emotional prostheses

anxiety prosthesis

The anxiety prosthesis was the first device that I understood very well what my plan was. Early one day in late January I woke up thinking about a fleshy shawl that could be used as a prosthesis for social anxiety. My vision was of something heavy and vaguely reassuring that a user could wrap around themselves while letting people around them know how they were feeling, making themselves more own comfort while perhaps discomfiting others. I wanted to make an object that was explicitly opt-in, while hopefully taking advantage of a kind of self-protecting gesture that would stretch the scarf-like, shawl-like object.

I had originally planned on using some sort of embedded variable resistor and have LEDs mounted inside the silicone or rubber shape reflect the current "approach safety level" of the user/patient. While this would have been interesting, and perhaps more ultimately appealing as a system critical of technical solutions to problems, I chose for this prosthesis to not use electronics at all. There are a couple of reasons for this. The most important one is that the idea of a medical prosthetic is most often not something that is electronic in any way. Except for the most modern prosthetics, most replacement limbs are simple shapes of plastics and metal with at most some simple mechanical support systems. I wanted to make an analogous object to this type of prosthesis. Also, I wanted to make a kind of prosthetic that would replicate animalistic displays of aggression or beauty in a human context.

The anxiety prosthesis is entirely human-powered. When the user/patient crosses their arms in front of them, grabs at the edge, and pulls, red nylon threads (which are strongly vascular in this context) embedded in the upper chest and routed up over the shoulders and to the back pull on "hackles," small leafy, spiny, feathery shapes on the back of the prosthesis, and raises them. The effect is fairly striking, and looks kind of like a cross between a puffer fish and a banana peeling. Using the prosthesis reflects an interesting contradiction inside the emotion of anxiousness too. while it is intended primarily as a display, it is unclear whether the display is one like a peacock's, saying "pay attention to me!" or like a wolf’s baring teeth, telling people to "back off!"

These animalistic metaphors aside, the anxiety prosthesis is intended to imbue this kind of perceptual ambiguity into everyday interactions. Even as it represents and perhaps relieves anxious tension in the user/patient, its discomfiting nature makes and imposes anxiety in those around it. After all, spreading it around is one of the best ways to get rid of a bad mood.