Meet Moon Ribas, a ‘cyborg artist’ who is able to literally feel every single earthquake that takes place anywhere on the planet. She senses the tremors through a tiny sensor permanently grafted under her skin near the crook of her elbow, and dances to these vibrations during her performances.
“I want to perceive movement in a deeper way,” Ribas said. “The planet moves, constantly shaking and moving every day. I thought it would be amazing to translate the massive and natural movements of the planet in a different way.” So she had a tiny magnet implanted near the crook of her elbow that allows her to feel the Earth’s vibrations in real time. Her choice of body hacking may not be as obvious as the antenna sticking out of the skull of Neil Harbisson, or these LED lights implanted under the skin, but its purpose is just as bizarre.
Ribas, a choreographer who studied movement at Dartington College in the UK, described the physical sensation near her elbow as being similar to having a phone vibrate in your pocket. Of course, the stronger the earthquake, the stronger the vibrations she feels. For instance, during the devastating 7.8 quake in Nepal last year, Ribas woke up in the middle of the night with strong vibrations coursing through her arm. “It felt very weird, like I was there,” she said. “I feel connected to the people who suffer through an earthquake.”
Ribas wasn’t always interested in body hacking, or technology in general, rejecting it for being cold and distant. But when she attended the School for New Dance Development at Amsterdam’s Theaterschool, her teachers encouraged her to integrate technology into her performances, and she did. She started by developing gloves that could help her perceive movement around her, and then made a pair of earrings around the same concept. And when she decided to stitch a sense of movement into her own body, earthquakes were the obvious choice. So she had a small seismic sensor – which is constantly connected to an online seismograph – embedded under her skin.
“When you think about dance, you think about movement,” she explained, speaking to Hopes and Fears Magazine. “Then you realize that not only humans move, there are lots of things moving. The planet moves constantly: not only rotates, but also shakes. It shakes everything, and constantly. That’s powerful.” So the chip in her elbow is constantly active, setting off vibrations whether or not she’s performing. “Earth keeps interrupting my daily life! It’s a nice feeling.”
Photo: Moon Ribas/Facebook
Over time, Ribas says that her ‘seismic sensor’ has become like a second heartbeat. And she asserts that contrary to popular belief, not all earthquakes are bad news. “I think it’s unfair that our perceptions of earthquakes are all bad,” she said. “Earthquakes are a part of the evolution of our planet. The bad thing is that humans haven’t adapted to this natural phenomenon.” She suggests that city planners need to have a deeper understanding of seismic shifts in order to avert disasters. “We still need to learn how to live in our own planet.”
In the future, Ribas hopes to sharpen her seismic sense by getting magnetic implants in her feet. “Maybe I’ll use each toe to define each continent, but that’s still in process,” she said. She’s also interested in collaborating with engineers to improve the quality of her cybernetics implants, and hopes that more people will get interested in sensory extensions.
Photo: YouTube caption
“If everyone extends their sense of ultraviolet light, for example, your experience will be different when you go to the beach because you would be more conscious of the sun and how it will affect your skin,” she said. If you have a different experience of your surroundings, maybe your behavior will also change.” To her critics, she has just one thing to say: “New things are always scary to people. When TV came a lot of people were against it; anything that’s a big change scares people.”
Ribas and longtime artistic partner is Neil Harbisson have started the Cyborg Foundation, a non-profit that promotes applied cybernetics, defends the rights of cyborgs, and promotes cyborg activities in the arts and sciences.