Soles of the Soul is an interactive work of art leveraging on mechanisms of expectation and subversion, guiding us to reconsider preconceived ideas about the experience of “being alive”.
Imagine walking down the street or into a room and unexpectedly encountering a pair of shoes running towards you. An empty average size pair of regular shoes, no human foot inside them, quite anonymous and with no personality—just shoes. They do instead have a very distinctive behavior; they walk and demonstrate human-like perceptive and responsive capabilities. From the first encounter on, you will be chased, escorted, ignored, curiously questioned, averted and accompanied throughout a narrative that takes place between you and footsteps.
The shoes are propelled by a mechanical rig that mimics human biomechanical movements. At each moment, cameras and motion sensors monitor the position in space of the pair of shoes and people occupying the environment. Computer software receives environmental information—people’s movements, speed and flow—and transforms it into commands for the shoe. The shoes seem to demonstrate cognitive behavior and relational skills.
Our project is an experience intended to be lived in three moments. The first is the encounter with a single pair of shoes that reacts to the movements of the spectator being engaged. A combination of software and sensors direct the shoes’ movements in space initiating with the audience a sense of discovery similar to a child’s reaction to the new and unexpected. After a period of time, a hidden door opens and grants access to the second environment.
Here, the first experience is reconsidered by thirty to forty pairs of shoes strolling around aimlessly, directed by flocking behavior algorithms. Showing no interest in our existence, their presence is overwhelming and movement encumbering. They fill the space, yet a sense of absence permeates the air.
The third and final room can only be reached by squeezing your way through this crowd of shoes. Yet, as you come near the door they slowly start moving out of your way, revealing a path to the third environment. Entering this vast final space, the feeling of emptiness lingers as you begin to leave actual footprints on a specially designed floor. With each step you take, a single pair of robotic shoes trail behind your footsteps, removing the last traces of your existence.
By playfully interacting with seemingly intelligent shoes we intend to create a work of art that acts as a mirror for society, arousing curiosity, provoking a smile, destabilizing, and inspiring inner reflections. In this interaction, we would like our soles to confront your soul and help us regain footing with these grounds: the human condition, ourselves as individuals, and our relationship with others.
Soles of the Soul is deeply rooted in the concept of systems, which is the basis of emerging scientific and technological research. The work explores systems through the fields of machine learning, neural networks, and robotics.
In addition, our project examines software and inter-process communication systems, locomotion control and cognitive behavior simulations; introducing the theme of artificial intelligence, not necessarily in terms of problem solving and computing but in terms of sensitivity and emerging emotional behavior.
The computational capabilities of our system are dependent on the accuracy of the map, on the shoe localization, and on the number of static or moving obstacles. The system should exhibit a broad spectrum of “intelligence” and behavior capabilities, ie: avoid obstacles, follow, and lead viewers, etc.
In order to provide a convincing experience, we will be addressing the above issues by mixing open-source robotics, and machine learning with inexpensive sensors and cheap but powerful devices to express our artistic intent through emerging modes of interaction.
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
Soles of the Soul is about the universal theme surrounding life and the human condition. It toys with our expectation of reality and transports us into a surreal environment where previous insight can be reconsidered. It changes the participant’s reference system and expands our world obligating us to reconsider possible explanations of it. Art and science have the transformative power to change our points of reference and thus provide new tools aiding us in the quest for knowledge.
By dismissing reality and bringing life to the inanimate we create a culturally ambiguous experience of programmatically controlled action and reaction. In this experience we believe we might find the courage to face a certain degree of vacuum inherent to our footsteps and try to reconsider where we come from, where we are going, why and how.
“ culture and technology”
The project brings to light the relationship between technology, culture and truth. It enacts the fundamental mechanism for which culture, acting as an instrument of interpretation and anticipation of experiences, constantly creates expectations which are on the other hand subverted and reassessed by technology.
The shoe—one of the oldest human technologies—permanently changed the scope of human action and association. With time, it became a cultural symbol driven by notions other than its functionality: a means of expression, status, and creativity. In our installation, we align the shoe with emerging technologies that are changing the scope of human activity today.
We create a playful and surreal encounter that rips us from our expected reality, only to be confronted at the boundary of the culturally familiar yet technologically mysterious. In this combination of emerging tech and new forms of art (culture), we believe we may discover truths about ourselves and our world. After all, the vacancy that exists in an abandoned pair of shoes, might just contain all the opposite of emptiness.