Corporal Territories. A Conversation with Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault

Interview by Sabin Bors

In the Digital Art Series

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault have collaborated since 1991, focusing their artistic practice on the constitutive frailties of the human body. Using 3D whole body laser scanning technology, the artists re-visualize the human figure and trace the body back to expanding corporal maps and landscapes. Custom software programs are often employed to create typographic strings from the topographic information contained within the scanned figures. While this abstraction results in the ‘deconstruction’ of the human form, the choreographed imagery of LoCurto and Outcault reveals the artists’ effort to capture the body beyond the immediacy of time and motion or the limits of single viewpoints provided by the fixed photographic eye. As such, they have included multiple camera views into their software, allowing them to explore the nature of 3D photographic images through unlimited viewpoints derived from single scans which thus enable the viewer a vision beyond a lens-based perspectival field. Ranging from figurative to the abstract, the artists’ large scale photographic self-portraits are seen as indeterminate map projections where matter, data, flesh, and the immaterial virtually merge in compositions that reveal the intimacies of “a psychic conundrum.” [1] The distortions and oscillations of the human figure show us how information and the hollowness of the newly formed figures can de-realize the body and challenge our sense of corporal reality. Shredded and diffused, through rhythm, dynamics, and tempo, the bodies lose their fix identity and draw an indeterminate map of corporal territories that constantly engage in choreographed movements and animations where intimacies bear on both the physical and the psychological being. At first, this seems to present us with what Helaine Posner called “the assault on the integrity of the individual and public body during times of crisis.” [2] But the vulnerabilities exposed throughout these corporal mappings reveal how art can bring us closer to ourselves, our most intimate faults and fears, and help us appropriate the technology that we ourselves are.

Ultimately, one could see in Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault’s digital études how technology can be used to appropriate corporal plasticity. Exposed outside its inner voids, elongated and decomposed along ribbons of flesh, constantly disappearing within its figure, the body is not only technology, but emotion too. It may even be said that, in these digital études, the body reveals both the technologies of frailty and the frailties of technologies. This conversation captures but part of the issues presented in the artists’ work: from the particularities of their artistic practice to questions of technology and society, from corporal mapping to digital distortion and choreography, or questions of human-machine interaction. While technology may be used to bring the human flesh into being as a mutable object and subject, fundamental questions as to how does the body become a component of new machines are remarkably explored in artistic practices such as LoCurto and Outcault’s. The body-machine relation is one that expands across all social, libidinal, and technological economies and apparatuses; and in the tension between the organic, the mechanical, the virtual, and the immaterial, we grasp a sense of how these data-formed bodies reveal our most intimate frailties. Questions of what happens to human perception when bodies intermingle with dynamic media fluctuations will continue to be addressed as technologies develop further; so will questions relating to how does one actually grasp the perceptual and ontological transformations of the body. But as we increasingly encounter our mediated doubles, will they help us familiarize ourselves with and accept our faults, deficiencies, and frailties?

– Sabin Bors

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Kharchenko-Shabanova BS1sph(8/6)7_98, 48
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Kharchenko-Shabanova BS1sph(8/6)7_98, 48" x 57,5", 1998/2000. Chromogenic prints on Fujicolor Crystal Archive, printed in 2000, laminated and mounted on 1/8" aluminum. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYou both worked as sculptors for a number of years before using the computer as your main artistic tool. How relevant was this training in understanding the materiality of the body and the gestural production of a work? How much of this do you involve in the process of thinking and constructing your work?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Whether through training or the way our brains are wired we tend to approach everything we do materially and spatially. From the beginning of a project these concerns are pretty much foremost and even if an object or figure is in virtual space as we work on it, to us, it always has a physicality that needs to be addressed.

Sabin BorsHow do you perceive your work in relation to 20th century art and its use of specific techniques – abstraction, flatness, surface, texture, pattern, colouring or detailing? I’ve always seen your works as being highly pictural; they are built and they communicate affects as in a situation one is most likely to encounter when in front of a painting. And sometimes I wonder whether your work is more sculptural or actually more pictural…

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: We tend to see our work as making some sort of bridge between the 20th century concerns you mention and more contemporary ones revolving, to a degree, around our uneasy relationship with technology. You have a point about the work being in some ways pictural because we see that as one way to try to make that bridge. The work is developed three-dimensionally within a computer and in that sense it relates strongly to sculpture. However, as we work on it we’re viewing it on a two dimensional monitor so we also begin to see it in pictural terms as well and we cultivate those painterly concerns you mention.

Sabin BorsWho are the artists who have had the most significant influence on your work or your artistic sensibilities and in what way? I would also be interested to find out about some of the artists you admire now, especially from the younger generations.

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: The artists who have had the most impact and influence on us are artists whose work is absolutely nothing like what we do, their impact has been primarily about blowing our minds with new ways of seeing things. People like Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Carolee Schneemann to name a few, are people who really altered our expectations about what art meant and what it looked like. Your second question becomes more difficult since most artists need such a long time to substantiate the processes and depth of their work. Although the word “admire” might be a bit premature, there are younger artists who are changing the way we view the world as well, and the ones we tend to watch are working in new media and video art, artists such as Cory Arcangel or Ryan Trecartin. The virtual reality being created mainly in film production, for example, the 2015 New Frontier exhibition Ocular Evolution at Sundance is very interesting to us and so called post-internet art, some of the artists represented in the 2015 New Museum Triennial titled Surround Audience. These are just a few of the people who’ve received enough exposure to come to our attention. Of course there are many more and if their work has enough traction, relevance and sustainability, hopefully, it will get noticed as well.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, topo_d8_k4, 24
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, topo_d8_k4, 24" x 24", 2005. Pigment print. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, topo_bs7, 33,5
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, topo_bs7, 33,5" x 16", 2004. Pigment print. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYou developed some of your projects in close connection with research institutes, universities, and students who assisted you in your work. How relevant has this experience been in shaping your ideas, your techniques, and your works?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: That’s been an extremely important part of our practice in that when we begin most of these larger projects we don’t fully understand some of the technology we’re relying on. The people and institutions we work with fill in the blanks, contributing their own thoughts to the process. Often, happily, the people we work with in these institutions bring new perspectives, new ideas or new approaches into a project. Another important part of it is the funding and access to the very expensive technology that these projects require. As independent artists, it’s virtually impossible to work the way we do without some type of institutional support.

Sabin BorsHow did you come to the idea of corporal mapping in your work and what is the conceptual backbone behind this approach?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Almost 20 years ago some architect friends helped stage an exhibition at St. John the Divine of architects and designers who’d been influenced by Buckminster Fuller. When we went to see the show the first object on display was a map of the world as an icosahedron that Fuller had designed in the 1930’s. We’d never actually considered the actual physical, psychological and mathematical process of making a 2D map from the 3D world before but, because of the simplicity of Fuller’s design, the profound nature of it all became crystal clear to us, an epiphany. Our work had been very much about the body and the human condition and on leaving the show it occurred to us that making maps of our bodies would be not only a profound sculptural gesture but would also address numerous issues that our work was already about.

Sabin BorsIt is said that maps are graphic artifacts obtained by an actual compression and distortion of the globe. Would you say your work results in such graphic artifacts? What happens, conceptually, when a 3D surface turns into a 2D surface?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Maps are most definitely distorted artifacts of the projection process and ours are no different in that regard. A map is created by projecting coordinates on a 3D object to points on a 2D surface. As you can imagine, this is impossible to do accurately without some bias towards the center of the projection and more misrepresentation as you move away from that center. This is one reason why there are hundreds of mathematical schemes, such as a Mercator projection, to lessen these distortions, or at least to make the distortions work in the interest of whoever has commissioned the map. When we made the maps of our bodies we put our three-dimensionally scanned bodies into a cartographer’s software that had hundreds of these different projections available. There was also the ability to move the center of the projection anywhere as well as numerous other variables and we manipulated these to get our final results.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Urmayev III L3sph(8/6)7_98, 48
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Urmayev III L3sph(8/6)7_98, 48" x 52", 1998/2000. Chromogenic prints on Fujicolor Crystal Archive, printed in 2000, laminated and mounted on 1/8" aluminum. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsHow do you understand the idea of virtuality and how do you differentiate between the digital and the virtual?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Virtuality, at least technology driven virtuality, implies something that appears to exist but lacks physicality, like a character or a landscape in a computer game one is playing or virtual classrooms and communities. There is also the kind of virtuality of virtual surgery, where a doctor operates on a patient at a remote location using haptic devices or a pilot virtually flies a drone from another continent. Digital is the binary language of 1’s and 0’s in which all this happens.

Sabin BorsIn his 2010 book Rethinking the Power of Maps, [3] Denis Wood discusses the idea of countermapping and makes an interesting account of your work in what he calls the “critical” comparison between the earth and the body. Just like the earth, the body is unfolded and splayed out in projection, he says, while its distortion reveals renewed awareness of the “violence” the map does to the globe. The author describes your body-maps as “contours” and “ribbons of flesh” that remind us of a multiperspectival world splintered into “glittering shards.” I agree with Wood, but always wondered whether your works are actual “body-maps” and digital counter-bodies, or are they rather to be seen as compositions of corporal landscapes – what makes a landscape different from a map? While mapping is used to scan the body, the result of this process does not necessarily reveal a means to navigate through the body; instead, it helps the viewer see through particular corporal terrains that compose a corporal landscape. I think your imagery, just like the landscape, gives a greater sense of detail and triggers quite ‘romantic’ emotions and perceptions, a disharmonic orchestration of visual cues. Its details are not analytical, like maps are; information is only apparently specific, many times pointing beyond the frame, to the invisible ‘data’ we cannot acknowledge. Shortly – I see maps as being iconic, symbolic, and abstract; yet I see landscapes as being more expressive, more narrative, and triggering more emotional responses. How do you see this difference between maps and landscapes in your works?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: The landscape attributes you’re seeing in the work could relate to what Denis Wood was referring to when he said of the selfportrait.map project “at once so close to that of mapmakers and at the same time so completely alien, forces us to confront afresh the bizarre, distorted, multiperspectival fact of the map, and so refresh our own self-image”. So yes, you’re right that a map tends to be mostly about relaying information about an object in a certain controlled way but not always. The nature of our subject matter, the human body, could also be what pushes these maps into what you’re considering landscape territory. Because people identify so strongly with the figure they might tend to see it, even flattened out, as expressive, narrative and more emotional and less abstract and symbolic. Another aspect of these maps that lends them a landscape effect is that they were derived essentially from 3D photographs and as such carry the lighting and depth from that medium. Of course too, since we weren’t trying to convey quantitative information like a regular map would we had the freedom to bring those more landscape-like attributes into the images.

Sabin BorsThe corporal territories in your work project a sense of being that seems to be dismembered, torn apart, or ripped by a machine-like medium. As this machinic medium scans and infiltrates the corporal territories, it reveals the inner scales and outlines inner volumes. Interestingly, it reveals a phantom body within us, as if a hidden, impalpable, intangible, untouchable body is still attached to us and moves appropriately within us. It somehow goes against phenomenological conceptions like Merleau-Ponty’s famous toucher, c’est se toucher – the touching of the touch as a way to appropriate oneself and the (flesh of the) world. For Merleau-Ponty, the body is invisible and mobile, it is “a thing among things” caught in the fabric of the world, its cohesion is mostly that of a thing. But I somehow see your bodies as a corporal envelope to phantom bodies which resist, avoid, and constantly try to escape “material” cohesions…

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: When we began selfportrait.map we anticipated the tearing of the body as it was projected; however, the violence you talk about is one of those developments we mentioned above that happen unexpectedly as a project proceeds. In the early stages of this project we really had no idea how to go about doing it but we did have a very clear vision of what it would look like and that it was, to us, a very powerful gesture. At first we just thought, sure, a computer can do that. We found, though, that the technology wasn’t there yet by quite some way. It took us almost 2 years to develop the software and to finally see the first rudimentary images and longer yet before we could really get everything working. In addition to the violence done to the figures in the actual projection process another aspect we couldn’t have predicted ahead of time was the nature of the way the bodies are rendered. Since the scanners we use only capture surface details, the figures we work with are, as you suggest, skin deep envelopes, like a balloon, albeit balloons with holes where areas of the figures are occluded from the scanner’s view. When these meshes are projected onto a plane, the holes, which we intentionally don’t fill, create what can be construed as bodies of water lying around the land masses and islands of the flattened figure.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Polyconic BS1sph(8/6)7_98, 48
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, Polyconic BS1sph(8/6)7_98, 48" x 62,5", 1998/2000. Chromogenic prints on Fujicolor Crystal Archive, printed in 2000, laminated and mounted on 1/8" aluminum. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsIn till we have faces, the “ribbons of flesh” transform the body into a raw material that seems to counter humanistic conceptions about the body. These ribbons are like affective markers that fragment one’s existence to unveil the potentially infinite stratification of physical layers. The scanner itself, by means of its multitude of viewing points, seems to disassociate all these corporal strata; it helps us question, undo, and even dissolve the ‘authority’ of the body. In what way can this supplement our corporal perception and awareness? And do you perhaps see your artistic gesture also as a political one – to undo the body and its inscriptions as a way to dematerialize them and thus reveal the body in its intimacy, stripped of its cultural or social markers?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: The three-dimensional scanner gives us a new imaging tool, one that, as you say, allows us to view the body simultaneously from an infinite number of perspectives. Because of this, it can also be argued that it takes the camera, out of the constraints of time-based perspectival vision. Until now, a camera was limited to one perspective per one click of the shutter, representing one unit of time. With a 3D scanner one is able to take a photograph from an unlimited number of perspectives per click, still representing one unit of time. As to the second part of the question, aren’t all artistic gestures in some way political? Not in terms of liberal/conservative politics but in terms of there’s the established way to view the world and then along comes an alternate, let’s say subversive way to view it. Isn’t this our job as artists to subvert and reinvent?

Sabin BorsDo you think this idea of distortion actually reflects our quest for perfection? Is it that in order to become properly aesthetic, the human body must renounce its claims of perfection? I find it fascinating that current technological drives and the quest to digitise life itself are counter-balanced in popular culture by a fascination with images of the abject, the grotesque and the uncanny. Did you ever consider the ‘uncanny’ ribbons of flesh in your work as a psychic or even ‘organic’ reaction against the increased technologization and digitisation of life?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Distortion can serve as the yin to the yang of perfection and in that way it may reveal a connection and larger truths. The quest for perfection can take many paths with quite different starting points and the act of distortion should in no way negate the perfection of the outcome. In other words, something can be perfectly distorted. As science has come to understand the human body more and more, any claims the body might have to perfection have long ago been thrown out the window. Take the healthiest, most perfect person in the world, subject him to enough analyzation and you’ll find something wrong, some possibly lethal imperfection. Certainly these things, and reactions to them, can and do enter the work, especially since they’re so prevalent in the culture at large. It’s inescapable and largely unconscious. Artists are like cultural food processors, everything they see goes in, gets chopped, blended and mixed and then out comes, hopefully, a nice mousse.

Sabin BorsHow can the digital express the idea of fragility and vulnerability?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Digital is a relatively new language, one that’s become pervasive very quickly and digitization has created new ways of seeing, manipulating and imaging the world around us. For artists it’s become another way to communicate and another, more contemporary and versatile tool. We use the digitization of the human body and the digitization of human kinesiology extensively in our work and these abilities have enabled us to address the issues of our vulnerability and fragility in ways that can only be done through a computer.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, till we have faces (video still), 13:57 min, 2012. Single channel HD video animation, with audio. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, till we have faces (video still), 13:57 min, 2012. Single channel HD video animation, with audio. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, till we have faces (video still), 13:57 min, 2012. Single channel HD video animation, with audio. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, till we have faces (video still), 13:57 min, 2012. Single channel HD video animation, with audio. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsOne project in particular seems very relevant to me – timeline (2005). I say this because it is a very clear and reflective illustration of time; furthermore, it is a story of time within the body. By presenting the body from multiple, simultaneous positions, the sequences translate a series of choreographed movements. While I agree with curator Helaine Posner that the figures are “startingly beautiful and nearly abstract,” [4] I see here less a question of disembodiment as such, but rather a question of the time within the body, time into the body, perhaps one of the most faithful figurations of Deleuze’s analysis on making cinema by means of the postures of the body, where daily attitudes put the before and after into the body, that is – time into the body. Regardless of how I look at this project (derealization of the real body, ethereal self-portraits, formal studies), they bring forth a question of time, of passage, as your most transitory reflection on the body. Yet what I like is the idea of ‘timeline’ more than that of ‘time.’ As a line, it is not infinite, it is not a horizon, but has this ‘generational’ effect, like a generation that comes to life and fades away – almost like ageing. I see this at times almost as an illustration of ageing…

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: These pieces seem narrative to us as well and in that way linear, even though they describe, from multiple viewpoints, an instant frozen in time. To be honest, we’ve never considered the aging aspect before since some of the works in that series weren’t visually linear. But since the pieces reflect time and, as we know, it only goes one way, we can understand how you can see these as illustrations of aging. timeline was conceived after working with our first animations dealing with the typography and topography inherent in the body. We worked with two mathematicians who helped us develop custom 3D software featuring a timeline that allowed us to create a moving image. The prints and storyboards are developed during and after an animation and we can revisit any point in time within that composition to compile an image representing multiple viewpoints. timeline wasn’t initially meant to be linear but rather to capture multiple perspectives that would create a visual flow.

Sabin BorsThis brings me again to selfportrait.map – in what way does the creative process here relate to the ‘classical’ idea and representations of the (self-)portrait? How do you reflect on this particular genre and the history of art through your project and your digital artistic practice?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: These pieces were representations of us at a particular moment in time in a particular way which is what we understand the classical idea of self-portraiture to be. When Stieglitz took photographs of himself or Van Gogh painted himself it was to convey something more than simply to make a record, though. Because it’s so convenient, artists invariably use themselves as sort of crash test dummies for their art to experiment with new ideas or techniques. This is what we did in this case, but as the project developed the self-portrait aspect became stronger because of its historical implications.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, timeline_20seconds, 24
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, timeline_20seconds, 24" x 48", 2006. Series of 17 pigment prints, 9 colour and 8 black and white. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYour work follows choreographic movements and moving images, breathing new life into still objects and imprinting a sense of harmonious disarticulation to the machinic, ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’ severance of the body. This always takes place within a certain cinematography or scenography where the narrative line is somehow filmic and theatrical at the same time. Your characters’ movements are filled with virtual vibration and resonance – does all this refer to an abstract character our material bodies hold?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: In our work we digitally deconstruct, rearrange, animate and choreograph bodies that digitally exist as only empty shells. These shells contain their originating information, the form, color and overall essence of the body. This essence is inseparable from the whole and remains even after sectioning and rearranging the parts. The sections and topographies, although abstracted and almost unrecognizable, allow you to experience a fragmented figure and out of the abstraction, to recover the body’s wholeness.

Sabin BorsYou mentioned the idea of simultaneity in selfportrait.map and its relation to Cubists and Futurists. How exactly do you understand simultaneity, how do you use it in your work, and in what way is it different from cubist or futurist conceptions?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: The Cubists and Futurists sought to reject single point perspective and to demonstrate that all things are known through our consciousness. By representing multiple viewpoints at the same time, they were also trying to bring a temporal element into their work, thus introducing the simultaneity of experiencing all views of an object at once. A painting would be like the physical process of walking around the subject. Doing all this in actuality was clearly not possible given the technology at the time but with a three dimensional scanner it is. Basically anytime we work with models from the scanner the fact of their simultaneity carries over because all that information is part of the mesh and color information. Our concerns with the map project were initially more about the sculptural gesture, it was only as we worked on the project and started to realize some results that the simultaneity aspect became apparent to us.

Sabin BorsIn some of your latest projects, like till we have faces or flâneur, the voice becomes a highly relevant element; an absent narrator we may reference back to post-structuralist thoughts on phonocentrism and the conflicting relation between writing (typography and choreography too) and the human voice, or speech and otherness. What is the role of the voice and storytelling in these works?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Those pieces came shortly after some earlier animations like arrangement after ash white and telemon when we began to see some narrative content in the work and wanted to develop that aspect further. Because the images continued to be rather abstract we felt that a narrative voice would help serve to tie the visual elements together as well as bring a linearity to the composition. The narration also gives the piece additional structure but it isn’t something we feel we need to add to every piece. If we felt it wasn’t necessary we would eliminate it and allow the viewer to process the work in a more abstract way.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, flâneur (video still), 14:56 min / 1080p, 2012. 3-channel synchronized, contiguous 1080p video projection. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, flâneur (video still), 14:56 min / 1080p, 2012. 3-channel synchronized, contiguous 1080p video projection. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, flâneur (video still), 14:56 min / 1080p, 2012. 3-channel synchronized, contiguous 1080p video projection. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, flâneur (video still), 14:56 min / 1080p, 2012. 3-channel synchronized, contiguous 1080p video projection. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsI cannot hide my excitement and curiosity around your references to typographic elements and the idea of typography. Interestingly, this has sometimes been closely related to the idea of topography. In my opinion, typography and its spatial caesuras are all about a rhythm, an ‘itinerance’ even, if you like: the rhythm and/of spacings. I see typography not only in its direct relation with writing, or only as a reflection of cultural contexts, but also as a political gesture meant to deconstruct what Derrida has elsewhere called “both the hegemony of the visual, of the image and of the spectacular, and the hegemony of discursivity (…).” [5] Typography, rhythm, spacing, movement, and choreography are all inseparable in your work. Could you please detail on your specific interest in typography and how did you come to involve it in your works?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: It’s interesting that you mention rhythm because that was the impetus for our development of the slicing of the figure as well as our first forays into animation. We were at a Department of Defense research installation being scanned one time and the person operating the scanner needed to align the four cameras within the software. In order to do this he scanned through the horizontal layers that serve to create the mesh, the result was like looking at a flip book of hundreds of lines describing the contours of the body. The rhythm of that was a mind blower and we told a friend who wrote architectural software about it. He was able to reproduce it from our scan data and he was also able to separate out the individual layers. At the same time we were also working with a mathematician on the mapping software which we called The Body Mangler and we told him about it. He said, “oh, we can do that”, and he proceeded to include it in the software. He also gave us the ability to vary the thickness of the sections and to cut the figure at any angle. These sections could be very calligraphic in nature and by manipulating the variables we could then essentially create a unique calligraphy out of the body. The choreography, spacing and movement you see is partially the result of the source material being the body, it lends the glyphs such an organic and natural flow.

Sabin BorsIn the willful marionette, you investigate ideas of intelligent human-automaton interaction. From your experience of working at this collaborative project, how ‘intelligent’ is this interaction when it is largely dependent on codes and scripts? This is, in fact, a question that goes back to numerous debates around interactive art and whether we can actually talk about ‘intelligent’ interaction or rather responsive (re)action.

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: Computer science is at the very beginning stages of machine intelligence and learning but codes and scripts right now can deliver quite impressive results in terms of autonomy and it will, of course, only get better. Much of the interactive art that implies a machine intelligence is likely doing just that, implying it through responsive results. It’s really not necessary, though, for artists to create an autonomous system to approach the subject, they only need to raise issues, provoke thought and, hopefully, allow the viewer to see something in a new way. In terms of our project, like most artists, we didn’t have the technology of IBM or Google and, as a result, its success must ultimately rely on the participants’ willingness to accept the marionette as autonomous and basically create much of his personality in their minds based upon their interactions with him.

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, the willful marionette, 2014. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.
Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault, the willful marionette, 2014. Image © Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Used here by kind permission from the artists. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsHow important are the storyboards in the process of creating your works? I only ask this because when I first saw them on your website, I saw them as highly aesthetic yet independent pieces – like a building/project site, like an open structure, something that needs to be built but might only remain a sketch, a skeleton, a fleeting gesture… a ‘ruin’ even…

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: The storyboards are quite important in developing the animations although you might never know it by looking at them. We start with a pretty rough idea and gradually try to clarify the storyboard as we go along. Even as we do our editing and compositing we’re still working on the storyboard and often even after we’ve finished. They’re quite probably indecipherable to someone looking at them isolated from the animation, possibly even if you were looking at them right next to the animation. They are, however, finished, unique works that are separate from the animations, just like the drawings and prints that are derived from them.

Sabin Bors: Every time I look at some of your latest animations, I find personal – that is, subjective, emotional, even irrational – correspondences between your work, digital artists like Rollin Leonard, Ed Atkins, or Anne de Boer – and Matthew Weinstein too -, and the 2002 computer game Syberia. While definitely closer to gaming aesthetics, the works of Ed Atkins sometimes make use of similar narrative and auctorial approaches; fluid droplets of flesh can be seen in the truly amazing work of Rollin Leonard; Weinstein’s unique imaginarium is infused with theatre, sculpture, poetry and narrativity; and works such as Anne de Boer’s Nur-immer-shon-bei or Void Shuffle draw on virtual travels and contemplations that are highly choreographic and performative. On the other hand, I am reminded of Syberia, a 2002 computer adventure game designed by Benoît Sokal acclaimed at the time by critics for its intelligent script and graphic design, which mixes art nouveau and steampunk fiction elements. From this perspective, I am almost drawn at times to see in your latest animations especially, through all their mix of disturbances, nostalgia, choreography, melancholy, and romanticism – a genuine computer adventure art…

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: We like to use a lot of those things you mention. Sometimes we see those later animations as sort of operatic in terms of romanticism and bombast. Once we decided to involve a linear narrative in the work, we went theatrical, with everything that can entail. We try to keep an open mind in terms of what to include and all those things you bring up have tremendous appeal to us and relate to influences like film, music, video games, books, TV and the culture in general.

Sabin BorsIn the end, I would like to return to the idea of the map… Do you think that these digital counter-bodies circulated throughout digital media and digital art can actually come to exploit computerized machines so as to subvert the meanings we’ve created culturally in the service of technological myths? Roland Barthes is famous for having shown how meanings cannot resist being captured by myth. According to him, in order to fight myth, one needs to mythify it in its turn and therefore produce an artificial myth – the reconstituted myth will turn out to be a mythology. In the presentation of till we have faces, you mention the passage from myth, fable and superstition to qualitative analysis. How does the re-mythologization of culture take place today? What do current mythologies say about our society and its future projections? What sort of humans and super humans do we imagine now, when conceptions of hybridity and post-humanism prevail?

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault: We were talking then about the way a culture tries to understand its existential reality; that we’ve gone from trying to wrap our heads around the unknown based on myths and fables to a more science-based understanding of the world. Or at least we like to think that’s the case. Obviously there are many places where the old myths and superstitions remain, some much closer to us than we’d like to think. From this vantage point, though, it appears that our re-mythologization of the culture is taking place through our mass entertainments and the arts but it really is a constant rehashing of the old myths because that’s what works for our psychology. We’re actually probably no different in the way we think than someone from 500 BC and if you deconstruct virtually any contemporary piece of any art, high or low, won’t you find, at its core, a re-telling of one ancient myth or another? With hybridity and post-humanism we may be looking at becoming replicas of Greek or Norse gods ourselves with augmented reality, bionic parts and ubiquitous computing and maybe that’s what we’re looking forward to in the singularity, when we become one with the machine.

March 12, 2015

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