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Play Voyeur Inside an Artist’s 3D Selfie Archive

Vienna-based artist Martina Menegon takes intimate, elaborate 3D scans of herself to redefine the selfie.

by DJ Pangburn
May 17 2016, 7:40pm

Images courtesy the artist

When you capture a selfie, a flat image is produced. This experience is, as we all know, ubiquitous. The 3D selfie, on the other hand, isn't yet part of the digital media landscape, much less our cultural lexicon. In the Virtual Narcissism project, Italian artist Martina Menegon, perhaps sensing the selfie’s near-future evolutionary strand, takes the digital self-portrait into virtual reality via 3D scanning.

Menegon tells The Creators Project that Virtual Narcissism is an ongoing art project in which she develops and investigates “self-scanning” or “3D selfies” using the Microsoft Kinect. She has yet to settle on a name for this type of 3D self-portraiture, but the project currently exists as a collection or archive people can explore and experience in several ways.

“They can, for example, break into my intimate and private space in a sort of cyber-voyeurism while looking around a virtual tableau created solely of 3D selfies, scans of personal places, and objects,” Menegon explains. “Or they can have a close look at my tri-dimensional selfies, at my deformed and grotesque looking body, etc.”

For Menegon, Virtual Narcissism is a means of investigating, with a personal view, concepts of intimacy, sexuality, loneliness, and identity in our digital era. She likens it to storytelling—a narrative of the bittersweet reality of a lonely self. A persona struggling through an identity crisis between physical and virtual realities, which Menegon sees as a “vaguely grotesque and disarming tale of loneliness, of waiting and longing for something impossible to grasp but that we deeply understand and relate to.”

“As loneliness centers on the act of being seen, when a person is lonely, they long to be witnessed, accepted, desired, in a sort of narcissistic act,” she says. “Sexuality, intimacy, and the female body are the center of this artistic research, with a focus on the contraposition between hiding and exposing, covering and showing, shyness and self-confidence in cyberspace.”

The project has various points of origin. Menegon has had a long and extensive relationship with the virtual reality platform Second Life through her avatar Mijn Seoung, which influenced the project. But she was also inspired by her collaborator Stefano D’Alessio and media artist Klaus Obermaier, in whose class she learned how to program interactive installations in Max MSP. Virtual Narcissism also grew out of Menegon’s interest in the use of bodies and interactivity, as well distortions and failures.

Menegon describes her interest in 3D scanning as having mutated into something of an obsession. She tried a variety of scanning methods, including Autodesk 123D Catch, as well as the mobile 3D scanning apps Trnio and Seene. While studying at Brigitte Kowanz Transmediale Kunst at Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, Menegon had the opportunity to use an Artec Eva scanner and, later—for her thesis project I’ll Keep You Warm and Safe in My People Zoo—she collaborated with the 3scn studio in Vienna, where they have a photogrammetry scan studio.

But, as it turns out, the best solution for Menegon turned out to be the cheapest. She combined the Microsoft Kinect with the free software Skanect, which allows users to turn a Kinect camera into a 3D scanner.

“Every two days or so I 3D scan myself, holding a Kinect camera like I would hold a smartphone when taking a selfie,” Menegon explains. “Because of the way a 3D scan is created, precision and control over myself is lost, resulting in a distorted, grotesque tridimensional representation of parts of my body.”

To shoot, Menegon has to hold the Kinect camera, moving it around her body by changing hands while checking the computer screen to see if it’s scanning properly. This is the main the reason the 3D selfies feature a missing arm or two, or render Menegon’s face in rather grotesque fashion. These distortions also occur with the spaces and objects that appear in the selfies—like windows or Menegon’s cat.

“In addition to these tridimensional failed selfies, I create scans of places I use to call home,” she adds. “The window in the corner of the flat where some dry flowers are standing; the chair I use to sit in when reading; the couch where I sleep and check my Instagram; the kitchen where I sing while preparing a pasta; and so on.”

To create the virtual tableau, Menegon chooses from the many scans she is collecting, then loads them into Unity3D. There she arranges them in the space, playing around with scale and positions. Currently she is trying to avoid animating them too much, instead applying a swing script to some of the 3D selfies so that they move subtly up and down or left and right, while others constantly rotate.

In a teaser Menegon just posted on YouTube (see below), viewers can explored her 3D selfies in 360 degrees, whether on a desktop or mobile device. Interior spaces are stacked, fused, and obliterated, as is Menegon’s naked body. The overall effect of it all is something approaching David Cronenberg, if he were exploring surrealistic body horror through VR  art.

Virtual Narcissism is me sharing a very personal aspect of myself with others—a little bit like it would be a social network like Facebook or something, but done with super private 3D scans,” Menegon says. “It is me opening a little door to my private and intimate space.”

While Virtual Narcissism continues to evolve, Menegon is producing some videos and interactive installations for her upcoming first solo exhibition in June at the GPL Contemporary Gallery in Vienna. She is also currently collaborating with D'Alessio, with whom she has been creating interactive art since 2010, and working as well with Obermaier. The three of them are also all currently teaching Max MSP for creative interactive installations and performances at the IUAV University of Venice.

Click here to see the 3D selfies in the Virtual Narcissism project, which Martina Menegon will be updating regularly.

Related:

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Distorted 3D-Scanned Faces Are the Stuff Nightmares Are Made Of