Thoughtworks Arts


Introducing the Cyborg Foundation

Posted by the Thoughtworks Arts Team
Monday, 23 May 2016

We are very happy to introduce the first artists to the Thoughtworks Arts Residency program. Moon Ribas and Neil Harbisson are artists who use technology to explore the concept of cyborgism - the permanent integration of humans and machines to create new senses.

Neil Harbisson speaks with his webcam antenna on display while Moon Ribas stands nearby
Moon and Neil speaking at re:publica 2013 (credit Gregor Fischer)

Moon and Neil will be working out of the Thoughtworks New York office for the next sixteen weeks as our first artist-in-residence.

Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a severe form of colorblindness, which means he can only see the world in grayscale. While studying music composition at Dartington College of Arts, Neil heard a lecture by Adam Montandon, a cybernetics expert. They then worked together to create the first “eyeborg”, which lets Neil hear light waves.

“The very first thing I looked at with it, outside the classroom, was a red noticeboard. It made the note F, the lowest sound on the spectrum. Red was my favourite colour for years.”

Neil Harbisson with a bulky webcam strapped to his head by velcro
Neil Harbisson wearing his visual adapter interface, 2010 (credit Amber Case)

The current version of Neil’s antenna is permanently attached to the occipital bone in his head. This gives him the unique distinction of being the first person officially recognized as a cyborg by the UK government.

In 2010, Moon and Neil co-founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organization that defends cyborg rights, promotes cyborgism as an art movement and supports people who want to become cyborgs.

Moon Ribas has a background as a dancer, and this has influenced her to develop senses which allow new perception of movement.

In 2013, Moon had a permanent implant installed in her arm which allows her to sense seismic activity. Regardless of where in the world the seismic activity occurs, Moon senses it at a linked intensity and duration.

Moon Ribas speaking on a large TEDx stage in red light with a map of Europe displayed on a screen behind her
Moon Ribas speaking at TEDx München (credit birdyfoto)

During the residency period, Moon’s goal is to expand her seismic sense in one of two ways. Either, by augmenting her existing sense with a geographic location awareness, or by adding another implant that senses seismic activity from the moon.

Neil plans to develop a new sense of time, which will allow him to perceive and modify his awareness of time. He plans to achieve this by placing a ring of senses around the circumference of his head, which will represent the 24-hour clock.

To get a deeper understanding of where these artists are coming from, it’s a good idea to hear them talk about it in their own words. The presentation below is one of our favorites. It was filmed at the Thoughtworks office in 2014 during a special Hardware Hack Lab.

This is a fun and engaging video, which offers something to a whole range of audiences. In it, the artists describe the senses they have been developing over the past 10 years, and what it means to them.

We’re really excited about the research the Cyborgs will be pursuing over the next sixteen weeks, and to have the opportunity to share some of that publicly via this blog. There will also be a public presentation and exhibition toward the end of the residency.

You can learn more about the artists on their website or about the history and technology behind Neil’s antenna here. Finally, check back to this blog for updates as the residency progresses.

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