Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Capturing Bodies
lotu5 on Thu, 9 Oct 2008 14:29:55 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Capturing Bodies

Posted with links and photos here:

Before I leave the room, tired and ready to go home, I look back in
after I have turned the lights off. The 8 cameras positioned all
around the room, on the walls and in the ceiling grid splay their red
light across the floor, the computers, the chairs, staying on, always
capturing, always seeing.

I am working on a project that I call Becoming Dragon [
http://sharingissexy.org/wiki/Becoming_Dragon ]. The aim of the
project is to do a 365 hour immersive performance in Second Life,
using a Head Mounted Display so I will only see Second Life and a
Vicon motion capture system to map my physical movements back into
Second Life. The project is a collaboration between myself, Chris
Head who’s writing the mocap code, Kael Greco who’s working on the
stereoscopic code for the HMD, Anna Storelli, our modeler and Ben
Lotan, our documentarian.

The motion capture system is composed of 8 cameras, a smalller version
of the 24 camera system in the performative computing lab. Each
camera has multiple circular arrays of lights which put out infared,
near-infared or red light. At the center of these arrays is a high
quality digital camera equipped with a networking board, which sends
its data in real-time over the network to the MX Ultranet router and
to the host machine which controls the entire assemblage of cameras.
You cannot look at the cameras too closely for too long, because your
pupil doesn’t close to shield you from the infared light, so there is
a possible danger of eye damage. The cameras look at you, but it is
dangerous to look back.

Last week we installed the Vicon system into the reconfigurable lab
that will be the location for the performance, which will happen in
December. Todd Margolis of the Center for Research in Computing and
the Arts and I spent that week installing the Vicon in the lab, moving
cameras, running cable, wrestling with software. We discussed my
living situation for the performance, where the bed would be, where
I want to be tracked, if I want to be tracked while sleeping, where
the audience will stand, access to the sink, and tried to arrange the
cameras to cover the tracking area. The cameras cover the most area at
an angle, and need to be at multiple heights, to insure that at least
3 tracking markers are seen by at least 3 cameras at all times, to
provide position and rotation data in 3 dimensions.

 From the Nintendo Wii to the latest iPod touch, the body is being
brought back into the interface, the general public now has access
to cheap motion capture technologies, and is using them largely for
entertainment, for now. The Vicon system is not the latest motion
capture technology, such as markerless motion capture or 3D cameras,
but it is a robust and reliable technology, still used widely in the
gaming and medical industry.

While the Vicon is referred to as a Motion Capture system, there are
actually two modes it can be used in. One is to capture and record
motion data, specifically x, y and z coordinates for markers as well
as rotations in x, y and z directions. Another mode, the way I will
be using it, is to send real time motion data over the network. Chris
Head and myself have worked on a bridge to interpret the motion data
and send it to a script in Second Life. When the system is in use this
way, it acts as more of a digital prosthesis. One moves one’s body and
sees that motion doubled on screen instantly. The sensation is one
of extension or mirroring. The Vicon also has kinematic information,
where you can label parts of your body as rigid bodies, such as your
forearm, and the live data contains that information as well. So while
the system can be used for capturing bodies, recording their position
and replaying it at a later time, it can also be used to track bodies
in real time and represent that motion in various ways, as points or
with 3d models overlaid on top.

For the purposes of my project Becoming Dragon, we will be sending the
motion data to Second Life, to control the location and movement of an
avatar there. We’re still in a development stage, but will be doing
extended test runs in November. I’m planning on doing a day long trial
and a few days, to build up to the goal of a 365 hour immersion in

I’ve been training with the head mounted display (HMD). Today I
used it for over an hour. The sensation when coming out of the HMD
is strong, your eyes feel strange, your movement seems too strong.
Coming out of the HMD today I walked through the hallway with my head
lowered, looking ahead, with a vaguely subversive feeling, like people
don’t know what I’ve been up to, doing something out of the ordinary,
in my strange explorations of synthetic space. When I’ve been in
the HMD for long periods and have a feeling of nausea, it’s such a
visceral feeling. I have a sense of urgency as I head to the coffee
cart to get a carbonated drink, shedding the usual daily concerns. My
awareness shrinks in closer to my body, feeling the muscles in my jaw
and neck, waiting to get back to normal.

The Vicon system strikes me as a hyper panopticon. For the system
to work, 3 reflective markers on your body have to be seen by at
least 3 cameras at all times. It is a form of hyper-surveillance,
where every movement of your body is measured down to less than a
millimeter by multiple 4 megapixel cameras simultaneously. The system
works by flashing the red strobes very quickly, which reflect off of
the retroreflective markers and capturing a greyscale image of where
the markers are. There are a variety of strobes, visible red, near
infrared and infrared, all part of the system at once.

Even being in the lab, there is a strange sense as you look around
the room at all these MX40+ cameras looking at you. Starting up the
Vicon IQ software that runs the system, all the cameras flash their
red circles of led’s and then varous colors of indicators lights, blue
and green, like an organism coming to life. The software faithfully
reports the frames per second of your life being captured, hovering
around 120, although the max is up to 2,000 fps.

Today there are already applications such as Buddy Beacon for devices
like for the Helio Ocean and the iPhone which can automatically
update your facebook profile with your gps coordinates, ostensibly
for your friends, who can also be your Buddy Beacon buddies, and you
can track them on a map in real time. Perhaps twitter and facebook
status will evolve into real time motion capture streams, where your
friends can see what you are doing at any moment. With 3d cameras and
computer vision, such an application on a phone is realizable today.
With the accelerometers and gyroscopes in the Wii and the new iPod
touch, motion and direction data is available, so the slow speeds of
satellite GPS can be enhanced.

Yet with the current lock down nature of products like the iPhone, can
consumers have any trust in what manufacturers will do with such data?
Definitely not. Now that the Wii has been cracked, one can expect
the imaginations of hackers to interpret the body to start flowing
with ideas, although I expect we’ll see lots and lots of sex games.
While the history of performance art and feminist art has engaged
with the body, reimagined it and opened up so many possibilities,
perhaps it is Wii hacking enthusiasts who will bring together the body
and technology in new, as yet unimagined ways. Hopefully the body
modification communities who are into suspension might get together
with the Wii hackers and something really wild will emerge. Maybe the
electrostim crowd will be the bridge, or the folks over at slashdong.
Cheap access to motion capture technologies might develop into a
particular kind of tactical media, like the recent book tactical
biopolitics, allowing a mass reintroduction of the body into the

I know I’ve always been one who enjoys getting attention. I can’t help
but wonder, sitting at the center of all these cameras, if this is
just yet another attempt to be seen. My last attempt, participating
in a queer open source porn laboratory, definitely involved me being
seen, but I always felt like something was missing. Porn, while
transgressing bounds, has its own parameters and limits.

Everyday I get coffee or something of the sort and someone calls me
sir or man, and in that moment I know I’m not being seen. Maybe I’m
trying to make up for that. Of course its a futile goal, to hope to
ever really be seen. Maybe that’s the goal I’m always striving for
with my lover, to be close enough to someone who actually sees most
of me. Still, here, with these cameras, I think the sense that they
are a kind of prosthesis is accurate, physically, informationally and
emotionally. I would imagine that Second Life is this for many people,
filling in the space where something is missing, a gap, even if it is
the gap of the yearning to escape the confusing chaos around us.

Fortunately, I am reassured that the cold, repetitive, constant gaze
of these cameras will continue when I leave and shut the door behind
me, after I look back at them on my way out. Or maybe not, with the
current situation, any kind of future for capitalism is hard to
imagine right now, much less one that involves expensive technology.
Unless we look to Argentina, and the economic crisis there in 2001,
which led to a future of resistance and autonomy. In Argentina we’ve
seen not only autonomous worker run factories and collectives, but
networks of autonomous factories exchanging goods and services among
one another, creating new assemblages and networks of autonomy. That
is what gives me hope for imagining future prostheses, that they
may be made outside of the gatekeepers of corporations, by artists
and people in resistnce, forging new possibilities for the body and
subjectivity, arising out of a whole different set of assumptions and
goals from the ones that have produced today’s technologies.


gpg:  0x5B77079C // encrypted email preferred
gaim/skype: djlotu5 // off the record messaging preferred

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org