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On the edge – Facets of a self-portrait in Virtual Reality

On the edge – Facets of a self-portrait in Virtual Reality is an ongoing artistic research project into virtual reality through cinema. It revolves around the understanding how technology, and in particular virtual reality, connects to different contexts; specifically cinema and art. During the project I am mapping different question around identity, memory and subjectivity critically out as part of my research into the idea of a self-portrait in Virtual Reality.

This path leads me on a personal journey to frame my ‘self’ – a journey which unfolds many layers and that brought subjectivity, politics, history and ethics to the foreground of my consciousness. I seek for an artistic translation and articulation of the emerging experiences which can then serve as the foundation for my artistic position.

Following the experience of the birth of my children and my mother’s death I encounter a conflicting landscape of memories that is shifting between the past and the present. How is time experienced in immersive Virtual Reality?

Due to the confused understanding of my family history that permeates into the larger German history and never aligns my relation with history produces an experience of uncertainty.

What role play my forefathers, priests who started their mission in the 17th century in the south of Germany and went to Jerusalem in order to promote christianity. And what about my Polish-Jewish great-grandfather on my mother’s side, who survived the death camps of the Third Reich? How do I relate that to the story of my grandfather on my father’s side, who was an officer in the Wehrmacht? How does the revolutionary attempt of my parents to leave everything behind and overcome the victim and perpetrator dichotomy inform my existence? How do I make sense out of these complex and conflicting wholes? How do I relate to history and act upon my understanding of it? Which projections and positions do those histories contain and conserve? When are virtual realities actualized and when refreshed?

Virtual Reality is a new medium that has to be developed in order to become a functioning medium and in order to fulfill its potential. It is a new canvas, a new tool a new understanding of reality through which a portrait, a memoir, a sculpture can be molded. It’s a new way to express oneself. In this sense VR can create the possibility to let the spectator experience the portrait or even to become one with the portrait.

The research was displayed at A-Lab in Amsterdam and unfolds my journey in space through different types of screens. The Visual abstract explains my methodology and some of the traces of my research on a classical 16:9 screen. The 360 experience contains a contemplation on immersive storytelling. The interactive Virtual Reality performance is an experience in which the spectator can move through space and made me wonder how we relate to notions of body ownership, of the Self – and Others – as a Self, in VR? How much am I self-determined? Am I the marionette or am I the player of the marionette and how do those perspectives differ? What moves me? Or inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer I am wondering if man can do what they want and if they can will what they wills.*

*“Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will” in Essays & Aphorisms.