Biofeedback Interactive Art

Biofeedback is the term used to describe interactive training systems that measure small changes in a person’s body, and display these changes back to that person in a way that can help them to learn to influence the behaviour being measured. Common Biofeedback training modalities include EMG biofeedback – where subjects learn to increase voluntary control over muscle activation and inhibition using audio-visual feedback (i.e. a computer game), EEG neurofeedback – where subjects learn to increase or regulate selected brainwave patterns.

I have been developing interactive artworks with biofeedback principals since 2002 – I describe these artworks as body-focussed interactive artworks – since they focus the participant’s attention inwards towards their own body processes.

In contrast to most conventional (clinical) biofeedback displays – I generally avoid ‘info-graphic’ representations of biofeedback data (i.e. graphs, numeric displays etc.) in favour of abstract (often large-scale) immersive visualisations that allow for a softer quality of attention (gaze) – I aim to create sounds and visuals that feel like an kinaesthetic extension of their body-experience. The ambiguities these displays can present provide an important catalyst for reflection and experimentation during the interaction.


Above: “Cardiomorphologies” and “Drawing Breath” projects, 2004-2006. All visuals and sounds are controled by changes in breathing and heart rate data.

I am fascinated by the ways in which the experience of biofeedback interaction can help us to re-think/re-feel ideas of self-hood and embodiment -  who and how we are, and to support people to be present to themselves in ways that are often find hard to find time for in our daily routines.

The works invite people to explore interactions between body and mind by making visible subtle changes in their autonomic nervous system which can be observed via changes in heart rate patterning, breath, skin temperature etc.

My main focus over the past nine years has been on heart-rate and heart rate variability biofeedback, and facilitated post-experience reflections in which people describe and reflect on their experience ‘inside’ the work.


Above: “Drawing Breath”  breath-controlled interactive video and sound (with John Tonkin, visual fx programming, 2004-2005

Using wireless pulse sensing technologies – I create interactive video’s and soundscapes that respond to changes in heart rate and heart rate variability. The visuals are designed by me, in a process of creative data-mapping – using  specially commissioned visualisation systems – that I ‘paint’ using algorithms that translate realtime changes in heart rate data to various parameters of the visuals – i.e. use heart rate to control colour temperature and size of visual elements.


Above: “The Heart Library Project”  heart-rate controlled interactive video and sound, and participant mapping and interviews, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst (Sydney), Australia. With David Morris-Oliveros (visual fx software).

Although intensely intimate and personal – this work is also intentionally very social – as artworks they are always setup in such a way that other people can witness the interaction.  The conversations that take place around these biofeedback interactions are very much a part of the experience as a whole – about how we acknowledge these intimate experiences and weave them into the various narrative threads we live by.

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