Virtual reality in its sense-blocking, headset-wearing form was never a huge breakthrough, although it did pave the way for other wearable technology like Google Glass and the GoPro that allow us to experience the world through different perspectives. It raises a lot of possibilities, as well as a lot of questions about perception. If we perceive the world through the eyes of someone else, are we still ourselves?
Farid’s living space for four weeks will be in a London gallery with a bed, toilet and shower.
Those are the questions that performance artist Mark Farid will be pondering in his 28-day social experiment, Seeing-I. For the duration of the four weeks, Farid will be sequestered in a gallery in London. He’ll have a bed, toilet and shower, and no human interaction. He’ll be wearing a specially-designed headset at all times that will show him someone else’s reality; a partner called “the Other” will be recording his life and the information, audio and visual, will be fed into Farid’s headset. With only the other person as his window to the world, Farid’s identity may essentially be subsumed by the Other’s. Or, he may simply remain a voyeur. His team describes the possible outcomes:
“Over the course of the project, it will become apparent whether [Farid] will begin to lose his own sense of self, and start to inhabit the reality of the Other. With no one to talk to, and no one to validate any of [Farid’s] thoughts, will his only source of validation–the Other’s life–become the life which makes sense to [Farid]? Equally, this may not happen: he may entirely retain his sense of self and exist in a strange no man’s land between his own identity and the Other’s.”
The headset will remain attached to Farid even while he sleeps.
The so-called Other will wear a pair of glasses that will record audio and visual information, which will be fed directly into Farid’s headset. Though he’ll remain in the gallery, he’ll be living vicariously through the Other. The glasses are inconspicuous, and so no one but the Other and the Other’s partner will be aware of what’s going on. Currently, there are no takers for the part of the Other, which is not too surprising considering that person will have someone watching their every move for a month, including their most intimate moments. The requirements for the Other include being a heterosexual male in a relationship and living with their partner, which might seem a bit at odds with the concept of being an “other.”
Farid will be fed by the on-site staff, but will not have any other interaction with anyone else. His only access to other humans will be via the Other.
When the Other is asleep, Farid will be evaluated by a psychologist with neuroscience training. While visitors can check in on Farid in the London gallery, they will be asked to leave during the evaluation. Farid, trapped in his virtual reality, will not be aware of them. Due to the risky nature of the project, health-wise, medical professionals will be on staff at all times. Should the medical staff find that the experiment is taking an unnecessary toll on Farid, they will shut down the project.
The experiment, which blends performance art and science, will culminate in a documentary and possibly some insight into the psychology of identity, connectedness and privacy. That depends, of course, on whether an Other is ever found. The experiment is currently accepting donations on Kickstarter.