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.
"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.