Thoughtworks Arts


Bio-feedback in VR: Meet our next Artist-in-Residence

Newsletter sent on Wednesday, 1 March 2017
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Our latest artist-in-residence, hannes bend, has now started his stay with the Thoughtworks Arts Residency. Hannes recently created one of the first Virtual Reality programs with heart-rate biofeedback in collaboration with the Neuroscience and Quantum Physics Alemán Lab, at the University of Oregon.

Portrait of hannes bend
hannes at an opening in Miami, USA

During his residency at Thoughtworks, hannes intends to extend the range of biosensors which can be used in the VR environment, and to develop the user experience of the program towards an aim of increasing personal awareness and mindfulness.

Project Update: Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Our fall 2016 resident was Heather Dewey-Hagborg, whose project took an unexpected turn due to political events. Heather initially joined us to begin her investigation of the conversion of human DNA into corporate profits, but found herself talking to Thoughtworks employee and illustrator Shoili Kanungo just at the time the USA elected Donald Trump to the presidency.

In addition to this, Heather had previously created a unique DNA-based portrait of incarcerated whistleblower Chelsea Manning back in 2015. This technique and it’s implications had been written up in essay form, but remained somewhat inaccessible to broader audiences.

Cover page of comic
The cover page of

Heather, Shoili and Chelsea decided to use the moment to create a new graphic story explaining the DNA portraiture technique to general audiences, showing how it was applied to Chelsea in 2015, and ending with an appeal for the commutation of Chelsea’s sentence before the inauguration of President Trump.

They named the story “Suppressed Images”, a reference to the fact that Chelsea was hidden from public view while incarcerated, and the DNA-based portraiture had been a way for people on the outside to still see her.

Icons of Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Shoili Kanungo
Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Shoili Kanungo

The published graphic story, thanks to Shoili’s beautifully inked designs, is a fascinating and relatable introduction to a fairly complex subject. We are pleased to say that Chelsea’s sentence was in fact commuted, during Obama’s last days in office. You can see a writeup of the project here, and more detail on the blog.

Project Update: Cyborg Foundation

The Cyborg Foundation joined us for a residency during our Summer 2016 season. They worked with hardware engineers, and with Thoughtworks resource specialist Caihong Liu from Chengdu, to develop prototypes of new wearable ‘senses’.

Icons of Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas
Neil and Moon experimenting with prototype ‘exo-senses’

These are external sensory organs, or ‘exo-senses’, which are designed to be worn permanently to give users a new intuitive sensation based on incoming data, which is otherwise inaccessible to humans. Moon and Neil are famous for their existing implants, which were permanently installed in their bodies via surgery.

We have published full write-ups of Neil’s new Time Sense prototype and Moon’s new Seismic Sense prototype. These wearables are still under development, with the silicone molding phase currently underway. Caihong collaborated with the cyborgs on detailed materials research, helping them discover the exact silicone product they have now come to use.

We are looking forward to supporting hannes in his residency at Thoughtworks, and will be providing occasional updates to you in this newsletter, to keep you up-to-date.