Self Portraits in the Time of Distance
After just a couple weeks of remote learning and our stay at home social distancing pushing all our meetings into a virtual interface, I begin to see myself in new ways. I can watch my facial expressions and the micro behaviors of my students and colleagues with aa finer degree of isolation. The video of the face, the portrait hovering in place, changes how we read each other and the significance of our facial body language.
It is an interesting experience, and for me often a very exhausting one that requires more abstract focus to engage with a group of floating heads (or in some cases boxes with letters). I am tending to look into the camera more when I remember so as not to be consumed with the pattern processing of all the facial flexing. I am also a little bored with seeing avatars people with just a name on the screen so I decided to play a bit with creating some new self-portrait avatars for various programs. Keeping my face in play, but distorting it to render myself as an altered persona in the virtual space.
In a time of forced high-intensity online interaction, we may discover new angles of our identity as we can transform our appearance in myriad ways. I am reminded of the book, a collection of essays from the 1980s, True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier by Verner Vinge. It was the dawn of cyberspace and we were in a crisis of identity management in an infinite virtual environment. Crypto was emerging as a field of inquiry that would define much of our latent interactions through the enmeshing layers of digital protocols. Who are we when we can transcend our constraints of flesh, and how do we really know anyone's true name?
This gives me a chance to do something productive with all those selfies cluttering up my hard drives. Many of these are strange moments passed back and forth between Lauren and me, never meant for public consumption. But they are also moments of emotion that capture something of who I am or was at the time. The transformations of the portraits through an interface with collages negotiates the territory between the foregrounded face and the background image scape. Edges become more ambiguous, I see myself dissipating, merging with the space of the world..
To be continued...