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What would the world be like if one could see through the eyes of another? Would it help us to understand each other? Would it help us to understand ourselves?
What would it be like for a woman to experience having a man’s body, for a physically fit jogger to find out what it’s like to be wheelchair-bound, or for a black person to live in the body of a white person? We can, of course, talk or read about how others experience the world, but to actually experience another perspective is something else entirely.
The Machine To Be Another offers an opportunity to do just that. This interactive performance installation based on low-budget experiments in virtual body extension gives access to the body and mind of another person. The “other person” here is an actor who – triggered by an object such as a photograph, a child’s toy, a mirror or a pack of cigarettes – tells a personal story.
Using a first-person camera, a microphone and special glasses, what the actor is seeing and saying is communicated directly to the viewer, whose movements are closely followed so that the images received perfectly correspond with the user’s movements. This installation caused international uproar in experimental anthropology, gender studies and gay studies circles because it offers a totally new approach to understanding identity.
The makers themselves are intensely ideological and see their machine as an instrument for boosting empathetic responses, making the world a better place in the process.