not sufficient to allow a better understanding of others. Proximity
> and direct encounter play an important role in such communication.
> Also they create inevitable tensions which are essential for
> democratic behavior (see Chantal Mouffe's writings on radical
> democracy).
> Challenging and criticizing existing behaviours by engaging in
> interaction people who share a common/public space makes the relations
> more obvious and problems more tangible.
> Can embodied interactive technologies/things, when applied to direct
> physical contact with the world, raise the awareness about our actions
> and everyday behaviours in urban space. How do we design things,
> artifacts and spaces which are capable of affording, guiding,
> challenging and subverting established behaviours/actions?  Can we
> design tools, environments, bodies ... stuff that makes us question
> established social and sensorial ecologies? More so than architecture,
> art and interaction design are asking such questions through practice
> (for example Jonah's project such as SearchEngine, Crank the web etc;
> or the Static project by the Power and Design groups from the
> Interactive Institute).
> To finish, I would argue for artifacts/architectures, networked and
> interactive, which provide less information and MORE AWARNESS, which
> may EMPOWER INDIVIDUALS rather then the system. As Anne Galloway, I
> believe we can design things/interactions which "appreciate my role as
> a human, as a woman, as a scholar, etc."  We can design
> architectures/environments for participatory action and direct
> encounters (and hidden tensions) in the city, and by doing so we might
> raise awareness and responsibility of people's own individual actions.
> Karmen
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