This interview conducted by Alison Williams was originally posted on Not Impossible Now.
Not Impossible’s Cyborg Series: Moon Ribas Dances to the Beat of the Seismic Sensor
Moon Ribas is a choreographer, a dancer … and a cyborg.
Co-founder with longtime creative partner Neil Harbisson of the Cyborg Foundation, Ribas became interested in the integration of dance and technology to extend sensory perception during her university studies.
Her first sensory experiment was in 2007, when she created and wore a pair of kaleidoscopic glasses for three months, which allowed her only to see color, without shape. She then went on to create the Speedborg, a speedometer glove that allowed her to perceive the exact speed of movement around her through vibrations on her hand, which she then developed into a pair of earrings maintaining the same technology.
In 2010, she started experimenting with 360-degree perception by increasing the range of the device by turning he earrings around to sense motion behind her. University students further developed the device by adding four additional sensors, which completed the 360-degree perception.
Ribas combines all of these devices with her art, creating dance pieces that explore the capabilities of the extension of her senses. Most recently, Moon developed a seismic sensor that vibrates whenever there is an earthquake.
Moon spoke with Not Impossible Now about the sensor that she has been wearing permanently since 2013 and the numerous dance pieces based on her interpretation of the seismic movements.
Can you tell us about how you and Neil met, and how you came to be interested in incorporating technology into your bodies?
Neil and I have been close friends since we were children growing up together in the same hometown. We met when I was 8 years old. We kept doing stuff together all the time as we grew, so it’s always been a conversation. We kind of went through all these stages of growth together.
To start with, as children, we were not very into technology. We were always very apart from video games and all that. And then when we went to an arts university in England, there was a seminar about cybernetics and we learned we could use that to perceive the world in a different way. We realized we could use technology as a tool to modify our own senses.
Neil first started with the color and he got really into it. Previously, I was the one telling him the colors of things and then it got to a point that he was better at it than me, and correcting me on the colors of things. And I got jealous and wanted to perceive the world in a different way, too.
I first experimented with color, and then I got intrigued by movement. As a choreographer, my passion is movement, and I realized that was more related to my own life. I started experimenting with movement and devices for some time. And after more people began asking about being a cyborg, we started the Cyborg Foundation in 2010 to organize this demand and make it more available to everyone.
I’m interested in how you incorporate technology into dance and the physical form. How has this integration played out in your art?
Cybernetics, for me, is about the artist using technology as a tool. We don’t have to be separate from the machine. It’s more unique and personal to embed it into your self and create new perceptions.
What interested me is how can such a universal movement be connected and felt through one body? There is this really big movement, the earthquake, that is perceptible to everyone near it. How to incorporate this into a single body?
Now I have this dance piece called for “Waiting For Earthquakes,” where the audience and I will just wait for an earthquake to happen (which is very often) and then I move with it. If it’s not a big one, it will be a smaller dance. If it’s strong, it will be modern dance.
And I’ll be developing this technology further, so soon I will know where the earthquake is happening, not just when. Within 6 degrees of the location, so I’ll know if it’s on the other side of the planet or not. I will also be developing new info to perceive it, separating my body with the tectonic plates and separating into space.
How does that work? Are they implanted magnets or a device that is strapped on?
There are several seismic machines around the world connected to data online.
All the data is connected to a phone, and then in an explant connected to my arm. So I receive that data physically, where I receive the vibration and the degree of vibration as it changes. Currently it’s an explant but I am developing it so in the future it will be an implant.
Is there anyone else in the art world experimenting with tech and dance like you are? Are there other dancers you are collaborating with?
I’m collaborating with info engineers that help me to develop the tech part of it, but for now I am the only dancer. This piece doesn’t have a beginning or an end, so it could last for hours or even days. So it would be nice to have a rotation of dancers and do it for a week in a gallery or something! For now, it’s just me experimenting with this, but in the future I hope I can do this new experience with other people.
I’m not aware of anyone else working with embedded technology. I know some people [in the art world] that are experimenting with technology, but usually it is light sensors with music sensors, with how they move. But I haven’t met anyone that is incorporating technology into the body to extend the senses and perceptions and then, through this union, creating artwork.
And what has the response of the art world been?
In the dance community I feel people think maybe it’s too weird still. When people don’t know about it, in the beginning, it’s a bit hard to explain. People who hire choreographers may feel it’s too esoteric. Sometimes I feel like it’s still an uncomfortable zone, and I am a little isolated.
I feel it will grow in the future, now that people are exploring how to use the tools and it is getting more popular. The next stop will be integrating it into the body.
What do you see as the benefit to humanity to creating sensory extension? Do you see any danger in it?
I think everyone would perceive the world in a different way. For example, people would feel closer to animals because they would share senses with them, and learn from them, have more respect for animals. More people would turn vegetarian, or not treat animals as objects. For example, I feel very connected to the world via earthquakes, and people could feel more appreciation and respect for the planet. It could bring more sensitivity to this place.
I don’t see any danger. When something is new, it always appears dangerous.
It seems like a big deal when it’s a new way of doing things. Just because we have a knife, it doesn’t mean we have to use it in a dangerous way. We use knives every day to make and eat our food, or they can be used for harm. It is up to the individual to make those choices.
For me, it has been an evolution of research. First I started with color, then opened my sensory with 360 and realized that all these senses had to do with the perceiving of people and objects. I wanted a more universal perception, so I imagined myself alone on the planet, and I wanted to know if I were alone, what would the movement be? And then I realized it was earthquakes. That idea of feeling the most ancient, universal movement through my body is the most fulfilling thing, and now I’m dedicated to this project, and I want to go deeper and deeper into it.
There are a number of different communities that seem to have overlapping agendas in terms of pursuing technology and the potential with the human form – transhumanists, biohackers, grinders. What do you think about these communities and philosophies?
Some people are more interested in things like super abilities and mortality. There are many different points of view, but we are focused on perception and art.
Learn more about Moon Ribas at the Cyborg Foundation’s website.
Photo credits: Scott McDermott