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The biggest challenges of our time – mass extinction, viral pandemics and climate change – remind us that we are intrinsically interconnected with our ecosystems. The Sentinel Immune Self prompts us to reconfigure our notions of ‘selfhood’ to rekindle this interconnectedness, showing the interdependence on our microbial kin, and how environmental contaminants are a shared concern across all ‘sentinels’.

The Sentinel Immune Self is inspired by dynamic behaviors of human cells interacting (and co-evolving) with microbes and external “others” such as pathogens and microplastics. It explores immunological processes within the body that challenge our culturally informed notions of ‘selfhood’, evoking us to rethink the binary division between self and non-self. Collaborating with scientists specialized in microbiome metagenomics and immunology, I intend to implement algorithms and machine learning systems that model the material basis of selfhood as drivers for an immersive interactive installation.

In the installation, we meet interactive storyteller, The Sentinel Immune Self – an abstract ‘avatar’ that embodies these processes in a real-time game engine. The Sentinel animates an environment of forms and movement based on metagenomic models of the microbiome, as well as artificial immune system simulations. It induces a strange, ephemeral and beautiful entity, shapeshifting as it interacts with the audience. Inspired by recent neuroscience research into the influence of interceptive signaling on the subjective experience of self, the audience can self-identify with The Sentinel, and influence the story through sensor input of autonomic signals such as heart rate. Their inner body signals, which influence the cognitive construction of self and body ownership, will be the connecting point to foster a more intuitive understanding of self.


Sissel Marie Tonn is a Danish artist based in The Hague (NL). In her practice, she explores the complex ways humans perceive, act upon and are entangled with their environments. Her work centers around moments of awareness and shifts in perception, where the boundaries between our bodies and the surrounding environment begin to blur.

Tracing and capturing these moments often result in hybrid, interactive installations and objects, where the audience is invited to engage in a sensory and participatory way with the stories and data at hand.

She imagines her work as “training grounds” meant to challenge our pre-configured modes of perception, attention, and sense of self, and shed light on how our biology, as well as our cultural conditions, influence the ways in which we perceive and subsequently act upon our surroundings.

In 2016 Sissel was the recipient of the Theodora Niemeijer prize for emerging female artists, resulting in her first solo show at the Eye in Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.

More recent engagements include commissions for Sonic Acts and AND Festival in 2021.

She received an Honorary Mention for the work The Intimate Earthquake Archive in 2020 at Ars Electronica and won the BAD award in 2020 with Juan Garcia Vallejo and Heather Leslie.