V2 Winter Sessions: Unconventional Self

Unconventional Self (2022) is a work by Werner van der Zwan and Charl Linssen.

Telepresence robotics allow a person to embody a remote robotic avatar. The person observes the environment from the perspective of the robot, which can move around under remote control. The remotely operated body mediates the relationship with the world, and if the experience is sufficiently compelling, a perspective shift occurs, where the person controlling the robot feels like the robot body is their body, and they are perceiving and acting in the world from the robot’s point-of-view: they feel “embodied” in the sculpture.

In our version of telepresence robots, the bodies take unusual forms, being formed from old furniture, and controlled by windshield wiper motors. Movements and control inputs of the participant are translated to movements of the sculpture. The robotic object shows what the new body is through the resistance it gives to the actor trying to control it. For example, when one of the leg motors moves slightly, the object moves left, but at full potential, the object starts to move forward. By means of dialogue, the participant slowly develops a sense of this new body, and discover new possibilities and goals. Like the beetle in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the human characters slowly start to become their new bodies, and will experience being part of the same private world as the inhuman characters around them, questioning the relationship between subject and object.

Unconventional Self was co-produced by Werner van der Zwan, Charl Linssen and V2_ Lab for the Unstable Media as part of the Winter Sessions art and technology residencies.