Body Surfing:

An Interactive Art Installation Questioning the Role of the Body in the Digital Age
 Stephen Wilson

food vs dissection
Larger image available
Many  cultural theorists claim that the physical body is becoming irrelevant and obsolescent in the cyberage.  Our self image, relationships, and actions in the world are increasingly mediated, electronic, and remote.  For example, most work manipulates information rather than physical objects and interactions do not require physical prescence. Physical gender, age, and body shape are invisible in electronic communication.  Computer mediated medical imaging presents views of the body unavialble to unaugmented senses.  Bioinfomatics attempts to unravel the informational core of the body.

drummers activate cyberspace
(Larger image available)
Body Surfing uses state of the art body sensing technology to ironically question these claims by allowing visitors to investigate the limitations and pleasures of the body in contexts such as dance, physical labor, sport, feasting, erotic touch, hunger, sickness, old age, bioinfomatics,medical dissection, dna modeling, and medical imaging.

Media events are accessed through drumming, stretching, touching, gesturing, dancing, and running, which are sensed and responded to by computers.

- Each beat of the drum brings body sounds, changes in lighting, and changes in the projected images.
- Stretching causes some images to enlarge.
- Visitors must run around the room in order keep digital movies running and to access web pages
- Web visitors can also participate via their virtual body - sending drum sequences, body sounds, and texts to be read by the speech synthesizer.

View larger  images of interactions

View BodySurfing quicktime movie documentation
(Note this is a 27mb file - not advised for low-bandwidth)

Control the installation from anywhere in the world

***Note Interactive Web Features only active during installation dates**

Internet access:    A conga drum offers the main interface in the installation.  Physical visitors beat on the drum to select images and sounds. Each time they beat, the drum responds with its physical resonance, lights flash, the drum makes grunt sounds, and new media choices become available.   So what can you do with your virtual non-physically present body? 

1. You can beat the drum virtually.  Select a sequence of beats below.  The installation will announce your virtual presence and present simulated drum beats which will affect the media event experienced by physical visitors. Go to drum sequence section.

2. You can record a body sound such as a grunt that will become part of the repertoire of sounds that the drum responds with when beat. Go to grunt section.

3. The installation periodically uses synthesized voices to read texts written by cultural theorists which analyze the role of the body in the contemporary world.  You can suggest texts to be read by providing web links.  Go to text suggestion section.

Pick a sequence to sound the drum:

  1. Pick a pattern of six sounds by selecting the sounds you want (on sound enabled computers, it will beat as you select)
  2. Type your name and your location
  3. Click on the "send drumbeats" button
**Note  - some browsers cannot sound the drum as you make your choices, but your pattern will be sent correctly**


2 hard
3 hard
4 hard
5 hard
6 hard
Please type your name:       Please type your location

Your pattern automatically indicated as you choose buttons above: 

This is the "hard" beat This is the "soft" beat This is "silence"

Send a Grunt to the Drum:

In the installation there is a "magical" drum.  Each time a visitor beats it, they affect the cyber events projected on the gallery wall.  Also each time they beat the drum, the drum responds with a non verbal, body related human sound - for example, moans, grunts, yells, farts, crys, whines, laughs.

You are invited to contribute your own non verbal growl, grunt, or whatever to the installation.  Then the drum might well respond with your sound when someone beats it.  The installation makes use of the ihello unified voice messaging system.  You will be able record your body sound via microphone attached to your computer or via telephone.  Here are the steps:

    1.Click on the mouth icon below and a "Voice Blast" window will open .
    2.You can play the greeting which asks you to grunt.
    3.Click on the "Reply" button and a new "Reply to voice blast" window will open.
    4.It asks for name, subject, and email.  It also asks whether you want to record via computer microphone or phone.
    5. If you pick phone, it will open a window with instructions for how to do that..  If your pick microphone and your computer is not properly enabled for recording. it will ask for permission to download a java applet into your system.
    6. Note-as soon as you click the record button it starts recording, so be ready to record immediately.
    7. You can review and rerecord if you want. Click on the "Send" button  and your grunt will be on its way.
    8 .Keep the sound short.  The sounds must last 3 seconds or less- that is all the drum will use no matter how long your message is.
    9. The ihello system will invite you to try out its various features.  These have no connection to the installation.

Please click on the icon to activate the "Voice blast" system for recording a grunt to become part of the drum sounds.

Suggest a Text for the Speech Synthesizer to Read:

Periodically the installation offers visitors a moving text display as it uses synthesized speech to read a variety of theoretical texts dealing with the impact of the electronic age on the ways we conceptualize the physical body.  Web visitors are invited to suggest texts for the voice to read and to provide your own commentary.  Please provide the URL link to at ext that analyzes the place of the body in the contemporary world

Process to Add a link and commentary
1. Click the radio button
2. Type the URL carefully. (Include the http:// specifier - for example
3. Type a short description for the text and the reason you are including it. Include your name and location as the commenter. (For example, Site is really strong because of links,etc... - Ima bodee, New York)
4. Click on the 'add the site' button to add it to the database.

Please type the URL carefully (include the http:// specifier).

Please type a short description of what you found interesting about the text. Include your name as referer at the end -- for example 'great source of ideas about bioinfomatics -joe, san francisco



Body Surfing was shown in the Faculty Show at San Francisco State University Art Gallery (hours,directions, etc)
New features were added in 2006,
     **Note Interactive Web Features only active during installation dates**


The installation was created by Stephen Wilson, Art Department, San Francisco State Univeristy
Stephen Wilson Web Site (links to installations, articles, books, art & technology web sites, email contact)