Apportionment (Dear Vera) – β 01
We are largely just a collection of unknowable mental states of being; we operate among and perform against each other without understanding the experiences of the other person just as they do not understand us. We tend to have little control over ourselves, our emotions, our past, our mental health and even how we respond to it; similarly we have little control over the perceptions of others and their perceptions of us.
And yet — humans demand that the world react to us in the way we want it to; we demand that others acknowledge us our and our change. We meditate, enter therapy, hire life coaches, pray — all different sources that will eventually give the same advice: accept yourself, and do not try to change others' opinions of you.
And now — we have taken it a step further. We are now also judged by machines and systems that assign us identities within prescribed confidence intervals, prescribe what we see and how we approach the world, and from whom we cannot hide.
Apportionment (Dear Vera) – β 01 is an installation piece consisting of a computer-aided projection on three individual strips of fabric that uses a laptop with a webcam.
On each strip of fabric is a gothic eye with a series of horizontal lines above and below it. If a human steps close enough to the installation, the lines will animate and change colors, ranging from calm to intense. The eyes will fade away to be replaced by a single word drawn from classic tarot references, set in a blackletter font. Once the installation is resolved, the viewer can do nothing to change it — each type they enter the piece, the results will always be the same.
This technology of this piece was built in collaboration with Adolfo Rodríguez and Ognian Milanov.
The genesis for Apportionment (Dear Vera) was based on thinking about these issues for the past few years as I spent more time actively entering the world and trying to understand others' reactions to me and also to each other. I’ve been looking to explore projects that explore disconnects in perception, identity and the self based around my research and work in both modern technology and Freudian and Jungian psychology.
The goal for this is to surface some of these issues in a new form using a combination of technologies to create a piece that helps the viewer think about some of these themes. The viewer, through their presence, also completes the work — without the viewer the work cannot exist.
The form of this piece was inspired by the work of the artist Vera Molnár, in particular one piece built upon her mother's letters. One of the things that came through clearly is that the emotion of the mother was evident in the strokes of the lines — it was easy to see where the mother would get more agitated, angry or emotional.
Molnár had little control over her mother's reactions to her — when I realized this I thought of how much of my own life and thoughts about other people were about similar relationships that were so deep but that seemed so set in stone that it would be impossible to change. And yet, we persist.
This realization came about accidentally and unprompted when I animated the piece to try to understand some of the parameters. I realized that it was easy to understand this as two emotional states and I started to see each of these emotional states as something that the system was giving to me.
In the image below, the reaction is far calmer than the image above. This is much clearer with with animation, which is part of the reason why this piece will react fluidly and constantly to the viewer.
As the project evolved, I started to think about the system I was building and the technologies I was deploying. The system was evolving and learning about people using similar machine learning and computer vision technologies that are used both by companies like Facebook and by governments to surveil, identify and track individuals.
We have even less control over these systems than we do over the people in our lives.