[-empyre-] plasticity, transformation and new media performance

lotu5 lotu5 at resist.ca
Sat Sep 13 08:09:25 EST 2008

Hi all,

I thought this seemed like a good place for me to jump in. The 
discussion has been fascinating so far, but these comments below 
resonate with my current work!

I am studying at UC San Diego in CalIT2 and the Center for Research in 
Computing in the Arts, and for my final MFA project I'm doing a project 
that brings together questions of transformation, biology and the 
synthetic world of Second Life. The project doesn't directly involve 
neuroimaging, but it does include questions about neurochemistry.

To summarize, I will be doing a durational, immersive performance in 
second life for 365 hours, using a stereoscopic head mounted display 
(HMD) and a motion capture system. My physical environment will be 
modeled in second life so that my movements can map into the synthetic 
world and I will see what I'm doing in the HMD.

I'm documenting the process here:

The idea stems from the psychiatric requirement for transgender to live 
for a year as their chosen gender before getting gender confirmation 
services, aka sex reassignment surgery. I am looking at the speculative 
question of whether you could live in second life for a year and then 
get your species change surgery. At the same time, I am undergoing 
hormone replacement therapy in the real world, as part of my actual 
transition as a transgender person.

Along the way, I've been writing about my transition, using poetry and 
first hand accounts, with titles like "notes on 
psychoneuroendocrinology" because i'm very interested in the question of 
how my changing hormone levels are affecting my psychology. the list of 
changes that estradiol brings about is very long and detailed, including 
things like changing the curvature of the lenses of your eyes. That 
writing is on my blog, here:

A main part of the research for the project has been into the possible 
health effects of long term virtual immersion. One augmented realiy 
researcher told me that there was a possibility of "brain damage" from 
long term HMD use, but all of my research shows that those claims are 
only anecdotal. Sandy Stone told me those claims are just "rumors". One 
of the most reassuring datapoints I've found is that the problem with 
treating amblyopia is that by age 10, your brain has learned to converge 
the vision from your two eyes and can't unlearn it. Yet some recent 
evidence shows that may not be true if the brain is subject to 
particular stimulation.

Still, I don't have any hard answers about possible long term damage. 
I've spoken to an MD and a researcher in our medical school, and they 
both agree that they don't think there's much possibility for long term 
visual damage, but I'm still planning on talking to an ophthalmologist. 
If anyone on this list has input, I'd appreciate it!

I'm very interested in bioart and in interdisciplinary work, and I see 
this project as that, or better yet, as transversal work concerned with 
the possibilities for transformation offered by bringing together the 
body and technology, in order to create new resistant subjectivities. 
Anna Munster's work, in particular her book Materializing New Media, has 
been incredibly valuable for thinking through the dualities that 
dominate discussions of virtual or synthetic worlds, and with my 
committment to queer theory, i'm also committed to breaking down these 
binaries. donna haraway's book on trans-species communication, politics 
and ethics, When Species Meet is another main text I'm using, which has 
wonderful descriptions of thinking beyond dualistic binaries. I'll send 
a quote I read recently from that when I get home tonight!

I hope this comment wasn't too long.

Thank you all,


Anna Munster wrote:
> Part of the reason I'm also interested is the extent to which a range of 
> techniques is always used in a clinical situation - not just instruments 
> measuring things but neurologists themselves etc tapping on people's 
> knee reflexes etc. We forget about all these processes and procedures 
> (unless we become part of them due to some damage to ourselves or those 
> around us) and I think that both artists and as well the media sometimes 
> forget that these aspects of neurology - or indeed any clinical 
> assessments and diagnoses - make up a very large part of the attempt to 
> get at 'the truth' of a disease, situation or damage. When we do take 
> all these different aspects into account we start realising how so many 
> parts of the 'brain' manifest in such multiply embodied ways and that we 
> and also neuroscience still know little about what 'the brain' is...as 
> Paul has pointed out.

Lucette Cysique wrote:
 > I would agree that brain adaptability is one of the new hot topics 
and framework in cognitive neurosciences. 10 years ago it was still 
taught that we were born with a set of neurons and that was it. The 
findings around stems cells research, neurobiology and the study of 
neural plasticity in animals (mainly rats) have tremendously changed 
some of the basic concepts. But I believe that evidence of adaptability 
needs to be demonstrated over the long-term. In other words, when and 
how adaptability is happening or not happening. Also the potential 
danger of "stem cells cure" should not be overlooked and among them 
brain tumors, motor dysfunctions and even personality changes (I am 
actually trying to finish a sci-fi novel that is centered around some of 
these questions).


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