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My name is Kate Hartman. And I like to make devices that play with the ways that we relate and communicate. So I'm specifically interested in how we, as humans, relate to ourselves, each other and the world around us. (Laughter) So just to give you a bit of context, as June said, I'm an artist, a technologist and an educator. I teach courses in physical computing and wearable electronics. And much of what I do is either wearable or somehow related to the human form.
And so anytime I talk about what I do, I like to just quickly address the reason why bodies matter. And it's pretty simple. Everybody's got one -- all of you. I can guarantee, everyone in this room, all of you over there, the people in the cushy seats, the people up top with the laptops -- we all have bodies. Don't be ashamed. It's something that we have in common and they act as our primary interfaces for the world. And so when working as an interaction designer, or as an artist who deals with participation -- creating things that live on, in or around the human form -- it's really a powerful space to work within.
So within my own work, I use a broad range of materials and tools. So I communicate through everything from radio transceivers to funnels and plastic tubing. And to tell you a bit about the things that I make, the easiest place to start the story is with a hat. And so it all started several years ago, late one night when I was sitting on the subway, riding home, and I was thinking. And I tend to be a person who thinks too much and talks too little. And so I was thinking about how it might be great if I could just take all these noises -- like all these sounds of my thoughts in my head -- if I could just physically extricate them and pull them out in such a form that I could share them with somebody else. And so I went home, and I made a prototype of this hat. And I called it the Muttering Hat, because it emitted these muttering noises that were kind of tethered to you, but you could detach them and share them with somebody else.
So I make other hats as well. This one is called the Talk to Yourself Hat. (Laughter) It's fairly self-explanatory. It physically carves out conversation space for one. And when you speak out loud, the sound of your voice is actually channeled back into your own ears. (Laughter) And so when I make these things, it's really not so much about the object itself, but rather the negative space around the object. So what happens when a person puts this thing on? What kind of an experience do they have? And how are they transformed by wearing it?
So many of these devices really kind of focus on the ways in which we relate to ourselves. So this particular device is called the Gut Listener. And it is a tool that actually enables one to listen to their own innards. (Laughter) And so some of these things are actually more geared toward expression and communication. And so the Inflatable Heart is an external organ that can be used by the wearer to express themselves. So they can actually inflate it and deflate it according to their emotions. So they can express everything from admiration and lust to anxiety and angst. (Laughter) And some of these are actually meant to mediate experiences. So the Discommunicator is a tool for arguments. (Laughter) And so actually it allows for an intense emotional exchange, but is serves to absorb the specificity of the words that are delivered. (Laughter) And in the end, some of these things just act as invitations. So the Ear Bender literally puts something out there so someone can grab your ear and say what they have to say.
So even though I'm really interested in the relationship between people, I also consider the ways in which we relate to the world around us. And so when I was first living in New York City a few years back, I was thinking a lot about the familiar architectural forms that surrounded me and how I would like to better relate to them. And I thought, "Well, hey! Maybe if I want to better relate to walls, maybe I need to be more wall-like myself." So I made a wearable wall that I could wear as a backpack. And so I would put it on and sort of physically transform myself so that I could either contribute to or critique the spaces that surrounded me.
And so jumping off of that, thinking beyond the built environment into the natural world, I have this ongoing project called Botanicalls -- which actually enables houseplants to tap into human communication protocols. So when a plant is thirsty, it can actually make a phone call or post a message to a service like Twitter. And so this really shifts the human/plant dynamic, because a single house plant can actually express its needs to thousands of people at the same time.
And so kind of thinking about scale, my most recent obsession is actually with glaciers -- of course. And so glaciers are these magnificent beings, and there's lots of reasons to be obsessed with them, but what I'm particularly interested in is in human-glacier relations. (Laughter) Because there seems to be an issue. The glaciers are actually leaving us. They're both shrinking and retreating -- and some of them have disappeared altogether.
And so I actually live in Canada now, so I've been visiting one of my local glaciers. And this one's particularly interesting, because, of all the glaciers in North America, it receives the highest volume of human traffic in a year. They actually have these buses that drive up and over the lateral moraine and drop people off on the surface of the glacier.
And this has really gotten me thinking about this experience of the initial encounter. When I meet a glacier for the very first time, what do I do? There's no kind of social protocol for this. I really just don't even know how to say hello. Do I carve a message in the snow? Or perhaps I can assemble one out of dot and dash ice cubes -- ice cube Morse code. Or perhaps I need to make myself a speaking tool, like an icy megaphone that I can use to amplify my voice when I direct it at the ice. But really the most satisfying experience I've had is the act of listening, which is what we need in any good relationship.
And I was really struck by how much it affected me. This very basic shift in my physical orientation helped me shift my perspective in relation to the glacier. And so since we use devices to figure out how to relate to the world these days, I actually made a device called the Glacier Embracing Suit. (Laughter) And so this is constructed out of a heat reflected material that serves to mediate the difference in temperature between the human body and the glacial ice. And once again, it's this invitation that asks people to lay down on the glacier and give it a hug.
So, yea, this is actually just the beginning. These are initial musings for this project. And just as with the wall, how I wanted to be more wall-like, with this project, I'd actually like to take more a of glacial pace. And so my intent is to actually just take the next 10 years and go on a series of collaborative projects where I work with people from different disciplines -- artists, technologists, scientists -- to kind of work on this project of how we can improve human-glacier relations.
So beyond that, in closing, I'd just like to say that we're in this era of communications and device proliferation, and it's really tremendous and exciting and sexy, but I think what's really important is thinking about how we can simultaneously maintain a sense of wonder and a sense of criticality about the tools that we use and the ways in which we relate to the world.
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Artist Kate Hartman uses wearable electronics to explore how we communicate, with ourselves and with the world. In this quirky and thought-provoking talk, she shows the "Talk to Yourself Hat", the "Inflatable Heart", the "Glacier Embracing Suit", and other unexpected devices.
Kate Hartman creates devices and interfaces for humans, houseplants, and glaciers. Her work playfully questions the ways in which we relate and communicate. Full bio »