With so much of ourselves, uploaded as images and videos to apps like Instagram and Snapchat, creating not one digital doppelganger but a multitude of them, what are we to make of our real biological selves? This question is at the center of visual artist, dancer, and choreographer Bill Shannon's latest project, a wearable, projection-mapped mask that displays a range of recorded facial expressions.
A blend of high and low tech, the digital mask looks like a kaleidoscope turned inside out, or a sculptural fusion of cubist and futurist styles. It also resembles the type of low-fi future tech often seen in such Terry Gilliam films as Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and The Zero Theorem.
Shannon says the projection mask should be thought of not as an actual wearable but as conceptual art. Inspired by the Cubist movement (which was itself inspired by some non-linear ancient African art), Shannon says the mask is a push back against the ongoing marketing of wearables as the latest in consumerist materialism.
“I think of people in the broadest sense and see projection mapped accessories as yet another manifestation of western consumer convenience oriented products,” Shannon tells The Creators Project. “Global human and environmental resources are exploited through the force of arms to artificially extend this late capitalist system of material excess. I hope that in the future we would all begin to look up again away from our projected selves and toward each other in real space.”
Shannon has been making sculptures in the form of masks and other body wearables as an interdisciplinary performance artist since the early 90s. But the mask grew specifically out of a series of large-scale video sculptures for live performance-art titled Fragmentation Series.
“The video mapping role in the making of the video mask only came when I realized through trial and error that real-time camera feeds from the body onto the mask were not going to be able to legibly survive the severe degree of keystone and fragmentation that the video projections were going through,” Shannon says. “I had hoped that through the infinite focus aspect of laser projections and a strategy of screen and camera placements I would be able to provide a reasonably legible live feed from the body of the wearer onto the mask.”
For hardware, Shannon used two sixth-generation iPod Touches running the VideoBomber Mobile App, two MicroVision SHOWWX+ Laser Pico Projectors, and a JBL Mini Portable Bluetooth Speaker. After shooting video on a Canon 5D mkII and editing it in Adobe Premiere, Shannon ran the footage through the projection mapping software MadMapper. To fashion the mask, Shannon used a laser cutter, welding kits, and an acrylic bender to work with the aluminum, steel, and mirror acrylic. Shannon also used the HoloDark Video Projection Screen Version 2 and a HoloGrey Video Projection Film Version 1 to complete the projection mask.
Shannon says that biggest hurdles were light concerns, projection bouncing, and the selection of screen types, as well as the shaping of the screens and their various arrangements.
“The arrangement arrived at and documented here is not a final product by any means but rather a resting place and a completion of the goal of the concept behind the piece,” Shannon says. “Refinement work is taking place now primarily in shaping and optimizing the shape of the screens for a stronger aesthetic impact.”
Shannon may also open-source the design so that people could easily 3D-print their own.
To learn more about the artist click here.