Modeled Behavior (part I)

I have been investigating virtual intimacy:

To create a prototype of virtual intimacy, I needed to locate bodies in virtual networks and render them visible. I also had to take the networks themselves into account.

I began with my social media network, asking my Facebook friends to physically gather and hug one another. I photographed each friend hugging every other friend who volunteered, creating a library of networked portraiture. The images document moments of orchestrated intimacy between different data points in my algorithmic social life.

To visualize this data, and to embody it with more substance, I wrapped the images onto digital spheres, using depth maps to translate pixel value into texture. The resultant hug models are abstract yet indexical, incomprehensible and visceral.

3D models generated from hug photographs. Image © Tyler Calkin

I placed them in a void, to strip them of their context, and give them ample space to be considered. Floating in virtual space, the models have a mutable scale. These hugs can now assume architectural grandeur, they can become planets or microbes.

Hug models in empty space. Image © Tyler Calkin

To propose a shift in scale is to establish a new relationship to the body. What could it mean to hold a hug in one’s hand?

When a model becomes a miniature, it can be observed more closely and intimately. But without an apparent referent object at “true” size, how does a miniature affect our comprehension?

3D-printed miniature hug model. Image © Tyler Calkin

Reducing an object’s scale can make it a plaything or a teaching aid. When the details are retained, the object becomes didactic – it models something in the world (such as a surface, a system or a relationship). One can hold a scale model in one’s hand to learn something about the original.

Losing details loosens the objects hold on its referent, creating an interpretive gap. Brian Sutton-Smith would call this a ludic sign; the ambiguous relationship between original and reproduction creates a space for play. And play can be both intuitive and instructive.