Haptic/Visual Identities


Garden Exercises (Haptic/Visual Identities). Video HD, 7 min. Bilbao - Toronto - Quito - 2017

The project was part of a group exhibition “Bosques (humedos) Tropicales”, curated by Anamaría Garzón Mantilla, in Khôra art gallery,
Quito - Ecuador (April-May 2017).


Haptic/Visual Identities is a practical/theoretical artistic research that explores new forms of identity construction from the perspective of embodied intersubjectivity in moving image media to be achieved by a change from a visually-based form of image to a collaborative, relational, haptic one, which empower participating subjects. This happens by shift of power in camera control done by means of a set of DIY digital media devices made up of open source hardware and software. These media create a cyborg like situation (Haraway 1990) which focus on two goals: to generate reciprocal loops between the roles of a subject and an object in film making; and to create embodied, unstable haptic video footages using devices attached to the participants’ bodies. This situation creates a positive potential of exploring this technology as a cooperative performance of self representation.

Our research prototypes are not individualized, “solipsistic” digital devices like smartphones/tablets, but are four different cameras used simultaneously by two people. They create a hybrid and fragmented experience of one’s own and the other’s point of view. This unusual perspective and mixing touch with vision create a deterritorializing experience for the body, a displacement of the senses and codependency in sensual cognition. The collaborative images or moving images created this way are challenging the traditional visuality, its dependence on objective (with all its political connotations) point of view and power relations embedded in the relations between subject and object of the camera’s eye. Displacement of the "eyes to hands” in the design of the prototype and the collaborative character of the work at a crossing between art and research has political, artistic and epistemological consequences we are working on to demonstrate in performance, video and flesh-out in research.

Project Authors:

Haptic/Visual Identities is an international, collaborative art/research project started in 2015, in Canada and created by Agata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio.

Agata Mergler: researcher, academic teacher, translator, artist, is currently a PhD candidate (ABD) in Department of Humanities at York University, Toronto. She specializes in media theory, digital humanities, comparative literature, digital art and cultural translation. Her Humanities dissertation topic is tentatively called “Cultural Translation of Latin American Digital Art”. She holds a PhD in philosophy (2010), with general field of German philosophy of 20th century, and specialization in hermeneutics, phenomenology and neo-kantianism. Altogether her current interests encompass deterritorialization, the minor/minority, cultural translation and hybridity in media, with a special focus on art, literature and the digital as well as work and relevance of Walter Benjamin in the context of the above.

Cristian Villavicencio: artist and researcher is currently carrying out his Ph.D. project titled “The materiality of the moving image” at the University of the Basque Country, and is a professor in Department of Visual Arts, at Universidad de las Artes in Guayaquil, Ecuador since 2017. His work develops new ways of perception and mise en scène of the moving image and its relationship with the spectator and the concepts of vision and body. In 2016 he received a fellowship from Guggenheim Foundation for a residency in New York.  His works were exhibited in Museo Guggenheim Bilbao - España; Festival Ars Electronica en Linz- Austria. His artwork was also shown in a solo exhibition in Porto this summer 2016, in Fernando Santos Gallery. He participated in art and research residencies in Toronto, Linz and Pekin.

Recent Events:

- 11 January - 1 February 2019 our work "Garden Exercises” takes part in a group exhibition “(natura naturata)" at Violenta gallery in Guayaquil, Ecuador;
- November- December 2018 our work "Garden Exercises” takes part in a group exhibition “This is what I call contemporary" at naw!naw!naw gallery in Cuenca, Ecuador
- June 2018 paper presentation “Haptic Moving Image and Embodiment in Filming” in Cinema and Contemporary Visual Art section at NECS conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and a artistic performance with haptic cameras at Cafe Cher Cher at Amsterdam University Library; 
- article published: Mergler, Agata and Cristian Villavicencio, "Collaboration, Media, Praxis: Haptic/Visual Identities Project” in post(s). Volumen 3. Agosto 2017, pp. 226-245.   https://www.usfq.edu.ec/publicaciones/posts/Documents/posts_0003/11PraxisMerglerVilla.pdf 

Haptic / Visual Identities. (Prototypes documentation) Agata Mergler - Cristian Villavicencio. 2016
Portbou. (Haptic / Visual Identities) Agata Mergler - Cristian Villavicencio. Spain - 2016
Haptic Cameras - She Wears Black (Studio Concert). Agata Mergler - Cristian Villavicencio - She Wears Black. Toronto - Canada - 2015

The video portrait of the vocalist of She Wears Black and my sister was created with a prototype consisting of four cameras attached to hands of a filming person. The technical set was designed and built by Cristian Villavicencio. Cristian and I collaborate on an art project called Haptic Cameras and filming the vocalist is one of our first works. The idea behind this project lies in catching the touchable, tangible (the haptic) with the eye of the camera, which is achieved by position of cameras – on hands. The second important thing for this project is the fragmentary and random visual output, which resembles the experience of fragmentary perception of objects and people and the way we come into physical more intimate contact with them.

Working with my sister revealed the intimate character of this way of filming, when cameras are positioned on the hands to imitate touch instead of vision. Since this does not allow for distant filming, one has to be very close to the filmed object, it requires understanding or even trust on the side of a filmed person. Probably because of our sisterly closeness and already established trust, I was allowed to follow the singer very close while she was preparing, setting up, rehearsing and singing. What I hoped to achieve was the feeling of empathy of camera’s gaze and not invasion. I believe the effect is a raw but very true and intimate portrait of the vocalist at work. The vocalist sings with all her body and her emotions, which she expresses in gestures and looks, this created an intriguing whole with the audio (rehearsing the song “Call Me”) and editing done by Cristian (who is the second part of the collaborative art project “Haptic Cameras-Cameras Tactiles”). The end effect of the filming is, in art terms, a body study, but in experience is a private portrait of my sister.

Agata Mergler (with Cristian Villavicencio for Haptic/Visual Identities project)

Camera Designs (3D printed prototypes)


Participation in Events:

- On 25th of May 2018 Cristian as a guest at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, USA, with a presentation “ Haptic/VIsual Identities project: Praxis, Media and DIY”.

- On 25th of February 2018 Cristian and Agata presented at a conference at York University, Toronto, Canada, the title of their paper was “The Question of Representation”.

- On the 8th of April 2017 our work consisting in three films - effect of performative/collaborative filming in Ecuador - called “Garden Exercises” were exhibited for the first time during an opening of the Khora gallery in Quito-Ecuador. The opening exhibition called “Bosques (humedos) Tropicales” is open until 4th of May. https://goo.gl/cjl2il  

- The collaborators filmed in Quito Ecuador. During the same trip the Haptic/Visual Identites project was presented and discussed at the ArtTalk event at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in February 2017. 

- The English and original version of the text “Haptic Visual Identities - project between art and research”, previously in Czech, was published in February 2017. http://www.dokrevue.cz/en/clanky/haptic-visual-identities-a-project-between-art-and-research

- The Haptic Visual Identities project team presented a paper on the project and its combination of practice and theory at the conference “Theory for Practice” at famous Czech film school FAMU university in Prague on the 6th of December.  

- The films "Portbou" and "Bilbao y el Mundo" part of the Haptic/Visual Identites project has being selected to participate in Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival 2016 in the Fascinations and Laboratorium seccions. (Link to the film description)

- Haptic/Visual Identites project has been presented in an essay published in Dok.Revue (Translated into Czech)

- Haptic/Visual Identites project was presented in the 10th Necs Conference "In/between Cultures of Connectivity" (Postdam-Germany, 2016). In the "Participatory Art Practices across net.art, DIY and Screen Media" panel.

This project is being funded with support from: Departamento de Educación, Política Lingüística y Cultura del Gobierno Vasco.

Gobierno Vasco


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