Tiffany Holmes is a pioneering artist whose practice blends traditional materials and new media in large-scale interactive installations. Her work explores the relationship between digital technology and culture with an emphasis on technologies of seeing. She lectures and exhibits widely in international and national venues, including Digital Salon '99 in New York and Madrid, Viper Media Festival in Switzerland, International Symposium on the History of Neuroscience in Zurich, Siggraph '99, Next 1.0 in Sweden, and World@rt in Denmark. Her interactive installation, Nosce Te Ipsum, was recently shown at Siggraph 2000 and featured in the New York Times. In November, Holmes will exhibit new work at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
With a diverse academic background in painting, animation, and biology, Holmes situates her work at the intersection between artistic, biomedical, and linguistic modes of bodily representation. To promote her interdisciplinary artistic practice, the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan awarded Holmes a prestigious three-year fellowship. With a BA in art history from Williams College, Holmes received a MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA in digital arts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she teaches courses in interactivity and the history and theory of electronic media.
Surf and Spy
I am fascinated by historical devices of visual entertainment such as the camera obscura and painted panorama. Most of my installations have been inspired by optical tools: microscopes, magnifying glasses, and in this case, spy cameras. I am interested in how digital technologies and contemporary imaging devices are transforming how we literally “see” and perceive our world. Surf and Spy is an interactive multimedia environment in which a coherent field of vision—the panorama—yields to a fractured array of data.
The word "panorama" refers to an unobstructed vista, generally of a landscape that extends in all directions. In its resting state with no interaction, the wall displays a panorama of the Japanese coast composed primarily of water and sky. The sound of waves lapping along the strand fills the space.
When a viewer sits on the wired bench the audio track changes to a more localized sound of breakers crashing along the shore. Slowly, the video image is fractured by small rectangles that gradually hide the central landscape. As the rectangles multiply, the larger image of the surf and sky is replaced by smaller images of surf and "spy," or rather, still images of exhibition visitors grabbed seconds earlier by hidden cameras.
The image continues to fracture as long as the participant remains seated. In addition to the visual data provided by the hidden cameras, I incorporate schematics and maps of familiar Japanese locales in the metamorphosing projection. With continued presence in the room, a viewer travels virtually from a seemingly infinite seascape bound only by the horizon to a highly localized space that maps the viewer into its confines.
Continued presence in the space creates further transformation as the landscapes become data sets. The final layer of imagery revealed is the code running the animation. The maze-like networks of visual information allude to the ways that technology alters contemporary modes of seeing and navigating space.
Nosce Te Ipsum
"Nosce Te Ipsum" is Latin for "know thyself." The installation invites the audience to engage in a metaphorical act of violence—the destruction of a body. The story that inspired the piece is buried deep beneath the surface of the installation. In the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Wicked Queen would daily ask: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" The mirror answered: "Queen it seems to me, there is none fairer in the land than thee!" As long as the mirror idealized her beauty, all was well in the Queen's world. The dreaded day finally arrived when the mirror replied that a young lovely named Snow White had surpassed the Queen's beauty. Because the avatar did not return a predictable answer, the Queen's entire conception of reality shattered.
Like the Queen and her followers, many cultures desire physical beauty of a particular variety-the "fairest" bodies appear on the covers of popular magazines. Nosce Te Ipsum asks viewers to consider new sorts of bodies with very different physical characteristics. Viewers entering the installation space, initially view a projected spare outline of an androgynous human figure. A dense line of words-"slice," "pierce," "slit," "cut"-move across the floor toward the projection. As the viewer treads on the line of text, the singular body ruptures. Layers tear away, as in a dissection, to reveal a collage of bodies of all shapes and sizes. As the viewer progresses, more layers tear away and fold back, revealing overlapping sets of images that give way to further images. Arriving at the final word, the viewer's face, filmed in real time from a video camera, appears inside the projected composite. At this moment, observer and observed blur together in the completely shorn body. Stepping toward or away from the projection reverses the process, the layers rapidly fusing, hiding the face in imagery.
The central aim of my work, in these and other installations, is to draw together highly specialized, often compartmentalized ways of knowing and representing bodies in space. In Nosce Te Ipsum, I use a video interface that records the viewer/performer's face yet locates the mirror within the boundary of a composite image of "idealized" flesh. In becoming part of the montage, participants simultaneously recognize and lose themselves in one body that is also an amalgamation of human forms.