Empty Models, Flattened Language
BNSL Studio, 2021, media installation, screens, iPhone, screen mount, truss system
The installation - inspired by Nora N. Khan’s 2018 text of the same name - inquires into the idea of the avatar, or digital body for oneself’s presence in virtual space. It focuses on the moment of transition from material to digital, tracking the viewers movement and mapping it onto a digital avatar. The 3D model of the body is, as Khan writes,
the body without history and the body without politics. The 3D model, empty when you cutaway, is without history or politics or backstory. This body exists on an equal plane with all other bodies, all with essentially the same ability, or, if deficient, the ability, through sheer will, to conquer that “lack” to become a “real,” full model. […] In this [virtual] world, you can have different–enough looking models, a whole palette of representation,: so visually, yes, different ages, ethnicities, genders, orientations, weights, heights, level of ability that manifest in mechanics that are fluid and slotted into the game’s mechanics. There is no friction. You have no history. You are just a body moving through space.
Nora N. Khan (2018): Empty Models, Flattened Language
For Empty Models, Flattened Language we utilize Unreal Engines Metahuman framework, which in its name suggests precisely this claim: digital bodies that transcend individual situatedness, that are universal. As many of such products do, Metahuman focuses on photorealistic models of human bodies and highfidelity animation to become believable, or, conquer the above mentioned „lack“ in order to become „real“. The tracking glitch suggests a mismatch, or insufficiency between hardware used and body, or rather, bodily expression, to be computed. While the hardware might be state-of-theart, it is build on certain ontological conceptions of how to calculate human bodies, or, abstract them in order to make them computable, that go back to renaissance studies of human proportions and further. On an even more basic level, it suggests that a digital body is most sufficient when its look and movement most closely resemble that of an actual person, however, disregarding everything internal. The only way to nonverbally express the internal or inscribe the digital body with history is movement, which, here, gets lost in the translation from material to digital. To express oneself one has to struggle against the technological interface.
BNSL Studio is the collaborative practice of Maurice Wald and Felix Ansmann, both studying in the M.A. Design & Computation. Via a range of artistic media, we explore the aesthetics of artificial intelligence and ontologies of computation. With backgrounds in AI-engineering and the Anthropology of technology respectively, we investigate computational modes of thinking and their histories, understanding ourselves as a hybrid between artistic practice and research platform. BNSL Studio was founded in 2019 and is based in Berlin. Beyond our artistic practice, we are interested in new technologically enabled models for art economies and ecologies existing as self-organized systems outside established institutions. BNSL Studio is also active as a production studio and consultancy for digital art and exhibition making. Our works have been shown internationally in the US, Poland, Israel and Germany. We have been awared the Niio x AI Art Prize 2019/20 alognside works by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Chris Kore, Pascual Sisto and Eyal Gruss. Furthermore, we have realized projects for Univeristy College London Urban Lab, Theater Münster, and English Theatre Berlin | International Performing Arts Centre.
Felix Ansmann Müller