::endangered senses::

Video of SuperElephant on the Longfellow bridge picking up infrasonic vibrations

This project was inspired by the human tendency to equate our perceptions to those of the rest of the natural world and evaluate other systems solely in terms of human experience. We form these perceptions through the lens by which we experience the world; our senses. Although there are many species by whom the world is experienced quite differently, whether it be hearing, seeing, even smelling, we frame these definitions by the boundaries of our own bodies. We simplify and codify the natural world to make it fit neatly into our definition of reality, creating a anthropocentric position from which we witness the world. For example, we may think of the zoo as a quiet space, but to an elephant who can hear frequencies far below the range we can perceive, environmental factors such as trains and traffic can create a surrounding that would be difficult for us to imagine.

The project, SuperElephant, is part of the series Endangered Senses and consists of a costume that allows people to experience a sense possessed by endangered animals that is not possessed by humans. The elephant-inspired costume investigates the pachyderms' ability to detect infrasonic and seismic vibrations. The wearable has long telescoping sleeves which conceal the arms and hands and connect to the floor. Thus, the human is asked to sacrifice defining human characteristics (bipedal, with opposable thumbs) in order to experience a supplemental sense. The sensor is an accelerometer which picks up vibrations in the range of 5-20 hz, extending below humanly detectable limits. The signal is then processed to make it audible to humans and broadcast via FM transmitter or speakers to create a shared sensory experience.

In many situations wearable technology creates a more isolating experience for the wearer. In creating a performance garment, I hope to question the isolationist tendencies common in modern technologic designs. I hope to do this not only by creating an experience that includes senses that we do not possess, but also to include an audience in the experience. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to create a community experience by allowing empathetic bond with the animals around us.

accelerometer board

accelerometer schematic

Video of the elephant costume in motion

photo:: kate kunath