Wind Avatar

Mar 13, 2018

Haseeb Ahmed

Wind Avatar

Our minds are limited to the corporeal form of our bodies. Our bodies have distinct capabilities and limitations.

Working with Dr. Beatrice de Gelder's Brain and Emotion Lab at the University of Maastricht and the DANCE research group, the project “Wind Avatar” allows a person to literally inhabit the wind— and all its freedom.

The Wind Avatar is an apparatus consisting of a specially designed wind tunnel set up to visualize turbulence patterns. The wind tunnel is linked to the BEAST neural and body scanning interface designed by the Brain and Emotion Laboratory.

This apparatus directly interfaces a body, to a machine, and to the wind. In so doing, it fuses the fields of Fluid Dynamics and Brain Sciences, for what may be, the first time.

Let us explain how the “Wind Avatar” has come to be— and how you can become the wind.

For the last ten years artist Haseeb Ahmed has been working with the wind, and the last four years he has been working at the NATO-von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, one of Europe’s oldest and largest aeronautics facilities.

It is here in the L7 wind tunnel, also known as the Wind Personification Laboratory, that the face of the wind was first encountered. It appears in the turbulence pattern trailing a delta wing model.

Smoke and a laser sheet allow for this otherwise invisible phenomenon to be seen.

Changing the angle of the delta wing renders different recognizable face expressions. It looks like this.

Working with engineers from the von Karman Institute, Ahmed has created a specially designed mobile wind tunnel.

This wind tunnel features a programmable, robotic delta wing. It allows for the face of the wind to change and to express various kinds of incoming data.

First, it was linked to a twitterbot made by the artist, named the “Vortex-Faced Being.” This twitterbot connected with global weather stations to report on the speed and direction of wind around the world through hourly tweets.

This global data was input to control the Delta Wing and the resulting turbulence pattern. Hence, the Vortex-Faced Being came to represent all the world’s winds.

But, how did the Vortex-Faced Being become the Wind Avatar?

Our bodies express emotions through a huge range of non-verbal cues. The Brain and Emotion Laboratory’s BEAST experiment correlates emotional and bodily states.

Test subjects are shown stimuli that trigger embodied responses. They are recorded as localized electronic signals with electrodes.

These signals are processed and input to control the delta wing. The result is— the face of the wind expresses the emotions that people feel in their bodies, in real time.

As an interface, the Wind Avatar can be used in many ways. For instance, it can be developed to serve people with limited mobility to identify with and move like the wind. Ahmed will develop a set of performances to explore the techno-poetics of this this interface between man, machine, and the wind.

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VERTIGO is funded under the H2020 European STARTS initiative, innovation at the nexus of Science, Technology, and the ARTS. STARTS promotes the arts as catalysts for efficient conversion of science and technology knowledge into products, services, and processes.