helmut newton photograph
So this previz isn’t exactly about Helmut Newton’s photograph Big Nude III, Paris 1980, or even about Newton himself, not exactly.

I was looking at a book of Helmut Newton photographs, many from the 1980’s, and I found myself wondering which of his subjects were now dead. And Newton, himself, is of course, now dead.

And I thought about all that Roland Barthes photography and death stuff. And that as non-corporeal sentiences, avatars don’t exactly die, not exactly, but since they tend to be tied to a single, corporeal, typist, that just like “fleshvatars,” avatars do, for all practical purposes, die. Often, in fact, at “younger” ages than meat puppets.

Some consider their physical and virtual lives to be isomorphic, that there is no distinction. Others take a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” or RP “never-the-twain-shall-meet” perspex.

Yet isomorphic or dimorphic, the avatar’s life is almost inextricably linked to the life, or less, of a given corporeal being.

Even if Marcel Duchamp had “given” Rrose Selavy to Walter Hopps, would Selavy be able to continue in a “real” way? This example is more of a thought example as I don’t think Duchamp actually developed Selavy all that extensively, but what if he had? Could Selavy then live on? Would Hopps be “breathing life” into Selavy? Or “performing” Duchamp performing Selavy?

Corporations, of course, often live on in powerful ways. Is the Walt Disney Company more or less “Disney” since his death. In the Eisner era some complained that the aesthetics weren’t always “Walt Aesthetics,” yet in becoming a corporate behemoth, one might argue that post-Disney Disney was more-Disney than living-Disney Disney was. That Eisner’s legacy (before the fall anyway) was Walt’s vision writ even larger.

Google has already changed a lot during Page & Brin’s lifetimes. How might it look when they have been gone for as long as Walt Disney has now been gone for?

Is an avatar more human than a corporation?
Does a corporation possess longevity beyond an avatar?

image of walt disney with chalk drawing of mickey mouse

Previz #59 – Polymorphic

In this work I propose to create a virtual, non-corporeal, intelligent, probably conscious, possibly sentient, being, who uses the “typing” services of more-than-one corporeal beings and therefore might have a reasonable possibility of living beyond the death or non-participation of any one, or even all, of the original corporeal beings.

These multiple typists would not instantiate an at-all-times identical being. Just as we are all non-clinical, non-acute “multiple personalities” in the different parts of our day, in different contexts, and in interaction with different individuals, so too these different typists would almost certainly manifest distinctions of persona, behavior, and dress.

Still, I wonder if it would be possible for them to instantiate a persona that is diverse enough to be “real,” yet not so inconsistent as to be “fake.” That is, to find the space in-between so-unsurprising as to be boring, and so-unbelievably-surprising as to break itself, as to be “fake.”

This “performance” is necessarily far more longitudinal than most of the works I have produced, and if it should be executed, I am uncertain of how to document the work without “outing” and possibly diminishing the integrity of this being.

Lots to think about.

The Avatar could be male or female, old or young, human or non-human. Whatever this identity might be, as suggested above, the various “participant typists” would not have to create lock-step services, yet The Avatar probably would not change from male to female nor from sixteen to sixty. There should be a level of consistency. Consistent but not monochromatic. A single, consistent person might wear a business suit, casual cotton, and perhaps even a latex catsuit, on different occasions and in different contexts.

An activity blog might be a nice way for the different “participating typists” to maintain a level of meta-awareness about The Avatar. Each participating typist could contribute funds and resources to The Avatar as they see fit, and each could reasonably disperse available funds and resources. “Dramatic” decisions, such as deleting wardrobe because it is too inconsistent could be at least presented, and perhaps debated, on the activity blog.

The virtual space I currently find the most productive is that of Second Life, but The Avatar could have presences or instantiations in multiple 3D environments including Blue Mars, WoW, OS Grid, EVE Online, and many others. Similarly, The Avatar could inhabit as many 2D / Online Social spaces (websites) as the Participating Typists are inclined to develop a presence on.

While this previz has focused on The Avatar surviving the death of the typist (“character surviving the death of the author”) it is likely that the experience, at least in the short-to-medium term, would be most compelling in the process of multiple typists collaborating on the instantiation of a rich, intelligent, presence. Perhaps a little like the old surrealist game “Exquisite Corpse.”

Oh, haha, “corpse” – back to the beginning – Helmut Newton’s exquisite photographs of people then living, but sooner-or-later-to-be corpses.

9 Comments

  1. Haha I believe in it!
    The problem with WoW is that several people sharing an account is against their TOU and it could result in that account being closed. F. ex if I share an account with perhaps Monerda, that account (mine or hers) might be closed because they can see we are logging in from two locations far away within a short time span. They do this to fight account theft and scamming, although this rule does not mirror how players actually use their accounts – it’s common for people you trust to know your login details (partners, friends, siblings etc), but Blizzard doesn’t distinguish 🙁

    But this shouldn’t stop us, it just means the WoW avatar is controlled by one person only (I’m up for it!).
    What I find intriguing about this project is the challenge of merging an idea of an identity with other typists/players (if someone is very adventurous, there are some easily accessible free-to-play MMO’s out there, f. ex. Lord of the Rings Online, which is MUCH more open than WoW for starting out and not spending much/any money).

    If we kept a story log on a blog where everyone wrote in 1st person, I imagine it would be quite the experiment to develop a consistent persona, something that everyone had to negotiate as we add stories to this person’s narrative.

    1. haha, yes, just as Google pulled out of China, The Avatar doesn’t have to “be in every market.” For the WoW market, I’d be the janitor anyway. Monerda probably isn’t at your level either, but she’d be able to fake it way better than me.

      I think the single greatest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say is…
      I was at a Rod Brooks talk in 2001, and somebody asked him one of those “will machines ever…” sort of questions and whatever the question was, his answer was,

      “I think we over-anthropomorphize…”

      “… people”

      That was such a surprising, but powerful insight… that so much of who I think YOU are, is really my projection onto you. Sure we do love and hate different people, so it’s not 100% our projection, they do have something to do with it. But if you think of picking up 2 plush toys, all it takes is a few stereotypic features and the “evil” plush toy is already tormenting our hero plush toy who must fight valiantly for the forces of “good.”

      This powerful projecting that we relentlessly filter almost everything thru, means that it’s probably easier than we think to create a “unified” being. If it looks the same, and virtual worlds have the extremely beneficial feature of hanging your name over your head so everyone knows who they’re talking to… then the fact that one typist is a little more abrupt… another a little more flirty… another a little more intellectual… easily fits within mood and context variability.

      AND YES I AGREE
      I think the story log / blog is key.
      It’s the one place to “integrate” the whole avatar persona. That’d be true if you handled the WoW instantiation and I handled the SL instantiation… but it’d be equally true if we had 5 typists piloting one account in 1 world… we’d still need the “integration” of the log/blog…

      Kurzweil writes about “syncing mind files”… and if you don’t backup your “mind file” you might have to relive / relearn some things you lost in a crash.

      So if we’re doing this I guess we should start the Log / Mind File / Blog… WordPress and Tumblr come to mind… WordPress being sort of more industrial strength… Tumblr maybe being friendlier for “non blogger” typists… What do you think?

  2. The “Polymorphic” or “DJ” project has begun. In order to keep it lite & easy we’ve decided to forgo any formal structure and just let peeps log onto the DJHaraway Resident avatar in SL and post “EXPERIENCES TODAY” photos to the flickr group:
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/dj2012/

    Message me if you’d like to be DJ’s typist for an hour… or participate in any other way.

    It’s funny… in a way the idea of photosynth
    http://photosynth.net/

    is to take “a ton of flickr pix” from diverse sources and integrate them into complex, integrated models and data sharing structures…

    And DJ too is “a ton of flickr pix” but integrated by the minds of typists at various global offices into the Global Brain that is, or will become, DJ.

    Hmm… maybe DJ can dump a bunch of pix on photosynth and create DJ Space! 🙂

    1. BTW, Marma & I had a chat this morning that led to this lighter, simpler implementation. Kind of like the “no commitments” cell phone plan you actually want!

      Corporations have financial incentive, and employee paychecks! to keep things going. And yes art collectives can do great work without too much financial reward, but it seems that a “weak tie” project like this maybe does best with the lowest barrier to entry possible.

      Marma pointed out that while DJ could have a longer than human life, it could also have a far shorter life. Lots of people say The Net’d be dead in a week without a zillion peeps constantly feeding and grooming it… so some effort might be necessary… but also a really lite structure should help.

      That lite structure might not scale well, just tossing the password about will mean that you’re compromised, hacked, stolen, or locked out sooner or later… but it probably does work well in the short run / smaller stage. Also, just as “Disney” isn’t any one film or plush toy, but a global force / entity… if a given DJ account was “stolen”… another could be created… the DJ-full-ness resides not in a specific “physical” place… but in conceptual space…

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