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Aposema: Identity Altering Face Prosthesis

Aposema: Identity Altering Face Prosthesis
  • On September 18, 2017
  • https://www.adimeyer.com/

Technology is playing a growing role in extending our physical senses and abilities, constantly modifying and deforming our bodies. One of the oldest examples of body extensions is clothing. An ancient technology developed for protection, that with time became such a strong social convention, that it is now illegal in most countries to be without it.[1] A contemporaneous example of technology extending our bodies is the smartphone; a device so essential that it is never left out of our sensory periphery. Since the advent of the digital age this phenomenon has accelerated. Over the last two decades, more and more research and investment have been dedicated to the development of wearable technologies[2], causing cyborg imagery of the previous century’s science fiction cinematography and literature to slowly become reality.

As the boundaries between the biological and the synthetic blur, the restrictions of our predefined human form are breaking. Along with our bodies, our identities are becoming fluid and dynamic. They are constantly altered to suit our surroundings.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell, 1995: Cyborg Imagery of previous century becoming reality from: Ghost in the Shell. Mamoru Oshii. Manga Entertainment, 1995. Film.

What if in the near future we would live our lives wearing face prostheses that cover our faces in the same manner in which we cover our bodies with clothing nowadays? What if we were forced to wear masks at all time or access to masks was limited to the social and economic elite? What if we were no longer restricted to our singular, biologic, permanent, birth face?

This article seeks to explore the following questions; if identity is fluid, how could a responsive face prosthesis, as a means of dynamic body alteration, change the wearer’s social identity? Could a prosthesis as such, that adds a layer of flexibility to the wearer’s physical identity, influence the wearer’s perceived personality? How would these prosthetic extensions be designed?

The first three chapters of this article focus on psychological, sociological and theatrical thought. I open with an overview of psychological research relating to facial perception with a focus on the importance of the human face in defining identity and guiding social interaction. I then examine the sociological theories of the body, including the possibility of expanding the boundaries of identity, and the concept of the monstrous body.[3] This discussion will be supported by the sociological-cultural writings about body modification by Mike Featherstone[4]. The third chapter considers Tseelon’s definitions of masking and the historical role of masks as an instrument for transforming identity in the performing arts[5].

The first three chapters set the ground for introducing the main conceptual aspect of our design project, Aposema. Taking a speculative approach to design, a description of the narrated scenario for which these prostheses are designed will be unfolded, followed by the details of the methodology chosen to assist with the decision-making process of our design.

This post reflects upon the possibility of expanding the social restrictions of our physical identity in the hope of creating a future that will allow for more fluidity and liberty in the options we encounter during our lifetimes. As three women coming from diverse non-European backgrounds, our design seeks to explore the deconstruction of heteronormative, gender confirmative and white hegemonic social norms.

Furthermore, I wish to locate this design within the intersection of technology, design and architectural discourses. The implementation of soft robotic technology onto the face, as a fashion piece, which composes the most immediate environment of humans, is used here as a case study for potential architectural intervention that would recruit soft robotic technology to manipulate our built environment, making it softer and more responsive. The assumed social effects of these wearables could give an indication of social change resulting from the implementation of soft robotic technologies in the larger scales of our built environment.

Face Perception

Prior to designing an extension for the face, I found it crucial to understand how faces are perceived. This chapter aims at building an understanding of how the human face affects perception of identity and to serve as a theoretical background for supporting design decisions concerning our design.

What is Face Perception?

Face perception is an extraordinarily complex process, deeply rooted in our neuropsychological system[6]. It is at its’ root an individual’s understanding and interpretation of the human face when encountered as visual stimuli. The recognition of facial expressions involves extensive and diverse areas of the brain.[7] Authors Jeffery and Rhodes write that the ability to process information from faces “is a crucial component of a person’s perception and requires sensitivity to very subtle differences.

Face Perception and Social Interaction

Social interactions depend critically on the neurological mechanism that enables facial recognition and interpretation.[8] In their paper “Insights into the development of face recognition mechanisms revealed by face aftereffects”, the authors,  Jeffrey and Rhodes, claim that faces convey a wealth of information that we use to guide our social interactions.[9] The proportions and expressions of the human face allow us to quickly extract information about identity, gender, ethnicity, age, and emotional state.[10] In addition, they can tell about a person’s intention and attentiveness. According to Bruce and Young, in one of the most widely accepted theories of face perception, the face is the most distinctive and widely used key to a person’s identity, and the loss of ability to recognise faces, experienced by some neurological (prosopagnosic) patients has a profound effect on their lives.[11]

Face Recognition as an Innate Human Ability

Face recognition appears to play an important part in an individual’s social interaction from birth, as an innate developmental component.[12] The Acknowledgment of the biological and cross-cultural nature of face perception is an important evidence of its role in human interaction. As other neuropsychological processes, face recognition seems to be adaptable; test results showing change in cross-racial face recognition in adults when exposed frequently to people from another race[13], hint at the possibility that the face perception process is flexible and dynamic. The ability to change our faces via technology raises question of how face alteration through technological means would affect these processes.

Perceiving Faces for Analysing Identities

Bruce and Young argue that understanding faces involves several stages: from analysing basic information to derive details about the person (such as age, gender or attractiveness), to being able to recall meaningful details such as their name and any relevant past experiences of the individual[14]. According to their theory, simple physical aspects of the face are used to work out age, gender or basic facial expressions. Most analysis at this stage is on feature-by-feature basis. That initial information is used to create a structural model of the face, which allows it to be compared to other faces in memory, and across views. This explains why the same person seen from a novel angle can still be recognised. The structurally encoded representation is then transferred to another part of the brain, and used to identify a person through information from semantic memory.[15]

Jeffery and Rhodes explain in their paper, rooted in Bruce and Young’s work, how they use the critical information in faces to represent identities in their experiments. By creating antifaces; computational opposites made by caricaturing the average away from an individual identity to create a new identity which is opposite to the target face, an individual face can be made more distinctive by moving it away from the average [caricaturing] or less distinctive by moving it towards the average [anticaricaturing].[16] This way of extracting information is used in our prosthesis design process.

face space

This simplified face space shows the average face in the center, two identities (Dan and Jim), weaker versions (anticaricatures) of these identities, and the antiface (opposite) for each identity. Adapting to antiDan will bias us to perceive Dan from: Jeffery, Linda, and Gillian Rhodes. “Insights into the development of face recognition mechanisms revealed by face aftereffects.” British Journal of Psychology 102.4 (2011): 799-815

Holistic Face Perception

Most adult face perception theories raised in the last half a century have in common an emphasis on the overall structure or gestalt[17] of the face, above and beyond its more local featural information[18]. Farah, Wilson and Drain assert that faces are recognised holistically.[19] The authors believe that face recognition differs from recognition of other objects in the sense “that it involves relatively little part decomposition.”[20] For example, according to most theories of vision, recognising a particular house involves explicitly representing at least some parts of the house, while recognising a particular face does not involve representing the nose or eyes explicitly.[21] The authors support their hypothesis that faces are represented as wholes with results of tests they performed which show that recognition ability that has been lost in prosopagnosia[22] involves the representation of faces as wholes. [23]  Nonetheless, the authors acknowledge that people can also recognise parts of the human face: “people’s ability to recognise and distinguish isolated parts of faces, suggests that they must have access to explicit representations of facial parts under at least some circumstances”.[24] This insight was a revelatory intellectual step in our  prosthesis design process. By stretching the boundaries of what counts as a human face, we challenge and perhaps disrupt holistic facial perception on the masked face.

Effect of Observed Emotions on Face Perception

Findings suggest that the extent to which faces are processed holistically, could be influenced by emotions as they are observed through facial expressions.[25] Curby, Johnson and Tyson assert that observed negative emotional states could impair holistic face processing, in comparison to positive emotional states.[26] According to the authors, observed negative emotions, such as those associated with anxiety or depression, have been linked with greater attention to local visual features, they encourage a narrow attentional focus, and facilitate the extraction of fine details.[27] Observed positive emotional states, in contrast, increase attentional flexibility and enhance global processing.[28] If face perception is influenced by emotions, these findings may suggest an explanation of why people with autism have a problem with face recognition; this may be connected to their emotional responses being impaired and this in turn may be related to face perception.[29] These insights informed our design in that our prosthesis  physically responds to facial expressions of observers.

The chapter sets out our general understanding of how rooted face perception is in our neuropsychological system and how important it is to our social interaction. From birth, face perception is crucial for our psychological function and manipulating the face would have far reaching consequences. In recognition of this, every human culture has a documented heritage of mask making.

The Monstrous Body

This chapter discusses the monstrous body to better understand the specific kind of monster that we are designing: a body interfered with a face prosthesis, a cyborgian being with an altered face, a hybrid between human and machine, between biological and mechanical. This chapter investigates the question of what happens when technology intervenes with our face, the most expressive part of our body and the part that is most representative of our identities.

The Monstrous Body According to Shildrick

Our Design, as will be described further on, deforms and exaggerates the face, making it what Shildrick might refer to as monstrous. The monstrous body is a representation of what author Margrit Shildrick refers to in her book, Embodying the monster: Encounters with the vulnerable self , as “the inappropriate other”, the abnormal body, that challenges and resists  normativity.[30] Shildrick’s comprehensive text on the monstrous body examines the history of the monster, and challenges current theoretical perspectives that establish the monstrous body within binary conditions.[31] According to Stephanie Springgay interprets Shildrick’s work as an attempt to refute “the givenness of bodies, that corporeality and ontology are fixed and static”.[32] Springgay describes the classical body as monumental, static, and standard, whereas the monstrous body resists, exaggerates, and destabilises distinctions and boundaries that mark bodies.[33] For Shildrick, the monstrous represents a liminal, disruptive, and transgressive body, which is also marked by disgust, denial, and exclusion. Shildrick develops this argument by suggesting that the monster is not just a different physical form, but that the very ontological status is in question. Being is thus, uncertain and vulnerable.[34]  

Lucy & Bart; body transformations

Artists Lucy McRae and Bart Hess cooperate to produce work that explores physical transformations of bodies and faces. The images they generate aim to depict the skin as an interface between humans and their environments.[35] They write that “there is something primitive and curious to be seen in the ‘deformed’ human body. It questions all our ideals of beauty and the way we judge.” [36]  The notion of the deformation they explore could be related to Shildrick’s concept of the monstrous body. They create defiance of physical restrictions of the human body with images that transform it into an unfamiliar corporeality. This opposition of normality could be read as grotesque or monstrous. In that manner, their work has been a source of inspiration for our design Aposema, as will be described in the chapter about our work.

Exploded View Part Two, Lucy & Bart

“Exploded View Part Two”, Lucy & Bart, 2008, Web, 14 February 2017.

Evolution Lucy & Bart

“Evolution”, Lucy & Bart, 2008, Web, 14 February 2017.

Monsters and Touch

Shildrick also proposes the monstrous body as a way of redefining ideas about touch. Springgay writes that according to Shildrick, the idea of touch signals danger in an economy that privileges separation. According to Springgay “The distancing objectification of gaze has led to a fear of contamination through touch”. Even though our own bodies are the things we can be the most certain of, “there is nevertheless a split between self and body because our body can betray us”[37]. Shildrick claims that even in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, which stresses the unity of matter and mind, the body is barely experienced[38]. Shildrick relies on the writings of Donna Haraway[39] [40] and Derrida[41] to propose an alternative understanding of touch; one that is relational as opposed to the dominant, modernist, masculine one.[42] She introduces the idea that the monster is not the abnormal other, it is the fluid, uncertain state, “the other within [ourselves]”.[43] By doing that, she disrupts ideas of bodily closure and completion.

Shai Langen and the Fluid Body

Material designer Shai Langen describes the human body as a central theme in his work. He explores how new technologies redefine the human form and test our understanding of what it means to be human.[44] In his work, he reshapes the human form to investigate the way we think about the body.[45] He explores the boundaries between the states of liquid and solid. In his words, his work explores scenarios in which “the body loses its archaic form, and is able to transform into new ones”. His production responds to “the dichotomy between the synthetic and the organic”.[46] Langen’s work could be analysed through Shildrick’s ideas of redefining body fluidity, investigating an uncertain condition of transformation that could be interpreted as an experience of otherness, which we also tried to create through our design.

Imago Dei Shai Langen

“Imago Dei”, Shai Langen, 2015, Web, 25 February 2017.

The Cyborg Monster

A specific kind of monstrous body is the cyborg: a body altered through technology to augment or repair damaged body parts. In her writing, Shildrick claims that Cyborgs are a kind of sci-fi monsters[47], who blur the boundaries between nature and culture.[48] Such modifications are ways of controlling and regulating the human physique, while also making statements about individual identity. Springgay suggests that through technological alterations, we attempt to make our exterior form represent our interior or our “true self”. These explanations create a binary of oppression-resistance in which bodies are controlled, directed, and transcribed by the mind[49] [50], similar to the binary we attempted to design through our facial prosthesis, as will be discussed further on.

Canadian artist Aganetha Dyck is an example of an artist who is occupied with mutation and transformation. Dyck uses bees’ wax to create her art pieces. She does not melt, dip, or mold the wax, but rather places objects into a beehive, allowing the bees to shape and create their honeycombs on the objects, transforming them into various mutated forms. Through her installations, everyday objects become disturbing through distortion and incompleteness. In my view, these objects are no longer perceived as they did in their previous lives, when they served their original purpose. They are now a monstrous version of themselves, similarly to humans turned into cyborgs.

Aganetha Dyck, Photo by William Eakin

Aganetha Dyck // Photo by William Eakin

Orlan and the Fluid Identity

Performance artist Orlan refuses to accept identity as a given, she challenges the notions that individuals embody an essential or interior self. Orlan’s work defies the assumption that there is a natural self that needs to be revealed and explored. Instead, Orlan, through a series of cosmetic surgeries, “problematises deterministic anxieties of the body by ontologically confronting the notion that the body is entirely negotiable”.[51] Imogen Ashby argues that Orlan’s constant refashioning of her face through a series of nine surgeries to date disrupts a reading of internal stability and instead presents an internal self that is completely uncertain and in constant change. “[Orlan] is also presenting an identity which is not fixed and where the ending of its creation is continually being postponed”.[52] Such position challenges essentialist notions of self and beauty. There is nothing natural about Orlan’s surgeries, but rather they are celebrations of identity as artifice.[53] Our project seeks to explore the possibility of achieving the identity development that Orlan’s work creates, but add a dimension of dynamism to it, by using prosthesis instead of the human flesh.  In this sense, Orlan’s work has been a valuable precedent for Aposema. When the face is altered, the monstrous is taken to the extreme, destabilising the most basic perception of our identity. For this reason, humankind has always been occupied with masking, and for this reason we were interested in designing a responsive facial prosthesis.

Orlan, “Smile of pleasure”

Orlan, “Smile of pleasure”, 7th Surgery-Performance Titled Omnipresence, New York, 1993.

Masks as Representations of Identity

The most formidable powers of the mask lie in its being a face transformed,[54] an event of body alteration that takes place on the face. Body modification was discussed in the previous chapter as a means of altering one’s perceived identity.[55] I argued in the first chapter[56] that the human face is the most representative signifier of a person’s identity. It holds a deep psychological significance that affects our social interaction. This chapter is dedicated to a discussion regarding the role of masks in transforming identity.

The Double Role of the Mask

A mask is a partial, selective covering, performing as an accessory or prosthesis that protects or hides from view. In the process of concealing, it partially reveals, hinting at what is behind its layers.[57] The mask is also a representation that tells a story about its wearer. “Masking is an extension of the notion of a performance. It evokes an idea of an authentic identity ‘behind the mask’ only to dismantle the illusion of such identity.”[58] The Mask can be observed as a semiotic system, one of many means to signal identity or change of identity.[59] It operates in two modes, representing both what is true and what is sinister. The first mode views the mask as a covering that is either real or metaphoric, and on certain occasions it deceives by pretending to be the real self. The second mode roots itself in the belief that every mask is authentic. Though the mask may fluctuate and carry many layers of meaning, its manifestation is genuine, revealing the multiplicity of identities.[60]

Mask as Constructing Identity

The Mask is used as a tool in constructing our identity. It is a mechanism that defines our belonging to the world through the medium of representation.[61] These representations operate through a material register, the physical, and play out in a non-material register, the physiological. The mask, as a physical, material facade allows the wearer to forge an identity, a physiological register filled with symbolic significance.[62] “It is necessary to absorb visual material within a psychic framework, and to invest it with symbolic significance in order to identify with it”.[63] Tara Finke writes that in the same way that chameleons use coloration, human beings use fashion as camouflage. “We follow trends, copy and mimic others, and differentiate ourselves in order to stand out or to blend in with our environment”.[64] The mask serves as a commonly used tool of identity that is continuously transforming. Our identity, constantly evolving, never static, aids in our adaptation with the ever-changing surroundings and material conditions. We change our identity to respond to our culture and environment, constantly cloaking ourselves in different identities to either stand out, (display/extend) or fit in (conceal).

Masks: Revealing Multiple Selves

Efrat Tseelon, in her book Masquerade and identities: essays on gender, sexuality and marginality[65], notes that masking in a traditional sense represents artifice and denial to our internal, truthful, and authentic self. The post-modern understanding of masking asserts that every manifestation is authentic and that through masking we reveal our multiple selves.[66] According to Tseelon, masking simultaneously conceals, reveals, protests, and protects creating spaces where one can play out fears and desires transgressing rules, regulations, and controls imposed on the body. [67] Masks give us the impression that we can control our perception of self as well as the judgements of others.[68] Donald Pollock argues that “identity is displayed, revealed or hidden in any culture through conventional means, and masks work by taking up these conventional means [by representation or signaling]”.[69]

Case Study: Kwakiutl Masks

Tribal masks are some of the oldest and most universal creations of popular arts. Social motives in some ceremonial dances are amusement, ridicule, and simple entertainment. In all instances, the proper use of the mask transforms the wearer into the personality depicted by the mask. [70]

The Kwakiutl Indians of north British Colombia produced spectacularly designed masks that were a constant feature of their rituals, and influenced other aspects of their culture as well.[71] Their masks were viewed as a way to change the wearer’s identity, and they contained a dynamic element, transforming as they could be opened to reveal an inner layer[72]. The dynamic quality of these masks makes them ever more relevant to the prospects of this paper.

The Kwakiutl society was organised in descent groups called Numayma, that were of fixed size, limited by a set of ancestral names or titles. The names or titles were accompanied by masks that were carved of wood, and associated with the tradition of the animal-spirit ancestors of each Numayma.[73] Pollock explains that “the process of transmitting these names and masks imbued the new possessor with the spiritual identity… of the ancestor”. The ancestor’s identity was incorporated into those of the group’s members through the titles and masks.[74]

“Mask of Ha’mshamtses, Representing the Raven”, From a sketch made at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Boas, F. 1897.

“Mask of Ha’mshamtses, Representing the Raven”, From a sketch made at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Boas, F. 1897.

 “Mask of Ha’mshamtses” From a sketch made at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Boas, F. 1897

“Mask of Ha’mshamtses” From a sketch made at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Boas, F. 1897

The story behind the Kwakiutl masks comes from the culture’s myth; the animal ancestors shed their skin and emerged as humans, and the skin became the masks. When the Kwakiutl people wear those masks, they are transformed into their ancestor animal. Many of the Kwakiutl masks are composed of two layers; an exterior layer and an inner one. The exterior layer represents a person’s public identity while the inner layer “was one’s ‘soul’ or spiritual identity”. Together, the layers of the mask constructed a representation of a person’s identity.

One of the most prominent features of the Kwakiutl mask is the mouth. Many Kwakiutl masks are differentiated by the mouth, usually represented with pushed out lips “as if making their characteristic ‘oooh’ call”.[75] The Kwakiutl perceived the mouth as the link between the layers of the mask and identity, and the gateway to a person’s soul. Therefore, the masks were designed to “signal the fundamental differences at the core of souls, even when public identity was similar”. The Kwakiutl also practiced cannibalism as a form of masking ritual. They did not simply wish to eat humans, but to “incorporate their identities”.[76]

Late 19th Century Wolf Transformation Mask, Kawakwaka'wak // planetalaska.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-my-fathers-cabin.html

Late 19th Century Wolf Transformation Mask, Kawakwaka’wak //
planetalaska.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/in-my-fathers-cabin.html

Our design learns about layers of identities and transformation through artifacts from the Kwakiutl traditional dynamic masks, and tries to enhance this concept by implementing advanced technology to achieve a sense of a dynamic identity by transformation of facial masks.

Aposema: Identity Altering Face Prosthesis

Wearable Technology

Our design belongs to the realm of wearable technology (will be referred to as wearables). Wearables augment the intellect or the senses of the wearer while other tasks are being performed. Wearables work in the background, while the wearer goes on with their daily routine. [77] Wearables are inherently connected with humans, creating coupled cognitive systems[78], in which wearable technology artifacts perform as literal bodies.[79] Serving as a kind of second skin, wearables can be used as a filter between the wearer and the surroundings; by blocking certain messages that the wearer does not wish to be exposed to, or protecting the wearer’s personal or digital privacy. Wearables are useful in protecting privacy because of their inherent quality of being attached to the body, and therefore harder to hack. This quality enables better control of information flow from the wearer. Wearables strive to create seamless integration into a person’s daily life, be unobtrusive and not constrain the wearer’s movements. [80]  

Wearables usually aspire to be extensions of self, to be aware; responsive and networked. They intake sensory input (such as temperature, sound and proximity), recognise them, adapt to them and react accordingly. The wearer could be aware of this reaction (through signal outputs) or unaware, for example in the case of dispensing medicine when needed based on data gathered by wearable monitors.[81]

Our wearable belongs to the category of wearables functioning as filters. It protects the wearer’s privacy, using its position to conceal identity, and it controls information flow from the wearer- outwards, as will be described in this chapter. It also functions as a prosthesis that is responsive and dynamic, serving the wearer’s needs.

Masks as Wearable Technology

We explored the idea of designing facial wearables as an extreme case study of wearable technology. By wrapping the sensual epicenter of the body and the most important area for perceiving our identity, the responsive masks we are designing, are on the borderline between wearables and prostheses, between a fashion piece and a second skin. Could they still be considered as artifacts operating in the background while the wearer performs other tasks, while attempting so clearly to morph the wearer’s perceived identity?

Design strategy

The design process began with intuitively deforming faces using 3D scanning and computational modeling tools with a general purpose of transforming identity in mind. Eventually, one of the design iterations was chosen and developed into a soft robotic physical prototype (see figure 11). Analysing the prototype in retrospect, we observed that it had little influence on the wearer’s perceived identity, as the integration of the prosthesis onto the face was lacking. It was detached from the face and disconnected from the body. Therefore, it failed to manipulate the wearer’s identity. We realised our mask should respond to the face, following or defying its geometry and features dynamically. We also debated upon the question of which area of the face should be concealed by the mask in order to achieve a transformation of identity, and decided to check people’s responses to facial deformations to get a sense of this.

Aposema Early Mask 1

Aposema Early Mask 1

Aposema Early Mask 2

Aposema Early Mask 2

Aposema Early Mask 3

Aposema Early Mask 3

Identity Identification Study

As part of the design process, a small-scale study has been conducted with the purpose of reflecting on our hypothesis and gathering information regarding the relative importance of the different parts of the face for changes in perceiving identity. The aim of the study was to learn how the deformation of different facial features could change the perception of the face in relation to the original face. The resulting data was used to inform the choice of the area of the face we should focus on when designing our identity-changing facial prosthesis. Based on our philosophical, sociological, psychological and historical research about face perception and masks, the hypothesis tested in this study assumed that the eyes and nose would be the most influential features when it comes to identity transformation.

Methodology

The method used was derived from the methodology “In the Eye of the Betrothed: Perceptual Downgrading of Attractive Alternative Romantic Partners” by of Shana, Trope, and Balcetis, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.[82]

Two groups of test subjects voluntarily completed an online face evaluation task. The first group consisted of 10 university graduate students between the ages of 23-29 (50% female) who were raised and spent most of their lives in different countries (Italy, Greece, Japan, India, China, Belgium and Afghanistan). The second cohort consisted of 10 participants between the ages of 26-31 (40% female), who had spent most of their lives in Israel.

Both groups were first shown four arrays of faces, two male arrays and two female arrays between the ages of 27-30. Each array contained 7 versions of the same target face; the six left faces had morphed facial features; lips, eyes, nose, eyebrows, chin and jaw line. The seventh face on the right was the original unmorphed face (see Figure 1). While looking at all four arrays, participants were asked to report anything they noticed about the faces. The participants were then shown each of the four arrays separately. While looking at each array, participants were asked to grade the 6 deformed photos from the most similar, to the most different from the original photo.

arrays of deformed faces

4 arrays of deformed faces were presented to participants. This caption displays an organized version of that array, that was intentionally mixed when presented to participants to avoid biases. Column 7 displays the original faces. Adi Meyer, 2017.

Analysis

The data collected from this study was analysed to assess the effects of deforming different facial features on perception of the face. The results were used to inform the decision of which area of the face is the most effective to mask and ‘deform’ with the purpose of achieving a dramatic change in the way the mask wearer’s identity is perceived. Taking in account that this is a small-scale study, and therefore results are not conclusive or comprehensive, the study could still be useful for reflection over our initial hypothesis regarding which features are more influential for recognition, and for perceiving identity. The results of the study hint towards the conclusion that our hypothesis was not off base, meaning that deformation of the nose and eyes area might result in a more substantial identity change than a deformation of other facial features. However, it is necessary to emphasise once more that confirming these results lies beyond the scope of this test.

The results of the study might hint that when deforming the nose, the face changes the most significantly in comparison to other features. Next in line of significance are the eyes. The least influential deformation appears to be the eyebrows, followed by the chin.  Furthermore, when comparing the results of both participant groups, it appears that the answers provided by the group of Israeli participants are more consistent and conclusive than the answers of the international group. This may be explained by a number of factors and it is hard to draw conclusions regarding these differences in results from this small-scale pilot test. Nevertheless, this may hint toward the conclusion that ethnic and cultural background play a significant role in perceiving identity since the deformation of facial features might not universally be read in the same way.

aposema study results

Study Results; How different the deformed face is from the original face on a scale of 1-6 (6 = the most different). Adi Meyer, 2017.

aposema Study Results

Study Results; How different the deformed face is from the original face on a scale of 1-6 (6 = the most different) according to the different participant groups. Adi Meyer, 2017.

Implementation

The empirical results of our experiment contributed to the selection of the area on the face that is most relevant to soft robotic deformation Empirical evidence was an important factor in our design considerations as we wanted to make our design as efficacious as possible in changing the wearer’s perceived physical identity when the deformation takes place. We did not however wish to limit our creative liberty by focusing on the deformation of the nose and eyes alone. The eyes and nose are physically small and geometrically complex areas and therefore present a limited canvas to operate on. By finding a balance between the creative and the empirical we expanded our focus area to include the eyes, nose, upper cheeks and forehead.

Narrative

We found it useful to develop a fictitious context in which these masks are worn and in which the change of identity would take place. For the atmosphere of this future scenario, we learned from precedents from the realm of science fiction cinema such as Ghost in the Shell[83], Blade runner[84] and Gattaca.[85] We also found useful references in two iconic science fiction literature pieces; the first is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World[86], and the second is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.[87] Both books describe utopian/dystopian worlds in which the citizens mask themselves. In Brave new world, citizens conceal their emotions by drugging themselves to oblivion with Soma. In Nineteen Eighty-Four party members mask themselves by hiding feelings and thoughts that are considered inappropriate. In addition, we took inspiration from the anarchy and masking depicted in the graphic novel V for Vendetta[88] and the film based on it,[89] followed by the adoption of the ‘Guy Fawkes mask’ by anonymous group[90], together with the television series Mr. Robot.[91] The narrative reflects our desire to respond to current political incidents involving WikiLeaks and the story of Edward Snowden[92], the actions of anonymous group and recent 2017 global cyber-attacks. Today’s political technological climate evolves repeated violations of privacy through hacking, that cause a global state of paranoia and a sense of insecurity. This climate is the starting point of our story, that at the time of writing this thesis, is still in the process of being established. We are constructing a fictitious world based on contemporary events. The following dystopian scenario is brought to speculate on the future of our built environment.

We speculate about a near future scenario in which a series of ongoing Cyber-attacks have led to a state of anarchy the UK. In this reality, the obsession with information security has reached new peaks, and distrust in digital media has reached extreme levels. Law enforcement is helpless against hackers, and the general population lives in fear of being digitally compromised and physically attacked. In this dark future, we obsess over hiding everything about our identity, including our biometric information. Living in a state of paranoia, we wear gloves to prevent leaving fingerprints, and most importantly, we all wear Aposemas; identical, expressionless masks, that conceal our faces and protect us from being recognised as our true selves.

In this hypothetical scenario, our mask operates as a facial prosthesis; it outputs encrypted visual data through high-tech liquids that flow through the mask, and appear on our faces. This data can be decoded in a variety of ways with augmented reality technology embedded in everyone’s personal Aposema in this dystopian world. The wearer of Aposema has the choice of when to unlock this personal information and the level of access he or she wishes to grant to each other individual. The wearer can choose to present themselves in a variety of different ways in reaction to each unique Aposema they encounter. The level of the desired encryption or decryption is determined according to the type of liquid the information is fed through and the private key the other person has been granted by the wearer. The data available appears to the naked eye to be different colors. the true meaning of the data depends on the level of decryption allowed to others. The mask, in this world, is a part of our everyday life. Without it we are naked and visible to all. With it, we are able to communicate selectively along a spectrum of total decryption to limited access to anonymised / fully hidden.

This communicative or blank, permanent facial extension, becomes a representation of our social identity, while our biological hidden face no longer serves for communication purposes. This new identity, unlike an ordinary face, represents a self which is controlled and regulated by the wearer. Aposema exposes layers of ourselves according to the level of access we grant to other in a fluid and dynamic manner. Aposema allows its wearer to make a choice, to curate his/her identity in a parallel way to which we try to control our digital, social media identity today. Aposema may become our most distinctive fashion declaration and the trade mark of our personality or a system to avoid recognition and create a neutral identify shared by all. The mask expands the range of normality through extreme, monstrous outputs on our faces, allowing the wearer to make a statement by being different or remaining identical to all others. All the while, discovering beauty in the deformed and the monstrous.

Future Goals

As our design is still in progress at the time of writing this paper, we take this as an opportunity for reassessing our aspirations for the final outcome of Aposema. Going forward, we plan to rethink the morphology of our design according to the information encryption system that will be detailed. We plan to specify which kind of personal information is displayed on the mask, how the level of encryption is determined.

Moreover, we will specify how the encryption operates, what is the system of symbols that make up this encryption, where exactly on the face each kind of information is displayed and what are the different visual manifestations to communicate this information to the naked eye. In addition, we plan to show through film how the decrypted information appears through the augmented reality system.

Conclusions

I started this article with the question: if identity is fluid, how could a responsive face prosthesis, as a means of dynamic body alteration, change the wearer’s social identity? I first addressed the concept of face perception, and specifically reading identity through faces. The operational process of face recognition was overviewed from a psychological perspective with a focus on the significance of faces for social interaction, and for perceiving Identities. Following this overview, ideas of the monstrous body[93] were explored as a way of analysing the practice of body modification[94]. This led to a discussion regarding the traditional role of masks as a tool for transforming identity. The first three chapters set out the background and theoretical support for our design project, Aposema. The design of Aposema; a responsive facial prosthesis for identity transformation, developed alongside this paper. During the research phase, it was decided that the idea of a facial prosthesis called for a fictitious context in which the mask could be placed. In the speculative scenario that was chosen, the mask serves as a soft robotic interface that dynamically displays information about the wearer directly on his/her face, assists in interpreting the information displayed by other users by decoding their identify, and recreates the user’s identity in the process. The hypothetical scenario assists in imagining the expansion of normality boundaries, and of acceptable manifestations of identity.

This is a speculative project in a speculative context, hence it is difficult to test, or come to distinct conclusions about the success or failure of the attempt to change perceived identities through this device. However, the preliminary conclusion I felt able to draw based on my research informed and contributed to the design process. The design itself has allowed for creatively imagining a future in which social conventions for normality are challenged with the assistance of technology. The design work of Aposema has been approached as a case-study for a symbiosis between design, technology, and social interaction. Wearable technology designer Anouk Wipprecht speaks of the potential of fashion as an interface that communicates with our body or our surroundings and act on our behalf[95]. This approach is useful in describing the purpose of Aposema. Reflecting upon the role of technology in our present and near future, this design is placed as an optimistic speculation in a dystopian scenario. It is an opportunity for pluralism and deconstructing social hierarchies through wearable computation. The design celebrates the liberation from the restrictions of our predefined bodies, allowed by our ongoing transformation from humans to cyborgs.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

Aposema Mask, Adi Meyer, Sirou Peng, Silvia Rueda, 2017.

 

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