World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body

Seiko Mikami

World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body ,
Co-workers & Funding
  • Seiko Mikami, World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body, Version 1, 1997
    432 × 383
  • World, Membrane ... - Technical Drawing
    2373 × 1788
In an echoless room a computer and various measuring devices are used to amplify the sound of a body"s internal organs. In the silence, the visitor first hears the sounds inside his or her body, and then the amplified versions from audio speakers. A computer uses the bodysounds to form a 3D-polygon mesh, expressing sounds in the anechoic room. The lack of an echo and light makes hearing the primary perception. The visitor becomes just a giant ear with almost no control over his body and heartbeat. When the body"s heartbeat is thrown off course by an intervention from the outside, the desire arises to try to control the sounds that the body emits. A gap occurs between this event and the resulting desire. In this way the visitor feels that a part of his corporeality is under erasure. He/she is made conscious of the disappearance of the physical contours of his subjectivity and thereby experiences being turned into a fragmented body.

Our perceptions mediate the self and the body. There is always a split between the "thing/object" and the "viewer". It is this space that Seiko Mikami is interested in in her work. She is not concerned with the physical objects that arise from the work, but with making material the invisible space that arises between the body and the object: the inter-communication, the mediation or interface that occurs between things.

The project World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body uses the visitor"s heart and lung sounds which are amplified and transformed within the space to present a perception-driven architecture. These sounds create a gap between the internal and external sounds of the body. Mikami"s work fragments the body and its perceptual apparatus into data, employing them as interfaces and thus folding the body"s horizon back onto itself. The project externalizes the body"s mechanisms and elaborates how the structure of "interface" exists within the body itself.

World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body is presented in a sound-proof or an-echoic room, a special space where sound does not reverberate. Upon entering this room, it is as though your ears are no longer living while paradoxically you also feel as though all of your nerves are concentrated in you ears. The visitor has the impression of being inside a huge ear, of being immersed in the membrane of the ear. The soundproof room utilizes the quality of suspendedness to artificially create a situation in which the visitor is made aware of the mediation of sound in the interaction of auditor and environment.

Unfortunately in the world of virtual reality and also the artworld itself, acoustics often take a subordinate role to the visuals. However, the eye can only attain a high level of awareness, or focus, to a narrow fraction of the space to which its attention is being attracted. The ear, on the other hand, is able to take in information from a larger space and many signals can be transmitted via sound. In a normal environment, people can orient themselves almost unconsciously by taking in the sounds of footsteps, voices, and other types of audio cues and thereby gain an understanding of the size and types of materials that make up the space he or she occupies. However, human ears don"t work according to one"s will. While the eye can interrupt the flow of information by closing, the ear does not have the same power. The acoustic sense extends its feelers to take account of places that the ears can"t "see" and numericizes those distances. The ears of the exhibition visitor register the sounds emitted from his or her own body through the body"s membranes, which have been set to vibrating by noises originating therein.

One could say that the heartbeat itself is the most fundamental form of self-expression. In addition, the sounds of the heart, lungs, and pulse beat are also numericized by the computer system and act as parameters to form a continuously transforming 3-d polygonal mesh producing images that are projected in this room. Therein, two situations are effected in real time: the slight sounds produced by the body itself reverberate the body"s internal membranes, and the transfigured resonance of that sound is amplified in the soundproof room; a time-lag exists in this process. Neither the body nor the environment is cast as the object of representation; rather, the "ear" that intervenes signifies a kind of inter-medium that serves as the perceptual link, or code, between the acoustic sense and the space of the room. This in between "ear" is the abstract expression of the work"s claim that "the ear is not merely a thing that hears; the eye is not merely a thing that sees."

The visitor is overcome by the feeling that a part of his or her corporeality is under erasure. The body exists as abstract data, only the perceptual sense is aroused. The visitor is made conscious of the disappearance of the physical contours of his or her subjectivity and thereby experiences being turned into a fragmented body. The ears mediate the space that exists between the self and the body.

While dealing with the relation between sense perception and physical boundaries, Mikami"s work also reflects on the construction of virtual realities which she defines not as external experiences, but as existing inside our body and inside ourselves. She writes: "I once experienced a Virtual Reality work inside a large simulator. This "world" was navigated via a mouse and the whole simulator would also move as a result of my direction. As I was navigating through this space, the system crashed and I was suddenly hit with a confusing conflict between the real world and the virtual. Even though I knew I could easily exit this space/program, for a moment my senses took over and reacted to the sudden crash. This was due to the lag between my senses sending a signal of danger and my memory, which knew that I was actually safe.

I think media/digital art programs need more of this unpredictability. I feel that this would reflect the real world more accurately. The real world contains all sorts of potential negativity. In other words, I would like to see programs where death and accidents can play a role. This could especially be interesting as it concerns AI (Artificial Intelligence) work. Virtuality and reality both exist within our memories. Digital technology has existed for a long time inside our own body/mind mechanisms, from the cellular level up to the higher brain functions."

Presented in co-operation with InterCommunication Center, Tokyo.
  • aesthetics
    • acoustic
    • uncanny
  • genres
    • installations
      • interactive installations
    • sound art
      • sound installations
  • subjects
    • Body and Psychology
      • bodies (animal components)
      • perception
      • self awareness
Technology & Material
Exhibitions & Events