Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Self-Expansive Mirrors

Here are a few brilliant projects on mirrors that show an image you can project yourself into in a different way than a usual mirror does. Hence, they can make you see yourself in a different way, and change your behaviour or even attitudes.

Shown above is the work of Daniel Rozin, who pioneered the area of interactive mirrors. His famous installations subtly play with distortions and abstractions in size and shape, while still mostly pertaining to the perceived data. To me, his mechanical mirrors especially emphasize in an ambiguous manner that in the future, technologies can learn to reflect parts of our inner selves in any means that it can find to accomplish this with. Even waste material we have thrown away might directly make an unexpected turn and start behaving in a possibly rather confronting way.

Rozin's software mirrors also reflect a quite realistic self-representation of the viewer, but as well make him more sensitive about other parts of life instead of how he looks. His shaking time mirror, for example,  shows in a rather exaggerated way how time affects us, and how easy it is to use time for active self-transformation, as if we could just shake off our inner tensions, bad habits, traumas or other kinds of mental debris that seemed stuck to us.

Furthermore, Rozin made a few low-tech sculptural pieces that explore the role of mirrors in providing us with different self-representations than we would expect. A counterexpected effect is most strongly embodied in Rozin's 'Broken Mirror', which consists of a fragmented mirror, that through an ingenious physical configuration of the fragments shows not a reflection of the viewer, but an image of an old woman that is printed in fragments on a wall behind the viewer. Hence, for a moment the viewer is tricked, although it will probably not be impacting to an extent as to really make the viewer ponder existential issues of any kind.

Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman have approached the same line of work from a more social perspective and make construction of the self-representation a collaborative project. Their installation 'reface' takes samples of video directly from viewers who stand before the wall-hung device, and mixes up parts of video from different viewers, so you might see yourself as you are, but with the hair of your, say, american-indian grandfather and the surgically altered lips of your twin sister who also happened to be at the exhibition. This way of altering self-representations, to me, is on the edge of gimmickiness because of its obvious artificiality and would be much stronger if a database of recorded videos was input for a system that would dynamically morph your face, and change temporal and spatial parameters for example as a function of how you behave in front of the 'mirror', of how you feel or even of how or what you think.

Then another installation by Golan Levin, the Optoisolator, is less obviously a mirror, but definitely offers people a means to project themselves into an object and evoke focused self-reflective thought. It consists of a black box, attached to a wall at eye level, in which a mechanically moving eye resides that looks straight towards the viewer and follows him around the room, thus engaging him as in a game of staring. An even stronger connection is made by having the eye blink one second after whenever the viewer blinks their eyes, employing a technique called eye blink detection. By putting the viewer inevitably in the center of attention, he becomes an intrinsic part of the artwork, which makes it impossible to take on a detached, third person perspective of that of a mere observer, or even as an interactor without individuality. With technologies behaving like this, people would definitely be more invited to overcome traits like shyness.

To conclude on the psychological impact of such technologies, Yee and Bailenson's 2007 study showed that people conform to the expectations and stereotypes of the  identity of their self-representation, which gives me faith in that these kind of technologies can have a truly immense transformative impact, if designed well for specific people in specific contexts. Considering the latter issues, these artistic translations of technology can merely be seen as explorations into a new paradigm where technologies are purposefully designed and even learn to guide and change people in direct and personal ways that people comply with much more than with conscious transformations through more semantic means like advertisements, therapies, or even laws.

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