Haptic/Visual Identities – A project between art and research

Agata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio about their haptic cameras

Haptic Cameras: Agata Mergler – Cristian Villavicencio in collaboration with She Wears Black, Toronto, Canada, 2015

"HAPTIC/VISUAL IDENTITIES" combines practical and theoretical knowledge.  That is, it combines media and critical theories with art practice.1) This is particularly important in a moment when the complexity of research questions are testing the disciplinary skills used to deal with intense changes in the way we perceive reality.

Vision, the dominant sensorial paradigm, is being challenged by a number of factors including new technologies, multiplying points of view and its own expansion into other senses, such as the kinesthetic and haptic. In order to review the role of the body in the production of moving images, to break the necessity of fixed point of view and to include a moving subject relating itself to the flow and randomness of an unstable image we ask this question: how can we put more emphasis on the sense of touch, and challenge the dominant ways of representation centered on vision?

In this context we are developing Haptic Cameras, a prototype that uses open-source hardware and software with a DIY approach to technology. Equipped with a Raspberry Pi running on Linux, a portable battery, an LCD screen, VR goggles and four cameras custom-designed with 3D technology to attach to users’ hands, the device captures real-time footage of one or more users performing actions. The real-time, random sequences coming from the cameras are designed to “touch”, or scan, the object being filmed. The lenses are customized to take macro shots of surfaces. Participants in this cyborg-like situation relate to each other visually and hapticly.

Haptické kamery v akci – vizualizace

Haptic Cameras device at work – visualization

To explore the perception of surroundings two of us started a process of cooperative filming with haptic cameras. A coded script randomly switched the cameras on and off, producing video footage of a fragmented landscape. Questions arising from this experience relate to understanding the role of the eye and the body, and thus prompted our interest in Crary’s Techniques of the Observer. Crary’s question, “How is (…) the observing body, becoming a component of new machines ... whether social, libidinal or technological?”2) , informs the development of our work in the context of changing relationships between digital image-making devices and the human body. The question has helped us to understand how the body blends with the camera in our prototype—when the eye is deferred to the hands to capture images through the logic of touch.

Falls. Agata Mergler – Cristian Villavicencio. Video HD 3’10’’. Canada, 2015

In our next experiments we engaged in building “relationships” by filming with cameras mimicking touch. This required a close proximity between the camera and its object, requiring trust on the side of the person being filmed. Through this intimate way of working with the camera’s gaze we hoped to achieve a feeling of empathy as opposed to invasion. This experience along with further attempts to create less othering situations can be described by the juxtaposition, “Touch, haptics, creates the feeling of the intimate while vision addresses control”3). In our project, the visual cognition of surroundings and the other’s body has to be produced in coordination with the other participant, acting as either an object of the camera or second performer. The Haptic use of cameras reveals the limits of intimacy, issues of control and ultimately the power dynamics of defining identity produced by the gaze. Our prototype makes the invisibility of the gaze visible through the physically perceived “invasion” of personal boundaries that occurs when cameras “caress” the body. This unusual perspective, and mixing of touch with vision, create a deterritorializing4) experience for the body. The exploration of this technology as a cooperative performance of self-representation promises quite positive results for transgressing image identities created in the digital era of social media.

Haptic Cameras – She Wears Black (Studio Concert). Agata Mergler – Cristian Villavicencio – She Wears Black. Video HD 3’31’’. Toronto, Canada, 2015

Our DIY digital media prototypes have provided us with the opportunity to question visual hegemony in identity representation. Making room for more agency of the participants and artists, filming and performing become a part of micropolitics5). In the development of this project, the processual configuration of how technology is used and which technology we want to use expresses our attitude against the high-tech aesthetics and politics of modern technology. Specifically, the patriarchal, modernist and neocolonial values hidden in the narrative of a “neutral” and “progressive” aesthetic. This visual-haptic technology should allow for further exploration in the following subjects : (1) an expansion of the visual and haptic senses; (2) the inclusion of the body’s role in the process of image making; (3) randomness in the film output; (4) creating an intersubjective, but non-normative presentation of the self/subject. We intend to delve deeper into these spaces.

For further information about the Haptic/Visual Identities project please visit the following webpage:




1) Hito Steyerl “Aesthetics of resistance? Artistic research as discipline and conflict.” on: www.eipcp.net

2) Techniques of the Observer (Crary, 2)

3) [Marks: Skin of the Film:]

4) Deleuze and Guattari define deterritorialization in many ways, “movement by which one leaves the territory” (TP 508) it “is never simple, but always multiple and composite” (509)

5) [1] In sense of micropolitics of Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus: it “is the opposite of macropolitics, and even of History, in which it is a question of knowing how to win or obtain a majority. … to avoid ending up a fascist there was no other choice but to become-black.” (292)

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