After seeing Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion World Map, a map projected on a flattened isohedron, we began working on the idea of using computer technology to transfer our physical bodies into two-dimensional images. The profundity of simple sculptural gestures translated through the mechanics of a map projection intrigued us. The representation of three-dimensional objects on two-dimension surfaces has been a perennial concern for artists through the centuries. The idea of simultaneity, where an object is experienced all at once -was a major theme of the Cubists and Futurists. “Selfportrait.map” explores this idea in a contemporary way using new digital imaging tools.
The earliest map projections were produced by first visually and later mathematically projecting three-dimensional details onto two-dimensional surfaces. With the advent of computers ever more complex objects could be electronically recorded and transformed. As artists accustomed to working with physical materials like clay, stone or steel we considered the manipulation of three-dimensional forms in virtual space as a non-traditional extension of the sculptural process.
The fragility and tenuous nature of life is a reoccurring theme in our work. Selfportrait.map explores the digital reordering of three-dimensional forms through a reshaping of the digitized body. A new way of representing the human figure was created by remapping its surface onto a set of simple shapes. In the process of unfolding the scans the computer generated a complex network of jagged seems and torn edges. Stitching utilities exist that allow the projections to be repaired but we considered their complexity to be highly evocative.
The scanner produces two kinds of body data. The first is a set of x,y,x spatial coordinates recorded by an automated laser range finer. The second is a flat, camera generated texture map of the same object’s surface. The camera travels around the object recording it as a string of digital snapshots. The two are combined into one by literally projecting the photographic data onto the three-dimensional surface scan.
We were aware from the start that the images captured by a traditional camera were limited to a single viewpoint. This fixes the photographic eye in time. Whether the picture is of a speeding bullet or a still life, the camera is limited by its position and temporal mechanics. Viewing all surfaces of a figure in a single instant, as one views a map of the world, places the viewer outside the frame of lens-based, perspective vision. With the photographic data produced by a three-dimensional scanner the views of the body become omni directional. This allows an unlimited number of views to be derived from a single scan and has the effect of liberating the image from the conventions of photographic representation. The result, in visual terms, is similar to surrounding the subject with an infinite number of eyes that can see all sides of an object at once.
The fusion of spatial coordinates and photographic textures stored as a plastic data file was of particular interest to us. Using a suite software tools we chopped our scanned bodies into innumerable slices. As each layer was separated from the next it could be viewed as an individual drawing. Changing the angle of the drawing affected its shape. By varying the depth and position of each slice a complex, painterly set of calligraphic lines were developed ones that looks much like brushstrokes.
From these sections we created a short animation. Imagine looking down at a topographic map, seeing only the topmost layer and then scanning through each strata, one layer at a time. Altering the angle and depth of the strata greatly affects the appearance, speed and motion of the resulting motion. By changing the camera view of a whole figure, and recording images from the camera’s rotation around the figure, we were able to animate a still, three-dimensional image as it rotates in space. In the completed animations the figure assemble and disassemble itself at times dancing across the screen and at other engaging in a macabre snowfall of thin slices.
This amazing tool has allowed us to interact with the in ways unimaginable until recently. We are just beginning to explore some of the issues raised in working with the spatial, temporal and calligraphic data produced by the scanner and its software.
by Bill Outcault and Lilla Locurto