Interactive video installation for 4 networked computers with touchpads, 4 laserdisc players, 4 video projectors and four amplified speakers. Created in collaboration with the Institut Méditerranéen de Recherche et de Création, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Original version in French; the English version is subtitled.

Synopsis

Conversation with a Virtual Being: Imagine a portrait. You walk up to it and engage in conversation. You pick a question from a pre-established set on the screen. The portrait gives you an answer. A new set of questions, or comments appears. You get further reactions. As this process goes on, a conversation develops according to your curiosity and the subject’s mood. The encounter may be cut short due to a lack of sympathy on either part, or it may develop into discussion of ideas, values or personal experience. The interaction is structured into levels of intimacy; you have to get to know and trust one another before getting on to highly personal matters. In the end, you may have made a new virtual acquaintance... or friend.

The technique developed experiments with portraiture. Following the painted and photographic portrait, the hypermedia portrait demonstrates the same interests for human beings, this time capturing and rendering not only physical likeness but also fragments of behavior. These virtual beings do not appear in the flesh (they are video reflections); and the questions are not verbal (they are chosen from a computer screen). Yet the interactive video installation works as a metaphor for an encounter. As with other virtual reality systems, these portraits are worlds onto themselves (that of the portrayed subjects), in which visitors are invited to play a role (that of a conversational partner). There are some risks (you may not like the reaction you get). But there are also rewards (getting to know the subject, and possibly, in the process, discovering something about what it is to be human).

Encounter with a Virtual Society: Imagine a series of hypermedia portraits that make a society of virtual beings. They all exist as individuals, lending themselves to personal encounters as previously described. But they are also “aware” of one another and may react to what is happening. They may want to speak their own truth about what is being said on them, or simply add to an interesting conversation without being asked. Or they may discuss things among themselves, chat about the weather or argue about a favorite controversy. Who these virtual beings are, and what they have in common is to be discovered by visitors. Visitors, by their perspicacity or mishandling, may trigger a family drama that could turn a quiet portrait gallery into a wild video theater.

A society of virtual beings is made of networked individual systems. As new virtual beings are added, each capable of hosting one active visitor, the installation grows from a single user to a multiple user system. A better balance is thus achieved between the society of virtual beings and the society of visitors. One possible outcome may be a forced interaction between visitors, as a response to the interaction among virtual beings.

An Interactive Portrait Gallery

Enter a portrait gallery. Norbert is a mathematician and dancer; he is also a friend of Sébastien an ethnologist interested in majorettes and rugby teams. Alain is Simone’s son and the former biology professor of Laurence, who specializes in archeo-botany and is looking for work. Thierry and Laurence are close friends, having shared an apartment in the past. Thierry is a writer and works in a library; this is where he met Marianne, a graduate student in economics. It is through Thierry that Marianne and Laurence met Sébastien, and through Laurence that Marianne and Sébastien met Alain, who also owns a sheep farm in the Alps that is regularly visited by most of these people. Blanche, the author’s daughter, first met Norbert in Montreal when he came to participate in a dance festival and stayed in their home. She later got to meet everyone else in Marseille when the author’s family spent the summer there in 1992. This edition of the Family Portrait is about these people; it documents their life and tells about the process in which the work evolved. The group portrait was recorded in Marseille that summer.

Credit titles:

Original idea, interviews, photography, programming, design, direction, production: Luc Courchesne
Additional programming: Henry See
Cast: Norbert Corsino, Simone Archiloque, Alain Archiloque, Blanche Baillargeon, Thierry Discepolo, Marianne Rubinstein, Laurence Foucault, Sébastien Darbon.
Video editing: Michel Giroux
Construction of installation: Luc Courchesne, Guy Hébert, Claude Belils
Mastering of laserdiscs: 3-M Optical Recording (Menomonie WI)
Created in collaboration with the Institut Méditerranéen de Recherche et de Création (Marseille), with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.

Exhibitions:

Institut Méditerranéen de Recherche et de Création, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseilles (July 1993)
Machine Culture, Siggraph '93, Anaheim, California (August 1993)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (November 1993 - January 1994 )
Museum of Modern Art, New York (June - August 1994)
The Power Plant, Toronto (April - June 1995)
'95 Kwangju Biennale, Korea (September - October 1995)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo (June - August 1998)

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