Two works of Marnix De Nijs. Identification versus identity
By Anya Shapira
Reading about interactive installation of Marnix De Nijs ‘Mirror piece’ I immediately recollected his previous work ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. I had an opportunity to experience this interactive piece during STRP festival 2010. My first reaction on to ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’ was like on any other interactive installations – let’s wait and see how it works. It is probably the most natural reaction of most of us during our first encounter with an interactive piece. No one is in a hurry to become the centre of attention when you are not sure what you have to do in order to interact.
In the case of ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’ even the title is rather provoking than inviting. This installation uses face detection and recognition software together with the database of celebrities. It reads the faces of participants and compares them to faces of celebrities from the database. The design of the installation reminds of the security gates in the public domain. After watching a few people passing through the gates and listening to the short audio fragments telling some facts from celebrity’s lives, I decided to participate in the process. There is something humiliating in passing through a security gate. It is the feeling of distrust probably. In my case this feeling was mixed up with the slight embarrassment and surprise when I saw my face displayed next to the face of Marilyn Monroe…
Although I did not get a chance to experience ‘Mirror piece’ in life, I would like to give my reflection based on a movie explaining the idea and functioning of the installation.
In ‘Mirror piece’, you stand in front of a mirror where you can see your face next to the face of a celebrity and listen to an audio fragment. Two works, made in quite a short period of time one after another, cannot avoid being compared. The fact that the same technology and the same principle have been used in two different set-ups provokes a search for differences in other respects. ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’ creates a very open public experience strongly related to the idea of identification. Both machine and the public observe the participant. In ‘Mirror piece’, however, the mirror creates a more intimate ambience. It is not about passing through the security gate and thinking about what other people may think about you, like in the case with ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. It is about watching yourself and celebrity’s face in a mirror, comparing your features with the features of the celebrity, wandering what you really may have in common. Why are you compared with the celebrity? What makes celebrity to be celebrity? Why are you self is not a celebrity?… Although anyone around can see your face projected next to the face of a celebrity and listen to the audio fragment, with ‘Mirror piece’ you are more encouraged to engage in an idea of self-reflection than with ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. Because of its more intimate character, ‘Mirror piece’ also emphasize more the idea of the role that celebrity culture plays in our society, how it influences us as individuals. Interestingly, in ‘Mirror piece’ the contrast between celebrity culture public part and private part is much stronger than in ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’.
At the first sight it is quite confusing to see two works functioning so similarly. It even brings up the thought of ‘Mirror piece’ being a kind of upgrade to ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. However these two technically identical works communicate rather different concepts. These technical similarities diminish in a way the role of the technology and give more importance to the concept.