ARC Fellows: Exploring critical alternatives for biosensing in daily life

Exploring critical alternatives for biosensing in daily life

Submitted by our 2018 ARC Fellow Team:

Noura Howell (School of Information) and Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice)

IMG_1827Biosensory data, and the data-driven categorizations it supports, are increasingly present in daily life, measuring our behavior, physiology, and the environment. Data-driven categorizations of safe/criminal, healthy/unhealthy, or normal/pathological often masquerade as scientific and objective, and biosensing technologies often promote a particular normative vision of the good life. Biosensing tracks not only individuals but also cities, with smart city sensing promising efficiency, safety, and happiness–but for whom and by what norms?

This project proposes a very different way of engaging biosensory data in daily life, using hypothesis-free data collection to subvert normative categorization in urban space. We ask,

How can biosensing support more poetic unscripted ways of experiencing daily life?

Feeler/Crawler/Octopoets wander the environment and invite others to wander too. Their senses/sensors comprise their own quirky perspective, not the all-seeing authority of data surveillance. Their irreverence invites curiosity, playfulness, and questioning. The sensors blur divisions between sensors, senses, feelers, feelings, and knowledge. These strange creatures suggest being more humble about the kinds of knowledge claims we make with biosensing. They invite us to be curious, open, playful, and joyful with new ways of sensing, feeling, and experiencing urban space and daily life.

ARC Fellows Host Feeler/Crawler/Octopoets on Berkeley’s Campus

ARC Fellows created the first convoy of Feeler/Crawler/Octopoets out of paper, markers, rhinestones, and imagination. They explored some interested aspects of Berkeley’s campus!

Noura Howell is a PhD Student in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. As a tangible interaction designer she explore relationships with emotional biosensory data. How might interactions with data influence our sense of self and our relationships with others? What might it be like to experience data without quantification? In addition to self-knowledge, self-improvement, or self-expression, what other practices can be explored with biosensory data, such as cherishing, celebrating, coping, or just being?

Greg Niemeyer is Associate Professor of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. He is involved in the development of the Center for New Media, focusing on the critical analysis of the impact of new media on human experiences. His creative work focuses on the mediation between humans as individuals and humans as a collective through technological means, and emphasizes playful responses to technology. His most recognized projects are Gravity (Cooper Union, NYC, 1997), PING (SFMOMA, 2001), Oxygen Flute (SJMA, 2002), ar (Pacific Film Archive, 2003), Ping 2.0 (Paris, La Villette Numerique, 2004), Organum Playtest (2005), Good Morning Flowers (SFIFF 2006, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Egypt, 2006),,, and

Wenny Miao is an undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to this project, she is involved with CalSMV, creating a car to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon. Previously she interned at the Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications Engineering Research Center (LESA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and at Stony Brook University where she developed a controller incorporating biophysical sensors and created a corresponding video game with biomedical engineering and physical therapy applications.

Note:Over the course of the spring semester, each 2018 ARC Fellows team will submit a short blog post about their project and findings. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! The Fellows Program advances interdisciplinary research in the arts at UC Berkeley by supporting self-nominated pairs of graduate students and faculty members as they pursue semester-long collaborative projects of their own design. To learn more about the program, click here.