Interactive Installation, Experiment
Violence has been present in films for decades. The audience reactions to these violent depictions in film range from pained empathy to complete desensitization. This interactive piece aims to see if an added interaction of mimicking the violence on screen further enhances the audience's sympathy towards these fictional victims. Conversely, does it also increase empathy felt for the damage dealer?
"cinema can render the dynamic movement between poles of empathy and sympathy [...] thus enabling spectators to both emotionally engage with and ethically evaluate the fictional characters within a plausible cinematic world"
The above is a quote from Robert Sinnerbrink's research on "cinempathy". He describes cinempathy as "the interplay between empathy and sympathy," something that I have been fascinated by medium of narrative film. I wanted to explore this theory through an interactive installation that deals with one of the more primal aspects of human nature:
When one actor inflicts violence onto another in a film, empathy is often directed upon the actor receiving the violence. In Embodied Violence, I aim to reverse this sensation by putting the user into the violence inflicter's shoes.
My hypothesis is that more people would feel less inclined to inflict harm on to the fictional characters if they were forced to embody the actor inflicting the violence.
For this project, the main technology I used is a Kinect v2.
I ended up using the Kinect rather than a physical object because I did not want the user to have any sort of realizable "controller" between the film and themselves.
I did not the user to think "oh this object is causing the violent scene to play," I want them to feel that they themselves are the cause of what follows.
I am watching Raging Bull by Martin Scorsese. During this scene, Ray LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro, is in a boxing match with someone he truly hates.
Ray is ducking and dodging, and finally sees an opening for an attack. He winds up and...
The film pauses.
In order for me to continue the film, I must enact the same violent action that Ray LaMotta is about to inflict on the other boxer, in this case, a wide hook to their face. So I swing my arm.
During this whole time, the Kinect camera has been recording my body. It tracks and translates my body into data, more specifically the position of many "joints" in my body, and sends this data to a program that analyzes it.
The film is currently paused right before a punch. The program would only continue the film to the inevitable impact only if it detects that my body has performed the correct violent gesture. In this case,
The film resumes.
Ray LaMotta's fist lands on the poor opponents jaw. A loud smack is heard. Ray winds up again and... repeat.
After my first initial user testings, I received feedback that it felt like an exercise game, which made me less than enthused.
I needed to rework the experience to have more of an arc and a better sense of the tone I am going for.
I included two more scenes from David Fincher's Fight Club and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.
I ordered the scenes by amount of violence and edited together a compiled clip of all the scenes. I needed the violence to increase in order to convey a sense of unease and discomfort.
The final scene ends in a murder. However, if the user decides to commit to the killing blow on the final pause, the film will immediately cut to the Kinect's live camera feed of the user committing the violent action.
I debuted my project at the ITP Spring Show 2017, and was able to gather many users to interact with my project. It was a big hit, but I think mostly due to its more perverse nature. People came up to my project asking if this was "the boxing one". There were still many who told me that it would be "a good way to lose weight while watching movies."
However, a small portion of people could not get through the project because they strongly felt that they were the ones committing the violence. I could sense their hesitation as they continued to punch and kick these fictional characters. But then again, there were ones that seemed to get even more into the violence and got all pumped up.
Overall, I'm unsure if my project was able to accomplish the goals I had originally set it out to do. But I'm happy nonetheless that my project was able to be interpreted and interacted with by many people and with so many different reactions.
My most memorable moment was when a bald man stood nearby and watched with intense interest as another user was joyously punching the air. I asked him if he would like to try it out next. He smiled back and said "no thanks, I'm a Buddhist monk" and continued to watch.
Special thanks to:
my right shoulder