Charles Darwin called blushing “the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions.” In his exploration of human and animal behavior, Darwin sought to characterize the emotional underpinnings of the human species as manifesting themselves through largely involuntary but visible actions and effects. As he worked to identify the evolutionary link between humans and our nonhuman ancestors, it became essential for him to reestablish what makes us human in the first place.

Today, as communication becomes increasingly mediated, translated, and digitized in the form of texts, tweets, posts, and selfies, involuntary and intimate forms of communication have yet again become central to defining our species. The proliferation of sophisticated artificial intelligence chatbots introduces a new complication, because communication is no longer just assisted by technology; artificial intelligence has also emerged as a partner in dialogue with humans. Between primate and machine, are we human?

Blushing, whether in response to embarrassment, shame, shyness, or modesty, is caused by the release of adrenaline, which dilates the pupils, slows the digestive system, quickens the heart and breathing, and dilates blood vessels — especially those in the face. We blush when something is revealed that was meant to be kept secret, when we are put under public scrutiny, or when we feel flattered. Because the blush appears in tandem with a range of positive and negative emotions, it is elusive, difficult to predict, and impossible to fake. The blush therefore acts as an indication of sincerity and a confirmation of our human condition: we are more trusting and forgiving of someone who has committed a social transgression if the offending action is accompanied by a blush. Interestingly, although it has been experienced by every human, the mechanisms and psychophysiology of blushing remain largely unknown.

Unspoken is a two-channel video that overlays an intimate dialogue with physiological responses captured in thermographic images. The audience is positioned awkwardly between two characters who appear on opposing screens, allowing viewers to overhear what is spoken and see what is unspoken.

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Project information
Location         Galata Greek Primary School, Istanbul, Turkey
Project TeamElizabeth Diller,David Allin,Jordana Maisie,and Jack Solomon