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Art and Technology

We went to the art museum and saw science instead.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk was at the museum and while my Mom and Uncle were off doing things, my step-father, aunt and girlfriend and I went to see the fashion show.  I do quite love fashion, not that I’m a fashion plate, but I love watching Project Runway and looking at ‘le mode’ quite a bit.  It’s art that you wear, which is just cool.

Jean Paul Gaultier, if you’ve never heard of him, is the guy who made Madonna’s cone-bras.  There, now every American is nodding and knows who he is.  There was a whole room devoted to Madonna stuff (two actually), and you could see his work on everyone from her to Lady Gaga.  But that wasn’t what was cool.  I mean, yes, seeing his stuff live was awesome, and seeing how it was constructed added a level of impressiveness.  If you’ve seen The Fifth Element, the overstyled, boxy, designs take on new meanings when you see them in person.

What was cool were his living mannequins.

We’ve all seen the awesome animatronics that they use at places like Disney Land, but this technology was even cooler to see used as art.  When you walk up to the mannequin, it looks real, but wrong.  For a moment I thought ‘Wow, I wonder if he has live people standing up there.’  The closer you get, the less human it becomes.  The smile is just a bit off, and the eyes seem to be placed a little wrong.  As if the projected faces aren’t a 100% size/layout match to the mannequin.  Reading up on it later, I found that the faces were sculpted for each projection.  Still, these mannequins stare into space, smile, laugh, blink, look away, sing, and speak in both French and English: “Don’t worry, you are beautiful”; “Je suis que je suis”

Naturally I started looking at them a little closer.  Above and in front of each mannequin was a projector that was playing the video of the face.  That was pretty straight forward, until I noticed the tech was responsive to the person standing in the right spot.   Finding a mannequin that wasn’t being used much, I started experimenting with my own facial expressions.  If I was stern, she was stern.  If I frowned, she looked sad.  If I smiled shyly, she winked.  Clearly this was a set program, using the basic facial recognition AI to pinpoint the broad aspect of the facial spectrum.

I took another look at the projector and studied the ‘mirror’ base.  Obviously that wasn’t a plain mirror for the sake of art, but a two-way mirror that was monitoring my face.  I started making broader facial expressions, got better results from the live mannequin, and then made more and more subtle ones. Some, like a wink, were caught.  Others, like a blank expression, were not.

The technology wasn’t new, nor was it done in a new way that was ‘even cooler than before!’  But what it was, was art.  Jean Paul took the time to make technology into art, just for the sake of showing us something we’ve seen a million times before (le mode (fashion)) with a modern technology.  He always says that fashion should be ‘alive’ and while in the past, I would have expected actual living models, the fact that he embraces technology is part of why I’m willing to forgive him just about anything.  Yeah, even the cone bras.

That said, while Jean Paul claims “there is not only one type of beauty”, all his models were exactly the body type you’d expect to see.  Thin, fit, and what magazines tell us is ‘attractive.’  I suppose you can’t have everything.