Sentient places audiences at the centre of a digital organism. We invite people to experience a symbiotic connection between themselves and what appears to be a living, breathing digital entity. This multi-sensory work investigates human-computer integration. We disappear the interface, inviting audiences to consider the nexus between sentient and digital entities.

Sentient is a new work that is currently under development. It features interactive custom-designed ‘tentacles’ that hang in the exhibition space [if the exhibition space has no ceiling, or if we are unable to hang from the ceiling, these tentacles can extend from the floor – ie sit on floor mounts]. Each tentacle houses a series of sensors. The tentacles respond to audience members’ touch, movements and sounds. When people touch a tentacle, the tentacle lights up, makes sound and gently vibrates. When people move around the space, the visuals and audio change. The environment changes and responds according to the human action that’s occurring in the exhibition area.

Sentient pushes the boundaries of how audiences engage with computational systems. People and this digital installation are simpatico. This artwork senses audience members’ presence; it responds to their movement, sound and touch. Through this artwork we make people feel that their presence matters.


An indication of what this new installation may look like


With advancements in AI and digital automation, it’s timely to question our relationship with computing systems. Many of us are hyper-connected within a digital framework, yet we’re disconnected on a deeper experiential and sensory level. On the one hand digital systems provide us with technical advancement, on the other they can lead to human isolation (Turkle). Sentient investigates the connection between humans and computers. This work provides an example of how automated digital systems can bring people together in a physical space, provide them with a co-located social experience and provide a digital/social engagement that is multi-sensory.


Sentient is inclusive, it’s for all ages, all abilities and multi-lingual audiences. When audiences enter the exhibition area, their movement, sound and touch is tracked by the tentacle’s sensors. The tentacle’s response to human actions is immediate. This artwork operates in real-time, the sound and visuals constantly change, therefore every audience member’s experience is unique. We encourage audiences to play with this artwork, to freely explore the environment.

This artwork can be experienced alone, or with groups of people. Sentient audiences can work together to form physical shapes in the exhibition area – shapes that will trigger special responses from the digital system. For example, if a group of people stand in a circle and each member holds a tentacle, the tentacles will light up with special colours. If everyone holds the lowest section of a tentacle, the part closest to the ground, the lights and music will create sparkling patterns.

The Sentient musical score will feature a 24-minute soundtrack. Layered onto this soundtrack will be short audio loops. These loops will be triggered when audience members touch a tentacle. The loops will be compatible with the gentle sonic ambience of the overall soundtrack, providing an alluring, harmonious, interactive surround sound experience.


All visuals and audio by PluginHUMAN


PluginHUMAN is foundered by the multi-award-winning international art duo Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer. They’ve exhibited in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. They’ve been commissioned to create artworks for institutions such as the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (Taiwan), the Asia Culture Centre (South Korea) and Questacon (Australia’s National Science and Technology Museum).

PluginHUMAN creates immersive environments and provides audiences with hands-on interactive experiences. They have an acute understanding of the role that technology plays in contemporary society. Their progressive artworks place audiences in the centre of a human to digital encounter. 

PluginHUMAN were finalists in the Contemporary Art Awards [2019], they won a Good Design Award [2018] and a Premier’s Design Award [2017]. They are artists-in-residence at the Exertion Games Lab (RMIT University, Australia). Betty was the Melbourne Knowledge Fellow (2016); her PhD was ranked top-three (Australian CHASS prize, 2015).


An indication of what this new installation may look like


We will collaborate with the curatorial team to determine the final size of this installation. The tentacles will be approximately 3-4 meters long.



Each hanging tentacle will have a steel cable running down its centre and will be tethered top and bottom. These tentacles can be removed by unclipping the secure cable at the top and bottom. Alternatively, tentacles can be constructed from bamboo that extend from a steel base plate that sits on the floor. The bamboo would house the electronics. All tentacles will be coated in an organic tactile material such as natural latex – natural latex is a renewable and recyclable resource. 

We will not use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for the running of this installation. The start-up and shutdown will be automated, designed for a ‘kill switch’ system.


All materials used in this installation will be made from reusable or renewable resources. The tentacles will be made from renewable resources incorporating materials such as bamboo and natural latex. All computing systems, sensors, Arduinos, projectors etc and all materials (bamboo, latex, steel cabling etc) will be reused and repurposed following each installation. This is a part of PluginHUMAN’s ongoing sustainable practice

PluginHUMAN Justin Dwyer & Betty Sargeant. Art, design, art-collective, design-studio, design-agency


Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer ~ artists/creative-coders/producers

Andrew Ogburn ~ composer