Joachim Rotteveel explores how Augmented Reality technologies can create new opportunities for making self-portraits.

ObserverObject (formerly known as HeadHunters) is a self-portrait, an augmented reality interface, which enables you to look through the eyes of the artist/artwork at yourself. It is the first in a series of self-portraits as part of an artistic research on the self-image in the world of contemporary media technologies.

During the SummerSessions, Joachim created several reproductions of his own head, using various techniques. Retopologizing 3D laser scan data did not result in the desired accuracy, once created with a 3D printer. Since the idea was to create a true self-portrait, it was very important that the resulting model looked like it's original. That's why Joachim contacted a special effects studio to make a copy of his own head.

The replica of Joachim's head has been equipped with touch/pressure sensors and LED's behind a flexible silicone skin. Cameras are mounted in the eye sockets with a tracking system that tries to identify and track the face of the observer. When the individual is seen by the head he can manipulate his own image in a 3D environment by moving his head. Pushing on the highlighted spots on the face changes the projected self-image.

In this interactive self-portrait you look through the eyes of the artist -the eyes of the artwork- at yourself. Through an activity involving both touching and looking you become involved in something not unsimilar to drawing where you have the tactile feedback of the pencil and the outward attention of the eye. Touching and operating an artificial head gives a very different -and perhaps more intimate- experience of an electronic interface than you would expect from electronic devices. In most cases, an apparatus is an extension of the human body, in this design the human form is an extension of the apparatus.

The human face is probably one of the first interfaces we come to understand in life, because evolution has prepared us for it. We have parts of the brain especially dedicated to recognizing faces and reading emotions. We like looking at faces. We communicate through faces. We imagine the Mona Lisa stares back at us as we look at her. Many things can have a face if you start looking for it. The animist approach that eastern cultures have towards technology supposes a spirit of some kind in all matter. The artists purposefully try to evoke an atmosphere in which objects start to communicate. In a way the face is the most striking natural interface for technology.

The self-portrait is more than capturing an image in the mirror with paint on canvas. By uniting the role of the artist, the subject and the researcher, the self-portrait offers the most intimate access to the artistic consciousness. The artist takes his own knife in hands to dissect and redesign himself as an object. In the past, the self-portrait was a way to show your skills as an artist. In the last century the self-portrait has been a way to represent internal processes of yourself. Today the self-portrait is completely integrated into the daily lives of everyone. We all make digital images of ourselves to show our identity on Social Networks. We are not even realizing that we are creating a self-image.

With this work Joachim tries to make people aware of how the process of seeing and being seen works. Seeing is a feedback loop in which the observer is involved in the artwork. The installation ObserverObject is both an object and an observer who is changed by the act of seeing. The object and the observer are one.

In 2010-2011 Scheltema and Key Of Life Festival will follow this research into Self-image through a series of Sundays with installations, lectures, workshops, poetry and musical acts.

Data: 17 Oct 2010 / 16 Jan 2011 / 17 Mar 2011 / 16 Oct 2011.

Location: Scheltema Complex (, Marktsteeg 1 Leiden



Team: Stan Wannet, Simon de Bakker, Jan Misker

Many thanks to: 

Melissa Coleman

Ronald Schinkelshoek 

SKM Rapid Modelling B.V. 

for their support.


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