Image: Still taken from the video Behind the Scenes
UPDATE (12/18/14): Please see end of this post for new information.
Artist Mark Farid would like to live for 28 days as another person through an Oculus-Rift-like, virtual reality (VR) device. His project Seeing-I will take place in 2015 at a London gallery, based on the success of its Kickstarter campaign (and additional commercial and public funding).
Why has Farid decided to do this? From The Verge article “How to live for a month in virtual reality”:
"It’s to see if who we are is an individual identity, or if there is just a cultural identity that kind of takes us on,” says Farid. “I’ve grown up in the city my whole life. So everything that I’ve seen—the square gardens that we have, the tree that’s planted in that specific place, the way the wind travels down the road ... all of that is artificially created,” he says. “Every experience that we’re having is synthetic."
I'm curious how he will record these changes in identity. People write in a journal or diary to record personal thoughts or wander through writing in an attempt to solve problems or gain insight as they form their identity in real life (IRL). Could Farid write in a journal during his project?
If Farid were to keep a journal, a virtual reality technology could be an obstacle. With a headset constantly being worn throughout the project that shows another's life, Farid would not be able to see a journal and pen or laptop from his own perspective. This would make it impossible to write.
The desire to become another presents limitations, as well. Removing the headset to write during the project could take him out of the headspace of “Other”—the person whose life he will be virtually experiencing—too much. Doing so could even negate the immersive, identity-blending effects of living virtually as another.
For one hour during each 24-hour period, Farid will talk with a psychologist monitoring his health and well-being. Could he write down his thoughts for a bit during that time? Perhaps a modification in the VR headset could allow this? If so, who would Farid be writing for, and who would he be writing as?
Writing during this project could become an indicator of state of mind throughout it. If his identify is challenged or blended with the “Other” during this time, I think it would show in his writing, even though Farid may not be aware of it at the time. In addition, I wonder about the cognitive changes in his writing process that could occur during this time. After looking through a virtual reality headset for so long, how would it affect his handwriting? Does a shift in the handwriting style signify some sort of identity shift, away from Mark Farid and towards someone else? How does a person attempting to live through another's life express written language, especially since what we write is so tied to our thoughts and how we communicate?
I think adding a writing piece could result in a rich record of what the artist experiences during this project. If Farid cannot write during Seeing I, he could write about the experience soon afterwards, in sort of a stream of consciousness/"brain-dump" way, to record as much memory, observation, analysis, and emotion from the experience as he can to refer to later.
Looking foward to hearing more about Seeing-I's progress. It hints at the possibility that science fiction offers with present society's beginning attempts to find virtual reality's place in our lives. The outcome could fuel creative imaginations, multimedia art and technology projects, and identity/virtual worlds research, also.
Interested in being the "Other"? Applications are being accepted here.
If understanding a brief history of virtual reality art projects intrigues you, read the above mentioned article from The Verge. It contains relevant outbound links to VR/art experiments that I had never heard of and is highly informative.
After some thought, I have decided to email the Seeing-I project about my ideas from this post, and I will update if I hear anything back that merits an interesting share.
UPDATE (12/18/14): I emailed this post to the Seeing-I project and heard back from Nimrod Vardi, Curator/Director of Arebyte Gallery, which will be hosting it. To clarify some of my questions above, Mr. Vardi explained that at this stage, "Mark cannot be doing any writing as he will not see what or where he is writing." Still, he is completely subject to the Other's activities. If the Other writes, then Mark would write, and the project will have to figure out how to make that work. In addition, Seeing-I will now receive funding from commercial and public sources, in addition to the Kickstarter campaign. I'll post updates as the project proceeds.