Seiko Mikami is an artist who focuses on interactive media art installations incorporating human perception. Professor of Media Art Lab at Tama Art University, she has participated in several research projects and has shown her work extensively around the world, in contemporary art and new media festivals and exhibitions in museums and art centers.
As an artist, you create interactive installations that confront the “data body” with the “physical body”. Do you think that it is the purpose of art today to help us understand our condition as humans in a society driven by technology?
I think that people are drawn by their ID or code of social-net society. My recent artwork “Desire of Codes” expresses the ambiguous boundaries between the *data body in the virtual world* and the *physical body in the real world* in the information-oriented society. The database in this work is built from images taken at the exhibition venue, such as the visitors’ skin, eyes, hair, bags, etc. which are recorded in real-time by the devices on the wall. These images also recorded similar images some seconds, some hours, and some months ago, which are ultimately projected onto the screen in a complex mixi of elements from the past and the present. Additionally, surveillance images recorded at public places around the world, such as airports, parks, hallways or crowded streets, and images from the database are separated and transferred to a 4.7M round-shaped screen which ressembles an insect’s compound eye: the images are displayed in the 61 hexagonal facets that make up the screen. Looking at the constantly changing projected scenery with its shifting time axes, the visitor feels as if watching a fragmented dream or memories stored in the brain, and discovers the desires that are automatically generated through the act of monitoring. This work tries to visualize a new reality in which fragmentary aspects of space and time are recombined, while the visitor’s position as a subject of expression and surveillance at once indicates the new appearances of human corporeality and desire.
VIDA awards artistic projects that explore the concept of artificial life. How would you define this concept?
I think that “artificial life” is already existing in our own body. For the last 20 years, I have developed artistic projects that involve human perception. Even the concept of perception is very complex and a subject matter that becomes to wide to encompass. There is also the fact that we do not yet fully understand our body well enough. In order to approach both perception and the body, I decided to separate the individual senses: seeing, hearing, the sense of touch, and others, and I am advancing in this project, developing each interface individually. The point of each project was to create the ‘interface’ set to each perception by elaborating a particular censor mechanism. Meanwhile, my entire project is motivated by a conviction that something such as what we call ‘artificial’ in the context of computer technology already exists within us. “Artificial” is composed in each of my projects as an extension of what we already have –a network that mediates our subjectivity and synthesizes what we perceive, as well as the world that is perceived.
The body plays an important role in your artistic projects. Do you think that, as viewers, we have lost consciousness of our own bodies?
The role that the body plays in my work is different for each project. For example, my “eye-tracking project (1996~)” evolves between consciousness and unconsciousness. This interactive media art installation consists of “eye tracking input” technology and structures of molecules that are generated in real time according to the movements of the viewer’s eyes during their interaction. This space can be navigated simply through one’s gaze and this gaze in turn is converted into XYZ coordinates that simultaneously generate the structures. However it is extremely difficult for humans to control their gaze. For instance, eye tracking technology is used for lie detectors. This proves how our gaze expresses our unconscious affects, and is uncontrollable by our intention. The eye-movement is affected by both our conscious and unconscious processes. What is at the core of this project is the gap between the controlled, voluntary process, and the uncontrolled passive process. Therefore using eye tracking, the eyes mediate the space that exists between the self and the body.
In your opinion, how do competitions such as VIDA benefit the development of artistic practices?
I think that VIDA is carrying out a very important task at supporting the artists, not only by means of the awards but also by providing information about their ongoing work and the history of the previous editions on the website and social networks. To produce artistic projects that are developed in the intersection between art, science and technology requires a considerable amount of time, budget and equipment. In addition, this kind of work cannot be easily inserted into the art market, and therefore is it thanks to the support provided by initiatives such as VIDA that artists can continue to explore the boundaries of artificial life.
Could you describe three projects from previous editions of the VIDA awards that have been, in your opinion, particularly interesting?
I live in Tokyo, so I haven’t had the chance to experience all of the artworks that have participated in the previous editions of VIDA, and for this reason I find it difficult to choose. However I have seen many of the award-winning works on the Internet or in other venues, and those that have interested me most are the ones that integrate a collaboration between different fields such as robotics, biotechnology and architecture.