This project explores the history and patterns of facial representation as a means of studying differences between present and past and the changing ways in which the face mediates human emotions.
ARC Centre of Excellence – History of Emotions, University of Melbourne
Emotions can be described textually. They can be performed and projected. They can be painted, illustrated and drawn. And they can have meaning beyond physical representation. However, for all possibilities of configuring emotions, the locus for both projecting and representing emotions is the human face.
Despite this centrality of the face in the history of emotions, and despite some studies of the indexical representation of facial features and the way they express emotions, there has been no substantial history of the patterns of facial representation and the changing ways in which the face mediates human emotions as a means of studying differences between present and past.
There are some obvious shifts in the patterns of representation from the individualisation of faces across the medieval to contemporary period to the electronic hybridisation of faces over the last two decades. However, tracing those shifts, and understanding what they mean for the history of emotions, is complicated.
If the past continues to shape the present, what are we to make of the National Geographic’s composite image of ‘the world’s most typical person’, created from combining 190,000 photographs of faces? The face is quite particular—a 28-year-old Han Chinese man. But it is also expressionless, global-generic, computer-generated and highly pixelated. More typically found in advertisements, the global face often takes the form of an androgynous Eurasian with an enigmatic Mona Lisa-like expression representing the diversity of the global community. The face of Benetton generated in 2000, for example, was made up of a sociologically-calculated Eurasian mix of the world’s population to form an Every Woman with a half smile. In parallel, the global ‘Face of Tomorrow’ comes in male and female forms, looks Euro-South Asian and is neither happy nor sad.
Investigators and project team: Paul James (RMIT), Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne), Liam Magee (RMIT), Steven Harris (web designer), Vikki Leone (education officer), and Jessie Scott (University of Melbourne research administrator)