Digitisation : A real Performance
Well that was certainly a first for me. As part of the Manchester International Festival I was asked to take part in a “Performance Capture”. This was a piece of art looking at the fundamental ways that digital has altered representation of the physical world.
I dutifully got changed into my fetching grey tracksuit and progressed to the white performance space in the public art gallery. Surrounded by cameras, microphones and computer screens I was fitted into a jacket, hat and gloves which were filled with wifi-enabled sensors to track my arm and head movements. This was taking “wearables” to the extreme.
Under the guidance of the artist, Ed Atkins, I proceeded to make my face do exaggerated gestures which were used to train my own personal avatar to match my muscle movements. In real-time I saw the digitised image reflecting my gurning features. My arm movements were then similarly mapped.
We were then ready for the performance. Encouraged to use all of my am-dram repertoire I read a piece of prose whilst being filmed, again in real-time the digitised image copied my every move back onto the screen. One take and it was over.
But my 3 minutes of film is being crafted together with 100 other similar performances over the 16 days of the festival. In the background Cisco equipment is helping to capture, edit and back up these images to finally create a film. The avatar in the film is essentially a white male, whose skin gradually ages as the film progresses, but whose mannerisms and voice matches the individual who read that particular piece of prose, be they male, female, child or adult – even down to their accent. Through the piece the artist was suggesting that Digitisation de-humanises.
Well I’m not sure about that. But for me the experience again reflected the power of technology to rapidly re-create movement in real-time. Also once the image is in digital form, the huge possibilities that then opened up in terms of creativity and knowledge are staggering.
At least I can now claim that I am a work of art!