~e; electromagnetic auravision

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Wed, 5 Dec 2001 10:22:19 -0600

  [here is another example of using electromagntism as the
  content, the message, and the medium and form as a way
  of delivering that message, electromagnetic. this is one
  of many examples of EM artwork.]

  From Wired News, available online at:

At an Ashram Near You: His Aura
By Chloe Veltman

2:00 a.m. Dec. 4, 2001 PST

Meditation is not widely known as a spectator sport. The most
introverted and ascetic of activities, it doesn't usually involve 
tech gadgetry, rave-style visuals or a sizeable audience.

But when Ansuman Biswas meditates, people pay attention. Perched in
the lotus position for six hours at a time, the Bengali-born, 
London-based artist is currently using a homemade electrocardiograph 
(ECG) device, laptop computer, video camera and real-time video 
imaging software to reveal his internal processes to the outside 

"Basic meditation has nothing to do with performance," said Biswas,
whose work focuses on the relationship between art, science and 
vipassana, a 2,500-year-old meditation practice that uses 
self-observation as a way to eliminate the "noise" of everyday life. 
"It's about deliberately, radically, not performing."

Yet in Biswas' work, vipassana is a powerful way to connect scientific
processes with intangible, "unscientific" concepts such as perception 
and the emotions, making them come alive for other people at the same 

The 36-year-old artist's latest work, Self/Portrait, uses signals
generated by the human heart as a way of visually representing 
constantly changing emotions and feelings.

As Biswas meditates, real-time Technicolor images of the artist are
projected on the wall. Sometimes the images rest quietly, while at 
other times they vibrate violently, like the erratic blinking of a 
faulty light bulb.

Technology provides the interface between the artist's body and what
the audience sees. The homemade ECG device connected to a laptop 
computer reads Biswas' heart-rate variability through electrodes 
connected to his chest.

Meanwhile, data from a video camera positioned in front of him is
mixed with the ECG signals and projected in real-time onto the wall 
using Imagine video software created by the Studio for 
Electro-Instrumental Music in Holland. "The machine is programmed in 
such a way that chaotic variation in the body's rhythms will tend to 
distort the picture," Biswas said. "As the rhythms become more 
regular, harmonized -- as the body becomes more peaceful -- so the 
picture becomes clearer."

Biswas first became interested in the idea of externalizing the
meditation process when he observed a demonstration given by 
scientist Alan Watkins. Watkins was using an ECG unit to show how 
emotional states affect the heart's movements. The device allows 
people to watch their heart rate as it varies continuously, captured 
by the spikes on a graph.

When Biswas, who has been practicing meditation for 15 years, had a go
on the machine, his reading came out as a flat line. "Both Alan and I 
were intrigued by my anomalous trace," Biswas said. "It got me 
interested in seeing how you can measure something you feel."

The relationship between our feelings and the way the heart beats is
no new theory. Research centers, such as The Institute of HeartMath 
in Boulder Creek, California, specialize in developing technologies 
to help people overcome overpowering emotions such as anxiety, anger 
and stress. "Heart-rate variability is a great way to get constant 
feedback on what's going on internally," said Dr. Rollin McCraty, 
director of research at HeartMath.

McCraty disputes a long-standing belief within certain psychology
circles that emotions are the product of the brain rather than the 
heart. "A lot of research has been done in the past to try to find 
physiological correlates for emotional states. But no one has yet 
been successful," McCraty said. "Emotions are a product of the brain 
and heart in concert."

Despite the artistic merits of Self/Portrait, Biswas admits that his
adaptation of ECG technology remains crude.

"Ideally, I'd like to be able to differentiate between the patterns
within heart-rate variability," he said. "But I'd need to write 
complicated software for that."

Computer scientist Alberto Ricci Bitti agrees that Biswas' technology
could go further.

"The ECG vocabulary includes basic states such as fear and exhaustion.
It's not suitable for providing the sharp resolution required to 
focus on such an advanced concept as meditation," Ricci Bitti said. 
Still, he does not consider Biswas' work an abuse of technology. "If 
we cannot probe our internal feelings, we cannot assert they are 
internal at all."

In fact, Biswas' work is raising more eyebrows within meditating
enclaves than amongst the science crowd. "The meditating community 
can be dogmatic," Biswas said. "Dabbling in other things can look 
like a distraction."

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