Sunday, January 30, 2011

Welcome to Reality

Living in an age where artists can construct entire portfolios in cyberspace without ever touching a canvas or picking up a drawing pencil has raised questions for me in terms of artist presence and identity. Constructing any kind of digital presence can be considered a form of artistic creation and the projection or extension of one's self. For example, the artist Oleg Dou commented on the nature of his digitally enhanced photography explaining that he strives for a type of presence in his pieces, what he describes on his website( the feeling of presence you get when walking by a mannequin. To do this, Dou photographs his subjects focusing on their faces, and removes physical idiosyncrasies so that individual physiognomies are blended into an androgynous prototype. As a result, Dou encourages the viewer to see the person in terms of a type of presence and accurate perception of the inner self of the subject. However, are these digitally altered photographs a new projection of the original model, or do they become a projection of artistic identity on the part of the artist, Dou himself? Furthermore, although Dou works to reveal an identity of the subject, the photographs do not portray actual physicality but Dou's own perception of the subject's inner self that he transfers to a digital space. It is this ambivalent, artistic cyber-oriented space that underscores the question of identity in digital spaces. Dou's altered photographs show a projection of himself onto a closed community of selected models and identities. His subjects become part of his own artistic identity; their characteristics are now a visual representation of Dou's creativity and personal aesthetic. Dou's final products blur a demarcation between two spaces: the physical space of the actual model and the abstract virtual space where Dou wants to display an inner essence of the model.

If we take the simple idea of artistic projection in a virtual space a step further to discussing the actual self in cyberspace, the question of identity becomes more complex. When one creates an avatar and enters a digital space, say in the game Second Life, physical, expected identity can be subverted to a new, more essential identity. In other words, when one moves about in physical space, one is subject to an identity that includes the imposed guidelines of society, i.e. social mores, as well as a set of behaviors that incite specific action-reaction combinations. Sets of expected behaviors act as identity signifiers. One might be a more "extroverted" individual or "shy" individual, "conservative" or "liberal" due to where that individual falls on the scale of normal social behavior within the parameters of a given society. Cyberspace elicits similar action-reaction identification standards based on written communication and interaction, but the individual is at a slight advantage in projecting how he or she perceives his or her real identity. For example, a person who retains the biological components of a white male in physical, societal space can create an avatar in the space of a game like Second Life that more closely reflects how that person truly identifies, say as female or gender fluid. A person can adopt alternative communication signifiers to accommodate this "authentic" identity beyond the parameters of what is expected of that individual in regular society. Thus, I'm particularly interested in this specific aspect of cyberspace culture, namely the ways in which individuals project themselves, especially artistically, to bypass certain parameters they would otherwise encounter in everyday society that limit identity.

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