[ISEA97]  Artist Statement: Nicholas Baginsky — Narcissus Enterprise

 Artist Statement 

The installation NARCISSISM ENTERPRISE is concerned with the representation of the exhibition visitor and his narcissistic relationship with his own image. In doing so, the project NARCISSISM ENTERPRISE merges two classical themes:
the motif of Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection encounters the enchanted mirror in Sleeping Beauty, the fairytale in which a mirror classsifies and pronounces judgment on the person facing it. The fascination our own mirror image holds over us has an elementary bearing on what we call self-consciousness. This explicit knowledge we have of ourselves which is derived from recognizing our own mirror image is found only among human beings and some few varieties of mammals. The magnetism exerted by one´s own reflection appears to be an archetypal factor in the attainment of self-consciousness. Even small children – long before they learn to deal with the abstract symbols, say, of language- can be observed dwelling over reflective surfaces to be entertained by their likeness. Then, in the passage to adulthood, however, this pleasure is spoilt for us, for among adults the “mirror monkey” is looked down on. It is only with the advent of the new media such as video that this form of selfgratification has returned to being socialy accepted. Just think of the effect a combined video camera and monitor mounted in a shop window has on passers-by: they are arrested by their video image and seduced into playing with themselves. We readily exploit the increased distance created by a camera image on the monitor -as compared to a simple mirrored reflection- (this image is not mirror-inverted) for our own amusement.

In the eyes of the visitor, NARCISSISM ENTERPRISE presents itself as a tryptich of video and data projections. On two of the three screens a succession of idealized portraits of the exhibition visitor is being generated by a camera robot and custom-designed face recognition software. The third screen displays the installation´s long-term memory. This is where an aritificial neuronal net classifies the results of the connected face recognition. For each of the approximately seventy classification categories the system creates idealized images composed of all the faces which are grouped in this category. Thus in the course of the exhibition about seventy images are generated containing fragments of the each visitor`s individual portrait. But the system actually disposes of no prior knowledge. All criteria for classifying the faces are generated directly from the facial traits of the people visiting the exhibition.
The installation was previously shown as a reduced trial model in three cities: Rotterdam, Chicago and Budapest. Reactions to the piece were manifestly different in each location. Furthermore, in each country the various classifying facial categories turned out to possess entirely different sets of traits (such as, in the American tableaux, the incidence of categories of people with black skin).
The aim of presenting this work over the coming years in various countries and cultures is to assemble a comprehensive collection of facial tableaux.

The optical part of the system is developed from the special optical sense of Baginsky’s earlier sculpture, Elizabeth Gardner (Hamburger Kunsthalle). This sub-system finds, extracts and recombines facial features (eyes, noses, mouths) from the incoming video images. It is a special feature of this image processing system that it stores an internal representation of the significant optical stimulation in the synaptic connections of the artificial neural networks. The representations combine characteristics of a sub-group of faces seen by the system. Thus, composite images are created that unite in a new face the significant features of all those, for instance, with dark hair and a moustache. The classification of such `significant features’ is not predetermined but are created by the system itself on the based of the perceived data.

Narcissism Enterprise is a system with artificial intelligence. In a certain way it does the work of an imaginary portrait painter by offering fodder to the human narcissism in the form of two dimensional images. The system decides which images it will return to the visitors as their desired optical mirror images. It reflects selected aspects of the optical and acoustic appearance back on the visitor. It does this in a sensuous and playful way. [Source: baginsky.de]

  • Nicolas Baginsky (Germany). Born in Gräfelfing near Munich, Germany, 1961; 1989: Performance-group “Coax”; Project “Archetyp” (robotics, modern dance, music). 1990: Artist grant city of Hamburg, Project “Coax” (robotics, modern dance, music). 1994-95: Guest Professor Hochschule für Künste; Bremen. Performances: 1991-92 Stagings of “Coax” in Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, Austria; 1995:1-beam music; Baginsky / Schwartz, Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover; 1996: “Digitale 1996′; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; 1997:”Der Sinn der Sinne; Kunst- and Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik, Deutschland, Bonn, “Die lange Nacht derGitarre”, Podeuvil, Berlin; laboratorium Mensch; Hygiene museurn, Dresden. Solo-Exhibitions: 1992: “Quasi Raked for the very first time; Expo-Henk, Rotterdam; ‘Transmigration: Trip Gallery, Luzern; Le Trianon, Paris, 1993; Tibet; Weisser Raum,  Hamburg, 1995; “Tibef; Sandmann & Haak, Hannover. Selected Group shows: 1991: Stipendiaten; 1990; Hamburg, Ars Electronica, Linz; 1992: “documenta 9” ‘Piazza Virtuale’, Kassel “Electronic Arts Syndrom; Berlin. 1993: “Mediale”, Hamburg; “Sabotage”, Glasgow; künstliche Spiele”, München; 1994: “V2”, Den Bosch; “Tripple X”, Amsterdam; 1995: “Telepolis”; Luxemburg,1996; “Ars Electronica”; Linz: “Digitale 96”; Cologne; 1997: “Virtual World Orthestra; Glasgow; “Machine Aesthetics”, V2, Rotterdam.

Nicholas Baginsky is supported here by generous funding from the Goethe-Institut.