Concepts of connection and empathy are explored in "Entanglement Witness," a collaboration with choreographer Cindy Cummings that explores the transitional space between the real world and the virtual world. In a large darkened room, the audience walks through and around a triangular-shaped space built from three 2 x 3 meter grey video screens; the video is the only light source. There they meet a video avatar, played by Cummings, who beckons them into the screen environment. The 25-minute installation is in six sections and runs continuously, accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack in surround sound.
Several sections use a live video feed and video processing to attempt to break down the barriers between the self and others. Using an infrared camera, silhouetted images of the audience are captured, with the body cavity filled with moving water or moving light. This live "video mirror" flattens out the differences in the audience, so that they all appear similarly on screen. At these times, the Avatar is similarly transformed, so that all of the audience members and Cummings appear as very similar moving bodies on screen. The effect is to imply a complete world, where audience members are invited to interact with each other and with the avatar. In addition, the projectors are positioned so that participants moving inside and outside of the triangular space may cast shadows onto the screen, and subsequently have their physical bodies "painted" with the moving light from the projector. lessmore
The projection of Cummings is life size, shot against a black background, and she stands on the floor, eye-to-eye with the audience. She appears, most of the time, as a "normal" person, casually dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt as she earnestly tries to connect with the audience, using constant eye contact and pedestrian movements. Her facial expressions, movements and demeanor are all designed to "make contact," to initiate an empathetic connection and response from the viewers. However, the virtual world is not exactly like ours, the avatar’s movements behave by their own laws of physics as they are all shot in stop action mode. This was a difficult process that required Ms. Cummings to move very slowly, with the camera taking five frames per second, so that she would look "normal" on playback at the usual 30 frames per second. The result is an uncanny image, with the ability for parts of the body to move at hyper speed, or for the entire body to hover and float.
There is a large repertoire of bodies appearing in the installation blurring the physical and the virtual, and in empathetic relationship: the "filled" projections of the audience, the "filled" body of the avatar, audience shadows on the screen and live bodies colored with moving projection light. At these moments, all members of the audience and the avatar are made of the same material, with everyone's body outline filled with the same moving video. There is a liberating loss of physical detail in the silhouette; what is left is the expressive outline of the body in social interaction with real and virtual characters. The close physical proximity of the participants and the interaction with the projections are designed to create an empathetic experience.
The installation asks questions about our relationship with technology. How may we physically interact with virtual characters and real people represented virtually? How connected can we feel to a prerecorded image compared to others in the same room? In the computer age, what does it mean to be "live?"