Today, Mark Farid launches his fundraising bid to begin a 28-day trip into a separate Oculus Rift-enabled reality. As part of the seeing-i project, the London-based artist will wear virtual reality for a month non-stop and quite literally see the world through someone else's eyes. The other person, or avatar, will only be known as "Input".
This anonymous person will be wearing a Google Glass type headset, transmitting what they see straight to Farid. He'll see the world through their eyes, whether they're in Sainsbury's, at the cinema or having sex. Farid will have constant access to another, entirely different life. He wants to find out whether it'll change him.
With filmmaker John Ingle, Farid wants to turn the experiment into a documentary that analyses "the construction of identities through culture and technology" and how digital mediators are affecting our behaviour. Are our personalities inherent or are they cultural identities created by external factors? Will Farid begin to lose his sense of self, whatever that means?
"Input" will be chosen by Ingle, the curator Nimrod Vardi and the psychologist who has been analysing Farid for the past year. You can even apply to be "Input" on the website. The identity of the chosen one will not be revealed to Farid. He'll eat, sleep and shower at the same time as his digital counterpart.
"I have no knowledge of who this person will be," Farid tells us, "other than they are a heterosexual male who is living with their girlfriend or wife."
Farid will live in a space containing only a shower, bed and toilet, breaking for one hour a day for a session with a psychologist who specialises in neuroscience, the only person he will talk to throughout the experiment. The space will be open to visitors for 23 hours a day, bar one hour when Mark breaks to talk to the psychologist about how he's feeling. The experiment stops at the first hint that he is becoming irretrievably unwell.
There is barely any space between online and offline life now; we live in different forms of reality within reality that are becoming more and more native to us. We wanted to find out from Farid if he thought any of these means of communication or existence (internet, IRL or virtual) are a "lie". Or is it possible to have multiple, genuine versions of yourself, all at once?
"I don’t think any of the realities in which we live are genuine," Farid says. "We take this physical reality as 'real', but, you know, every building, road, park and garden has been designed, trees are planted with the express goals of pertaining to position, pollution and colours. Every creak of a floor board, church bell ringing, cheering crowd, and cars driving... are all man made. Everything within our existence is unnatural: even to the extent of the sound and feeling of wind when it travels through our city or village, the design of the surrounding area dictates this. We live in an entirely man-made world, where none of it is 'real'."
"The predominant senses are sight and sound, so in a world in which visuals and audio are artificially created, experience must be synthetic, since experience is dependant on our senses," he continues. "Imagine a world in which we have no senses. Deprived of sensation and numb to the world. We are numb to the world, we are numb to the fictional elements of our world, to the fact that our experiences are simulated facades. We believe the fiction to be the only real truth of existence."
"Our existence, the only truth we can be certain of, has become a simulation of life, where these experiences are our life. The momentary experience is based on senses, but who we are is based on memory. We learn through our memories, through our senses, but alter our memories of them however we so desire. If our consciousness is experienced through the perception of sight and sound; through interaction, through technology and through our conception of knowledge, to what extent is it really our own?"
Farid hopes to launch the project in autumn of 2015, or at the very latest the spring of 2016. It'll be fascinating to see the outcome of his dive into the idea of what constitutes the self and what helps us define it. Will his consciousness ever define as Mark Farid again? Will he be bored by the life of his avatar? Will he lose his mind and gain a new one?
Find out more about Mark Farid and Seeing I here.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot