Cyberskin, radical revealing skin

Joan Healy

Developing the most “natural” human-machine interface has always been one of the IT industry Holy Grails. The ancestral codes that oversee our instinctual behaviors are more often than not misguided by cultural signs and related meanings expressed in the software and hardware aesthetic. Playing with these ideas, Cyberskin by Joan Healy brilliantly conveys the idea of the body as an extension of a machine. The author’s passion for the seventies performance scene is perfectly exploited in this piece. In the context of a parody of IT fairs, she hides herself inside a “machine”, so that a rectangular portion of her back can be touched and used by visitors as a touchpad. She secretly “draws” with a real touchpad, her movements tracing the patterns she feels on her back. A monitor displays the marks she makes with the touchpad in front of the user. An accompanying dystopian video documents how workers are exploited in developing countries, manufacturing digital technology parts with endlessly repetitive tasks. The user’s finger skimming over Joan’s skin creates an organic meta-interface. And when visitors touch the most familiar material they ever touched, they invariably fail to recognize it in this completely decontextualized environment. Furthermore, the cause/effect sequence in the machine is also able to obfuscate the senses. This (human) mediation is then able to pollute the interface intimacy as we know it and redefines the respective roles of human and machine, invisibly inserting a (de)stabilizing element in the pre-programmed interaction. The underlying video is then hinting at the radical critique skillfully embodied by the author and her visionary gesture.