My research by its very definition is interdisciplinary. My primary background is in contemporary modern and contemporary ballet techniques. These are practices I started at a very young age and still value today. Through my journey in higher education, I also became interested in other areas of research including social and cognitive psychology (my second BA major), and human-computer interaction design (the focus of my current work). The deeper I delved into these areas of research, the more I became deeply frustrated with the lack of ethics, consideration of diverse perspectives, and interest in intersectional approaches to the work. My dance and somatics training attuned me to these deficiencies, but they did not provide me the adequate tools to directly address them. This has led me to collaboratively develop novel methodologies to address issues of ethical practice and diverse representation. As such, I am deeply committed to intersectional feminist and decolonial approaches to human-computer interaction design, dance composition, and scholarly research. As much of the research in these areas does not openly advocate for intersectional feminist or decolonial approaches, I have begun rigorously educating myself and forging partnerships with other artists and scholars to design new approaches to these questions. Much of this work is currently conducted within the Human Security Collaboratory, a new initiative founded by myself and my colleague Jacqueline Wernimont. The Human Security Collaboratory, or HS Collab, is a new project launched by the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at Arizona State University focused on addressing complex problems affecting the security of individuals and communities, with a special emphasis on digital technologies and their uses. Here I am able develop a collaborative model that addresses the discriminatory and colonial practices deeply embedded within traditional Western methodologies. Thus far the research has lead me to reshape my traditional HCI design practices based on the following assertions:
Self-study is critical in building ethical and empathetic technologies.
I am first and foremost a dancer. As such, my research is grounded in my lived experiences as a dancer, somatics practitioner, and practice-based researcher. I employ and advocate for first person, self-study practices. I believe that by understanding ourselves, we better understand how our own experiences and habitual biases influence the lens with which we see our world and our research. I position this argument in direct response to empirical practices that believe the only way to ‘truly’ know something is to remove ourselves from it. The Western practice of empirical research has lead to a preference for third person observation that assumes removing ones self from the experience deems it more objective. It is my belief that the opposite is true. By denying self-study and not consciously exploring our own embodied habits, we cannot see how emotions, past experiences, habituated ways of being will always affect our decisions and observations. To better understand this, I advocate for the use of somatics in HCI design practices, particularly those, like wearable technology, that are designing specifically for the body. I engage somatics within my own collaborative research processes and am design practice-based curriculum for teaching somatics within the HCI design process. The first pilot version of this curriculum titled, “The Body Matters: Palpability and Wearable Computing” was launched in June 2016 as part of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.
Technologies must accommodate the felt experience.
Our sense of touch is rarely considered in HCI design, and if utilized, it is typically exploited. The practice of “haptic nudging” or using short vibrations to prompt us to look or listen reinforces perceptions that our skin (and sense of touch) is secondary to our more “sophisticated,” distant senses of vision and hearing. I trouble the premise that our vision and hearing are more sophisticated senses than that of touch. Touch is a singular word that comprises a complex and synergistic relationship between cutaneous, kinesthetic, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses. Further, touch is also deeply entangled with our personal emotions and feelings. Touch is the first to develop in utero. Our sense of touch is what orients us to space, objects, and others. It is always actively seeking. It never stops. As such it is also the first sense to recede from our conscious attention. As a somatics practitioner, I recognize the value of developing a sophisticated practice of making touch conscious. This has deeply influenced my current work with haptic (touch-based) feedback. I am particularly interested in creating haptic interfaces that allow participants to feel both real time and prerecorded datasets. I have begun developing interactive systems that use sound and infrasonic subwoofers to make data palpable. This research has been integrated into small personal devices as well as large sculptures and structures. Felt experiences can be shared with others or engaged individually. This research is driven by three primary research questions:
- Does haptic feedback have the capacity to generate resonant, felt experiences of data?
- Can vibrotactile interfaces inspire users to critically evaluate the ways in which they track, store, and share data?
- Can feeling data influence how we make critical, ethically complex, and highly personal data-based decisions?
My current work focuses explicitly on haptic, felt data experiences, but I am interested in conducting future work to explore data haptification in conjunction with data visualization and sonification. All of my research is physically manifested in performances and participatory art installations, as this is my primary area of practice; however, I believe that this work could be applied to other fields currently exploring novel forms of data representation.