Exploring an emotional database
Stand in front of Tina Gonsalves work Chameleon – Prototype07 and the three different figures in it will respond. The faces will smile if you smile at them, occasionally the people on screen will speak, and if you are sad they have been known to cry.
The characters on the screen do not mimic your emotions, rather they constantly evaluate the emotions displayed by viewers and process it in the software.
“If it is a strong enough loop, one character will wake up the other two characters. Over time they develop their own personalities and they look to the audience to inform themselves,” Gonsalves said.
The interactive work takes place in a darkened room and merges art, neuroscience and technology. Gonsalves is currently honorary artist at the Institute of Neurology, UK, the MIT Media Lab, USA, and Nokia research Labs, Finland.
“What we have done with MIT Media lab is to train the software to recognise what an emotion is, using facial recognition software,” Gonsalves said.
The work is a collaboration between two neuroscientists, an interaction scientist and an effective computing scientist as well as artist Gonsalves. With her team she developed software to seek out visitors’ emotions and then trigger an emotionally intelligent learning computer system to play back video portraits in response.
Gonsalves’ background is in video and collage, then moving to animation and video.
“I was originally interested in how emotions could drive video and worked with neuroscientists to see how things like sweat could drive emotions,” Gonsalves said.
“It’s about how you are feeling on the inside and how you project that to the outside. I am interested in this internal and external juxtaposition and think that’s a common thread in an incredibly interesting journey about what it means to be human.”
Gonsalves said the software she uses for Chameleon – Prototype07 – was originally developed for people with autism to help them read facial expressions. She said that a lot of her research is based on renowned psychologist Paul Ekman’s Theories of Emotion.
“Ekman travelled around the world in the 1960s looking for different ways cultures portrayed emotions in facial expressions but discovered the same forms of expression wherever he went,” Gonsalves said.
“These are ideas that I have incorporated into Chameleon – Prototype07which I began in 2008 and will continue through to a final exhibition in Edinburgh in 2010.”
The work is a collaboration of art and science trying out hypotheses about using technology as a tool to capture emotional transference. This ‘emotional database’ can then be used by scientists.
As an artist, Gonsalves role is to find the characters used in the programs. She uses everyday people she has built up a relationship with over time, and elicits different emotional responses from them for the video camera by using a variety techniques. For instance, she might start talking in the present tense about an emotion. Or she might scream at people to capture their surprise.
“The only way to capture what an authentic emotion is to have people really display that emotion. Interestingly, most people have an easy access to sadness. There is so much trauma in every day lives. We bottle up sadness, whereas happiness is an emotion that we can share.”
For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716