Constructing the Self in the Postdigital Age:
An artistic research project investigating perception through live-video expanded mixed realities
Does the perception of our body and our mind change
through mirror reflection and projection?
What kind of self-perception is constructed in a postdigital
interaction of an analogue experience in a digital visibility?
I aim to find out in which way the self-perception of our body and our mind changes through the glimpse of a mirror with digitally expanded environments. By using digital video techniques combined with live video elements I want to extend the classic function and meaning of mirrors by developing and refining hybrid-reality mirror settings which reflect the postdigital state from an intersection and combination of analogue body and digital space, so-called postdigital mirrors.
Through creating postdigital mirrors and mirror settings which integrate the viewer into the reflection by using live video technology, I explore the „constructions of reality“ and possible changes of our perception of reality and the perception of ourselves. A reflection of a digital mirror produces a confrontation with your own observation. The generated visual worlds lead to altered possibilities of self-observation and self-expression and ultimately to a change in the perception of one’s own actions, thoughts and emotions. This artistic research project can be seen as a tool to change our perspectives and allow ourselves to observe us as an observer and getting new insights about perception from this approach.
Starting from the idea of Heterotopia, a concept elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow different to the usual, I create „different“ artificals habitats as virtual mirror backgrounds as a basis of this artistic research. Foucault uses the term heterotopia to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places. With this idea as a basis, I want to enrich, change and adapt the artistic and scientific method in process of my work. The setup of the installative environments, which I summarise with the term of postdigital mirrors can be visualized as projections as well as on monitors and other displays.
I seek to explore and study the roles of the individuals in participatory and linked forms of society and want to amend these roles with additional material and visualise them with a new perspective. The aim is to develop installative settings where you can see yourself as part of film plots that tells narrative stories.
Through the digital mirrors I put the viewer virtually in different environments and in different plots and thereby he/she is able to observe him/herself. in this way the observer receives a temporary view onto a system outside his own perception. The viewer becomes a first-person narrator, and apparently becomes a passive observer in the reflection on the digital screens as well. These reflections refer to the visual universes which are stuck in the minds of the viewer.
This approach should be recognised as a thought-provoking impulse to win a new form of self- perception and find a new insight about the context of humanity in its habitat, in which we are embedded. Usually we perceive ourselves through others and we observe the others through media. Mirrors and Media were invented for the purpose of primarily creating body images outside of ourselves. Self-perception results therefore more and more in medial and virtual spaces. It is impossible that reality exists separately from humans, but rather requires human beings to take his/her part in the composition of reality. It is also a question of how to invent cultural concepts and confrontations with technological transformations, which leads us to the possibility of a different usage of media technologies.
Self extended mirrors attempt to fathom and visualise this paradigm shift, as my work visualizes a new relation of observation and the things we see.
„Is it me when I look in the mirror, or is it the picture of the mirror that I see?“ asks the psycho- historian Rolf Haubl. With regard to mirror images and shadows, Hans Belting asks a similar question: „Is that my own body there and am I just a picture here?“ These questions demonstrate the complicated, almost inextricable relationship that we and our body have with external media worlds. On one hand we want our existence always be located in the place of our body, on the other hand we want to reflect ourselves and project it onto something outside of ourselves.
The mirror has a great importance in art and cultural history, but also a centuries-old tradition as a magical and symbolic object. In some ancient cultures it was seen as the image of the soul, in the art of the European Middle Ages it stood for chastity, transience, sensuality as well as for addiction to cleaning, in the Baroque age it was a symbol of vanitas, the transience of all human endeavors. The mirror is a medium of self-perception and narcissistic self-duplication, but at the same time also a gate that leads to a parallel universe or another mode of being, Alice behind the mirrors as a possibility of expanding consciousness.
The meaning of the mirror has been worked out in many philosophical and psychoanalytic texts. Sigmund Freud derives his theory of melancholy from the mirror of narcissus, Jean-Paul Sartre sees the emergence of self-consciousness in the eyes of others. However, the most far- reaching, especially with regard to art production and art theory, was Jacques Lacan’s famous essay The Mirror Stage as the creator of the ego function.
Lacan ́s mirror stage is a primary construct and a significant milestone in human self- development and this potent moment of self recognition provides a conceptual premise into self-understanding and development. The mirror moment for Lacan, symbolises transcendence from the real person to the experiencing of the imaginary self through mirror image, abstracted from the real self. This moment is both about alienation and viewing oneself as a commodity extracted from the self. The mirror moment is then about the birth of an objectified self. The mirror moment of self-discovery and realisation finds a long frame of reference in the virtual environment which functions as a space for identity formation and creation.
Recognizing one’s own image in standing water and in the mirror is perhaps one of the first real hallucinations that humans have encountered. Reflecting surfaces in contemporary art are therefore not just aesthetic artifacts, but instruments of social penetration and world knowledge that attest to a sentence that Joseph Beuys formulated in 1972: The brain is an organ of reflection as hard and bright as a mirror.
The mirror acts as a membrane between the real and a virtual world and brings the level of transcendence and magic into play in an increasingly secular time. After all, the mirror is also a medium for narcissistic self-exaltation. Mirror, mirror on the wall….“ The gaze in the mirror couldn’t confirm Snow White’s stepmothers unique’s appearance, but she could become aware of herself and identify her own reflection. And in the story of Narcissus in greek mythology he became condemned to fall in love with his own reflection on water as a punishment for the rejection of the nymph Echo’s love and therefore experienced his image as someone else. If we switch to nowadays and replace the magic mirrors with the black mirrors of digital media, the Grimm’s tales, the mythology of Narcissus and Plato’s allegory of the cave take on a whole new meaning that is to be visualized and adressed in this artistic research.
The invention of the plane mirror marks a turning point in human self-reflection, because it faithfully represents the object that is in front of it, even if reversed, but in its entire size. If you stop in front of a mirror, the frozen image is like a photograph, if you make a movement, the whole special feature of the reflection is revealed: it reflects life and movement simultaneously. We have learned to use the mirror and no longer question the phenomenon of confusion.
The mirror has been an object of art since the Middle Ages and especially in the Baroque period. In the 20th century it emancipated itself from the object to the material and to the philosophical center of art itself. It became both a medium and a point of crystallization for theoretical and psychological arguments. Heimo Zobernig’s broken and blind mirrors take away his illusionary function and simply turn him into an artistic material, while Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mixed media works link real mirrors with painting or sculpture and thus currently involve the respective viewer in the image content. „Man has always tried to split up to recognize himself,“ writes Pistoletto in The Famous Last Words.
Mirror iconography received new media charges not least through photography, video and film. For example, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills subject the construction of escapistic sham universes by the Hollywood dream factory to an ironic and deconstructive assessment. In his films Le Sang d’un Poéte and Orphée, Jean Cocteau let reflective surfaces cross people and spoke of the mirror as the gate „through which death comes and goes“.
And the video artist Douglas Gordon addresses the mirror in the sense of Jacques Lacan as an ego construction. He loops the famous scene from Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver, in which Robert de Niro talks to himself about building an alter ego as a tough killer. The mirror is a medium of demiurgical interpretation of the world. My approach to digital mirrors is an attempt to continue the mirror idea and to adapt its content and technology to the conditions of the postdigital age.
We have been experiencing, at the latest since the media began, that the body is in a here and now and at the same time somewhere else. We have a relationship with images outside of ourselves, whether it is conciliatory, frustrating, surprising or scary. Media work collectively, they fill the gap between us and the outside world. Already at the moment when emotion through facial expressions, pose or gesture is visible to everyone, I become a medium myself.
Media were invented for the purpose of creating body images outside of ourselves, to give our inner self and world view an external form, to assure us of our existence and to achieve a knowledge that has an effect on us. In principle, any surface that reflects light is already an optical medium. Thus, shadows and reflecting water surfaces in the interplay of light, body and gaze were the first media experiences of body images. You see yourself creating an outer, more complete image of yourself. The desire to capture, acquire, control and reproduce this image justifies to the desire to create media self-portraits.
That mirror mechanisms also work when we are dealing with media images of cinema, television, photography and computer games, that not only represent specific sensations, but also activate the audience’s affective processes. In the cinema we dive into foreign worlds, imagine ourselves in unknown situations, live and die with the stars. We don’t just want to live in one world, we want to imagine and seem to be able to forget that we are dealing with constructions that are produced and reproduced by technical equipment.
How does the digital reflection of the observer change when filters, in form of different video material, are pushed in between, meaning virtual spaces and situations, which respectively change the context of the situation of the image?
In the postdigital age, the screen performs a multitude of functions from self-discovery to voyeurism, encap sulating our renewed ubiquitous fascination with the mirror as the starting point of self-discovery. Our obsession with the screen needs to be located as a cultural artefact associated with the spectacular. In the digital age, the screen and mirror become inter changeable as they become part of the project to perform, project and consume the self. This artistic research examines the production of the self in the postdigital age through its troubled and unsettling relationship with the mirror and the screen as artefacts of self-production.
The self remains a primal subject of interest with our increasing immersion into a pervasive screen culture. Today we have an incestuous bind with the screen as a cultural artefact that has been domes ticated into our everyday lives over time and invoked as a medium for voyeurism and pleasure-seeking. Where the screen once stood for the construction of a wider world beyond us, today it is a theatre for assembling ourselves and narrating our lived moments to others. The digital screen self is a self that is made vulnerable through its screening yet a self that is constantly mesmerised by its own image online. It represents a potent moment in the digital age. Where the mirror and screen become one is the project of the self in its journey of self-discovery. Historically, the mirror has been intimately linked to the composition of the self.
In our age of the screen, our notions of what is private and public become redefined, as we offer ourselves as commodities for the consumption of others. With the convergence of technologies, we are able constantly to record and capture ourselves on the move, making the self both a subject and an object of production and consumption online. The banality of the everyday, and equally the mix of life experiences of the self, bind the ordinary with the perfunctory, entwin ing both the ordinary and extraordinary into narrations of the self online.
The screen predates this postdigital age both historically and culturally in terms of our fascination and obsession with it. Most societies have a deep resonance with the screen for the modes of escape and fantasies it offers. The screen is symbolic of worlds beyond us and equally for locating us within it. The smartphone is considered the pocket mirror of our time. In many ways, it significantly shapes our interpersonal communication today and extends existing cultural techniques of self-reflection and the production of our self-images.
My work concerns and influences the basics of human perception, our comprehension, and our relation to the world and the people in it, and therefore creates a space for the unthought beyond market-orientated art manufacturing. The idea of my art is to seek new insight and knowledge in a methodical and systematical way. In my interactive installations, in which the observer is keyed in live via digital video technology, I explore the construction of reality and the inherent alterations of our conception of reality. Therefore I pursue interdisciplinary artistic approaches und realise my projects in an interactive and participatory way. My artistic work raises questions, these questions are asked in visual way.
The viewer enters into the sudden interaction with the things he/she sees on the screen and is caught by him/herself as a consumer, which has a passive observer role as well. Self- observation and the observation of others are leading, in a subtle way, to a resonant system between subject and object, which unveils that the observer becomes the observed. My installations represent the mode of process of the relationship between human beings and their environment.
In these film scenes certain emotions are shown in an intensified way and originate in the basic emotions. Although the emotions shown in these scenes, become clear, it is possible that the viewer perceives his or her emotions in ambivalent mixed states. The film scenes can contradict each other as well. The individual is able to see him or herself in the projection as a „virtual“ mirror image in real time. Therefore I use a method which separates the recording of the front and the background, whereat the front presents the person itself and the background consists of previously shot film plot.
Through the video camera the beholder is directly integrated in the projection and thereby in the storyline of the installation. The projection shows short and related narrative film sequences and actions with interpersonal communication. By integrating the audience into the installation, the beholder becomes thereby a protagonist, a leading actor of the film plot. Each viewer becomes the main character and at the same time a narrator of the story. Both film layers, the previously shot film material and the live video material, merge to a uniform video. The live recordings of the camera will be cut into the film narrative, therefore the reco