QU community sprints to the ‘Human Race’

By on April 6, 2005

For one week, the Carl Hansen Student Center was home to the innovative blend of art and technology known as The Human Race Machine.

S.H.A.D.E.s (Students Helping and Advocating Diversity Education) sponsored the art display through the encouragement of Linda Lindroth, an adjunct professor of liberal arts, and Kerstin Soderlund, former director of the Student Center.

Lindroth has been familiar with the work of artist Nancy Burson for three decades, working with her in the ’90s in the Polaroid Artist Program. During her Women Artist courses last year, one of Lindroth’s students gave a presentation on Burson’s work and suggested that students might be interested in The Human Race Machine. Soderlund and Lindroth urged S.H.A.D.E.s to invite Burson’s work to the campus.

Burson has been a member of the art community for over 25 years. Beginning her career as a painter and a conceptual artist, she then moved into the field of digitally manipulated photography.

According to her Web site, Burson patented a computer program in 1981, developed with her husband David Kramlich, which generates images of how people might look as they age. This was quickly picked up by law enforcement officials and is now used by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to aid in the return of kidnap victims.

Burson is especially proud of this aspect of her work. In a telephone interview, she called the use of her computer program “a gift” and said, “I really feel that if it could bring one kid home, it would be amazing.”

She then began to use her technology in her artwork. Over time, Burson developed The Human Race Machine, a computer terminal containing technology that allows participants to manipulate an image of themselves into a number of variations. Quinnipiac students, faculty and staff were able to interact with this software while it was on campus last week.

Junior Alissa Python, a health science studies major, spent many hours during the week staffing the display for S.H.A.D.E.s. Prior to the arrival of the machine, she had never heard of Burson’s work. However, she said, “It made me interested in what made her think of this [project].”

One aspect of the program is the Age Machine. Using a scanned image of someone’s face, the program can create a projection of what that person will look like up to 25 years in the future.

The Human Race Machine program also uses a scanned facial image, but uses it to create visuals of what that person would look like if they were Asian, black, white, Hispanic, Indian and Middle Eastern.

Another program at the terminal allowed couples to scan both of their faces and see what their children might look like.

The final and perhaps most jarring component of the project was the Anomaly Machine. With this program participants saw what they would look like a several facial anomalies, including the result of a stroke and if their eyes were set too far apart or too close together.

Those who interacted with the programs generally came away with strong reactions. Casey Chafe, a junior biomedical sciences major, was moved by technology. “We live life day to day without thinking what we will look like [in the future],” Chafe said.

Lindroth spent some time watching students and faculty use the machine. She noticed that students were more content with the aging software than the faculty members. She believes that this may be “because as we grow older, we realize how vain we are but also how youthfulness dominates the visual media, how prevalent cosmetic surgery has become and how issues like the revamping of our Social Security system are very relevant topics of discussion.”

Senior public relations major Helen Ridley found the project interesting and enjoyed seeing herself as a variety of races.

Kim Fitzpatrick, a senior psychology major, felt that through the interaction with the program students could “get an appreciation of all races.”

“I’ve noticed that people are a lot more appreciative of how they look,” Python said. “I hope it makes people realize how many races are out there and embrace them all.”

This message follows what Burson hopes people will take away from her work. “I feel like the more that we can see ourselves in each other, the easier it is to be united as one,” Burson said.

Burson will have three of her projects, Truth, The Human Face and The Human Race Machine, on display at 60 Wall Street in downtown Manhattan from April 12 through June 29. For more information, please visit http://www.nancyburson.com.


About Nancy Hall