Ars Electronica 2003
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Festival 1979-2007


Networked Portrait

'John Gerrard John Gerrard

Networked Portrait presents a contemporary portrait diptych composed of two 3D models. The portraits appearance and orientation can be changed by the user in real-time. This is achieved by physically manipulating the surface of the portrait mesh through a touch screen interface.

The screens are hinged and can be turned toward one another, with a corresponding change in the position of the portraits. During this movement the models attention switches from looking at the viewer to looking at the companion portrait. From this point of “eye contact” over real space a series of reactions occur depending on the sort of expressions previously created. Using Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (1) as a source, the strength and nature of the new expressions are judged and a sliding scale of responses ensues, over which the user has no control beyond reframing.

The motivations behind the work were developed along several conceptual lines. One impetus was to reassess the notion of portraiture as static form, and to reconfigure the genre as one that is fundamentally changeable or adaptable. This can develop to include a wider range of stimuli, such as temperature, proximity or temporal aspects, in tandem with manual interventions, as showcased here. In the case of portraits that respond to time passing by incrementally changing, the ideal installation site for these works is the domestic space. This provides the opportunity for relationships to be developed with artworks that change slowly over decades.

A focus of the Networked Portrait project is the creation of highly charged, evocative portraits in 3D, from photographic sources, (but not per se photo-realistic). (2) These models were built from the ground up using a multiple of photographic references, rigged for the required animation and polygon honed for optimum performance. Photographic-type portraits existing in three dimensions such as these and in particular photographic 3D laser scans create a break in the history of photography, in which the single photographic moment, long since detached by computer technology from ideas of truthful representation, becomes an object. Sculpture and photography begin to merge and the opportunity to evolve from the collage basis of much work in new media becomes possible.

In tandem with the development of appropriate and affordable display devices this trajectory away from frame based representations and the inclusion of real-time control of position and framing using gaming engines gives the contemporary artist the possibility to create what really are “moving pictures” in every sense.

Ekman, P. + Friesen, W. The Facial Action Coding System. Network Information Research Corporationback

Networked Portrait showcases real people, with the names of the sitters to appear in
brackets following the title. The images displayed here are work in progress concept renders, utilising photographic portraits.back

Concept and 3D portraits: John Gerrard; Interaction design: Erwin Reitboeck; 3D development: Martin Bruner, Aga Jalsovec; Electronics: Christoph Scholtz; Project management: Christopher Lindinger, Pascal Maresch.

Realised within the Ars Electronica Futurelab artist in residence programme, made possible by Pépinières européennes pour jeunes artistes 2003.