Metadress on Steroids

November 28th, 2010

A few days ago I came across Robert Hodgin’s amazing and strange videos. Hacking a Kinect with CinderBlock, Hodgin transforms the information gathered by the Kinect camera and sensor into unsettling and surreal digital augmentations. Beyond its weird beauty, this video strikes me as symptomatic of several important steps toward an immersive mixed reality.
(1) As much current experimentation demonstrates, the re-purposed full-body 3-D motion capture and facial/voice recognition capabilities of Kinect can reach far beyond gaming and will eventually replace control devices in most human-machine interactions. Johnny Mnemonic-style intuitive gestural interfaces begin here and now. (2) Kinect translates the real world into digital data maps that can be used for real time augmentations. It is a tool for recording, interpreting and digitally reshaping reality. (3) The colorful electronic fatsuit worn by Hodgin represents a germinal stage of personal augmentation in AR, a first instance of metadress – the digital dress extension theorized in Œ No.1 ‘Augmented Selves’.
If formulating metadress I predominantly focused on mapping digital garments onto the human body, these images suggest a more radical approach, one geared not at clothing the body but at transforming it: metadress as cosmetic surgery. The human flesh becomes a plastic medium digitally sculpted for the presentation of self. Subjects may enlarge their eyes and lips, smoothen their chins, erase moles and retouch noses, but also multiply eyes, magnify cheek bones, animate foreheads and so on. I am reminded of the work of French artist ORLAN. The surgical operations she performs on her body embed the skin with intentionality, thus defying the inadequateness of the flesh in embodying who we really are:

Skin is deceiving – in life, one only has one’s skin – there is a bad exchange in human relations because one never is what one has. I have the skin of an angel but I am a jackal… the skin of a crocodile but I am a poodle, the skin of a black person but I am white, the skin of a woman but I am a man; I never have the skin of what I am. There is no exception to the rule because I am never what I have.1

Like ORLAN, subjects in the Augmented City will perform digital surgeries on themselves in an attempt to bridge the gap between exterior and interior, between how they appear to the world and how they perceive themselves.  In this perspective, metadress isn’t just fashion; it is the very flesh of our digitally redesigned bodies.

1. Eugenie Lemoine Luccioni quoted in David Moos, Memories of Being: ORLAN’s Theater of the Self (1996), (accessed November 26th 2010).