The Head - Extended Description

Mind and Body Environment

The installation consists of a 5-foot tall technological sculpture in the shape of a head that extends out of a wall, above the height of a human being. The sculpture actively engages its viewers by responding to their movements and sounds, and by incorporating their visual and acoustical representations into its own image and soundtrack. The key narrative concern of the artwork is the act of objectification and its technological implementation by the military and media.


The face of the sculpture is a sheet of vacuum-formed, transparent acrylic plastic that is mounted on steel beams. Devices, arranged by symbolic form and technological function, are mounted behind the shell. Behind the mouth is a large bass speaker. Behind the nose is a neon power-supply and crossover wiring that suggest the look of nostrils. Behind the right eye is a spotlight, surrounded by a red neon circle and cross-hairs. Behind the left eye is another spotlight and a surveillance camera, mounted on a belt drive system to a motor so that it can follow viewers back and forth across the room.

The microprocessor, illuminated by various indicator lights, and its three I/O control cards, with IC chips, wiring, relays, solenoids, and AC outputs, are mounted in a stack behind the brow. Above the processor sits a blinding photo-flash pak. Behind the forehead is an amber television monitor that displays a direct, closed-circuit feed from the surveillance camera. Two electronic photoresistors measure the light levels at two points on the screen, enabling the computer to track viewers within the space. Another monitor is used to display text graphics, input/output data, programming code, and binary code. It often displays text-graphic translations of a rotating satellite view of Earth. Microphones at the ears listen for the voices or footsteps of the viewers.

The transparent face and its technological devices are extended from the wall by five steel beams and eight steel rods shaped to suggest the contours of the head, ears and neck. These connect to 1/4" steel angle which is bent in the shape of the neck and bolted to the wall at multiple locations. The preferred mounting surface is a sturdy wall with wood studs, able to sustain the weight and torque of the sculpture.

Various audio and data lines travel from the devices behind the face to other devices attached directly to the wall, including a TEAC dual-cassette deck, DOD digital delay, 140 Watt audio amplifier, 12" woofer, 110V power strip, 180 Watt/12V power supply for audio, 25 Watt/5-12V power supply for integrated circuitry, and 6V power supply for microprocessor lights. The entire sculpture can be powered by one outlet, but it must be able to supply sufficient amperage.


The sculpture makes targets out of its viewers and attempts to locate, analyze, and react to the movements and sounds they make within the space. If the space is empty, it shuts down and sits in "wait" mode until it hears something. When it does, it turns on its processor lights and starts a "T-minus" countdown on the monitor. At zero, it "comes alive" -- the eyes light up and the soundtrack bellows out of the speaker. Text-maps rotate on the screen and the "sight" (neon ring and cross-hairs) blinks five times. This sequence is the introduction where the viewers are asked to think about surveillance and military technological perception.

Next, the machine enters "search" mode, where it uses the video camera and photoresistors to locate spectators within the space. We see the low-quality video surveillance image of ourselves, in real-time, on the amber monitor. The machine attempts to follow us with the searchlight as we move, and it tabulates activity. If it perceives enough activity, it enters the "sequence" routine where it systematically cycles its light emitting devices as a form of visual rhythm, or language. It then enters "listen" mode, where it records anything it hears. Audio input such as talking is electronically manipulated and played back at the viewers. Cryptic programming code is printed on the screen as the machine hears sounds. Forms of feedback such as this are used to communicate to the viewer, or "user," that their input is actually being received by the machine.

To complement the capturing of sounds, the next routine emphasizes the capturing of images. The processor shuts off all of its devices except the video camera and monitor, but without light, the viewers can only see an orange glow on the amber monitor. A subtle, high-pitched whine can be heard as the photo flash charges. Briefly, both spotlights in the eyes burst on, followed by the blinding light of the photo-flash, followed by complete darkness. Due to the persistence of phosphor in the cathode ray tube, the image captured by the video camera remains electronically "etched" on the screen. On the monitor, we see a frozen negative of ourselves captured by the surveillance camera. The routine makes symbolic allusion to the shadows left by bodies of victims of a nuclear blast. As the video image fades, the flash charges, and the event is repeated.

Depending on the sounds and movements of the viewers, the sculpture either enters its "climax" routine or skips to its "conclusion" routine. The "climax" consists of a loop that repeats exponentially faster with time, creating a maniacal, technological fit of fury. In the "conclusion," a map of the Earth is displayed across the monochrome monitor, along with binary code (0 1 1 0 0 1 0) in a staggered but consistent rhythm. The neon "sight" that suggests gun sights, missile targeting systems, photographic scopes, and cinema camera viewfinders, blinks on each time the binary code equals "1," or "TRUE." The sculpture then shuts everything off and the echo of audio feedback lingers and slowly fades away.