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Fleshmap (2008)

A series of artistic studies, with Fernanda Viégas, on the themes of desire and the body.

For our "Touch" study, hundreds of people rated these 707 points on male and female bodies.

Fleshmap is an inquiry into human desire, its collective shape and individual expressions. In a series of artistic studies, Fernanda Viégas and I explore the relationship between the body and its visual and verbal representation.

Touch investigates the collective perception of erogenous zones. We asked hundreds of people to rate how good it would feel to touch or be touched by a lover on different points of the body. To do so, we teamed up with Brendan O'Connor at Dolores Labs to gather data via Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk site—a marketplace where paid workers perform simple tasks. From tens of thousands of individual ratings, we derive images that reveal a map of sensual desire with multiple focal points and islands of excitement.

While Touch examines collective patterns, Look explores individuality and the hidden surprises that each body reveals when bared. Through a process of abstraction, the piece reveals the multiplicity of formal possibilities contained in a single body part. Contours from different individuals are presented in collections that expose both familiar and oft-overlooked patterns, confronting prototypical notions of ourselves.

Listen investigates the relationship between language and the body. This study takes as a point of departure questions such as, Which parts of the anatomy appear most frequently in song lyrics? What would a poem look like, reduced only to its references to the flesh? To find the answers, verbal manifestations of human physicality in music, poetry, and religion are distilled to their basic elements.

Detail: Body parts in musical genres, Listen study: