As We Are.

As We Are: The Ultimate Selfie Machine

Field review by the editors.

Columbus, Ohio

Many people, one head.

As We Are.

That's the message delivered by As We Are, a sculpture conceived and designed by Matthew Mohr, an Associate Professor of Advertising and Design at Columbus College of Art and Design.

Matthew told us that in 2002 he created a profile on Friendster (an early online social network) while "asking myself if it was a smart idea to put myself out there for all to see." He thought about how people were using visual self-promotion to connect with complete strangers, and suddenly the idea of As We Are "popped into my head, quite fully formed."

What would people do, he wondered, if they had the chance to showcase themselves at a scale normally reserved for national heroes and gods?

It took years, and the participation of the Columbus Convention Authority, and well over a million dollars, but As We Are opened to the public on September 12, 2017, a permanent artwork in a new atrium of the city's Convention Center. The head is 14 feet high, weighs over three tons, and displays the faces of average, everyday people 17 times larger than life. In its press release As We Are was praised by the Columbus Convention Authority as an example of the city's tech credentials and inclusiveness. The sculpture, it said, was, "the ultimate selfie machine."

As We Are.

In the back of the head is a photo booth where cameras snap 32 simultaneous pictures. If you want to participate (it's free), and you don't mind the public playing spot-the-skin tags with your giant face, you can have up to three photos taken in the booth. Pick your favorite from a preview screen, then wait roughly three minutes for it to appear on the big head, projected by 850,000 LEDs, where it remains for about 30-45 seconds. According to Matthew, the ever-cycling sculpture can store up to 10,000 faces in its database, and draw more from the cloud if needed.

As We Are.

Matthew said that the booth is designed to accommodate people with disabilities and a wide range of heights, but visitors are asked to remove hats and eyeglasses, which confuse the software.

The sculpture, according to Matthew, is a "universal human head," with its proportions fixed by averaging 3D scans of over 5,000 people. This makes it a collective democratic head as well. Everyone's face has to be stretched and squished to fit the form, which "addresses the relationship between self and representation of self," according to Matthew. During the day the sculpture faces into the atrium of the Convention Center to make the best use of light and visitors. At night it rotates to face the street, broadcasting its illuminated faces to passers-by through the atrium windows.

As We Are.

The name As We Are was one of a half-dozen submitted by Matthew to the Convention Authority, which in turn submitted them to focus groups, which resulted in As We Are being chosen. Matthew said he didn't mind surrendering the traditional artist's right to name his work because the work wouldn't have existed without the Convention Authority's support. Plus, he liked the name As We Are, which to him suggested both diversity and impermanence.

Unlike the rock solid fame of Mount Rushmore, celebrity status on the universal human head is fleeting. Once your face makes its debut, it vanishes into the database and may not resurface for days or weeks. Because As We Are defaults to diversity, faces with uncommon skin tones tend to appear more frequently. If you crave repeated exposure you can always come back for another head shot -- or maybe paint your head green or blue.

Matthew clarified for us -- we had to ask -- that the sculpture's software only accepts faces, so someone can't use the booth to create a 14-foot-high scan of other body parts. "No naughty bits," said Matthew. "I'm curious how people will try to use it to express themselves. I'm hoping for creativity over vulgarity, but it is public art."

At the sculpture's unveiling it was proclaimed the only artwork of its kind in the world, but imitators will inevitably follow. Does Matthew worry that the dramatic presentation of As We Are might some day be co-opted by politicians and car dealerships? "Hey, it could happen," said Matthew. "But if you knew how much technology is in it, how much it cost, and how long it took to build, it will be a while until I walk into my dentist's office and have the same experience."

As We Are: The Ultimate Selfie Machine

Address:
400 N. High St., Columbus, OH
Directions:
Downtown. On the southeast corner of N. High St. and E. Goodale Blvd, inside the glassed-in atrium of the Columbus Convention Center.
Hours:
Head is open for photos M-F 9-4, Sa-Su 9-3
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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