“body-parts”

With “body parts”, I wished to examine corporeality in the virtual realm, through the usage of the (non)-physical body of the avatar. An art installation created in Second Life®, which is meant to be accessed with site specific avatars, will provide the creative platform whereby I am undertaking this investigation. Thus, “body parts” seeks to challenge the residents of virtual environments into connecting with the virtual manifestations, i.e., avatars of others in an emotionally expressive/intimate manner.

Keywords

art, installation, presence, avatar, embodiment, physicality, corporeal, hybrid actor, experiential

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Background

Clarity of purpose has been attained from John Dewey on the experiential quality of art. In as synthetic a world as the metaverse where art work presented is still largely housed in galleries or museums, Dewey’s concern for the separation of the art work from its experiential functions seem to be well founded. Dewey draws attention to cultures, where aesthetic appreciation is integrated with day to day usage, adding that the present task at hand “is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience”, thus elevating art work from its current state of being the provider of mere “transient pleasurable excitations” into once again becoming the powerful carrier of experience.

I wished to create an experiential environment along the tenets of John Dewey; one which would aspire to create a socio-cultural presence as defined by Mantovani and Riva , from which the visitor might depart retaining a sense of “a place visited/experienced” as opposed to “a place seen” . Given the results of studies conducted by Yee and Bailenson which underlined my already strong sense of the importance of the avatar in the engenderment of “presence”, the installation is centered upon the avatar. Thus I have devoted considerable time to creating the avatars with which the visitor is expected to enter this installation, which will not reach its full potential unless these avatars are indeed utilized.

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“body parts” urges the visitor to celebrate life by looking outward, through connecting with the virtual body of another. Consequently, this installation needs two participating avatars, both of whom are asked to dress in custom designed skins adorned with attachments, in order to conduct a virtual exchange of heightened emotional intimacy. To this end, the avatars have the caressing hands of their virtual partner painted onto their own skins, while soft, tentacle-like human limbs reach out from their own bodies towards the other. However, the couple is not alone in that they are also surrounded by a conglomeration of sculpted human body parts melting into a mass of virtual humanity. This conglomeration of physicality is expected to create a sense of heightened connectivity through which the dancing couple may transcend into a state of collective consciousness, as would have been the case during Dionysian rites. Animated pose balls are scattered throughout the sphere, paired up to create intimate couple poses, which enforce prolonged eye contact and the invasion of interpersonal distance, the Real Life observances surrounding both of which are strenuously observed in virtual life as well.

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The sphere is white, which, together with the participating avatars, gets a pink ambient hue from the custom sunset colored sky setting. The sphere has been created as a stage for which a romantic valse has been choreographed. However, interacting agents are at liberty to modify the pre-set choreography by accessing the provided pose balls in a sequence of their own creation.

Given the importance of the existence of the audio element in the overall immersive experience, the sphere has a custom created sound scape consisting of a series of unintelligible, barely audible whispers and water gurgles embedded into it.

Artist’s Statement

I attempt to create an awareness regarding the absence of the expression of the tenderness and the complexity engendered by “love” in virtual worlds through an interactive installation meant to be accessed with avatars created for the specific needs of this piece; the urge to connect on a physical level. And yet the avatars are unphysical in their monochromatic, almost white state since no matter how many skins one buys or makes – the avatar is colorless in its very being. The lifeblood drained out of its body language has been replaced by the endless cycle of animations emulating physical expressions which a virtual embodiment cannot convey as it keeps on going through its graceful little routine of virtual poses.

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It seems that once we begin to scratch the depths of all of the creativity, the play and games – in the end what remains is a big howling empty space where physical connection should have been. This is loneliness. Aren’t we trapped in the perpetual youth of our avatar bodies with no way of showing our craving for intimacy? And yet, do some of us even crave intimacy? Have they not run away from the world of the corporeal to this land of “game”, of non-physical emotion and thus by extension, of non-emotion, precisely because they could not cope with the pain, the at times utter humiliation of the physical?

They are monochromatic, the avatars that are meant to go into this space – white as they should be. No room here for the illusion of the reality of the flesh: Ephemeral, a spook, a specter of a human being, an avatar, either trying to connect or desperately avoiding doing so. Here I am challenging them to it with whatever meager means are at my disposal: pose balls equipped with affectionate animations, paired up. So, really no sense whatsoever in hopping on one by yourself, you will need another ephemeral white being to complete the circuit as you slowly rotate in a landscape where all is body and yet all is silent, maybe even dead. That is what your physicality has become: As fleshless as these sculpted body parts embracing all around you, as you and your sweetheart slowly do your romantic valse.

Because it isn’t sex which is lost in the metaverse, but it is the expression of love. How, in the absence of a physical interface, can the subtle shades of tenderness, of caring even be conveyed? Or passion and joy? Anger, humiliation and hope? How far can type-chatter possibly go in the expression of what is probably the most complex of all human emotions?” The installation is intended as a ritual in which the avatars are expected to become integrated into the ceremony through wearing the attire and objects to attain an “intensification of the sense of immediate living”.

View a video of the “body-parts” here:

http://vimeo.com/3685002

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