Through the use of body gestures and her own facial expressions as a medium, Finnish artist Pia Lindman explores our relationship with our gestures in light of the proliferation of media images in society. By taking body and facial gestures from these images and introducing them in another context, she studies the effects that these transmediated images have on us. Specifically to what extent are they a memesis or embodiment of our internal being, and can these in fact be ‘re-engineered’ for another outcome?
In 2002 the mass outpouring of grief over the loss of loved ones from the September 11th attacks by people living in Manhattan and the subsequent display of images depicting these mourners in the NY Times prompted Lindman to do a re-enactment of them in another context. She would spend a whole year from 2002 to 2003 collecting images of terrorist victims expressing grief from the Times, trace over the outlines of these gestures and mimic them in another setting.
To isolate the gestures alone, she would wear grey, non-descript clothing and act them out in other contexts such as on the street in front of a ‘No Standing’ sign, in front of monuments and classical buildings and behind a glass shop display, filming the whole time.
A comparison could then be made between the initial drawing and the subsequent filmed pose; with the original context completely removed, one can only imagine who the person being portrayed and what the circumstance was. Seen in the new context one wonders whether the gestures could in fact mean something entirely different. We begin to question our own ability to decipher body language, or accurately grasp the meanings behind images circulated by the news.
As seen on the pavement with arms stretched out, the gesture could be a sign of begging or displaying gratitude for something. In front of the monument with a baby prop in her arms, the scene is reminiscent of one from the Italian Renaissance, like one of the many classical paintings of a Madonna holding her child.
While a wild screaming gesture might normally be associated with trauma and grief, by presenting it behind a storefront display another trajectory is introduced; could she actually be screaming in ecstasy, celebrating wildly at some fortuitous news that has befallen her, like what’s shown in the latest perfume or jeans commercial?
Similarly ambiguous is the pose with a rectangular plaque; is she holding an enlarged photo of a deceased loved one during a funeral procession, or is she receiving an award? While everyone knows its the former, because the stated intentions of the project, the re-contextualization introduces an alternate possibility.
Subsequent discoveries as a resident artist at MIT would lead Lindman to focus primarily on facial gestures as a point of departure. In Fascia (2006), she built a metal chair contraption, reminiscent of equipment used in early portrait photography, with which her facial muscles are held in place with metal arms, creating certain gestures. The other parts of her face, such as eye lids and lips could move slightly from natural twitching.
The final version of the film would show the hour of footage time-lapsed into a minute, with the unrestrained parts of her face blurry from the twitching. The meaning behind such silly performances, is in the title ‘Fascia’ which is the fibrous tissue that covers muscles. But this fascia doesn’t just hold a muscle in place; it is a machine that also restricts movement, while allowing for minute fidgeting to occur.
Seen as a single gesture, these time-lapsed, condensed twitches amount to a type of deconstructed facial expression that conveys no particular meaning. While our image conscious media scrutinizes the slightest facial gesture in celebrities for some meaning, Fascia demonstrates that some gestures that our faces emit have no particular meaning at all and are unintended.
The other meaning of the word ‘fascia’, which brings about an alternate reading, is ‘front cover’. This is incidently is similar to another word, ‘facade’, which is traditionally the decorative front of a building. In this respect, can Fascia be seen as a miniaturized piece of architecture? While both Fascia and facade restricts movement and contorts to generate a gesture, it is this allowance of twitching and unintended fidgeting in Fascia that might point to a new direction ‘for interaction and dialog’.
A similar project, Human Face For A Robot Mind (2006), depicts another contraption which holds her head in a fixed position while padded rods extend out from the sides to generate facial gestures by grabbing and moving different parts of her facial muscles. While the original intention might have been to allow her face to be used by a robot to express itself, here humans manipulate the padded rods to achieve the desired gesture.
Whether a robot can ever be truly free to express itself, as opposed to being programmed to make certain gestures when certain conditions are met, is debatable. Assuming this contraption is linked to a robot which can indicate to people what kind of facial gesture it wants, this is perhaps an effort to distinguish the biological from the bio-mechanical in our gestural effects. The question is, are these gestures a representation, a memesis or an embodiment of who we are? By separating out the internal emotions and letting purely external forces determine the construct of our gestural behavior, we can begin to understand how far our structures inhabit us and exhibit ‘their’ gestures through us.