Becoming Beluga: A Wearable Bionic Whale Suit

In July 2013, we’ll return to Churchill to foster bonds between humans and whales. We’ve collaborated with whales through sonic exchange – now we’re wondering what else is possible. Can we be accepted by pod? Can we become belugas?

We'd like to introduce the Bionic Whale Suit, which will permit us to function cybernetically underwater. The concept is to echo the physiological traits of belugas in a wearable artwork. White thermal skin will emulate a beluga’s shape, sewn to accommodate a monofin as a tail. A personal propulsion device will enable travel at greater speeds, on par with leisurely moving belugas. Flex sensors, mounted on the suit, will translate movement into sound. A built-in sound system will electromagnetically transmit vocalizations created by the wearer’s throat through a speaker affixed to the top of her head; belugas produce sound via their melons. Underwater GO-PRO cameras will be affixed as beluga eyes and hydrophones will act as beluga ears. The 240-degree perspective with binaural sound will be recorded and posted online through media sharing platforms like YouTube. This unique audiovisual documentation, as well as the experience of the suit itself, will explore the Umwelt – a richly detailed self-world – of the beluga. Perhaps we can’t know what it’s like to be a whale – but maybe we can get 1% there. As an art object, the prototype will be exhibited.

This project proposes a hybridity between scientific and creative research, interspecies communication, and meditations upon the nature of art in relation to the art of nature. Increasingly, as raw wilderness spaces in Canada’s North are fragmented and constrained by industry, tourism, and expansion, the mediated lens of the artist has the power to represent new methods of cooperation with nature. Here, at the nexus of marine, tundra, and northern boreal forest biomes, in a setting occupied by science, we as artists will test the impossible and explore our place in nature as human and animal.

Ֆինանսավորված Winnipeg, MB կողմից (April 2013)