Claudia Robles-Angel

How to perceive the imperceptible - The body seen as an audio-visual instrument

Text & Interview by Rachel Müller

Claudia Robles Angel’s performance used wires that connected her brain to a system of projected images and sounds. What the audience received was a combination of pre-chosen images as well as the way that Angel’s brain was processing and reacting to them in real time. The other performances had similar arrangements, but Angel’s was the most extreme: watching her, the body became a wired machine, producing cold sounds and abrupt visuals very unlike what we associate with the brain, or with human feelings”

(Adela Yawitz, Berlin Art Link)

REFLEXION - In Sync/out Sync (2019) by Claudia Robles-Angel / VG Bild und Kunst. Photo: Lucas D'Ambrosio

Claudia Robles Angel’s artistic work and research focuses on different aspects of visual and sound art and is centered around the human organic body, specifically its internal imperceptible vibrations, pulsations and fluctuations. The works she creates explore the potential of the human body to be an audio-visual instrument, modifying music, sound and light in real-time through measuring and transforming diverse physiological parameters of the human body.

Claudia Robles Angel's work wants to prove that our body is not obsolete - totally to the contrary. She applies technology and collaborates closely with scientists, in order to dig deeper into and reveal the unseen and unheard side of the bodily system through and with which we live. To render this hidden side visible and audible she employs diverse interfaces measuring biomedical signals (e.g. heart signals, skin response, blood flow, electrocardiography). This biomedical data in turn gets sent to computers equipped with software responsible for visual and audio effects, which can process and translate this data to produce audio-visual environments in real-time.

SKIN (2012) by Claudia Robles-Angel / VG Bild und Kunst. Photo: Andrej Topas

Claudia Robles Angel builds diverse multimedia installations and therein makes use of performative as well as interactive methods. She gives audiences a chance to experience audio-visual environments created through a performer's body. She also offers the possibility to audiences to have their own physiological parameters measured and thus become creators of their very own audio-visual environment. One example for this is her interactive multimedia work SKIN (2014), in which visitors had the possibility to use a GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) interface to measure their skin’s moisture which is an indicator for a certain emotional state, a certain level of stress or relaxation. Within the installation, this data influenced the imagery on 3 screens; being more chaotic the higher the stress level and calming down, turning in to a growing blue line, with the relaxation of the visitor. It also influenced the sonic environment.

This process creates great intimacy, as visitors experience the invisible inner ways of their bodies made tangible. To Robles Angel this is one of the most important parts of her work - to create an awareness for our bodies constant inner liveliness, which would normally go unnoticed and to point to the fact that we are able to control it in a conscious way.

MINDSCAPE / WEBMINDSCAPE (2016) by Claudia Robles-Angel/VG Bild und Kunst / Photo: Constantinos Samaras

Originally from Colombia, Claudia Robles-Angel momentarily is based in Cologne, Germany and active worldwide. She has been granted residencies and fellowships by several renowned institutions, such as the Musikfonds (Germany), the CMMAS Mexican Center for the Music and the Soundarts, Morelia (Mexico), the ZKM - Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (Germany) and the KHM Academy of Media Arts, Cologne (Germany).

Her works are presented at festivals and solo/group exhibitions worldwide, such as, ZKM Center in Karlsruhe (Germany); KIBLA Multimedia Centre in Maribor (Slovenia); Bauhaus Museum für Gestaltung Berlin (Germany); Portrait Concert, Auditorio CMMAS, Morelia (Mexico); the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in Copenhagen (2007), Montréal (2009) and Utrecht (2016); International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) in Istanbul (2011), Manizales (2017), Durban (2018) and Gwangju (2019); at RE:SOUND Festival and MAH Media Art Histories in Aalborg.

Recent exhibitions at Kunst - Station Sankt Peter Köln (2019, Germany); Museu Gerdau - das Minas e do Metal, Belo Horizonte (2021, Brazil); Festival INTERZONANZEN Potsdam (2021, Germany).

SKIN Performance (2014) by Claudia Robles -Angel/VG Bild und Kunst. Photo: Roland Baege


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What are your current projects?

I'm currently working on two new projects, the first is a continuation/evolution of my last installation REFLEXION. This new work is inspired by the spontaneous order or synchronisation system in nature, e.g. fireflies or humans clapping together. The goal is to bring the entire group to a spontaneous synchronization that creates a connection between the performer and the audience within the immersive sound space, namely, that both the heartbeats of the performer and of the audi-ence are influenced by each other.

The second project explores the integration of affective computing, emotional intelligence and machine learning techniques combined with biomedical signals, to create a new installation, an intelligent space that recognises visitors' emotions using AI and which reacts with visuals, sounds and text according to such emotions.

What path led you to digital art and what fascinated you about it initially?

Since the start of my career, I have been fascinated with technologies (first analogue and later digital). From the very beginning (in the 80s) I wanted to combine them with art but unfortunately at that time in the faculty of arts where I was studying, there was no department dedicated to this, for which I decided to experiment on my own, combining this experimentation with my studies in art, mostly because I was attracted by moving images, I started experimenting with 16mm film. At that time, I additionally started considering how to use personal computers to produce art works. Due to the fact, that such combination was not available in the programmes at my university I decided to come to Europe to study art in the way I desired (media art). During my studies in videoart in Switzerland, my interest in sound started, the reason why years later I came to Germany to study digital sound art and electroacoustic music.


What sparked your interest in viewing the human body as an instrument; to display and integrate into performance the usually invisible and inaudible internal movements within the human body?

My awareness about it started when I began my studies in Germany. Before that, I used to work with diverse software packages for video and sound, but only when I started code programming, I came to the realization, that I wasn't using my body for many hours... just my hands... which sparked the following question in my mind: "why not using my entire body"?

The real push then began during an interdisciplinary workshop at the Bauhaus Foundation, in which artists from many disciplines attended, and where we worked together to create performances including the opportunity to work with a German dance group who had developed an interface for dancers to measure muscle tension for interactive dance works. During that workshop I had the opportunity to test software which created interactive works. After that workshop, the next project I wanted to develop occurred to me and I immediately started seeking funding and institutions which had the technology I wanted to use. This search became an artist in residence (and funding) at ZKM (Center for Art and Media) in Karlsruhe, during which I created in 2004 the interactive performance/installation "Seed/Tree" using biomedical signals; this was the first project with which I began researching the human body as an instrument, with particular attention to those usually invisible and inaudible internal movements within the human body. This is also related to my usage of macro lenses in video and photography in order to make visible the imperceptible, so that extending this to my usage of biomedical interfaces was a natural evolution in my creative process.


What was there first – a scientific or an artistic interest?

My main aim is and has always been artistic, even though science has always been simultaneously and constantly on my mind. For example, my final dissertation in fine arts (my first degree) was inspired by quantum physics. But my impulse to question the world and as an answer create art definitely derives from an artistic point of view.


What do you think can be gained from bridging the gap between the arts and science?

The most important from my point of view is the possibility to go beyond our own fields, in a way in which we both can gain a better and wider understanding of the world, enriching both fields.

From an artistic point of view, science offers artists through a diversity of factors (including technologies) a wide range of possibilities that cannot be achieved otherwise. Furthermore, I am convinced that digital art could not exist without science.


How does the rapid development of the interfaces employed in your artworks influence your artistic process?

Such rapid development has many consequences, and the most important ones are those, that the interfaces I currently use are not only much more affordable (price-wise), but also, can be much more easily combined with diverse software packages, allowing for much more possibilities of experimentation and development. As an example, when I introduced brainwaves in my work (2008), I had not other option but to use a medical device, which needed plenty of effort and research to interface with the programming software I used for my performance INsideOUT. About seven years later, I started using another system to read brainwaves, which was easier to obtain, easier to insert in my work, much cheaper than the first one and which allowed for the usage in installations, which the former one did not permit.

The main issue here, is that in the past, this kind of interfaces were only affordable in scientific institutions but nowadays we can obtain them commercially at affordable prices and small sizes, and we can even have them connected to our smartphones.


Most digital artworks are created collaboratively. How many people are involved in your artworks (on average), and how would you describe the artistic development of your works as a collective/individual process?

I'm used to have several copies in different external disks of the fixed media audiovisual compositions but in regard to interactive performances and installations, I normally make video documentations of each work and the archives contain sounds, pictures and programming for each work.

Depending on which works, for example installations, the best way in which they could be pre-served is to have them permanently exhibited in museums internationally.

In the case of performances (video documentation), as well as for the fixed media works (audio-visual or acousmatic compositions), the best way to preserve them are specialised institutions. For example some of my works (audiovisual & acousmatic compositions) are archived at ICEM (Folk-wang University of the Arts, Essen), at www.emdoku.de/en and additionally, I have a pro-file with pictures of my interactive works at this platform (ADA).

The ADA team would like to thank Claudia Robles-Angel for her collaboration and contribution to the ADA platform and community!

Text and Interview (CC) by Rachel Müller

August 2021