Digital portrait of Jeremy Bentham unveiled

23rd January 2019
Jeremy Bentham
The auto-icon

Colour photo of a digital portrait of Jeremy Bentham's head, projected in a wooden box
UCL is delighted to reveal a new artist commission by Marcus Lyall, inspired by the famous auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832).

Created from 3D scans of the philosopher’s preserved head, Portrait of Jeremy Bentham uses a Kinect camera that tracks the viewer’s movements and adjusts his perspective, so his eyes seem to follow you around the room. 

Artist Marcus Lyall has previously designed projections and live shows for Leeds Light Night, Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival and electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers.

Lyall’s new holographic portrait is a companion to Bentham's auto-icon – comprising his skeleton, wax head and clothes – on display at UCL. 

The artwork also reflects on Bentham’s design for a Panopticon, conceived as a circular structure where prisoners could be held under constant surveillance by a single warden, and described by Bentham as a ‘new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind.’ 

Marcus Lyall said, "The auto-icon is a unique form of self-portraiture, with Bentham using his own body to create a fascinating image of himself. For me, the auto-icon evokes the image of the warden in his Panopticon, a mysterious, paternal figure overseeing our daily activities. 

"Encountering his preserved head, with its startling glass eyes, I felt that there could be an 'upgrade' companion piece, using a combination of his remains and today's visual and surveillance technology. 

“It uses an unsettling illusion to provoke the feeling of being watched, making the head appear as a virtual warden."

Colour photo of a digital portrait of Jeremy Bentham's head, projected in a wooden box
Photos courtesy Marcus Lyall
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