Matthew Kenyon: Improvised Empathetic Device

  • ©,



    Improvised Empathetic Device


Creation Year:



    Telepresence, performance, wearable technology, data mining/data visualization


    22 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches


Artist Statement:

    The current US-led war in Iraq has suffered enormous casualties. The toll on civilian lives is vague and many times unreported. The number of US casualties, many of which are the result of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), is reported and monitored. Overall, the media coverage of these atrocities is given very little attention, often overshadowed by more personal and spectacular stories, such as child abductions and runaway brides. This project aims to give real and physical presence to the death and violence occurring in the Middle East, by creating direct physical pain from the US military casualties, whose toll and details are silently relegated to small or no print. A custom software application continuously monitors a web site ( that updates the accumulation and personal details of slain US soldiers. When new deaths are detected, the data are extracted and sent wirelessly to custom hardware installed on the IED armband. The LCD readout displays each soldier’s name, rank, cause of death, and location and then triggers an electric solenoid to drive a needle into the wearer’s arm, drawing blood and immediate attention to the reality that someone has just died in the Iraq war that is raging far away.

Technical Information:

    The IED’s data mining consists of real-time data acquisition and automated message generation. These stages are continually executed on a dedicated server. The first stage uses PHP data-mining software to compile a database of US casualties. A custom program reads and compares casualty
    data in order to determine the exact number and personal details of new US casualties. The second stage uses automated scripts to open an email application and inserts the new
    casualty data into specific fields for name, age, cause of death, and location. This message is then sent wirelessly to a repurposed alphanumeric pager. The IED’s data actualization consists of activation of a solenoid armed with a sterile needle and automated archiving of casualty data. These stages are executed entirely within the IED armband. The first stage uses a 12-volt solenoid driven by a custom-built circuit board modeled on the map of Iraq. Components are placed in accordance with major population centers. When the armband receives new casualty data, it displays the data via an LCD display and then triggers the solenoid. A sterile needle located at the tip of the solenoid penetrates approximately
    1/8 of an inch into the user’s arm