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A Syncretic Approach to Artistic Research in Mixed Reality Data Transfer Julian Stadon* Raphael Grasset Curtin University of Technology Graz University of TechnologyABSTRACT post-biological digital identity. Post-biological, in this sense,This paper offers a contribution to an emerging culturally refers to a redefinition of the embodied subject that encompassesorientated discourse regarding mixed reality interaction. It seeks their location in virtual environments as well as in the physical.to define syncretic, or hybridized agency, particularly in social This involves the creation, through art practice, of what we mightmixed reality data transfer artworks. Recent developments in term autonomous agents that are born from data but which takebridging relationships with digital representation of identity on the appearance of bio-forms and thus become embodied.through mixed reality interfacing, have brought about the need In this discussion autonomy relates to a novel applicationfor further analysis of these new post-biological, hybridized of the term: All cybernetic feedback systems endure what isstates of being that traverse traditional paradigms of biophysics. known as time-space inconsistency. This is the spatial differencetime and space, and artistic practice. Roy Ascott’s interpretation between user and agent and occurs due to latency, bandwidthof syncretism within digital networks may facilitate further speed, the paths chosen for data transfer to occur to name a fewunderstanding of multi-layered consciousness, both material and examples. This creates a deterritorialised autonomy in that ametaphysical, that are emerging from our engagement with such potentially infinite number of users can participate with agents inpervasive computational technologies and post-biological gap between action and response. It is in this democratic spacesystems. Syncretism has traditionally been regarded as an attempt that robots can truly become autonomous, as they are free withinto harmonise and analogise  Citing recent examples of the network, emancipated of control and alleviated of thepractical research outcomes, this paper will cite what Deleuze responsibility to respond. While computer science endeavours toand Guattari have called ‘deterritorialisation’ of the human body minimise the effect latency has on functionality, artists shouldand its dispersion throughout multiple reality manifestations and embrace this in between space. It is a novel interpretation of thehow mixed reality data transfer might constitute a gap between, representation and ideas, but it goes beyond‘reterritorialising’ effect that creates a syncretic post-biological traditional dichotomies of the master-slave metaphor to peer todigital identity for the user . peer interaction models, without burdening the issue with the ethically loaded terminology of “master” and “slave” which isKEYWORDS: Art, Media Art, Performing Arts, Metaverse, Dual pervasive in the literature relating to agency. It is foreverReality, Cross-reality, Post-humanism. expansive in its invitation to be engaged with. At the same time these agents are a differentialINDEX TERMS: H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation] embodiment of the ‘bodies’, which first generated that data inMulti Media Information Systems-Artificial, Augmented and their everyday activities. This interrogates the meaning andVirtual Realities; I.3.6 [Computer Graphics] Methodologies and consequences of the possibility of such ‘agents’ and, in doing so,Techniques-Interaction Techniques; J.5 [Computer Applications] enables us to question the notion that information, once extractedArts and Humanities-Fine Arts. from the embodied self and placed within a computer system, becomes ‘bodiless’. In posing that question we discover that,1 INTRODUCTION contrary to what we might at first assume, data is also embodied.It is a popular belief that we are now, through a media The existence of ‘embodied information’, linked to and yet notconvergent, participatory culture (that is integrated socially the same as embodied selves, creates an interface through whichthrough a sub network of platforms) creating what was first humans negotiate their identities across the boundaries ofcoined in 1997 as collective intelligence by Pierre Lévy , different reality states, more or less virtual, and yet alwayswhich exists in a ‘global village’  of knowledge (data) transfer. involving the mapping or writing of that identity onto ‘a body’.This perspective evades traditional mythological notions of By having bodies both material and virtual, humans have becomeanthropomorphic interaction as it moves beyond the individual post-biological even though this biological materiality remainsand into a universal model of open access. Networked agency the primary point of reference.destabilises traditional orthodoxies of thought throughchallenging notions of representation, confronting materialism,accelerating and smoothing social engagement and most 2 BACKGROUNDimportantly, demanding participation in these open systems of Current research in mixed reality and interactive workspaces thatcollaborative engagement. This has redefined our understandings use the concept of a bridge for data transfer have continued theof consciousness and presence in way that requires rethinking development of new knowledge in this field, however theeverything from spirituality, time and space, esotericism, agency, majority of previous research in this area has been in the field ofemergence, quantum coherence through to eroticism . computer science. The application of cultural and philosophical Innovative actualisations of real-time data transfer discourse to recent developments in computer science willsystems that incorporate biological information and mixed reality propose new modes of representation that concern themselvesapplications as artistic mediums are a creating a new notion of
with the affective capacities of art in order to articulate a sense of deterritorialised than a crystal: only something deterritorialised isdispersed embodiment. capable of reproducing itself .” Unlike traditional sites for communication and cultural Virtual reality’s hybridization with physical andexchange, digital platforms rely on actions and conversations to biological architecture is constructed by the methods used toshape not only the social and cultural environments, but also the connect the environments. The combination and cohesion ofspatial environments. Such systems allow participants to heterogeneous elements is generally problematic, particularlyphysically interact with virtual (deterritorialised) biological when a three dimensional space is primarily viewed on a tworepresentations and mediate (reterritorialise) through physical dimensional plane. The integration of virtual elements andengagement, rather than entering traditional text or numerical physical environments relies on bridging the two spaces withbased data sets and command sequences. The very notion of dynamic interfaces that are simultaneously accessible and able todispersed data works well in regards to the packet switching that be openly engaged with, edited and developed. To createoccurs in Internet data transfer as it is broken down into small integration systems that network physical and virtual data sharedparts and reconstructed at the end user. location are required in order to represent the data in a meaningful way, that is inclusive of both environments. A good example of deterritorialised mixed reality datatransfer would be would be the Layar application for For the construction and exploration of mixed reality tosmartphones. This application, available for free download to occur interfacing is required to bridge the virtual environmentany smartphone user, provides an advanced augmented reality with the physical so that both spaces can be mediated in anplatform capable of reliably delivering many different AR autonomous manner. The hypersurface is the site on whichexperience, though largely focusing on using geolocation to bridges are built: where the real and virtual, material and textual,augment the user’s physical surroundings. For example, author and agent can meet and interact with each other.Manifest.AR, an international artist’s collective working with Performance technology theorist Gabriella Giannachi states that,emergent forms of augmented reality as public art, use the “The hypersurface is a zone of exchange between consciousnesstechnology to transform public space for users. They install (language and text) and levels of the inorganic… Able to presentvirtual objects and artworks that respond to and overlay the dichotomous relationships, between representation and matter,configuration of located physical meaning. The application uses inside and outside, organic and inorganic, the hypersurface is thegeolocation software to superimpose computer generated three- site of virtual performance .” For the construction anddimensional art objects, enabling the public to see the work exploration of mixed reality to occur interfacing is required tointegrated into the physical location as if it existed in the real bridge the virtual environment with the physical so that bothworld. Thus, the Layar application reterritorialises information spaces can be mediated in an autonomous manner. Theprimarily through geolocating individuals, in order to provide a hypersurface is the site on which bridges are built: where the realricher engagement with their physical surrounds through the and virtual, material and textual, author and agent can meet andlayering of virtual content over real time video. interact with each other. Massively Multi User Online Worlds (MMOs) are 3 EXAMPLES FROM COMPUTER SCIENCEanother example of an open virtual environment that allows forthe contribution to and manipulation of private and publicly The earliest example of a research project that proposed aowned virtual space through a variety of methods. The content of hypersurfaced system for data transfer using mixed reality was inthese environments is dependent on the participants, due to this 1999 Butz et al.  proposed a drag and drop technique betweenopen interaction, and therefore relies on the quality of an augmented reality space to a screen space within the EMMIEinformation transfer methods being used. Through collaborative system. Using a mirror metaphor, virtual objects would changecreative production MMOs facilitate social engagement and representation and dimensionality by passing through screenfurther collaborative production by its participants. Spatial boundaries, their approach focused on transferring documents.developments define the environments and the (real or virtual) Recently Lang et al.  from Georgia Tech Universityindividuals inhabiting such spaces through their participation in modified Second Life to create mixed reality experiences theand response to them. The collective construction of such virtual purpose being the creation of a novel augmented realitymeeting sites, for remote interpersonal interaction acts as an environment for entertainment. This example bridged realityinstrument of location and orientation, referential to the real states in a way that facilitated a further inquiry into the socio-world of knowledge. Implementing biological and physical data cultural implications of such systems, but was never addressed ininto MMOs through augmented reality, contributes new the research publications.knowledge in regards to bridged mixed reality states, under aparadigm of post-biological deterritorialisation and The VTT Technical Research Center Finland has alsoreterritorialisation of the body. Deleuze and Guatarri discuss recently worked with hypersurfacing Second Life avatars withindeterritorialisation in terms of dispersed resemblance and physical experience through the Meeting Avatars joint projectidentity. In Difference and Repetition Deleuze introduces the with IBM and Nokia.  By using the Second Life engine,notion of deterritorialisation (through dispersion) as a “dark virtual avatars had the same appearance and behavior as in theprecursor” that “relates heterogeneous systems and even virtual world but in their context be represented in a physicalcompletely disparate things .” In order for deterritorialisation meeting roomto occur there must be some form of agent that can remainconstant and self-referent. Deleuze and Guatarri state that: “The Barakonyi and Schmalstieg  created two pilotalignment of the code or linearity of the nucleic sequence in fact systems in order to facilitate proactive multi-user interfacemarks a threshold of deterritorialisation of the “sign” that gives it adaptation and user interface migration. The system wasa new ability to be copied and makes the organism more developed in order to migrate tasks across a range of autonomous agents and a number of users, rather than a single avatar being
used by each individual. The goal was to increase the versatility engagement. Individuals and large clusters of people produceof ubiquitous agency through mixed reality data bridging amplified sounds and shadows based on their oscillating(hypersurfacing). By increasing the number of agents (in various movements within a defined social landscape.reality states) that can autonomously perform tasks set by users,the bridge defines a dedicated space where the viewer cantransfer objects and images between worlds, spaces, and contexts Koleva et al  explored navigation between real,augmented and virtual worlds by establishing “mixed realityboundaries” and proposed a model of how space, boundaries canbe represented. Schnädelbach et al  further generalized theconcept to any architectural construct, how collaboration andcommunication can be established in this type of environment.Finally, Grasset et al proposed in  and  a generalconceptual model how to represent spaces, navigation and thedifferent step of a transition between contexts These research examples articulate a range of differentsolutions that have been proposed for technologicaldevelopments in the field of computer science, and often neglectthe philosophical and theoretical impact of such technologies onhuman subjectivity, representation, identity and social discourse.The collaboration between computer science and art seeks toestablish a hybridized practice capable of traversing fields inorder to provide a richer dialogue. Emerging technologies oftendevelop faster than we have the ability to understand them. Whenthese technologies, particularly imaging systems across scienceand lived experience become creative mediums, they redefine the Figure 1. Second Life view of virtual ‘shadows’ from physical dataways by which we define humanity.4 EXAMPLES FROM ARTISTIC PRACTICE The work uses real-time motion-tracking technologiesAn example of a researcher that creates shared mixed reality with a unique pipeline application to create a mixed-realitysystems of exchange is telematic artist Paul Sermon. Sermon’s soundscape. This audio environment is mediated throughearly work explored the emergence of user-determined narrative interactions between the viewer, the physical environment, andby bringing remote participants together in a shared telepresent other participants within a hypersurfaced mixed-reality feedbackenvironment. Through the use of live chromakey and video loop. As visitors negotiate a traditional public environment -theconferencing technology, two public rooms or installations and entrance and surround to the Somerville Auditorium at UWA-their audiences are joined in a virtual duplicate that turns into a data regarding their movements and interaction with othersmutual space of activity. Currently Sermon’s practice examines present is gathered and translated into sonic outputs, both in thethe concepts of presence and performance within Second Life physical and virtual environments. In the physical, the output isand what he calls ‘first life, and attempts to bridge these two via stereo speakers installed in the space and in the virtual, aspaces through mixed reality techniques and interfaces . The three dimensional representation shadows and echoes sonic andnotion of telepresence is explored through a blurring between visual traces of the real-time dialogues into UWAs Second Life‘online’ and ‘offline’ identities, and the signifiers and conditions Environment.that make us feel present in this world. His research questionshow subjectivity is articulated in relation to embodiment and The individual experiences an intimate interaction withdisembodiment. Sermon creates hypersurfaces through which the work and social environment where they control thedata can oscillate between two reality states in an autonomous soundscape through their actions, thereby conducting their ownway: present and telepresent. The development of such a method personal song. Meanwhile, each community that forms alsoof data exchange creates an interesting situation where both the produces unique tones. Movements of individuals betweenuser and an autonomous agent (their avatar) can now affect visual groups results in a sonic symphony of social interaction thatdata in a mixed reality environment. Primary author Julian shifts dynamically according to the social dialogues that occur inStadon’s own research practice is inspired largely by the work of the space. Stepped tonal outputs are produced by audiencethe aforementioned examples. movement in space: a scroll to the right will cause the pitch to drop with each step. The pace of the movement determines the4.1 TERRA(SOCIO)SONIA speed of the notes; lingering conversations produce long lingering sounds while the rush of busy passersby results inTerra(socio)sonica is a mixed-reality interface which realises a fleeting melodies that come and go just as quickly.sonic soundscape constructed via the movements of communitiesthat inhabit two current landscape realities that constitute theUniversity of Western Australia (UWA) cultural precinct.Through the translation of movement into sound in both thephysical and virtual realms, the work explores the notion ofunspoken ‘silent dialogues’ under a paradigm of social
Figure 3. Installation setup for organtrader2010 Figure2. Technical Specifications Diagram for Terra(socio)sonica As mentioned above, the organs in organtrader2010 are obtained through real CT scans and are made by converting4.2 ORGANTRADER2010 data into a 3D model, then converting this model to Open Scene Graph. They are then included in a Python-based application that organtrader2010 is a novel mixed reality interface that allows uses the OSGSWIG python wrapper for the ARToolkit to enablefor the transfer of real CT scanned organs into augmented reality the augmented reality system to occur. To bridge this applicationand Second Life. Using the metaphor of organ trade to allude to with Second Life, data is streamed in to the Linden Scriptingtraditional gallery hierarchies, organtrader2010 allows the Language via the PHP server using XML. PHP provides theparticipant to donate, sell, buy or steal virtual organs across potential to extend the application network to include mobileplatforms including an interactive mixed reality system, standard devices and multiple reality environments with the system. TheSecond Life interfaces and mobile platforms. organtrader2010 actual organtrader2010 application can even be installed touses the organ trade metaphor to question the meaning of Python enabled platforms for multiple mixed realityownership and the relationship between content and property. In participation.regards to (unregulated) machines of production and thesubversion of power hierarchies, organtrader2010 examines theroles of media artist/supplier, gallery/distributor andparticipant/trader. In doing so, the project exploresdeterritorialisation of the body and post-biological identity inmixed realities. organtrader2010 uses a narrative representationalstructure in a mixed reality context where a participant, wearing acamera mounted HMD (head mounted display) can transfer realCT scanned organs to an augmented organ ‘trader.’ Thisaugmented Second Life avatar can exist in both physical andvirtual space simultaneously, so when the participant hands overone of their organs to the ‘augmented trader’ they are also givingtheir organs unsuspectingly to the ‘in-world avatar.’ This avatar islinked to a network of organ trader avatars that all haveownership permissions to clone and steal organs from theaugmented trader and sell them to other Second Life avatars.
deterritorialisation to include reterritorialisation, by facilitating a dispersive relationship between the body and its virtual self-referent. In the same way that a digital device deterritorialises and reterritorialises information through binary code, the augmentation of an autonomous agent into a shared space with the body, creates new opportunities for investigation into technology, the body and identity. Critical literary theorist Donna Haraway relates the body’s augmentation through digital technology to the notion of the cyborg. In A Cyborg Manifesto she argues that the body can be viewed as a conglomerate where its components can be separated, combined with new elements and put together again in ways that violate its traditional boundaries . This rhetoric implies a fractured identity that articulates a ‘cyborg’ reality. In Chaos Bound, literary theorist N. Katherine Hayles refers to the notion of dispersed self in light of virtual bodies and narrative, arguing that by turning bodiless information into narratives, the teleology of disembodiment is replaced with contests with ambiguous outcomes: “As I have argued, human being is first of all embodied being, and the complexities of this embodiment mean that human awareness unfolds in very different ways than Figure 4. Technical Overview Diagram for organtrader2010 intelligence in cybernetic machines .” The advent of nanobiology has called for a rethinking of Hayles and Harraways’ post-human discourse through it shifting our perception of organisms from micro to nano scale. The system uses an XML RPC to link an augmented Charles Ostman suggests: "[T]he very definition of life itself mayreality application with Second Life via a PHP server. This be perched on the edge of the next great revolution in medicine-pipeline allows for a method of real-time transfer of 3D visual nanobiology. What is emerging now are technologies andmaterial, linking the body with the augmented and virtual applications in the arenas of biomolecular componentsrepresentations of itself. The use of real CT scanned organs with integrated into microscale systems, . . . synthetically engineeredfiducial marker and proximity tracking adds to the viewer’s quasi-viral components, modified DNA and relatedexperience of agency within the processes involved in the pseudoproteins, biomolecular prosthetics, and biomolecularsimulated organ trade and in the process of media art creation, organelle component entities . . . [that] will redefine the verydisplay and dissemination. essence of what is commonly referred to as life .” Critical theorist Colin Milburn relates nanotechnology to virtual5 SYNCRETIC POST-BIOLOGICAL IDENTITY environments, stating: “Nanotechnology thrives in the realm of the virtual. Throughout its history, the field has been shaped by futuristic visions of technological revolution, hyperbolicAt the recent First International Conference on Transdisciplinary promises of scientific convergence at the molecular scale, and Imaging at the Intersections between Art, Science and science fiction stories of the world rebuilt atom by atom .” Culture (TIIC) Roy Ascott gave a keynote in which he Today nanotechnology exists as a living sensation of the future of described Syncretism as a possible method by which to human existence: In Milburn’s words, “[A] bodily registration of classify mixed reality interaction . He used Second potential for global change .” Brian Massumi states, “The Life as an example of a metaverse that allowed for an body,sensor of change, is a transducer of the virtual .” embodied syncretic participatory experience.. Through existing in these virtual representations, that are directlySecond Life, like all virtual environments uses an avatar (agent) linked to living bio-systems, we effectively sense, feel and think to navigate users through the space. While these are in a way that hybridizes the virtual with scientific inquiry, and usually controlled by the user (avatars can be therefore we require a discourse that addresses whether this does automated and left on their own, plus there are bots in fact make us post-biological. being regularly created and used), they function as independent to their ‘master’ and are therefore autonomous. Returning to the example of Facebook, CONCLUSION this can also be said for user profiles on that platform. Who we represent ourselves as on social networks is not necessarily a true articulation of our identity by any Art has, historically had a strong preoccupation with means and therefore it is autonomous. Avatars represent the body and with consciousness. When dealing with such a a transient, continually altered identity, usually that of massive area of inquiry there is a need to look to a wide variety its author and acts as an agent, through which users can of fields, As Ascott has stated, “[H]owever eccentric or esoteric, engage with virtual platforms. This becomes any culture, immediate or distant in space or time, any particularly interesting in unique autonomous systems technology, ancient or modern, to find ideas and processes that where participants can physically interact with a virtual allow for the navigation of mind and its open-ended exploration deterritorialised ‘self’ and mediate it through physical .” Roy Ascott proposes a syncretic approach to this issue: engagement. The dispersion of multiple autonomous “Just as cybernetics analogizes differences between systems, so virtual agents via mixed reality constructs in expands syncretism finds likeness between unlike things. Syncretic
thinking breaches boundaries and subverts protocols. Thinking  Gabriella Giannachi, Virtual Theatres: An Introduction,out of the box, testing the limits of language, behaviour and Routledge, London and New York, 2008.thought puts the artist on the edge of social norms but at thecentre of human development .” Second-order cybernetics  A. Butz, T. H Lollerer, S. Feiner, B. MacIntyre, and C.did very well to explain our early relationships with machines in Beshers. (1999). Enveloping Users and Computers in aterms of interactivity and connectivity, however the incorporation Collaborative 3d Augmented Reality. IWAR’99:of more open networked systems of Proceedingsof the 2nd IEEE and ACM Internationalautonomous/anthropomorphic based interactions have created a Workshop on Augmented Reality,less physical and paradigmatic situation. Networked agency page35,Washington,DC,USA,1999destabilises traditional orthodoxies of thought through  Lang, T. MacIntyre, B. and Zugaza, I. (2008). Massivelychallenging notions of representation, confronting materialism, Multiplayer Online Worlds as a Platform for Augmentedaccelerating and smoothing social engagement and most Reality Experiences. Virtual Reality Conference, 2008importantly, demanding participation in these open systems of (VR’08 IEEE), March 8-12 2008.collaborative engagement.  Kantonen T., Woodward C., Katz N., "Mixed reality in virtual world teleconferencing", Proc. IEEE Virtual RealityAs art is fundamentally an articulation of the human condition it 2010 Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, March 20 - 24, pp.can therefore be said that syncretism is also a valid method for 179-182analysing identity within the post-biological discourse. If we areindeed post-biological then we must exist in syncretic mixed  (Barakonyi and Schmalstieg, 2008)reality state. The hybridisation of augmented reality and virtual  Boriana Koleva, Holger Schnädelbach, Steveenvironments with physical/biological systems calls for a Benford, and Chris Greenhalgh. 2000. Traversable interfacesrethinking of not only posthuman ideologies, but also the way between real and virtual worlds. In Proceedings of thethat cybernetic systems function. This paper has scoped a range SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systemsof examples from varying fields of inquiry that have influenced (CHI 00). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 233-240.the author’s own practice, which is articulated in order to provide  Schnädelbach, H, Penn, A., Benford, S., Steadman, P.,a range of practical outcomes to what has been discussed. Koleva, B. Moving Office: Inhabiting a Dynamic Building,Through the creation of systems that engage the viewer in a CSCW 2006 conference, Banff, Canada, pp.313-322hybridized participatory interaction with mixed reality data  Raphael Grasset, Philip Lamb, and Mark Billinghurst. 2005.transfer, these notions of deterritorialisation, reterritorialisation, Evaluation of Mixed-Space Collaboration. In Proceedingssyncretism and post biological identity can be explored in a more of the 4th IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Mixedintuitive and involved fashion. and Augmented Reality (ISMAR 05). IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 90-99.  Raphael Grasset, Julian Looser, and Mark Billinghurst. 2006. Transitional interface: concept, issues and framework.REFERENCES In Proceedings of the 5th IEEE and ACM International Roy Ascott, 2010. Syncretic Dialogues: Keynote address at Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR 06). Proceedings of The first International Conference on IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 231-232. Transdisciplinary Imaging at the Intersections between Art,  Sermon, P and Gould, C (2011). Liberate your Avatar: The Science and Culture. Published by Transdisciplinary Revolution Will Be Socially Networked , Creating Second Imaging Conference 2010 Sydney, ISBN: 978-0-9807186-6- Lives , pp. 15-31 Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, New 9 York, USA.  Roy Ascott, 2010. Syncretic Dialogues: Keynote address at Deleuze and Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalisim Proceedings of The first International Conference on and Schizophrenia, 1980,p.66) Transdisciplinary Imaging at the Intersections between Art, Science and Culture. Published by Transdisciplinary Levy, P. (1997), Collective Intelligence. trans. Bononno, R. Imaging Conference 2010 Sydney, ISBN: 978-0-9807186-6- Perseus Books, Cambridge, 9 McLuhan, Marshall (1994) Understanding Media. Massachusetts. MIT Press MANIFEST.AR@ICAHTTP://WWW.LAYAR.COM/LAYERS/MANIFESTARICA
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