by Tangible Media group | MIT Media Lab
40,000 years ago, a group of homo sapiens entered a cave. Whether they entered the cave to overcome bad weather, avoid wild animals in the night, or because the echoes in the cave sounded good, they decided to settle. As time went on, perhaps to celebrate a successful hunt, ritualize a special moment, or just to have a family memory of togetherness, they ground some dark stone to powder and mixed it with water or animal fat with some of the mixture stored in their mouths. After using their fingers to paint an animal on the cave walls, the whole family put their hands on the rocky wall and “spit-painted” the outlines using their hands as stencils.
A negative shape is evidence of existence and self-awareness. If you were to visit these caves, just by putting your hand on these silhouettes you would not only be touching the same exact rock touched by our ancestors, but you would also be sharing exactly the same tangible experience that they experienced.
After 40,000 years, you can still be connected for a moment with them. They are long gone, but we can still feel their existence by touching the rock that they once touched so many years ago. It's a believable connection of humans over space and time.
Presence and Absence are the fundamental states of being; being present or close, and being absent, far away or lost.
“Beyond Being There” (Jim Hollan et al. 1997), a seminal principle on designing the next generation of telepresence, maps out how to move beyond trying to imitate physical co-presence and face-to-face interactions. This goal of imitation is a mirage; awareness of the physical separation of our bodies persists. In virtual space, the sense of touch, kinesthesia, and proprioception do not apply to interactions with others’ virtual presence and surroundings; thus, we lose the sense of others being there. The infusion of tangibility will enable the reinvention of telepresence
inTouch (TMG 1998) physically embodies the concept of “ghostly presence” by making users aware of the other person’s existence through the sense of touch without representing the person through pixels (absence of body). By seeing and feeling a physical object moves on its own, we imagine a person’s physical presence even though they are physically absent.
Absence is a new form of presence.
The ‘Presence of absence’ leads us to the Portuguese word “Saudade”, which signifies ‘the desire for the beloved thing, made painful by its absence’ (Teixeira de Pascoaes 1912). We have an intense longing to meet and interact with loved ones who are no longer with us. MirrorFugue (Xiao Xiao 2013) exemplifies this by capturing an inter-generational duet through the tangible medium of a piano.
In the Cambridge Garden by Tangible Media Group | MIT Media Lab, we are featuring selected projects that materialize the Presence of Absence. Our garden introduces the latest Tangible Telepresence research to engage people who collaborate over distance in space and time with synchronized tangibles. We also feature a variety of dynamic computational materials we call Radical Atoms that foster a new form of human-material interactions.
2001-2003 "Get in Touch" (Tangible Bits) Exhibition at Ars Electronica Center