On a recent visit to the Dia:Beacon, I came across the artist Matt Romein. He was visiting the exhibition with mutual friends and we ended up spending the afternoon talking about his work. Matt is an artist and performer and resident researcher at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Matt‘s has a background in the performing arts and acting. As an creative coder he is experimenting how the physical body can be augmented and distorted by technology working at he intersection of generative computer art, live performance, and multi-media installation.
His most recent project is called http://downloadmybody.com.
Simply select Matt or Joe and click the download button in order to receive your digital copy of our body.
On the website, any visitor can download Matt‘s or Joe‘s body in form of a 3D model file and print it out with a 3D printer.
We invite you to use our bodies to do whatever hilarious, horrible, or questionable things you can come up with.
If we asked the scholar Lev Manovich, reading his essay about the history of the externalization of mind (2006), we could classify downloadmybody.com as Matt‘s attempt to externalize his own body. We can copy, download, print and distribute Matt‘s 3D nude. His avatar can be understood as a prothetic that extends the artists body. By making it accessible online in any file format, the individual state of Matt‘s body became part of a public sphere.
Unobservable and interior processes and representations are taken out of individual heads and put outside. |…| Now they can be discussed in public, employed in teaching and propaganda, standardized, and mass distributed.
If we look at other projects of Matt, we can not only apply them to the concept of the externalized body but also to Manovich‘s theory of the externalization of the mind. When Matt codes his art pieces, he has to take his abstract ideas, cumulate them in code and translate his internal private mental process into external visualization. The results can be “easily manipulated, mass produced, and standardized on their own.” (Manovich, p.215). Taking the example of Matt‘s project Choreographic Taxonomy for Real-Time Avatar Puppeteering we can see how technology, in specific 3D scanning and motion capture, can work as a cognitive prosthesis to experiment with choreography.
In order to scan his body in 3D and to create a high level scan, Matt used photogrammetry. Using a single DSLR he took up to 100 photos from a variety of angles and matched them using a complex algorithm. After creating his 3D Avatar he used motion capture technology to translate a dancers movement to his avatar and to then manipulate the adapted dance by creative coding. Matt breaks with the “typical 1:1 ratio of actor to avatar” in order to “create a new form of hybrid physical/digital performance and a language for choreography that is physically impossible”, as he describes on his website. Let’s look at three examples:
In Limb Anchoring, body parts, here the head in specific, are being anchored and stretched from the rest of the body. In Rag Doll Blending we have two avatars that are being manipulated in their movement, the left avatar’s lower part of the body seems to get out of control and moves in a physically impossible way, the right avatar’s one upper part of the body does the equivalent counter motion. And in Slip Stream we can see an echo of the slippage of the movements. The digital created body functions as “new cognitive prostheses” (Manovich, p.205). The image is generic, as anyone’s 3D avatar could be applied to the dancer. The avatar functions as a “new metaprostheses“ (Ibd.). Thanks to advance in electronics, computers and neuroscience, the artist is able to “externalize mental process in real time” (Manovich, p. 215) during his live-performances for example.
If we compare this art form to film and theatre there as some similarities but also distinctions reading Lev Manovich. Manovich describes how photography and film functioned as a machine for the externalization of ideas. We could understand the technology that Matt uses, as an extension of photography and film. As he a takes a 3D photo of his body and then animates it to a moving 3D image. The theatre, in contrast, restricts the performer to the limitations of physical reality and is limited to the progression of time, as Manovich states (p.2o6). Matt’s live performances are also restricted to time but not to physical reality an can be understood as a hybrid.
Choreographic Taxonomy and downloadmybody.com are only two examples of Matt Romeins experiments that could be applied to Lev Manovich’s theory of the externalization of mind. The way that he the artist uses 3D technology, challenges the way we think about dance and the performing arts. There are many more areas to discover. Will we continue to see advancements and who know, soon will all be able to animate and disrupt our own avatar… According to the start-up Didimo, that just recently won the Women Who Tech Challenge 2017, we already have the chance to simply build our own avatar and use them on our mobile devices and social networks:
Find your digital you and create a Didimo from a single photo. Your Didimo can then be customized, shared with friends and used in an increasing universe of apps and software. Your Didimo can change how you experience a multitude of digital experiences, bringing greater engagement and fulfilment to your digital life. By embedding you, the person you know and trust most into your VR, gaming and social interactions heightens your belief and ultimate enjoyment.
It is an exciting time to be able to witness the implementation of 3D technology in the arts and in our every day life, and to see how this technology will continue develop in the future and will influence they way we interact.
Eve Weinberg, Or Fleischer: About, http://downloadmybody.com
Lev Manovich: Visual Technologies as Cognitive Prostheses: A Short History of the Externalization of the Mind, in: The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future, by Martha Smith & Joanne Mora (publ.), MIT 2006
Matt Romein: About Matt Romein, http://matt-romein.com
Matt Romein: Photogrammetry Process, in: xStory, ITP 2016 https://itp.nyu.edu/xstory/photogrammetry-process/
Matt Romein: Photographing the Human Body for Scanning + Post Production Techniques, in: xStory, ITP 2016 https://itp.nyu.edu/xstory/photographing-the-human-body-for-scanning-post-production-techniques/
Matt Romein: Real-Time Avatar Puppeteering for Live Performance, in: xStory, ITP 2016 https://itp.nyu.edu/xstory/6868-2/