The Polyphonous Avatar

This artwork is concerned with the notion of presence conveyed through physical absence, and the minimal threshold of technological simulation that can produce the feeling of the performers’s presence in the space for the audience. It consists of a system created in the game engine Unity which allows users to speaker through multiple online personas via a single avatar. The system can be used in conjunction with zoom or other telepresence technologies to provide anonymity and multiple personality avatars to converse through. This version of the work features a dialogue conducted between Dr. Alvaro Cassinelli from the Augmented Materiality Lab at the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong and his PhD student Royce Ng on the topics of presence, virtual qualia, black box technologies and ways of breaking free from technological determination, presented through the morphing visage of a single avatar.

The work was commissioned by Kampnagel – Internationales Zentrum für schönere Künste in Hamburb Germany and can be viewed here.


PRESENCE is a performance which responds to the constraints put upon live performance and international travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and uses live-motion capture of the artists face in Hong Kong, projection mapped as a digital avatar onto the face of a performer in Europe through the design of a headset which allows the remote artist to see and hear the audience, move with the performer and have their ‘presence’ teleported into a geographically distant location. The premise of the piece is to test the limits of the audience’s perception of the artist’s virtual presence despite their physical absence given the minimal threshold of their technological representation in the theatre. The artist will give a performance lecture, which begins with an explanation of the concept of presence, which opens up the broader theme of having our experience of the world technologically determined by the software we use.

This relation becomes more complex when those technologies involve the virtual teleportation of consciousness itself, as is the case with teleconferencing technologies like ZOOM. The performance lecture then opens up to become a ‘conference’, but where multiple subjectivities are allowed to inhabit the digital avatar of the artist, speaking through his voice, swapping his face and voice with their own. The performer removes the headset as the avatar becomes overwhelmed by the multiple subjectivities and the face becomes a glitching, datamoshed cacophony of competing identities and voices. The final part of the performance removes the artist’s avatar and the performer’s physical presence entirely, leaving only an empty theatre and a voice, where the theatre and its instruments become the performer itself, the lighting, sound and stage transforming into voice activated vectors for communicating the dissolved presence of the artist.

The performance premiered in Zurich in August 2021 at the Zurcher Theatre Spektakel and subsequently toured to Kaserne Basel, Kampnagel Hamburg, Ob.Scene Festival Seoul, Theatre de Liege, Belgium and will continue to Dusseldorf, Utrecht, Dublin, Taipei and Nagoya in 2022.


Royce Ng Alvaro Cassinelli