The ability to wiggle one’s ears is a rare and vestigial trait in humans, one of many such leftovers from the billions-years-long process of evolution. But with technology making it possible to wire up all sorts of robot prosthetics to our bodies, we may one day find a use for even the most pointless-seeming parts of our bodies.

That’s part of the premise behind Wing, an interactive installation by Russian media-artist Dmitry Morozov (a.k.a. vtol). Participants attach dermal miographic sensors to the skin around their ear. The sensors record muscle activity, which is communicated via an Arduino Uno to a large, wing-shaped robotic sculpture. Regular movements of the ear-wiggling muscles, which in other animals allow the ears to swivel, are translated into a slow flapping motion that resembles a mechanical bird in flight.

Installed Wing Installation

Morozov describes the project as “an ironical and at the same time serious research on the topic of development of new instruments and prostheses as ‘extensions’ of human body and accordingly its possibilities and potentials, which are being revealed by new technologies.”

I know from first-hand experience that even though I can wiggle my ears, it often takes a frustrating amount of conscious effort to actually do so. It’s a bit like learning to control a brand new limb — which is essentially what robotic prostheses offer us. Morozov chose such an under-used muscle group in part to force participants to embody the spiritual practices of mindfulness and body awareness through a technological interaction. “It’s an attempt to stimulate people to perceive and train the body in a different way, expanding the limits of self-control and self-organisation in order to adapt to the new conditions,” he writes.

Morozov’s previous work includes a thunderous drum machine that responds to global earthquake data, a discordant string instrument controlled by cryptocurrency valuations, a gun-shaped instant photo printer made from an 8-bit Game Boy, and other provocative, glitchy tech-art objects. See Wing take flight in the video below.

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