as installed 2006 in the Museum of Modern Art, Mülheim a.d. Ruhr
Stefan Plessner and Christian Wiener work within the field of conflict between technology, society and art. Their art projects consistently rely on different disciplines and modes of media access to related phenomena. The installation entitled Re: Spiegeltest (Re: Mirror test) looks very simple at first glance. An elongated box positioned openly in the room is affixed with a mirror at each end. The mirrors are manipulated in such a way that the mirror image of the viewer is superimposed over a projection of a second image, a digital portrait, which comes from the inside of the box. Together, the two create digitally exaggerated phantom images. Like the distorted images in chambers of mirrors, these phantom images also have an ambivalent effect. The viewer is initially incredulous and irritated, yet he also goes along playfully with the fascinating offer of a new interpretation. He attempts at first to recognize the familiar mirror image, the visual expression of his individual self. In a chain of comparative reflections, he also explores the new and different in a gradual process.
Re: Spiegeltest works on two different levels that are not immediately apparent. The word “Spiegeltest” refers to a standard experiment used in classical cognitive and behavioural research. Positive reactions of recognition in a test animal are viewed as evidence of a sense of self. Appearance and behaviour can be altered, practised in the mirror image and later called up in interaction with others. This adds a new social dimension to the world. Because the mirror image is not the viewer’s own image alone, the work alludes to a very complex second level.
The mirrors are manipulated spy mirrors. Through them, a digital camera takes the portrait photo of the individual standing in front of the mirror. A facial recognition program surveys the portrait with reference to certain biometric parameters, such as the distance between the eyes and between the eyes and the mouth. These data are entered into a self-learning electronic system which computes the biometrically most similar face in real time and projects the corresponding stored image onto the rear of the mirror. The pool of reference faces grows larger with every photographed viewer.
This digitally generated biometric world is governed by different laws about what is identical, similar and alien. The human capacity to recognize forms, which is oriented toward prominent attributes of a given other, is deactivated. None of the factors that ordinarily contribute to our perception of the individual and typical character of another person – skin and eye colour, gender, hairstyles or facial decoration – play any role at all in the mathematically precise identification of the biometrical alter ego.
In Re: Spiegeltest, Stefan Plessner and Christian Wiener are concerned with the evolutionary progress of the face as an indication: from a mere biological replica to the analogous social alter ego to the digital biometric data record. And they examine the extremely ambivalent social, cultural and technological dimensions in which the face is embedded. Broad-based surveillance and control with the aid of biometric positioning and ordering system engender fear and are intended to reduce fear paradoxically at the same time. And we leave traces there as well. Regardless of which side we are inclined to favour at a given time, we see in these complex “events behind the mirror” only those attempts to draw conclusions about our “face”.