Jimmy Day and Chelsi Cocking

What would it be like if we could see our movement? 

Illuminate (2023, Chelsi Alise Cocking) is an interactive art installation in which the movements of a person through open space are visually augmented and brought to life in front of them in real time through custom-coded interactive visualization software. Seamlessly merging physical and digital space, Illuminate submerges us into an artificial reality in which our usually unseen paths of movement become visible– seemingly levitating in space. This aims to give us a visceral yet magical moment in which we can see, interact with, and play with our once invisible wakes of motion—pushing the boundaries of our senses and making the invisible visible. The project also explores the themes of spatial computing, bodily expression, abstraction, and choreographic interfaces.

Through hand-coded, custom software, Illuminate captures and transforms every nuance of a person's movements in space over time into intentionally crafted, visually vibrant, luminescent computer graphics. Illuminate "works at the edge of what is recently possible" by employing the latest in machine learning-based body tracking software and computer vision techniques to detect and track the position of a person in space directly from a live video feed. The project does not use Kinects, and no controllers are attached to the participants' bodies– the software relies on their free, unrestricted movement. A translucent scrim mounted in the installation space is lit with these projected graphics, bringing a dark room to life and creating an immersive environment in which the visualizations of our visible movement engulf us—allowing us to meditate with a newly abstracted form of our body and play with the extruded forms of our body's path over time. 

The visualizations augment the participant's movements and serve as a playable interactive interface in which the participant can use their own speed, acceleration, position, and body orientation to manipulate the visuals directly. While each visualization is subtly different from the next, they are all designed to be connected deeply to the participant's body's movement and give a smooth, ultra-responsive feel and real-time connection to the person moving in space. This ability to control elements of the visualizations directly creates a playable interface that encourages participants to explore different aspects of their body movement and perform with the interactive system, inherently exploring their own bodily expression, meditation, and play. The artist, Chelsi Alise Cocking, created this work through a personal practice of using computing as a medium for craft in art, design, and interactive performance.

A strong motivation for the creation of this project is to use the influence of art, which makes us question the perception of our world, and the creative power of the medium of software to create an experience that makes us as humans examine the implications of what the ability to control the digital world through the free movement of our bodies would have on the future of our designed world. While Illuminate is intended to conjure feelings of joy and delight within participants who experience it, it is also explicitly designed to provoke questions regarding the possible implications of a world in which we can more casually and effortlessly control and interact with digital elements spatially through the free unrestricted movement of our bodies– "free and unrestricted" meaning movement not weighed down by externally worn devices like controllers, gloves, or suits. I am using this thesis project to re-suggest environmentally embedded interfaces like those initially suggested by Myron Krueger in the late 1960s, through which we can control the digital environment ourselves without on-body interface restrictions— allowing for human movement capable of managing the digital world without needing "special instrumentation" worn on or attached to the body.

What if we had "motion-perception-technology-embedded environments" that house the technology needed to perceive our human motion and allow us to interact with digital space— more readily distributed and almost hidden within our surroundings? What if these "motion-perception environments" become a ubiquitous and hidden part of our surroundings and built environments– in the same way many sensing technologies are today, like motion-activated sensors in water faucets, for example? In that case, many untapped potential design applications exist for how these "motion-perception-technology-embedded environments" could be used to create new body-based interactions and technology products. We could find new ways to expand how we interact with technology and the digital world through our bodies today for practical and artful reasons.

Overall, Illuminate provides a deeper understanding of bodily motion to a general audience through a playful interactive performance space made for human creativity, expression, and public play. Investigating the question: What would it be like if we could see our movement? Illuminate is concerned with the poetic implications of making the invisible trails of our human movement visible. It explores the relationship between our bodies' movement, time, space, and the digital world, provoking questions regarding the possible implications of a world in which we can more casually and effortlessly control and interact with digital elements spatially through the free, unrestricted movement of our bodies.