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You walk through a dark tunnel into a lightless room
when sight and sound awaken your senses. You are bathed in visual
and acoustic activity, signals that represent both your presence
and the presence of a virtual “entity” sharing the 12-foot
cube with you. At first, you can see this entity, but soon you must
move through the space to find and interact with it using more indirect
cues; your experience is similar to the sensory perception of weakly-electric
In front of and behind you are your avatars, helping you sense
your place in the environment. The avatars are vaguely-outlined
splashes of color shaped roughly like you, and your body regions
change in hue each time the entity draws near. Speakers at all
eight corners of the room immerse you in spatialized sound that
varies in position, pitch, and volume as the entity “swims” closer.
BODY ELECTRIC is a collaboration between Simon Penny, an artist,
professor of arts and engineering, and director of the Arts, Computation
and Engineering graduate program at the University of California
at Irvine and Malcolm MacIver, a mechanical engineering postdoctoral
scholar at Caltech who studies the sensory systems of fish that
use weak electric fields to “see” the world around
them. In their exhibit, the collaborators show that perception
is not necessarily passive; it can be an active, driving force.