Georgia Tech art exhibition 'Extension of self' explores what it means to be human in a digital world

Ashutosh Dhekne’s piece in the exhibit “TechMyMoves.” (Courtesy of Ashutosh Dhekne)

“What does it mean to be human in a digital world?” That question is the focus of the new exhibition at Georgia Tech, “Extension of Self.” Curator Birney Robert is using art to promote STEM accessibility in a new show on view through Oct. 14, with the promise of another next year. Birney Robert joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Noura Howell, one of the featured artists and a professor in the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech. 

Interview highlights:

Art exploring the space between humanity and digital machines:

“This exhibit ‘Extension of Self: What it Means to be Human in a Digital World’ was really inspired when I read a quote in one of Sherry Turkle’s books… about a woman not knowing where her laptop began, and she left off. So that got me thinking about our cell phones and thinking about how many numbers do you have memorized? Do you use GPS when you drive around? What about all the photos that cell phones hold? …and just thinking of this digital technology as an extension of ourselves, and kind of like our second brain,” said Robert.

She went on, “That was the prompt to all these six artists working at the intersection of art, science, technology, and accessibility, and realizing that there’s so much great digital technology out there, with assistive technology and medical technology. However, there are also harmful developments in digital technology, such as surveillance, or reducing us to various data points that are gathered based on our search history, that might promote normative behaviors which might not fit into our complexities and our multiplicities of self.”

Noura Howell’s “The Heart Sounds Bench:”

“The ‘Heart Sounds Bench’ amplifies the live unfiltered heart sounds of people sitting on the bench. One or two people can sit on the bench and feel the sounds from their hearts vibrating out of the bench and into the surrounding environment; the unique rhythms of one person’s heart beating, or of two hearts blending together,” explained Howell. “So it responds to the theme of the exhibit, ‘Extension of Self,’ because people can feel their own heart sounds coming from their chest and extending out of themself through the vibrations of the bench and through vibration and sound back into the broader environment surrounding them.”

“Instead of using bodily data to make judgments about ourselves and others tying into the normative categories, maybe 10,000 steps, Fitbit’s default goal; maybe that’s not right for everyone,” said Howell. “So instead of relying on these kind of normative categories with bio-data, it’s about listening, paying attention, simply appreciating being alive. You’re not getting any new insight out of the ‘Heart Sounds Bench.’ It’s pretty obvious the person sitting next to you is alive.”

Other featured art experiences to extend the self:

Congress, and these individuals don’t have any name or story associated with them when she sourced them, and so she’s really giving them a new sense of life and identity through these three paintings that she collages them onto,” Robert said. “She’s also working with her heritage of Caribbean descent, and so she has these beautiful flowers and birds collaged onto these images of these people, which plays into the layers of our identity… There are LED light diodes that poke through the panels and are voice-activated, so when we speak to them, they speak back. And she’s making a comment on how we can’t be reduced to data points in our search history, and looking at how history is told by certain individuals and others are left out.”

“Then we have Bojana Ginn, who is also an Atlanta-based artist, and she was a former medical doctor from Serbia…. Her work is at the intersection of the virtual, the physical, the natural worlds; and trying to create a beautiful immersive installation using the ancient technology of sheep’s wool – which used to keep us warm, and so it was an extension of ourselves with the clothes we wear – juxtaposed by the digital and the virtual. She has a VR headset, and she has these projection-mapping drawings of hers projected onto the walls, and her piece is called ‘Science of Happiness.'”

“Extension of Self: What It Means to be Human in a Digital World” is on view at Georgia Tech’s Price Gilbert Building through Oct. 14. More information is available at