Virtual Doppelgangers: Embodiment, Morphogenesis, and Transversal Action

The session will address both artworks and theoretical frameworks that engage our replicated bodies, the affective relations they create, and transversal effects across multiple environments, platforms, and physical appearances.
Dates: 
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Patrick Lichty
Chair Person: 
Susan Elizabeth Ryan
Presenters: 
Gregory Little
Presenters: 
Elle Mehrmand
Presenters: 
Micha Cárdenas
Presenters: 
Stephanie Rothenberg
Becoming Transreal, UCLA Freud Playhouse, November 2010
Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, February 2010
Wiki-Abmeyad, Pendergrast Gallery, April 2011
Second Life Maternity Center

Chair: Prof. Patrick Lichty
2nd Chair: Prof. Susan Elizbeth Ryan

In 1969 Gilles Deleuze theorized the “BwO” or Body Without Organs (in The Logic of the Sense, after Artaud’s original term). It refers to the virtual dimension of the body and its potentials, likened to the egg as site of embodiment (in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus)—a set of multiple potentialities as well as dysfunctional repetitions. In this panel we seek to explore the relations between fleshly bodies and digitized ones as sites of embodiment for our current, informatically energized existences.

From Facebook relationships to performances in Second Life, many of us experience various parts of our lives virtually today. But how are these experiences absorbed into our so-called “real lives”?  In what ways do our virtual and physical spaces intersect—are they agglomerated realities (Haraway), or embedded in some ontological continuum? There have been controversies and supporting studies (esp. concerning virtual games) suggesting that excess social mediation is harmful towards our “sense of reality” and ability to interact in society. But researchers of virtual life like Nick Yee (Director of the Daedalus Project survey of MMO players) have shown that avatar experiences positively affect our physical lives and personalities. Still, new research supports old wisdom that too much virtuality is harmful toward our “sense of reality” and ability to interact in society. How are we to think about our bodies and their virtual doubles?

Artists and designers know the metaphysics of the BwO. They have created innovative ways to explore how virtual experiences can radically transform our real-world identities, as with Micha Cárdenas’s Becoming Dragon (2008); or socioeconomically impact the physical world, as did Rothenberg and Crouse’s Invisible Threads/DoubleHappiness Jeans project (2007-8). The session will address both artworks and theoretical frameworks that engage our replicated bodies, the affective relations they create, and transversal effects across multiple environments, platforms, and physical appearances.

Paper Abstracts

Avatar Manifesto Redux

by Assoc. Prof. Greg Little

In 1989, after experiencing Jaron Lanier and VPL Research's Reality Built for Two virtual reality simulator, I began to speculate upon how we might appear to one another in Multi-user Virtual Environments (MUVEs). The potential for choosing non-consensual, mutable, or hybrid self-representations was dangerous and fascinating on multiple levels. As I created a series of images called “identity constructions” and designed prototypes of potential interfaces, the World Wide Web appeared, Neil Stephenson published Snowcrash, and online spaces like AlphaWorld™, WorldChat™, and WorldsAway™ combined MUDs with virtual reality. As the Web increasingly became a space for the exchange of goods and services and these 3D chat spaces became environments for surveillance and mapping psychographic segments, it became clear to me that the most significant property of the avatar was the freeing of personal identity from mapable relationships to consistency and social consensus.   The use of the avatar in on-line shared environments had the potential to become a revolutionary polymorphic trope unhampered by issues of class, race, gender, beauty, or age; capable of diverting capital's flooding force of colonization; and offering each of us a safe haven in an unconsumable body of our own. The avatar became a potential site of resistance, a trickster figure in the belly of a monster.

In 1999 I published “An Avatar Manifesto,” an essay that posited a historical and theoretical definition of the avatar, contextualized the avatar among other types of representation, and articulated a set of strategies for building avatars that would resist the growing vision of virtual space as a new utopian shopping mall.  The essay referenced Donna Haraway's “Cyborg Manifesto” of 1986 but used Artaud's trope, “The Body w/o Organs” as a point of reference for the construction and articulation of representations of the self within digital, virtual space.  “An Avatar Manifesto” was largely speculative in nature, as it was published at a time when there was little recorded history of our relationship to virtual realities and networks. In this presentation, “Avatar Manifesto Redux,” I will bring specific trajectories of the 1999 essay to bear on some examples of the current state of avatar research and construction.

Transreal Bodies and Digitized Clones: Bridging Realities With Sound, Biometrics and Motion Capture

by Elle Mehrmand and Micha Cárdenas

From 2008-2011, Cárdenas and Mehrmand have collaborated and made individual artworks which bridge realities and extend the body sonically and visually. Through these experiments, they have developed new technologies, aesthetic strategies and forms of political embodiment which are transreal, crossing the lines of realities and using reality as a medium. These projects work within what Ricardo Dominguez describes as, “concrete practices as speculation and speculation as concrete practices – at the speed of dreams,”  experimenting with ways of linking their physical bodies with our virtual doppelgangers. These experiments form a trajectory of Science of the Oppressed and point towards new lines of flight, models such as transreal, holographic and clone identities.

Becoming Dragon questions the one-year requirement of “Real Life Experience” that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery, and asks if this could be replaced by one year of “Second Life Experience” to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery. For the performance, Cárdenas lived for 365 hours immersed in the online 3D environment of Second Life with a head mounted display, only seeing the physical world through a video feed, and used a motion capture system to map her movements into Second Life. Subsequently, Mehrmand and Cárdenas collaborated on Becoming Transreal, using expanded versions of this technology to map two avatars’ motions in a slipstream narrative about futures of nanobiotechnology.

Cárdenas and Mehrmand began to collaborate on mixed reality performances such as Technésexual, in which the performers commit playful erotic acts in physical and virtual space simultaneously, using devices to amplify the sound of their heartbeats for the two audiences. An electrocardiogram was used to monitor the heart rate with an Arduino/Freeduino, playing a recording of the heartbeat at the live rate using Puredata. Temperature sensors modulate the pitch based on touch. DIY biometrics are used to bridge realities with audio, finding ways of exploring the space between realities. The mixing of realities in this project can be seen as paralleling our own experiences mixing genders and sexualities, queering new media. Virtualworlds such as Second Life facilitate the development of new identities, allowing for unimagined relations and relationships. Technésexual looks closely at these new relationships, and how they affect our everyday lives and horizons of possibility.

Best Practices in Banana Time (aka, Is That iPhone Working or Playing?)

by Assist. Prof. Stephanie Rothenberg

Since the Victorian era, hobbies have served as a form of leisure that offer both pleasure and subversively reinforce specific behaviors, value systems, and ideologies of the dominant culture. Activities such as collecting, gardening, or model building utilize many of the same tools and techniques found in the workplace. An analogous relationship between leisure and labor begins to emerge–work under the guise of play. If we fast-forward into the digital age, the tools and techniques of the past are now virtualized. The notion of collecting happens in Flickr and Facebook, gardening in Farmville, and model building in virtual environments such as Second Life. And similar to our Victorian handicrafts and 1950’s soapbox derby, the ideological and economic are intertwined. Yet, what was once an analogous relationship between our labor and leisure is now dialectical. In the world of social media there are no boundaries.

Through a brief survey of a few key social media applications and projects created in virtual environments that traverse both business and entertainment, this dialectical relationship will be put on the round table. How affect is produced through these embodied interactions and the role of strategic interruptions in locating sites of agency will be on the agenda. It will be fun.

Phantom Limbs: Affect and Virtuality

by Assist. Prof. Patrick Lichty

This essay addresses the issues of performance, affect, and virtuality in terms of interventions in online environments, and the phenomena of affect in virtual performance. Brian Massumi, in the foreword to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, wrote of the affective as different from feeling or emotion in that affect is prepersonal, or before the personal aspects of feeling and emotion. This leads one to believe that affect is as much hardware as wetware as far as the brain is concerned. Neuroscientitst V.J. Ramachandran popularized the discovery of “mirror neurons,” or a network of neurons dedicated to empathetically projecting the actions of others into the individual. The functioning of this set of neurons explains any number of behaviors such as distress for another’s trauma or projection when playing with dolls. This is why the mirror neurons are also nicknamed the “Gandhi neurons.”

But what of virtual performance? During the rise of performance art, the object had observed the Greenbergian implosion to pure form, and with Fluxus and conceptualism, the object itself as necessary part of art praxis had been obliterated. The body had become the repository for direct expression in art with the coming of performance art. However, with the recontextualization of seminal works by Marina Abramovic, with her Seven Easy Pieces, the meanings of the works as immediate, site-specific happenings became circumspect. This was further compounded by artists Evan and Franco Mattes, self-proclaimed “haters” of performance art, who remediated other seminal works, including those of Abramovic in the online virtual world Second Life. The process of draining the site of performance through decontextualization, then disembodiment, should have destroyed the event of meaning, but the performances of Mattes, Second Front, Kildall, et al retained some element of impact.  This presentation will explore the epistemic arc of performance art from Fluxus to Gazira Babeli, and discuss the importance of affect as intrinsic criteria of performance and where is has been retained in the virtual.

Bios of the Participants

Patrick Lichty

Patrick Lichty is a media artist, writer, independent curator, animator for the activist group The Yes Men, and Executive Editor of Intelligent Agent magazine. He began showing technological media art in 1989, and deals with works and writing that explore the social relations between us and media. Venues in which Lichty has been involved with solo and collaborative works include the Whitney & Turin Biennials, Maribor Triennial, Performa Performance Biennial, Ars Electronica, and the International Symposium on the Electronic Arts (ISEA). He also works extensively with virtual worlds, including Second Life, and his work, both solo and with his performance art group, Second Front, has been featured in Flash Art, Eikon Milan, and ArtNews. He is also an Assistant Professor of Media Theory and Experimental Genres at Columbia College Chicago.

Susan Elizabeth Ryan

Susan Elizabeth Ryan, Ph.D. is Professor of Art History at Louisiana State University and Fellow of the LSU Center for Computational Technology (CCT). She teaches contemporary and new media art history and has helped found an interdisciplinary Art/Engineering undergraduate minor at LSU entitled AVATAR. Currently she is researching artists' wearable technology. With Patrick Lichty, she curated Social Fabrics, an exhibition sponsored by the Leonardo Educational Forum, for the College Art Association, Dallas 2008 (http://www.socialfabrics.org/). She has lectured internationally on dress and creative technology, and contributed articles to Leonardo and Intelligent Agent magazine.

Gregory Little

Gregory Little works with computational art, 3D interactive virtual environments, and the cultural and philosophical implications of intersections of art and science. His projects have been exhibited and published in a number of international venues and presented at numerous conferences and on line-forums in the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  His theoretical essays have been published widely, including in Intertexts, Intelligent Agent, and Technoetic Arts. His current research focuses on poetic intersections of art and science through non-looping 3d animated visualizations, virtual environments, and large scale prints. He is currently teaching Digital Design at Lorain County Community College.  His past teaching experiences include appointments as an Associate Professor of Art in the Digital Arts Division at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, as a visiting researcher at The Virtual Reality Center at the University of Teesside in the UK, at the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy; as well as at Oberlin College, Brown University, and the Rhode Island School of Design. He has an MFA in Painting from the Yale University School of Art and Architecture.

Elle Mehrmand

Elle Mehrmand is a performance artist and musician who uses the body, electronics, video, sound and installation within her work. She is the singer and trombone player of Assembly of Mazes, a music collective who creates dark, electronic, middle eastern, rhythmic jazz rock. Elle is currently an MFA candidate at UCSD, and received her BFA in art photography with a minor in music at CSULB. She is a  collective member of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre 2.0 and the b.a.n.g. Lab, and is a researcher at CRCA <Center for Research and Computing in the Arts> at UCSD. Her work has been internationally shown at venues such as Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions <LACE>, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego <MCASD>, Highways Performance Space, Orange County Museum of Art <OCMA>, UCLA Freud Playhouse, CECUT, Mapa Teatro, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Gallery of the National College of Art and Design. She has been discussed in Artforum, Art21, the LA Times, Juxtapoz magazine, WIRED, Networked Performance, the LA & OC Weekly,  Furtherfield.org, the CityBeat, and VICE magazine.

Micha Cárdenas

Micha Cárdenas is an artist/theorist whose transreal work mixes physical and networked spaces in order to explore emerging forms of queer relationality, biopolitics, and DIY horizontal knowledge production. She will be starting her PhD study at University of Southern California's Media Arts and Practice PhD program in Fall 2011 and is currently the Interim Associate Director of Art and Technology for UCSD’s Sixth College in the Culture, Art and Technology program. She was previously a lecturer in the Visual Arts department and Critical Gender Studies program at UCSD. She is an artist/researcher with the UCSD School of Medicine, CRCA and the b.a.n.g. lab at Calit2. Her recent publications include Trans Desire/Affective Cyborgs, with Barbara Fornssler, from Atropos Press, “I am Transreal” in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation from Seal Press, and “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study” in Code Drift from CTheory. Her collaboration with Elle Mehrmand, “Mixed Relations,” was the recipient of the UCIRA Emerging Fields Award for 2009. She has exhibited and performed in biennials, museums and galleries in cities around the world including Los Angeles, Tijuana, New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Alexandria, Egypt, Bogota, Colombia, Malaga, Spain, Saas-Fee, Switzerland and Dublin, Ireland. Her work has been written about in publications including Art21, the Associated Press, the LA Times, CNN, BBC World and Wired.

Stephanie Rothenberg

Stephanie Rothenberg creates provocative interactions that question the boundaries and social constructs of manufactured desires. Through participatory performance, installation and networked media, her work investigates the mediation of the physical, analog body through the digital interfaces of commodity culture. She has exhibited, performed and lectured in the US and internationally at venues including the Sundance Film Festival, International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Helsinki, Singapore, and Belfast, Whitney Museum of Art Internet Art portal, Moscow International Biennial for Young Art, 01SJ/Zer01 Festival, Banff New Media Institute, LABoral Center for Art & Industry, Interaccess Media Arts Center, Trampoline Radiator Festival New Technology Art, Studio XX, and the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. Recent awards include a 2009 Creative Capital in Emerging Fields and a 2008 New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Award (NYSCA). She has been in residence at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, Harvestworks Media Art Center, and free103point9 Wave Farm. In addition to her own artistic practice, Stephanie is Co-Director of REV-, a non-profit organization based in New York City, that furthers socially-engaged art, design, and pedagogy. She is Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.