Simon Penny is an Australian practitioner in the fields of Digital Cultural Practices, Embodied Interaction and Interactive Art. Over the last twenty five years, his practice has included five main aspects: artistic practice, technical research, theoretical writing, pedagogy and institution building. He makes interactive and robotic installations utilising novel sensor arrays and custom machine vision systems. These works address critical issues arising around enactive and embodied interaction, informed by traditions of practice in the arts including sculpture, video-art, installation and performance; and by theoretical research in ethology, neurology, ethnology, situated cognition, phenomenology, human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, robotics, critical theory, cultural and media studies. Informed by these sources, he designs and builds custom technologies with custom code, electronic, electro-mechanical and structural components.
He built the Autonomous robotic artwork Petit Mal in the early 1990s, exhibited internationally since 1995. In 1997, his machine vision based interactive digital video work Fugitive was exhibited at the opening of the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 1998, Traces (3D machine vision driven CAVE immersive interactive) was presented at Ars Electronica in 1998. Fugitive Two was commissioned by the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne Australia, in 2000, and premiered there in 2004. He has received funding and/or residencies from the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Science and Art, ZKM, GMD, WDR, and other sources.
Penny is Professor of Arts and Engineering at University of California Irvine. He is architect and founding director of the interdisciplinary graduate program in Arts, Computation and Engineering (ACE). He is director of the ACTION lab, an interdisciplinary research lab dedicated to spatialised and embodied interaction and performative technologies. He was Associate Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University (a joint appointment between the College of Fine Arts and the Robotics Institute) 1993-2001. He is a guest professor in ‘Construction of Discourse’™ in the Interdisciplinary Master in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 2008-2010.
Penny is director of Digital Arts and Culture conference 2009 (DAC09). He curated Machine Culture (arguably the first international survey of interactive art) at SIGGRAPH 93 in Anaheim CA and edited the associated catalog and anthology. He edited the anthology Critical Issues in Electronic Media (SUNY Press 1995). He has served on juries, boards and review committees for the National Research Council of the National Academies, the Rockerfeller Foundation, Daniel Langlois Foundation for Science and Art (Canada), the ‘VIDA’™ Art and Artifical Life Award of the Telefonica Foundation (Spain), the Banff New Media Institute (Canada), the international board of ISEA and other bodies.
My ongoing concern with the negotiation of practices, discourses and commitments in engineering with respect to those of the arts has involved an extended consideration of the history and theory of Artificial Intelligence and the forms of Cognitive Science related to it. These fields enforce a deeply dualising model of human being which is incompatible with practices of the arts. The adoption of computational technology into the arts has the insidious effect of ‘hollowing-out’ long traditions of embodied practices. I have referred to this as a Trojan Horse effect. Fortuitously, over the last two decades, a reaction to such dualising has also occurred in cognitive science. The new distributed, embodied, enactive and situated cognitive sciences address the kinds of embodied practices and sensibilities I have been focusing on in the arts. My current project is the development of a book manuscript which attempts to muster contemporary cognitive science, neurology and philosophy of mind to build a new discourse around embodied practices in the arts, with the specific goal of building a new body of aesthetic theory addressing the specificities of interaction with, and behavior of, digital cultural artifacts, which I refer to as an Aesthetics of Behavior.