Artist, Tegan Bristow, testing the facial recognition system in her installation, Unsaid.
Wits Digital Arts lecturer, Tegan Bristow, recently had a new interactive work selected for exhibition on the Spier Contemporary in Cape Town. Now the largest biennale of South African art, this is the second Spier Contemporary art competition to take place since the event was launched in 2008. This year the exhibition was staged in the Cape Town City Hall and opened on 14 March. Tegan was one of the 101 artists who were selected from the 2,700 submissions which were made to the competition. With the title "Unsaid" the piece was an interactive installation that made innovative use of face-recognition software to explore the hazy line between self-expression and self-obsession. The following question and answer session (and photographs) give a taste of the work which we hope to see on display in Johannesburg soon:
What were you trying to achieve/express with the work?
The work is titled "UnSaid". The concept behind the work is based on
the relationship between self expression and self obsession. I find
that in public media (predominately the internet) this is very
unbalanced and expression is often over blown and tends to be a waste
of space. In the same token the work speaks to the concept of the
"artist ego" and the relationship between interesting technique and
worthy expression as apposed to self indulgent excess. I made the work
with the Spier Contemporary Award in mind, as it’s curatorial agenda
is hard to understand. Of course the work is also drawn from my own
personality and my disregard for over the top egotistical expression.
As an interactive video piece, the audience, in interacting with the
artwork are put in a position where their own self expression and
willingness to engage is challenged and in so doing the person
interacting with the piece becomes more closely aware of why they
would or should express themselves.
Please describe the work.
The piece uses face detection software and was built using Open
Frameworks in C++. The interactive experience is as follows:
When someone enters the installation room they will see a video
mirrored image of themselves. The program will automatically draw a
black square over their faces, essentially blocking out their ability
to see their own faces but the rest of the body is still visible. On
the side of the block are a serious of sentences, each person getting
a different sentence; these say things like: "leave it unsaid",
"better left unsaid", etc. In the room is a microphone on a stand, it
is the only other element in the room and therefore entices the
audience member to actually say something or sing etc.
If an audience member chooses to speak into the microphone the black squares are
lifted and a golden pollen drifts up out of the crown of the heads in
the video mirror.
This is exciting and beautiful and also starts up a
timer that after an amount of time will aggressively attempt to
‘erase’ the faces with graphic crosses, scratching and blurring. The
idea is that the audience members will feel the urge to stop and when
they do, the black boxes with "better left unsaid" etc reappear. It is
a closed system that challenges self expression by encouraging and
then denying ‘a sense’ of self through an engagement with one own
mirrored face. There by putting the audience in a position where they
might question their own integrity and that of the "machine" artwork.
What was involved in presenting it at Spier?
Spier Contemporary gives each artist R2000.00 once the artwork has
been accepted. As an artist (particularly of such a complex
installation) you are required to install your own work. Because of
that I used the R2000.00 to fly down to Cape Town to install. This did
however mean that I needed to self fund alot of the equipment used in
the installation. There is a team of people, though very under staffed
who are very helpful and assist in the installation.
The exhibition is partly ‘curated’ and you are given a specific place
in the exhibition hall to install the work. What these decisions are
made on however is rather unclear.
What reception has the work received?
It is hard to tell because there is no direct feedback mechanism at Spier and
not being in Cape Town it is difficult to visit the installation
regularly and see the response. I have however received many
compliments from people who have seen it. The general response is that
it is lots of fun.
What plans do you have for work after Spier?
I do intend to re-show the work. I hope to install it in the
Substation Gallery at Wits to get a more personal measure of how it functions on a
daily basis and also view peoples’ use of it. I think from that I will
see if I would like to change or grow the piece, for further showing.
This was my first use of face detection software and Open Frameworks
and it was very successful, so I hope to create more works along the
same lines with face detection.
Anything else of significance about the experience?
I highly recommend the use of the Open Frameworks library.