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Silicon Anchor_01

Life In Silicon

This year my artwork has focused on transhumanism and the relationship between technology and humans. Transhumanism is the belief that, through integrating with technology, humanity can radically improve the quality and length of life. However, a range of ethical, social, and political issues arise from this goal. My work seeks to challenge viewers’ preconceptions regarding their relationship with technology and establish a dialogue around these issues. Using an Xbox 360 Kinect, motion capture software, Unreal Engine and a projector, my latest creation, Life in Silicon, has the user inhabit a digital avatar and explore a virtual environment projected onto a wall. This experience attempts to forge a visceral connection between the viewer and the technology, prompting them to question the barrier between the two. Transhumanists believe that we will be able to control our own evolution; if this is true, our discussions and decisions now may impact humanity for the rest of time.

Due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic I was unfortunately unable to set up the work with a projector and speakers. As a result, I have included some high resolution screenshots and a video of myself interacting with the work on a television so you might at least loosely understand what experiencing Life in Silicon is like.  

Considerations About My Audience

I gave a lot of thought as to which perspective was the best for the experience.

Third person makes interacting with the work a lot easier and more immediately engaging because the user can clearly see the results of their input in real-time. The first person camera obscures the user’s ability to read body movements other than the head controlling the camera.

So why did I go with first person?

Because my work is intended to used by anyone I felt that representing the player with an actual figure would disrupt the user’s ability to ‘embody’ the avatar. For example, if a darker skinned woman was interacting with the instillation and the third person view was of a lighter skinned man, the relationship between the real and digital worlds would be disrupted. Of the choices available to me, I felt that it was more important for the viewer to feel like their digital body is more difficult to control than to feel like a random digital character is easier to control.

Having a third person camera creates a sense that the user is spectating their digital interaction rather than inhabiting it, empowering them with agency in the space. While these ideas of spectatorship, disruption and re-representation are interesting themes to discuss, I didn’t want every stage in the experience to be dominated by them. I did end up playing with the idea of the user being able to spectate their digital self in one of the stages but I did this in a controlled, diegetic manner that attempted to not disrupt the verisimilitude of the experience.

With more time, I would like to develop a system that enables a user to select whether the avatar's movement is driven by foot movement or hand movement to allow people who have difficulty walking a chance to experience the work. Giving them the ability to walk in a digital world would certainly speak to the quality of life improvements discussed among transhumanists. To not break the connection between user and technology, it would be imperative that this selection be made outside the room that the work is being projected in. Once the user is in front of the screen, there can be nothing to disrupt the experience unless deliberately manufactured by me.

Its for this fear of disruption that I didn’t want to develop a VR experience. As someone who wears glasses and suffers from motion sickness, I don’t find VR as immersive as people seem to say. Constantly adjusting the straps of the headset, being restricted by cables, feeling somewhat vulnerable without being able to see around you and needing to press specific buttons that you can’t see all make for (at least at first) an unpleasant virtual experience. With the knowledge that the audience wasn’t likely to spend more than 10 minutes with my work, I wanted the entry into the virtual world to be as seamless as I could make it. By doing this I hoped that even less ‘tech savvy’ people would be able to engage and be (positively) challenged by a digital work about technology.

Considerations About My Practice

During my courses in art history and screen studies I believe a trend can be observed; as technology has exponentially improved, there has been an equally exponential evolution of a viewers experience and relationship to artwork. In live theatre, an audience (generally) simply sits behind the ‘fourth wall’, observing the narrative taking place on stage. With the discovery and application of perspective, paintings during the renaissance attempted to replicate a similar level of viewership. With the invention of cinema and the moving image, audiences were given new sense of agency in the narrative. Close ups, crane shots, etc, in a sense broke the fourth wall, allowing the viewer to observe the action from new and unique angles, affording for a more subtle and evocative experience. Video games take this a step further, often allowing the audience to control the camera, giving the user agency within the world to experience and (to a degree) shape the narrative. Virtual reality builds on video games and is the current forefront of this evolution. Giving the user a unique level of agency in the constructed environment. Not just controlling a character within the world but being a character. Looking at this trend, one could expect the next stages will be including more of the senses in the audiences immersion. Haptic feedback gloves and vests, which allow the user to feel objects, impacts and temperature changes as well as immersive olfactory technology are already in development but are not yet widely available. Once technology seamlessly interacts with the users senses, I would imagine the next step would be a direct neural link to the experience, bypassing the users nervous system entirely, creating a sort of manufactured lucid dream.

That’s not to say that each of the mentioned media are rendered obsolete by the next, obviously, each one posses its own unique capabilities which serve the needs of individual artists. However, it is at the everchanging modern forefront that I believe my needs are best met and is therefore where my practice attempts to operate. By using and challenging technology that is at the forefront of this evolution I believe I am positioning my practice in the best way possible to speak about humanities contemporary relationship to technology and to how that relationship might change in the future. The use of this modern, immersive technology aligns well with the transhumanist movement who believe that becoming more integrated with technology is inevitable. In order stay relevant in the conversation of contemporary and future technology, as technology continues to develop so too will my practice.

To read more about the development of this project, simply click on the button below
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