Abstract for speech held at ISEA, 1994.
By Stahl Stenslie
From an artists point of view, I will make a couple of unrestrained assumptions about the virtual personality, the virtual identity that we assign to our selves in Cyberspace, that is computer created space.
Most people are familiar with these virtual personalities from MUDs. There you can describe your personality in lines of text. I can become a beautiful green-skinned lady, walking around naked simply by typing it. It is a liquid description of a liquid self, a self that does not know any limitations or boundaries. Whenever I want to recombine myself into anything else, I just write it.
Virtual identities can have several functions; ranging from soon-to-be-destroyed targets to bodies of beauty. If you have played Quake (Dactyl Nightmare) you have been assigned a visual, 3D representation for others to shoot at. However, first of all our virtual personea is a handler which you associate your selected virtues to in virtual space. It becomes a second self, implying how easy it is to multiply your appearances, creating an idefinite number of different personalities, all with some kind of relation to your “real self”.
When you play with your virtual identity, you are playing with what is called the multiple personality disorder. But, don’t worry, in cyberspace we are all patients and doctors at the same time. Therapy never ends.
What interest me in particular is how these Virtual Characters influence our behaviour. What do I do, how do I act, and – in what kind of body? How does my virtual body influence my perception? And, how is my behaviour related to my virtual representation?
My virtual body enables me quite other kinds of expressions, looks and qualties than in real life. It can make me into an Alice of Cyberland. In the fantastical fabric of cyberspace, a fantastical kind of body is the cybernauts best friend…. Cyberspace is a hyperreal place. It is a non-linear, confusing soup of things and events. This space demands new kinds of bodies to inhabit it, certainly if you do not want to suffocate under the seduction of New Reality and become a slave to consumption.
Virtual bodies are bodies as we don`t know them. My Virtual body is a mutating kind of object, it is a crash body, a trash body, a sacrificial body that travels at Kroker’s sub-suicidal speed, evaporates and then recreates, readopts itself to whatever the unit me + medium mutates into. Recombining myself, matching my virtual identity to my virtual body, I become something outside of my total control.
For what is “ME” anyway? except an infinite number of social relations and mental connections? Therefore, I propose the schizoid body as the future body of Cyberspace. Schizoid because it is moody, a liquid expression of multiple me`s, ever-changing, at least compared to the cartesian model of reality.
In the schizoid reality of cyberspace we can all crossdress, be aliens, furry animals, strawberry cakes and other things, and most mudders will know how fun that can be. Who hasn’t pretented to be the opposite gender in an on-line communication? So, your virtual representation turns communication not only into a play with words, but also into a play with identity, corporality and sexuality.
In Cyberspace the body potentially becomes a fantastical, malleable, instable, fluxtuating, – even inconsequent kind of object. It is also a multiple by nature, infinately reproducable, duplicable. As an object in a virtual space it is subject to a high degree of instability. Despite this, I see the important issue as your very own, personal relation to your virtual representation – and how you design yourselves to be. (Sure, it’s an object in a virtual space, just like any virtual car, cake, UFO or stone, but the important thing about your relation to your virtual representation is how you relate to it, how you design yourselves to look like.)
The body of the future, I think, will adopt to the strong schizofrenic-like fabric of cyberspace, and to the personal view of me as a multiple self.
I am Stahl Stenslie.
This has been ME talking.
You’ve been a great audience, and I am out of here.