"Binary Persona" by Sylvia Tomayko-Peters
The Concept: Binary Persona attempts to tackle identity crisis in the digital age. Taking the famous "repeated scene" from Ingmar Bergman's 1966 film Persona, and reworking the imagery, "Project" is an experiment in exploring the boundaries of subjectivity and our relationship to digital technologies, specifically through language, both spoken and textual.
When thinking about what images I wanted to appropriate for my video remix, Bergman's Persona, a film I greatly admire with its simple scenes and high contrast lighting, instantly came to mind. Persona, to briefly recount for those who have not seen the film, is the story of two women, Elizabeth, an actress, and her nurse, Alma. The movie investigates the relationship between the two women in isolation together and the blurring of subjectivity, or "personas," which results. A more thorough description can be found here. The scene which I use is from the climax of the movie, where Alma confronts Elizabeth and the conflation of their identities becomes clear. By repeating the same scene twice, focusing once on Elizabeth and and then on Alma, Bergman emphasizes the melding of their personalities.
Running with the idea of subject formation and potential confusion which is present in Persona I decided to transport the film into the present day. Rather than focusing on the relationship between two women, I wanted to show the interaction between a human and digital technology, personified. For me, this transition occurs through communication. In the Lacanian mode of thinking, we begin to form ourselves as subjects only when we start to understand language. Before language, what we perceive is indivisible, nameless, we cannot be subjects, we do not even have a word for "I," and the same goes for objects. Thus, when thinking about our relationship with digital technologies I wanted to focus on how humans and computers speak to one another. As a writer primarily interested in using digital media, I am fascinated by the many different avenues of communication possible from normal human language to mathematical languages to higher level computer programming languages and finally to basic binary language. In Binary Persona, I attempt to transition through these potential forms of communication, both spoken and written human language including the alphanumeric and symbolic systems.
With Binary Persona, I wanted to investigate the potential for the blurring of subject lines between people and the digital technologies they create, a cyborgian idea I suppose. As increasingly large parts of our lives involve digital devices, the human/computer relationship becomes ever more important. Finding a balance between our reliance on technologies and our understanding of ourselves is essential, and while Binary Persona perhaps has a more sinister ending (more in in attempt to remain faithful to the original Persona), I personally do not believe that it is inevitable that humans will be "sucked into" our technologies in a destructive or irreparable manner.
The Process: Initially I had the idea of displaying the symbolic nature of language at the surface of the piece by turning the very images of from the film into text. Thanks to my friend Brian Drake, who had programmed a piece of software which made it possible to map any text to JPEG images, I could literally turn Persona into text. What this entailed was decomposing the scene into into its individual frames, running them through the program, and then stitching them back together again. Thanks to technical difficulties (to be expected) and time constraints, this didn't turn out as I was hoping and it is difficult to tell that the images are indeed made out of letters and numbers. If I had an infinite amount of time I would like to redo this, using varying sizes of text. However, I feel as though I remedied this through my use of overlaid text throughout the video.
I then split most of the scenes down the middle, showing the left half as Alma as she appears in Persona, and the right half as my own "textified" version of her face. Thus, I sought to mimic the end of the original scene in which Bergman places half of each protagonist's face together to create one fused face. By splitting the image, I wanted to forefront the dual nature of our lives, almost always in communication with digital technologies.
Another choice I made was to intentionally leave the original Swedish lines without any subtitles. Not only is the sound of the actress' voice both beautiful and chilling, but I felt that the incomprehensibility would make the pure sounds of the language stand out. The unintelligible sounds of a foreign language emphasize the arbitrary and symbolic nature of language, putting human languages and digital languages on the same level.
On a final note, if time (both in video length and my own free time) had not been an issue, it would have been interesting to remix the entire repeated scene rather than just half of it, so that rather than just splitting the subject, I could have shown it from both view points at Bergman does.
Additionally, a link to the section of Bergman's Persona that I incorporated into my video can be found here.