Monday, 4 October 2010

I see you.

I was visiting the Ambiguity of Identity show yesterday at Caerleon and came away with a quiet dissatisfaction at the naming of the show.

All the works, by artists I respect, were well made and enjoyable to behold or interact with. It is definitely worth a visit.


I have a problem with the title. I have a problem with the philosophy behind the title.

Georg Janick has tried to distinguish what makes 3D art different to ‘previous’ art, and his six dimensions are extremely debatable. The idea is that the third one is Ambiguity of Identity, and that’s why the show is given this title.

Now, it’s great that someone attempts this, and it’s only natural that a person with theories defends them, but also good to question them.

Georg says..

"Ambiguity of identity results from the fact that our bodily presence in the virtual world is mediated by a digital representation."

Now, I actually do not experience this. My personal identity is not shaken or stirred by me assuming a digital appearance, any more than by me wearing different clothes, assuming different personas or through role play. I am still me, and I never doubt that or experience an identity crisis when assuming an alt avi.

"All dwelling within a world involves being present in a body which both constitutes our perspective on things and makes us present to other embodied experiencers.
Though personal identity can be a very complex construction, its ultimate foundation is continuity of bodily presence."

This is true for RL, but this is where we part company as far as Virtual Worlds go. I believe this may be the heart of my problem.

"However digital bodies, and the names that uniquely identify them, can be altered, multiplied, discarded, or exchanged at the will of the user."

It’s this last sentence that sums up my disquiet.

"Since bodily presence is open to such radical discontinuity, the identity of the virtual person is protean and ambiguous, including indicators of age, gender, race, and even biological species."

...and I don’t experience this at all.

Although identity and body are very closely linked in RL, that is not the case in VW’s, of that we are agreed.

Where we fall out of agreement is where Georg assumes that this leads to an ambiguity of identity. For me it simply changes the primary indicator. I will explain....

If someone ‘steals your identity’, that is a misnomer, they steal your money by taking the indicators of your identity. It’s like someone taking the road signs for New York to some other town and redirecting traffic. New York is not changed.

Similarly the identity of someone isn’t changed by them taking on an avatar. You just have to use different road signs.

I know Wizard Gynoid, she has an identity I recognise when dressed as a Na’vi, cyborg, princess, whatever. Her identity will not change, for me, if/when I see her physical body or hear her real name..... BECAUSE.... I have used different ‘signposts’ than the primary one used in RL which Georg correctly identifies as ‘bodily presence’.

In different cultures different signifiers are used to form opinions/ideas/concepts of another’s identity. The signposts are in a different language. Virtual Worlds are just such a cultural instance.

I don’t experience any ambiguity regarding the identities of my friends. I don’t experience any personal identity crisis.

The show, which as I say I enjoyed, would be much better titled “Experimenting with Personality” for that is what the show was about.

The fact that we unearth different aspects of our, and other’s, personalities in the course of our lives in Virtual Worlds is by no means the same as an Ambiguity of Identity.

I believe RL demonstrates just as much, if not more, ambiguity in being so tightly tied to bodily presence.

Not my Personal Identity but the identity of The Other is, if anything, more ambiguous because of our accepting the ‘indicators of age, gender, race’ as primary signifiers in our search for the identity of the other person. These concepts are so ridden with cultural preconceptions that we fall continually into stereotypical pigeon-holing which blinds us far too often to the essence of the other person.

That ambiguity is one we are well rid of in Virtual Worlds.

I see you.



  1. Well i feel ambigious here because i wonder if you are me or if I am you? =)) Actually we think exactly alike. I have struggled with this since I rezzed in Second life. I have had a lot of shapes and genders and I am always the same person anyhoo. But people around me tend to be dubious about that :)

    I think we are different here. Some of us like you and me only see the person behind the avie. A lot of people, i say most of them, tend to look at the pixels instead.... thats why we have this confusion. And the two will never meet.... im afraid. "Birds of a feather flock together."

    Love your post! =)

  2. Excellent thoughts, soror. I find myself nodding to what you say as I read it.

    Yes, Ambiguity is the wrong word. It implies that the personality is one stable thing, which all evidence points towards this a being false.

    Discovering the world by discarding preconception is closer to the virtual world exploration of 'personality'.

    People fall in love with their hypotheses, as Georg seems to have done in this case. I think it is time for him to rethink this one, or at least the word ambiguity. Maybe 'expansion of identity' would be a better phrase for this part of his conception.

    Good thoughts! Thanks!

  3. Yup! This "Me" is getting ready to log off and go to a meeting. It's the same "Me' that will walk into that meeting...and baring any terible accident, the same "Me" that will log in this evening.

    {ha ha You guys gotta stop *reading my mail* aka peering into that mess I call my thoughts}


  4. The state of modern philosophy is all about the Quest for Certainty. This state of affairs exists in the Real World. This means that in the Real World we are surrounded with deception. Our senses deceive us, leading to ... yes, you guessed it. Ambiguity. Our Real World is full of ambiguity. We meet people on the street and we don't know who or what they are. What are they hiding? Is that person transgendered? Is that a boy or a girl? What do they do behind closed doors? This is not so different from Virtual Worlds. We don't *know* someone just by looking at exterior appearances. We don't *know* someone until we get to know them.

  5. Thanks, soror, for your thoughtful comments about the Ambiguity of Identity. As the team leader on the Caerleon project I've spent a great deal of time over the last year thinking about Georg's thesis. As you noted, your post is really about the thesis, not the exhibit (whew!). I'm not sure we reflected Georg's ideas very well, but we used them as a jumping-off point. To be honest, I agree with at least some of your assessment. I think the thesis could use a good editor, at least. His points are certainly debatable. Early on in the process I made an executive decision to embrace the idea of ambiguity as a tenet of the project--much beyond Georg's original meaning or intent. We are, after all, artists. Rather than slavishly interpret the given dogma, I felt quite at liberty to encourage the team to veer from the script and express themselves as freely as they wish. I've posted a summary of my thoughts on my blog.

  6. ty Soror :) I do heartily agree with your expression, and with Scarps; as you know, we share some Jungian perspective together.

    For a very simple real-worold check on this issue.... spend some time in Hollywood and get into the deeper parts of acting. GOOD acting; not just dressing up and reading lines and following movement directions, is ALL about pulling parts of personas out of yourself and expressing them in a way that actually erases the actor and allows the expressed persona/part to take over. The best actors make their personal identities invisible; yes, you recognize say "Dustin Hoffman," but soon you lose that recognition in the part he is playing. The persona becomes the identity.

    Vincent Price is well-known for his troubles after playing Hamlet for a long run onstage; he said he had to rent an isolated cottage and spend months there shaking the Hamlet-persona. Likewise, David Bowie's troubles in having the Ziggy-persona take over his life, to the point where Brian Eno and Freddy Mercury had to lock him in a room in a hotel in Berlin for several months to "deprogram" him.

    What is this, if not "ambiguity of identity"?

    "We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on; and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep."
    - Wm Shakespeare, The Tempest

  7. There can be no doubt that the show is a success, the very fact that so many lucid comments have been posted here is proof of that.

    As many of you know the psychology of virtual existence has long been an interest of mine, reflected in these pages.

    Long may this type of debate continue for it is in the experience of this form of expression of our psyche (the avatar) that we are forming a new culture and a new community.

  8. I like your comments, all of them. And especially wizzys: "We don't *know* someone until we get to know them".

  9. I never took the words from politburo leader (Georg Janick / Gary Zabel)serious as he don't like any of my identities.

  10. Well, he didn't like any of my words, so I guess that makes us kinda equal.

  11. With this wannabe Stalin it always starts with not liking your words, after you are send forever in exile to Siberia. And even then he sends his agents like Pixels, Bryn and Miso after you to spy. Your days in freedom are counted now, Soror. Hide quick under my bridge or you will be next!

  12. *glances up from reading the latest love letter from Frederick William Victor Augustus Ernest, Crown Prince of Germany, across a pile of hastily-packed luggage with a ticket on the Orient Express laying atop it towards the doorway*

    "What's that?!?!"


    "Open up! Het is de kunst politie!"


    "Gadzooks! I've been found out!"