Photo by Tim Trumble


Jessica Rajko is an interdisciplinary artist exploring the lived experience of data and digital technologies with an emphasis on the lived experiences of southwestern border communities. As an assistant professor at Arizona State University, her work blends praxis and scholarship from dance, somatic practices, social justice, and human-computer interaction design. She is a founding co-Director of the ASU Human Security Collaboratory, a non-departmental collective of artists and scholars addressing complex problems affecting the security of individuals and communities, with a special emphasis on digital technologies and their uses. Considering issues such as digital civil rights and equity in digital culture, her research aspires to integrate intersectional feminist frameworks within all her practices.

Jessica has presented and performed in various collaborative artworks nationally and internationally, including Amsterdam’s OT301, Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche festival and New York City’s Gotham Festival at The Joyce Theatre.  She was named one of Phoenix New Times’s “100 Creatives of 2016” and has been commissioned by the Currents New Media Festival, Breaking Ground Dance Festival, Mesa Arts Center, Heard Museum, and Phoenix Art Museum. She is the co-founder and co-director of urbanSTEW (urbanSTEW.org), a non-profit arts collective that creates participatory, art/tech installations to engage local communities in multisensory, felt experiences. Jessica received her MFA in Dance and Interdisciplinary Digital Media at Arizona State University in 2009 (outstanding graduate of the year) and her BA in Dance and Psychology at Hope College in 2005.



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Human Security collaboratory 

The Human Security Collaboratory (HS Collab) addresses complex problems affecting the security of individuals and communities, with a special emphasis on digital technologies and their uses.

Current Focal Areas:
Digital Civil Rights                
Big Data
Information Harvesting        
Biosensory Devices, and Wearable Technologies
Data Disenfranchisement    
Equity in Tech

By focusing on these areas, HS Collab seeks to address a critical gap within the human security space—the ways in which digital technology creation and use affects individual and community life, with a focus on anticipating needs rather than reacting to crises. Digital technology development and use shapes how people come to know about the world and are empowered within a global society, understanding how we value and produce knowledge allows HS Collab to see who counts, who is counted, and why.

HS Collab is led by:
Jessica Rajko, School of Film, Dance and Theater at ASU,
Jacqueline Wernimont, Department of English, and
Marisa Duarte, School of Social Transformation

Research Statement

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

I am committed to the compassionate kinesthetics disruption of digital technology design and digital cultures. I am first and foremost a dancer. My dance practices ground me in somatic and kinesthetic inquiry, which I apply to many forms of composition. My studies in social and cognitive psychology (2nd BA major) and human-computer interaction design (graduate work) influence my current dance/technology research. After graduate school, I remained in Phoenix, AZ where I still live today. My Southwestern home has deeply influenced how I see my work, particularly as it relates to questions of borderlands identity, social justice, and equity. As such, I aspire to engage intersectional feminist and anti-racist frameworks in human-computer interaction design, dance composition, and scholarly research. This work is made possible by forging equitable partnerships with artists, scholars, and community organizations so that we can together imagine new approaches to designing and critiquing digital technologies. Much of this work is currently conducted within the Human Security Collaboratory, a new initiative founded by myself and my colleagues Jacqueline Wernimont and Marisa Duarte. Here I work with others to design collaborative research models that address the discriminatory and colonial practices deeply embedded within traditional Western empirical methodologies. Thus far, the research has lead me to reshape my traditional HCI design practices based on the following assertions:

Photo by Alonso Parra.

Photo by Alonso Parra.

Photo by Alonso Parra.

Photo by Alonso Parra.

Self-study is critical in building ethical and empathetic technologies.
My research is grounded in my lived experiences as a somatically informed dance practitioner and practice-based researcher. I employ and advocate for first person, self-study practices because I believe that through self-investigation, we learn how our own experiences, habits, and biases influence the ways with which we see others and our world. For me, self-study also includes a deep investigation of one's own intersectional identity. I position this argument in direct response to empirical practices that believe the only way to ‘truly’ know something is to remove ourselves from it. The Western practice of empirical research has lead to a preference for third person observation that assumes removing ones self from the experience deems it more objective. It is my belief that the opposite is true. By denying self-study and not consciously exploring our own embodied habits, we cannot see how emotions, past experiences, habituated ways of being will always affect our decisions and observations. I advocate for the use of somatic and intersectional practices in HCI design, particularly when designing for technology on bodies. The first pilot version of my graduate curriculum titled, “Palpability and Wearable Computing” explores new pedagogical models for wearable technology design rooted in somatic and intersectional frameworks.

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

Technologies must accommodate the felt experience.
Our sense of touch is rarely considered in HCI design beyond a sort of "haptic nudging." “Haptic nudging” (short, vibratory prompts) reinforce perceptions that our ability to feel is in many ways less useful than or meaningful than our ability to see or hear. Touch is a singular word that comprises a complex and synergistic relationship between cutaneous, kinesthetic, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses. Further, touch is also deeply entangled with our personal emotions and feelings. Touch is the first to develop in utero. Our sense of touch is what orients us to space, objects, and others. It is always actively seeking. It never stops. As such it is also the first sense to recede from our conscious attention. As a somatic practitioner, I recognize the value of developing a sophisticated practice of making touch conscious. This has deeply influenced my current work with haptic (touch-based) feedback. I am particularly interested in creating haptic interfaces that allow participants to feel both real time and archival datasets. I have begun developing interactive systems that use sound and infrasonic subwoofers to make data palpable. This research has been integrated into small personal devices as well as large sculptures and structures. Felt experiences can be shared with others or engaged individually. This research is driven by three primary research questions:

  • Does haptic feedback have the capacity to generate resonant, felt experiences of data?
  • Can vibrotactile interfaces inspire users to critically evaluate the ways in which they track, store, and share data?
  • Can feeling data influence how we make critical, ethically complex, and highly personal data-based decisions?
Photo by Alonso Parra.

Photo by Alonso Parra.

My current work focuses explicitly on haptic, felt data experiences, but I am interested in conducting future work to explore data haptification in conjunction with data visualization and sonification. All of my research is physically manifested in performances and participatory art installations, as this is my primary area of practice; however, I believe that this work could be applied to other fields currently exploring novel forms of data representation. 

Artist Statement

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

Photo by Theo Van Loon.

Through my work, I imagine approaches to technology design, critique, and futures that move away from ocularcentric** ways of knowing. Working from an intersectional feminist lens, I critically consider how bodies, movement, data, and technology exist across communities. I enjoy creating surrealist and absurdist environments in which we can reimagine our past, present and future digital worlds. Much of my installation and performance work includes formal and informal storytelling, complex networks of props, set, and technology designs, and physically multisensory, visceral, and tactile movement.

Drawing from methodologies found in dance and somatics, I place the felt experience in the centre of my dance composition and HCI design practices. As such, working in the tangible, physical world is critical to my work. I tend to begin my creative process through physical touch (between bodies and/or between physical objects & bodies), and I use this as a way to push back against our ever-increasingly digitized world. Most of my technology design work is with e-textiles, haptic transducers, and physical computing design practices - all highly tactile and physical technologies. My dance compositions explore our physical relationships with consumer and custom-made technologies - asking the question, "how do we perform our technologies, and how do our technologies perform us?"

Passionate about how these practices work within a socially conscious framework, I consider how dance/tech methodologies can move toward social good, particularly within the Southwest. In this, my artwork includes the design of socially conscious methodological approaches to art/science collaborations. 

Inspired by do-it-together (DIT) culture, I prefer to work collaboratively with others and value the importance of sharing ideas. The outcomes of my work include dance performance and composition, wearable technology design, and interactive haptic installations.

Deeply invested in my work as a dancer, I am passionate about building artwork, tools, pedagogies, and tangible resources that demonstrate the vast beauty, knowledge and intelligence of all moving bodies. 

**Ocularcentrism: Western culture's perceptual and epistemological bias ranking vision as more sophisticated, intellectual, and valuable than other senses.