2015, Sculpture, dimensions and materials variable, cardboard, vinyl, wood, augmented reality app. (installation Jaffe-Friede Gallery)
If Gibson/Martelli’s Dazzle functions productively as a ‘untimely’ element which throws the contemporary into relief, then it is in exactly this sort of transposition that they bring in the ‘speculative’ mode, conceiving and realising alternative and possible-future uses for their technologies and ideas that are, more often that not, suffused with a quiet optimism, vitality and viscerality….
If Bob’s fourfold transposition from embodied agent in space, to lines on a chart, to points in the Cartesian dream-space on the screen and re-materialisation into the world of tangibility feels familiar, it is because this dimensional fluidity chimes with several technologies that are currently gaining a foothold in the popular imagination. From 3D printing to geospatial mixed-reality environments to haptic VR, the distinction between object and representation is fast becoming as difficult to frame as the idea of the contemporary itself. Bob, in all his harshly-compressed, low-poly glory, refracts this situation back to viewer by dint of reduction – multiple complex sets of data stripped down to what is essentially a ‘roided up pepakura model, unabashedly simplistic in a world of ultra-mimetic high-res CGI.
While Big Bob might be an unconvincing simulacrum in visual terms, he excels at getting the body involved in the viewing process. This is achieved, firstly, through the monumental scale and angular pose of the figure, occupying a substantial amount of the floor space in the cavernous gallery and thus carving up the potential affordances for movement in and through the space into a series of circuits and pockets. Secondly, the visually disruptive properties of Bob’s Dazzle and randomised-color gradient ‘skin’ come into play, interrupting apprehension of the bulk and positioning of the figure. This second nod to the viewer as an embodied subject is particularly effective; when we see one object at a distance behind another, what we are seeing is in a very real sense our own body’s potential to move between the objects or to touch them in succession…seeing is never separate from other sense modalities.(1) Skewering that process -however momentarily- provides an instant remove, a rupture that exposes the habits and limitations of our perceptual processes.
As mentioned earlier, Gibson/Martelli’s dazzle patterns pull double-duty as ‘triggers’ or ‘markers’ for a custom augmented reality mobile application created by Martelli, in which the camera of the device ‘recognises’ the pattern and superimposes three-dimensional imagery (the augmentation) into the presented image. The superimposed imagery occupies the screen of the viewer’s mobile device, on top of the digital representation of the space provided by the camera, which is filled with representations of dazzle camouflage – which was itself designed with optical representation in mind. This multiple layering of imagery foregrounds the simulacral nature of the experience, highlighting the ways in which images and technologies produce both each other and the viewing subject simultaneously.
The augmentations that form a key part of MAN A are kinetic, stylised representations of motion-capture data recorded by the artists in collaboration with a coterie of contemporary dancers. Depicted as humanoid forms, spinning discs, intersecting lines and dot patterns, the movement sequences are randomised and variously-scaled. As such, viewers are invited to re-calibrate their spatial and proprioceptive faculties to fully interact with the virtual liveliness on offer, to position themselves in all manner of heights, angles and distances throughout the gallery space and use a broad range on physical articulations to keep up with exhibition’s pixelated per- formers, which (due to their randomised programming) frequently preclude the adoption of a static viewpoint by dancing off beyond the field-of-view offered by the camera.
This subtle move of randomising the dance sequences and encouraging responsive movement is a clever one on the part of the artists. One the one hand, it points to randomness as a type of contemporary camouflage in itself; a pertinent response to time in which state and private actors monitor and monetise subjects through mass data aggregation and pattern recognition.
On the other (less spooky) hand, it serves as a partial externalisation of the mirror-neuron response, wherein performing an action oneself or simply observing another performing the action elicits precisely the same neuronal activity. While the physical behaviours of the viewers may not mirror those of the augment-dancers exactly, (or even closely – that would be somewhat difficult when holding a phone/ tablet, after all) they are nonetheless kinaesthetic responses to the visual information presented, with all the potential for expression and empathy that entails. And in a time of cyber warfare and drone strikes, what could be more untimely, more contemporary than embodied empathy?
(1) Seeing the Virtual, Building the Insensible. Brian Massumi. “Hypersurface Architecture” in: Architectural Design Vol. 68. 1998.
excerpt from Bobby Dazzler or: Reading MAN A through Speculative Fiction
– Kevin J. Clarke, 2015