Mark Farid, a British artist based in London, wants to strap into a head-mounted display for 28 days straight—and we’re not talking about a month of Minecrift. Farid’s new Kickstarter campaign, called Seeing I, is supposed to straddle a fine line between performance art and social experiment, and is devised to explore the personal and cultural repercussions of living life through the eyes of another person.
This other person, which their campaign simply calls the ‘Other,’ will be free to walk, talk, eat, shower and go to the toilet as he (yes, it will be a he, to match with Farid’s own gender) pleases for the full 28 days, meanwhile recording continuous audio/visual data to be re-experienced by the artist (with a delay of 6 days for food and drink prep) through a yet unspecified virtual device.
Farid intends to be placed on 24 hour display at the Arebyte Gallery in in East London, where he will mimic the real world actions of the anonymous transmitter in a bid to discover “how much of the individual is an inherent personality, and how large of a portion… is a cultural identity.” He will only be allowed a one hour break from isolation per day for medical and psychological assessment.
Oculus, makers of the Rift DK1 headset featured in the promotional video, have yet to comment on the project.
Keeping It Real
Besides the issue of maintaining the same toilet schedule as the Other, which sounds like a Kickstarter campaign in its own right, Farid’s project is putting a fair amount of emphasis on cobbling together the requisite ‘ordinary glasses camera’, which is supposed to ensure the anonymity of the transmitter. The pair of disguised cameras will also allow Farid to receive a 180 degree front-facing field of view, with accompanying 3D audio.
Some have questioned the need for £150,000 goal, which the project creators have responded to in an update to the campaign.
“We know that it’s a lot of money, but when you take into account what we are trying to achieve, it is actually not a huge amount,” they wrote. They chalk up the cost to the need for safety in the experiment, the cost of also creating a documentary from the experience, and the need to develop the complex recording glasses that will be worn by the Other.
Among the lengthy provisions discussed, some familiar technical hurdles facing VR have strangely yet to be addressed by the project team.
The all too common phenomenon of simulator sickness has claimed the lunch of many a DK1 and DK2 user alike, and could force the documentarians to confront the ugly truth that the technology currently available may not be up to snuff for their purposes, essentially making the project’s overall ‘locked-in syndrome’ theme its largest limiting factor.
There are no magic bullet solutions yet, because let’s face it: what Mark Farid is trying to build here is a rudimentary human simulator, and he might be ignoring more environmental variables than even the most sophisticated patchwork of peripherals can address at the moment. There are some home remedies, like adding a simple treadmill to foster the illusion of walking in step with his wayward avatar, or the addition of 360 degree video, which could give him minimal control over his head’s position, but what if the telepresence surrogate decides to engage in complex behavior that has no simulated analogue… like sex?
But that’s what experiments are for, to answer questions.
Why should I care?
VR experiments in the past, like the gender swapping Machine to be Another, have induced similar illusions that are designed to build empathy with the opposite sex by changing a person’s perception of their own body. The major difference however is the near immediacy in which the body swapping illusion takes place, which certainly doesn’t warrant the whole month of February to observe.
Providing the project reaches its £150,000 funding goal and Farid goes through with the full 28 days, the VR community might discover what sort of physical damage actually occurs after near month-long exposure to the artificial light given off by smartphone screens used in modern displays. Since no studies of this scope currently exist, it may be a valuable chance to gather real human data.
Also, Farid’s vestibular system (the part of the brain that regulates balance and spatial orientation) might even adjust to the 24 hour bombardment of unstabilized video. What happens when he returns to the real world though is another question entirely. The young artist could be dealing with a lengthy rehabilitation period to undo some pretty nasty ingrained behavior, the sort of land sickness you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Whether Mark Farid is brave or just misinformed, we can leave to another discussion for now. In the meantime, why not microwave some popcorn and watch the show? (After all, we do love our willing guinea pigs, don’t we?)