Research II: Marina Abramovic – Imponderabilia


In June of 1977, Marina Abramovic performed a work entitled Imponderabilia with her partner Ulay. In a video recording of the work, Abramovic described Imponderabilia this way: “We are standing naked in the main entrance of the Museum, facing each other. The public entering the Museum have to pass sideways through the small space between us. Each person passing has to choose which one of us to face.”

This performance allows audiences to participate in the event in a performative and improvisatory manner, as “actors” themselves: neither as “spectators”, as passive viewers, nor as “agents”, acting in a preconceived or instrumental way. The audiences reactions were not rehearsed and thus what we see is an instantaneous and authentic peek into human behavior and how gender roles plays an important part in society.

It is interesting to note that more participants chose to face Marina as opposed to Ulay. I’m not certain if facing one or the other is a telling sign of one’s psyche, but it is apparent that Marina appears to be less intimidating in stature. It could also be noted that most participants split-second decision was to follow the direction of the person who passed immediately before them whichever the gender may be.

When visitors become aware that physical contact is inevitable; and have to choose to face one and turn their back against the other, they at least chose to refrain from making eye contact. We can contrast these conscious real life decisions with the ones made in the remake of Imponderabilia on a multiuser virtual environment, Second Life reenacted by Eva and Franco Mattes.

The only modification made in this reenactment is that the door frame they stood in did not lead into a museum; in fact, it didn’t lead anywhere at allAs seen in the remake, some participants on Second Life removed their clothing prior to stepping in between Eva and Franco. The performance raises questions that has the potential to highlight humanity through digitalised bodies or avatars. Because the performance weaves the technological environment and the body together, we can see that the performance “emerges as a site for examination and experimentation of the interconnected relationships between bodies and technologies”.

When online, people are not accountable for their actions and their actions bear little to no repercussions. They would dare and have the courage to react in such a manner only when semi-anonymous. I feel people can truly be someone totally different online than they are in real life, hence, I doubt the people who stripped would actually react that way when faced with such a situation. Modern technology has given us the ability to defy the physical bounds of identity and manipulate it in any way we choose without the demands of real world accountability.

As electric media proliferate, whole societies at a time become discarnate, detached from mere bodily or physical “reality” and relieved of any allegiance to or a sense of responsibility for it.
– Steve Dixon, Virtual Bodies, 2007

In conclusion, there is an increasing acceptance in society that the “self” can exist apart from the “body” in online activities as fragments – not only are selves separate from the body, they are not limited and determined by the mind’s entertainment in the body. Potentially, the “body” can simultaneously exist in two realities internally and externally experiencing and being experienced. Thus, body is a mere instrument in our happy immersion in cyberspace; the very idea of a mind and body split.

Project Hyperessay #2: Self(ie) Obsessed


Reflecting back on my proposed concept for the final project, I realised I had created a faceswop in a selfie without realising it about a month ago in the video selfie. Of course, this didn’t have any technical aspects to it, just involved a mirror and some dolls. However, I guess the main idea of people hiding behind a virtual entity and are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves and how other people see us still stands the same; with fancy software or not. A global phenomenon of the modern era, the selfie has become known as the ultimate form of self-expression.

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Click here to (re)watch my video selfie from about a month ago

Rarely a documentary genre, self-portraits have always allowed us to craft an argument about who we are, convincing not only others, but also ourselves.

-Casey Sepp, PSmag: In praise of Selfies

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As a result researching more about selfies and how people can make and pass judgements about us based on the kind of photograph of ourselves we choose to publish into social media, I found Are You Your Selfie?created by Ballantine’s Whiskey. This selfie-centered website provides a viewer participatory experience asks curious netizens to upload your own selfies, with anonymous others then give your honest impression by answering a number of light-hearted, set questions of a strangers’ profile pictures.

As soon as others begin leaving their opinions, the person whose image has been uploaded is notified and will be able to view the most common “impressions” their image has left, ultimately seeing whether the way that others perceive them is in line with the way they see themselves. Users are then given the further option to share one or more of those “impressions” via a visual representation generated by the site on Facebook or Twitter, encouraging their friends to also take part in this unique social experiment.

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Peter Moore, Global Brand Director for Ballantine’s, commented: “Given the current trend for selfies amongst the millennial generation, we hope that this exciting initiative will stimulate conversation amongst Ballantine’s fans online and provoke them to think about whether they are presenting a true reflection of themselves when they share photos online. 

What I learnt from this is that my project could take the form of a website where users input in their own photos to be shared with other users. Although the website works using a simple clicking mechanism, it is effective in bringing out the intended message. At the end of the day, the website could be like a database of user-generated content centering selfies and faceswops.

Looking more into how I can use the web to create somewhat of an “online exhibition”, Juan had left me with a comment on my Project Hyperessay post #1 with an example; #futureself by Orange Mobile. This website is rather interesting but yet creepy at the same time. Future Self takes a picture of your face, “ages” you by 20 years and then lets you chat with your 2034 self..

Apparently this is what I will look like in 2034 :/ Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 8.41.46 AMScreen shot 2014-10-15 at 8.43.22 AMScreen shot 2014-10-15 at 8.57.56 AM

“We took photos of our subjects and used software to create digital avatars — half of which were aged with jowls, bags under the eyes, and gray hair. Wearing goggles and sensors, participants explored a virtual environment and came to a mirror that reflected either their current-self or future-self avatar.”
– Hal E. Hershfield, Marketing Professor

Other than a website, a smartphone app can also be used as seen on the FaceStealer App on the iPhone demonstrated in the video below:

Yahoo Japan released Face Stealer, which is an amusing app that uses augmented reality to replace your face with someone else’s. The app comes with a collection of pre-loaded faces for you to immediately swap in—from Obama to Einstein—but you can also choose to snap anyone’s photo and replace your face with theirs. The app works with any iOS device with a front-facing camera.

Referencing from all the above case studies, I realised that the project could reside entirely online. Although a physical space to conduct this project is not necessary; but would be good if there is one. Probably in the form of screens showing passers-by the content on the site and filming their reactions as they look through these images. In that way, we would be getting different results from different people by capturing their different reactions, we could do so through different mediums and can be used to address and relate to the issue of active and passive identities:

Dr Aaron Balick, a psychotherapist who has written a book about the human motivations behind social networking, explains that we have both “active online identities” and “passive online identities“. “A passive one is like when you search for yourself, or when friends post information about you – it’s your online identity that you have no control over,” he explains. “Active online identities are ones you can control, like a Facebook profile. “A selfie is an expression of an active online identity, something you have some control over. You might take lots, but you’ll publish the ones you like – even if they are silly or unflattering.”

Execution wise, my lack of knowledge and experience about coding apps or creating websites to do this would limit me. However, I came across a site for the codes for these faceswap technologies in an open-source databases. All in all, i like where my research is bringing my concepts and ideas; expanding my understanding of these terms and broadening my horizons on these topics. 🙂

In summary, I have identified the stages of user interaction in my Swopfie as such:
1 – User takes a selfie/uploads one of someone else
2 – User obtains a manipulated, faceswopped selfie
3 – Said user is able to share swopfie with twitter, facebook etc
4 – Said user is able to tag him/herself/friends
5 – Said user is able view the dashboard of swopfies/search for friends or specific tags

The above 5-step process takes users active online identities and quickly takes away their control over the images/sides of themselves they choose to reveal on the net. In addition, by allowing people to tag their friends or create hashtags for posts, we are able to aggregate trends in the face swapping process. It certainly would be very interesting if there are users from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds participating. Aside from that, using tags will make it easier for users to find their way around the site, building up the number of page views and building up traffic.

If the blog were to go live and be projected onto a big screen at the adm lobby, it would be updated and passers-by would be able to experience and view the swopfies in realtime. These passers-by actions and reactions will also be documented in a video as this concept is similar to what we’re used to on the net; other users view and react to your photos and online profiles (some without even leaving a trace and you would have no idea that they were there in the first place). By documenting this installation on video, we’re able to expose the passive online identities: one these passers-by have no control over as they were documented then an there with no filter or anonymity to hide behind.

I believe that there’s so much we can learn from this activity of swopfies and sharing about social relationships, events, social upheaval, and other patterns of human behavior.