Cyber Totem: a 4D Avatar Portrait

(a work in progress)

Formal concept:
In this project I use constructivist and cubist theories of the perception and depiction of form, color and motion to investigate the artistic possibilities of 4D computer graphics: animated 3D form. Rather than trying to mimic the human form with high polygon count models, I am interested in exploring the quirks of 4D graphics, creating compelling 4D assemblage using the basic elements of the medium: polygons, color, texture maps, spacial positioning, movement, change.

Cultural aspects:
The VRML concept of an avatar is a curious "making real" of our virtual representation, a technological version of the spirit vessels important in so many religions. Just as the wafer and wine become the real body and blood of Christ in the ceremony of transubstantiation, the avatar becomes the real representative of our self in a virtual world.

(screen shot of VRML CyberTotem)

Click here for VRML file (60 kB):

(NOTE: This site works best in blaxxun browsers. Animated gifs do not seem to work at all in the Cosmo 2.1 browser.)

This is a stand-alone VRML space with the CyberTotem as a VRML Object. Please rotate it to see how the various parts change relationship to each other as it turns.

Background information:

This avatar is a work in progress to create a totemic portrait of a friend of mine. Rather than trying to model her physical body in 3D I am using elements of herself and her environment to which she is attached and that have special meaning for her. The current version uses images of her tossing her hair and images of her cat as atavistic stand-ins for her own person.

I am interested in how we develop totemic and fetishistic relationships to objects, words, images or parts of bodies, making them repositories of our souls or of divine spirits. All religions that I know of make use of this concept in some way: Catholic relics and transubstantiation, the veneration of holy names or books in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the consecration ceremonies by which a divine spirit enters an object in Catholicism, Vodun, Shinto, etc.

This is also however a common process at a very personal level. We develop attachments to favorite objects that comfort us beyond their mere functionality, whether it is the worn blanket of our childhood or the favorite coffee mug of our office environment.


cat eye

Proposal for a class in 4D portraiture:

I am developing this idea into a proposal for a 4D art class. Background readings would be in constructivist and cubist theory, the changing nature of portraiture and the process by which we imbue objects with meaning. (See my syllabus for a class I taught at Carnegie Mellon University called "Modern Totems, Fetishes and Relics.")

The class would be a multimedia class in all senses of the word, tying together 2D graphics, 3D modeling, and video capture transformed into animated gifs and sound to create multidimensional avatars. Using blaxxun interactive's multi-user community software we would create a multi-user VRML space in which the students could view each other's avatars and communicate via chat.

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