This week, Harvest Works gallery in New York exhibited an installation by audiovisual artist, Claudia Robles, that gets under your skin... literally. SKIN is a project that measures gallery visitors' skin moisture using a GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) interface and transforms that data into sound and images. Psychological states such as stress, nervousness, and even arousal become observable, external information. Be careful who you test it out around.
"I'm interested in making the human body visual and audible," Robles told The Creators Project. "We normally don't hear or perceive our body, and this work is a way of making us aware of it and to enhance its potential as a visual and musical instrument." With this exhibition, people can affect the video, sound, and overall environment of a gallery space purely based on their own emotional states.
The artist originally premiered a similar installation in 2012, but Harvest Works contacted her and said they had a new audio system with eight channels and three video projectors, prompting her to upgrade the project. "My work is immersive, and [Harvest Work's set-up] has really great conditions for a piece like this," she said.
SKIN implements a commercial interface called GSR 2 that's usually used as a biofeedback interface that helps anxious people learn to calm down. The interface measures the skin's moisture and the data is turned into frequencies and colors using MAX software. Low frequencies and blue color represent a relaxed state, while orange images and higher frequencies indicate a higher degree of stress. In certain respects, the project works like a high-tech mood ring.
"In the installation, people experience mostly red colors and high frequencies because the space is publicly reflecting their inner states," explained Robles. "When they see the first blue line, and as the blue line gets bigger, people realize they are calming down." The artist added that people are very anxious and impatient when wearing the GSR—"They want to get calm in just a few minutes!" But the installation is not meant to calm people down, it is simply a method for visually and sonically articulating their inner states. "If they take time to get calm, they experience a calm [atmosphere]... but it takes time."
Though it sounds nerve-wracking to have your internal, private feelings projected to a group of strangers in an art gallery, Robles work is fascinating in that one person's emotional barometer can change the mood and environment of a big space—a chance to become Zeus, of sorts, in Chelsea. And in case you were wondering: sweatier people don't yield stronger reactions from the system. But for the neurotic, this is an opportunity to have your friends see and hear how you feel on the inside.
See some photos of the exhibition below, and visit Harvest Work's website for more information.