Alter Ego (2005)

Alter Ego is a screen-based installation where the user interacts with what appears to be his or her own mirror image but which is, in fact, an avatar onto which the face of the user is mapped in real time. Alter Ego investigates the familiar sense of being outside of (beside) oneself, and plays with the experience of a loss of control over an aspect of the self. Using a computer to produce a semi-autonomous replica of the person sitting in front of it, Alter Ego invites individuals to question the various facets of their own identity.

Alter Ego investigates the familiar sense of being outside of (beside) oneself, and plays with the experience of a loss of control over an aspect of the self. Using a computer to produce a semi-autonomous replica of the person sitting in front of it, Alter Ego invites people to question the various facets of their own identity.

Full Description

In the installation, a stool with a curved black screen behind it is placed 1.5 metres in front of something that appears to be a mirror hanging on a wall. If you sit still on the stool with a blank expression on your face the computer will capture your image via a webcam located behind the ‘mirror'. Using data gathered from these captured images, the system reorganises a stored 3D model to look like you. As the computer is working you will see an image which forms your own ‘reflection’, mirroring your own facial expressions. After about thirty seconds this reflection begins to react to, rather than mirror, your expressions. For example: if you smile, the virtual face, or ‘alter ego’, may look surprised or angry, or may smile back. This dialogue continues until the system detects that the face has moved outside its field of vision, at which time it is reset.

The interface is designed to be automatic and invisible - it does not require conscious intervention (such as button pushing/touch screen etc). Alter Ego has a secondary audience comprised of those people who have already used the work, or who are waiting to use it, and who are discussing their ‘performance’.

The face of the Alter Ego appears like, but not exactly like, that of the user. Its facial expressions mimic those of the user, but they are not quite right. It is this gap that renders the work both intriguing and compelling. This gap introduces a sense of rupture between the observed self and the experienced self. At the same time, it points up the inseparability of human and machine; of conscious actions and affective responses. Alter Ego plays with our expectations, drawing attention to the subtle relationship between technological development and the transformation of human self-image and identification.

Alter Ego was made in collaboration with Professor Alf Linney at University College London. the project was supported by Arts Council England Touring and an Impact Award from the Wellcome Trust.

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