Psychedelic/spiritual artist Alex Grey has a series of paintings called Sacred Mirrors, that depict various human forms, all in the same pose. You can view some of them here.
The idea, as I understand it, is to stand in front of them in the same pose, and feel into what aspect of your being may or could take that form, like so:
“Ultimately, the Sacred Mirrors are intended for use as tools to see oneself and the world as reflections of the divine.” (source)
“Each painting presents a life-sized figure facing viewers and inviting them to mirror the images, creating a sense of seeing into oneself. By open-minded aesthetic contemplation of the Sacred Mirrors, one’s identity shifts from a material body to spiritual light. The life-sized representations of the human body, portraying its physical and energetic systems, are both scientifically precise and vividly visionary. The Sacred Mirrors dramatically reveal the miracle of life’s evolutionary complexity, the unity of human experience across all racial, class and gender divides, and the astonishing vistas of possibility inherent in human consciousness.” (source)
It seems to me that a virtual reality version of this could be very powerful and awe-inspiring. Especially if it were combined with full-body tracking, and the figures moved in accordance with your own physical movements – so that the virtual embodiment illusion was evoked, in which you perceive yourself to be embodied as the avatar, rather than your own physical body.
I hope to experience something like that one day.
Looks like Jerad Bitner is now pursuing a project exactly along these lines: https://twitter.com/sirkitree/status/1142815455519768577
Embodiment study using virtual reality.
- Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
This idiom is a reminder to practice empathy. In practicing empathy, we can use our imagination to try to picture ourselves as other people, animals, or anything else in which you are trying to relate. While this itself is not empathy, it is a means of generating sympathy for another perspective. By doing these mental simulations, it prepares us for empathetic encounters with someone when we find them hurting, in need of our help, or to share in their joy.
I’ve been studying virtual reality now for almost 5 years, and one very powerful idea that I repeatedly see in studies and personal accounts is how VR can help us understand different perspectives in a profound manner through guided personal experience. Some have even called it an empathy machine. After encountering this in multiple studies and accounts, I thought of an experience I wanted to create, and to see for myself: does this change me?
In a study written by Jeremy Bailenson, experiments were performed that involve a principle called “body transference”. This principle stems from previous neuroscience studies in which a person can, to some degree, be convinced that a rubber hand is their own through seeing and feeling both hands being stroked with a brush. Similarly, when seeing a virtual avatar in a mirror respond exactly the way our body is moving, we psychologically begin to feel that the avatar is our body.
This idea and feeling has also become an important part of social VR applications in which people embody avatars that make them feel differently, sometimes more like themselves. I’ve met trans-gender folks who feel more like themselves embodying an avatar of the preferred sex. I’ve met “furries” who feel more like themselves when wearing an avatar that looks like a hyena, or a fox. And in many VR gatherings it’s become important to the attendees for there to be a mirror, so that you can not only see your friends, but see yourself in the avatar of your choosing with your friends. My conclusion from these experiences is that mirrors in VR are an important psychological tool that affects one’s perception of self on a very deep level.
In a series of paintings created by the artist Alex Grey, he explores this idea of embodiment in a unique manner. He’s constructed a hallway lined with beautifully detailed, life-sized paintings of the human body.
- “The Sacred Mirrors series is a totally unique work of contemporary sacred art created by Alex Grey between the years of 1979-89. This installation of framed images, consisting of paintings and two etched mirrors, examines the anatomy of body, mind and spirit in rich detail. Each painting presents a life-sized figure facing viewers and inviting them to mirror the images, creating a sense of seeing into oneself. By open-minded aesthetic contemplation of the Sacred Mirrors, one’s identity shifts from a material body to spiritual light. The life-sized representations of the human body, portraying its physical and energetic systems, are both scientifically precise and vividly visionary. The Sacred Mirrors dramatically reveal the miracle of life’s evolutionary complexity, the unity of human experience across all racial, class and gender divides, and the astonishing vistas of possibility inherent in human consciousness. Alex Grey’s art combines ancient wisdom, anatomical accuracy, and post-modern eclecticism to produce elegant, universally accessible, eternally relevant and resonant symbols.”
– JP Harpignies
“…one’s identity shifts from a material body to spiritual light.” Wow! Now imagine combining this concept of body transference with Alex’s paintings, and I think we may have a recipe for a compelling experience. If people who experience Alex Grey’s Sacred Mirrors installation can imagine themselves as these paintings, what if we created avatars that represent these very concepts, and allow people to see themselves in a virtual mirror as these very things? We can somewhat marry these concepts, perhaps remove some of the imagination required to visualize one’s self as separate entities, and provide a new way of looking at and reflecting upon our own nature.
The beginnings of this experiment started with importing Alex Grey’s images from the website into Neos VR and laying them out in a hallway arrangement. Next I employed a 3D character modeler to create an anatomically correct male model which we can skin (texture) appropriately for some of these aspects. Next will be a female model to use as a base for the female aspects.