Ralph Borland, Jessica Findley, Margot Jacobs: FRONT

  • ©2002, Ralph Borland, Jessica Findley, and Margot Jacobs





Creation Year:



    Interactive Installation


Artist Statement:

    Millefiore_Effect explores the nature of human interaction, investigating and exposing social behavior and communicative codes through their interactive installations and objects. In FRONT, two humans don ceremonial conflict-suits that inflate in response to their shouts and growls. The victim and the aggressor experience a distortion of body that affects both themselves and the other simultaneously. A dialogue is established. Internal conflicts become external via body transmutation.

    Both aggressive and defensive inflation systems work to distort and manipulate the body of the wearer; armpit sacs push the arms up away from the body; neck sacs push the head up and obscure vision. The suits are not just an expression of the wearer’s actions, but also action upon them, so the suits read as both a ceremonial expression of conflict, and as a physical manifestation of the consequences of rage, aggression, and submission.

    When the suits have been publicly exhibited, they have elicited a very active response from wearers. They create a space in which people perform playful aggression and domination/submission actions. The suits make emotion, intent, and response visible through the more overt, corporeal mechanisms that some creatures have retained, and the human body has largely lost. They draw attention and make analogies to what physical expression humans have left: shouting, gesturing, cowering and blushing.

Technical Information:

    FRONT is comprised of two inflatable plastic suits worn by two participants within a small arena. Each suit has two systems of air sacs, one for aggressive movements, and the other for defensive responses. The level of participants’ voices controls the inflation of their own aggressive sacs and the defensive sacs of the other person.

    The suits are made of thin polythene plastic sewn into sacs of varying sizes and shapes, making up a suit that straps onto the upper body. Hacked hairdryers pump air into and out of the inflatable sacs in the suit through plastic pipes.

    A small microphone in the neck of each suit sends an audio signal to a computer, which uses Geoff Smith’s GetSoundInlevelXtra for Director to monitor the volume of the sound coming from each participant. When the volume exceeds a certain level, Director sends a serial communication to a microprocessor that controls a motormind on each fan. The motorminds normally keep the fans sucking air out of the suits, but they reverse the fans to pump air into the appropriate sacs when triggered by the microprocessor to do so.

Process Information:

    Millefiore_Effect met in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. Interest in each other’s work led to work on a project together. Our varied backgrounds inform our work: Borland studied sculpture, Jacobs industrial design, and Findley performance. We were all interested in creating work that uses interactive devices and environments to elicit and facilitate emotional responses and communication between people.

    FRONT developed from the idea of creating something wearable that would change in response to the wearer. We thought of analogies to certain animals that have the means for very physical expression of their internal state. We set out not to dress the user as an animal, but to create a similar means of expression.

    Inflatables interested us, so that was an obvious choice. We experimented with gluing and sealing plastic until we found that under the positive inflation sewing was sufficient. It also created interesting “drawings” across our suits. Hairdryers worked perfectly as fans (thanks Ad lib).

    We all work with sound and found it to be a sufficient analogy for emotions that are more difficult to track. We do have plans for variations that monitor other body processes.

    We liked the idea of a pair of suits in a symbiotic relationship, so we created the self-contained FRONT. We are busy working on FRONT 2, in which the suits are networked to each other from separate, remote locations. Millefiore_Effect: taking it to the next level…2002.