Identity Multiples

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Week 5: February 11 – 17 (Adobe Connect)

A discussion of identity construction and character formation in performance: the notion of the double, the avatar, and the narcissistic lure of the alter ego. An in depth look at historical and contemporary role-playing in online environments: MUDs, MOOs, Second Life, the Palace, hypertextual fiction, game strategies, e-life, and other forms of text-based and graphical desktop theater. We will study works and forms that include choreographic and gestural works in virtual space, as well as social media and networked relations between active performer-participants assuming multiple identities and character. We will explore the psychological dimensions of “life on the screen,” including the effects of multi-tasking, the confusion of identity, alienation, aloneness, fragmentation, and addiction.

Schedule / Assignments

  • Tuesday, 2/11: Class meeting (8:00 PM – 11:00 PM, Adobe Connect)
    • VDMX + Ableton Live software installation update, computer login (will discuss Ableton/VDMX next week and begin special sessions)
    • WordPress: avatars, names, (home page) (Ashley’s email notification); names, bios, Website (student sites); featured images (aggregator); categories, assign to parent: da9005.
    • Presentation / discussion of Week 5: Identity Multiples
    • Guest Artist, Eugene Soh, Inhabiting his alternate world
    • Discussion of part 2 of the Project Hyperessay: Influences (read hyper-lecture first)
    • Assign critiques for next week
    • Livestream broadcast next week via The Post Reality Show
  • Critique assigned work in a short blog post with media illustration and Research category (approx. 150-250 words with media) (due February 18)
  • Complete Part 2 of the Project Hyperessay: Influences (see Project Assignments) (due February 18)

Week 5: Hyperlecture

“The internet should be understood not only as an instrument for transfer and distribution of information, but rather as an “open resource” of a participatory order. The net is a comparatively unique cosmos of invented identities, partakers, and accomplices in joint forces, hidden in the endless labyrinth of home pages, chatrooms, and communities.” – Andrea Zapp

“As the boundaries between the real and the virtual, the animate and the inanimate, the visitors, and the multiple self are eroding. “identity on the computer is the sum of your distributed presence.” – Sherry Turkle

“The Network creates new relationships between being fictive and being realized. Being fictive becomes seen as an integral point of being real…. Fiction will deepen so that one may fall in and never emerge… Our online identities may become more important to us then is our “real life” (RL) identities. Fictive VR may become more useful then personal RL.” – Sheldon Rena

Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double (1938)

“For Artaud, the double of theater is its true and magical self, stirring other dark and potent shadows which rail against a a fossilized, shadowless culture ‘as empty as it is saccharined.'” – Steve Dixon / Antonin Artaud


From Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance (pg. 242): The digital double projects itself online and on stage to take numerous forms, from the textual characterizations of role-playing MUDs and MOOs to the graphical avatars of virtual worlds; from the theatrical depictions of cyborgic alter-egos to the parthenogenic (embryonic growth without fertilization) creations of artists’ substitute-selves in the form of anthropomorphic robots.

In the writings of Antonin Artaud from his Theater and its Double, published in 1938, the performance artist from the early 20th century transformed theater from a primarily text-based, literary medium to one that embraced all the arts and poetic utterance as equal components of the theater. Artaud attempted to connect theater to an exalted, spiritual view of life, such that the heightened moment of the theatrical gesture would be a transformative one, challenging and even rejecting the status quo of material existence. Artaud considered this process an alchemical transformation, in which a performer would convert gesture, word, poetry, staging into a transcendent or even “cruel” depiction of human existence as a means of transforming himself, as well as the viewer. One of the essential ingredients of Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” was the creation of the Double, the avatar, the representation of oneself in a heightened state, as a vehicle to represent this depiction of life. Artaud’s theory of the Double sets the stage for our own online representations that have become ubiquitous in the digital culture.

Artaud and Virtual Reality

From Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance (pg 242): In his discussion of theater as alchemy, Artaud became the first person to coin the term “virtual reality.” Linking the chimeric nature of both theater and alchemical symbols, he describes how “theatre’s virtual reality develops… [on the] dreamlike level on which alchemist signs are evolved.” For Artaud, since alchemical signs are “like a mental Double of an act effective on the level of real matter alone, theatre ought to be considered as the Double, not of this immediate, everyday reality… but another, deadlier archetypal reality.” A doubled reality or “virtuality” becomes the fulcrum for Artaud’s theater of cruelty, which, like the Balinese dance he witnessed in 1931, enacted “a virtuality whose double produced this intense scenic poetry, this many-hued spatial language.”

As we have already seen, virtuality is a space where we can stage imaginary situations, either in traditional theatrical form on the stage within the proscenium arch, or on the computer screen where performers are represented by avatars and the viewer engages with them interactively, or in the third space, where viewers themselves become performers interacting with one another telematically. Artaud’s concept of the theatrical Double, as well as the “virtual reality” in which the Double inhabits, creates a powerful way of thinking about contemporary manifestations of one’s alter ego or virtual representation of self in the form of the digital avatar. When we construct a double of ourselves, whether through social media or in a role-playing multi-user game, we are, potentially, entering the alchemical, transformative theatrical space that Artaud so powerfully defined in the late 1930s.

Artaud was influenced by the ritualistic theater of the Balinese Wayang (opera) or Wayang Kulit (shadow play), in which performers employed puppetry to create shadow play as representations of a character or avatar. This powerful and evocative fusion of music, rhythm, movement, gesture, shadow, and light, all fuse together into a multimedia form that sets the stage for our understanding of the virtual worlds of today, and the way in which we inhabit these worlds through our avatar doubles.


Balinese wayang performance, image from Gustavo Thomas Theatre

Merce by Merce by Paik / Nam June Paik in collaboration with Charles Atlas and Sigeko Kubota (1978)

From Electronic InterArts Website: Merce by Merce by Paik is a tribute to groundbreaking postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham…, a stunning work of videodance by Merce Cunningham and his then filmmaker-in-residence, Charles Atlas.


Merce Cunningham performing Merce by Merce by Paik

Charles Atlas has explored what the artist calls “mediadance.” Merce by Merce by Paik from 1978, created with Cunningham, Nam June Paik, and Shigeko Kubota, is one of the pioneering works of performance video, in which the video screen becomes a new kind of performance stage. In the form of “mediadance,” the body can move and interact with other elements in ways that are impossible to stage physically. These works are not documentation, but a fully conceived medium unto itself, as Cunningham floats through landscapes, becomes a silhouette, transforms into shifting colors, becomes a multiple of himself, and seemingly flies through electronic space. Here the dancer is like a digital avatar, malleable, without gravity, and perfectly at home in the virtual space of the television medium.

In the electronic space, we might conceive the double as a multiple, which is what Nam June Paik, Charles Atlas, and Sigeko Kubota have done in this work. The dancer Merce Cunningham becomes a multiple in the video space, transgressing the space of the stage and engaging with virtual environments that are superimposed (through chroma key) or electronically manipulated and generated through video synthesis. The electronic environment as a space for dance is a malleable one, which gave Merce Cunningham a new kind of stage within the frame of the video screen that had possibilities far beyond the physical stage. In this space, the dancer moves in conjunction with his own body, passing through and overlapping himself, forming an ensemble made up of one original. This multiplicity allows the choreography to explore juxtapositions and combinations of movement in space with only himself as the dancer. The dancer can also inhabit the space with other dancers that are superimposed at different points in time, thus, live performance is no longer bound by traditional simultaneity, but rather a new simultaneity of occurrences are brought together from different points in time and space. Time and space is rethought, reassembled, and collaged. And the juxtaposition between art and life takes on new combinatorial possibilities, by introducing media elements from forms of popular and global culture.

“Television obscures art in life, and life in art. Can we reverse time?” In Merce by Merce by Paik, a two-part tribute to avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham and 20th-century master Marcel Duchamp, Paik and his collaborators question art, life and time through video. Paik’s electronic manipulations cause time and space to be layered and transformed.

Liquid Views, Monika Fleischman, Wolfgang Strauss, Christian Bohn (1993)

“The beautifully and psychologically compelling depictions of the human double within digital performance may not simply be reflections, alter egos, spiritual emanations, and mannequins, but dark sirens beckoning us seductively to the same mesmerized paralysis and ultimate death that was Narcissus fear.” – Steve Dixon

From Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance (pg. 245): The gallery installation places the user in the role of Narcissus, peering into water to study her own reflection. The user/spectator becomes not only an interactive participant but also the primary subject as performer, since her digital double is also projected onto a large wall within the gallery space, to be watched by other visitors.

From Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance (pg. 245): Bending over a horizontal computer monitor, the user sees a well or spring of virtual water: rippling patterns of graphics programmed using custom software to imitate natural aquatic movement and wave shapes. A minitaure video camea records the image of her face peering down, and computer software blends this pecture with the moving water. A touch-screen interface enables the user to disturb and affect the water patterns, creating wave effects to blur the “reflection,” or to make it disappear in a swirling whirlpool. This technological reworking of the Narcissus myth lends it a new and distinctly modern resonance. While we appear to look at our own reflection, it is not a natural reflection, but a video copy – an electronic simulation transmitted through lenses, chips, and cables, then repreduced as colored pixels.

In this interactive installation a monitor equipped with a touch-screen and mini-camera simulates the surface of a body of water, which seems to reflect the viewer. When viewers near the surface (the image on the TV screen simulates ring-like currents in a pond), they see their own reflected image integrated within a virtual scene. When they touch the screen, as interactants they generate algorithmic, water sounds and waves, which then distort the viewer’s mirror image (the computer simultaneously alters in real-time morphing the appearance of the viewer’s image, recorded live by a mini-camera). An additional intervening of the viewer increases the distortion, and after not touching the surface for a while the image again becomes as calm as ‹water› and a ‹tranquil mirror.› In the background, the participant’s reflected face is reproduced on a large projection surface; in this way, the interactant’s ‹introverted› gaze is also seen by the spectators standing nearby. This mirror-and-TV-screen can be understood as an interface that connects the real with the virtual world, as an interplay of image within image.

In Liquid Views, the viewer evokes the myth of Narcissus by starting at their own image transformed by the fluctuation of (virtual) water. The piece situations the viewer in relation to their own double, which takes on its own unique identity through the transformation. It is idea of the self as “other” that frightened Narcissus and caused him to die in fear of his own image.

Life 2.0, Jason Spingarn-Koff (2010)

Having thought about this for some time, and having seen everything unfolding and growing in Second Life, I would say that to a certain extent the virtual world must contain some sort of danger and risk and possibility of pain or loss to be interesting. I don’t think that we can create worlds of any kind that are interesting without them also being at least somewhat dangerous. That said, the virtual world is at a basic level a safer place than the real world. We do not have the ability in the virtual world to physically harm each other. And that is a very powerful change that I think brings us closer to our aspiration about what it is to be human. I think that the fact that we are emotionally in danger but not physically in danger in the virtual world is a tremendous positive step toward being all that we can be. So while the virtual world is not without danger it is certainly a good deal safer than the physical world that we, for the most part, live in now. – Philip Rosedale, found of Second Life

About the film (from the filmmaker’s Website): Every day, across all corners of the globe, hundreds of thousands of users log onto Second Life, a virtual online world not entirely unlike our own. They enter a new reality, whose inhabitants assume alternate personas in the form of avatars—digital alter egos that can be sculpted and manipulated to the heart’s desire, representing reality, fantasy, or a healthy mix of both. Within this alternate landscape, escapism abounds, relationships are formed, and a real-world economy thrives, effectively blurring the lines between reality and “virtual” reality.


Second Life is part of a lineage of multi-user environments: beginning with the MUDs and MOOs of the early 1990s, which ranged from entirely text-based virtual worlds, such as LambdaMOO from Xerox Parc, created by Pavel Curtis; to the primitive graphical environment The Palace from the mid-1990s, which we saw in; to Second Life, which surfaced in 2003, created by Linden Lab from San Francisco, which due to faster Internet bandwidth, dramatically increased the scope and quality of the graphical environment. In Second Life, participants assume (or create) avatars, explore (or build) virtual worlds, interact live with other participants, and even engage in a form of commerce using “Lindens” as the currency. Second Life is an alternate reality that exists in time and space with an economy and lifestyle of its own. This documentary by Jason Spingarn-Koff explores the ramifications of a “second life” existence: its perils, attributes, pleasures, and seduction. It also explores ways in which the viewer-participant / performer assumes an altered identity (or several), the theatrical double as Artaud would describe, where the alchemical powers of the digital realm enable possibilities of character and situation that go well beyond the known laws of real life (LR).

Director Jason Spingarn-Koff digs deeply into the core of basic human interaction by assuming his own avatar and immersing himself in the worlds of Second Life residents, whose real lives have been drastically transformed by the new lives they lead in cyberspace. In doing so, he manages to create an intimate, character-based drama that forces us to question not only who we are, but who we long to be.

The following is the full length film, introduced by none other than Oprah Winfrey:

For our upcoming assignment, each student in the class will write about one of the four primary characters in Life 2.0:

  1. A housewife looking for adventure in Second Life becomes part of a virtual couple, Avatar: Amie Goode
  2. The other half of the couple: Avatar (he): Bluntly Berblinge (Steven in RL)
  3. A woman who spends 20 hours per day creating virtual home decor: Avatar: Asri Falcone
  4. A man who becomes an 11 year old girl: Avatar: Ayya Aabye

Eugene Soh,

Soh_Screenshot 2014-02-09 14.06.19

Artist Statement: Eugene Soh is a recent graduate of the School of Art, Design, and Media at NTU. He uses his technological expertise to manipulate various forms of digital art, constantly aspiring towards new ways to share his work. His distinct conversationalist style allows him to engage his audience with humor and grace.

Eugene Soh will be our guest artist this week, presenting his recent virtual gallery space, an environment created in the game tool Unity that is similar to Second Life. is a Multiplayer Online Art Gallery that works in your browser with Unity Web Player. Like a physical gallery, there are new shows and gallery openings every 3 to 6 months. The viewer sees works from artists worldwide and interacts with whoever is present in the space.

This week we will inhabit as part of our class. In order to participate, you need to do the following:

  • Go to and follow the instructions to download the environment, you can then enter the gallery
  • Once in the gallery: Arrow Keys on your keyboard are used to walk forwards, back, left and right. Move your mouse to navigate and look around. The spacebar is used to jump.
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