Transient Self-Portrait



Funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, London, UK Residency hosted by Technologies and Human Sciences (TSH) Department, Université de Technologie of Compiegne (France) (March-July 2012)


Interactive piece based on two pivotal sonnets from Spanish literature, Soneto 23:En tanto que de rosa y azucena’ (1522) by Garcilaso de La Vega  and Mientras por competir con tu cabelloby Luís de Gongora (1582). It consists of three stages: the first one based on Garcilaso’s sonnet, makes reference to the passing of time; the second one connected to Gongora’s notion of the unavoidable death, makes the text disintegrate into the final stage where the portrait becomes programming data, and alludes to the transient nature of the digital/data-self.  Thus, the project is a response to some of the concepts that emerge from these sonnets: ephemerality of life, transient entities, fragility, which are also relevant to our age and the electronic world we inhabit. It questions the experience of reading; the use of digital grammars (interacting and engaging with the work); while exploring the concepts evoked in the sonnets.

The participant is invited to explore the work to reveal a fluid portrait -grabbed by the webcam- encapsulated inside the screen, as a medium of textual, generative and sound surfaces. Text and sound are activated by mouse-over actions in stage one, the voice of the reader - by reading aloud - triggers the text in stage two, and mouse click and drag helps to manipulate the image and activate the sound in the third stage. The sonnets pass from different stages of written, visual, aural, language and code to dissipate into nothing. The creative process is that of producing, reflecting, programming and testing the medium to explore these notions in an electronic media society of dialogues with self-images, engaging the participant in a reading experience of ‘in’ and ‘out’ of language, via webcams and interactive aesthetics and poetics.


Keywords: sonnet, conceptual poem, portrait, performance reading, reading experience, generative writing, writing space, textual surface, materiality, visual language, electronic medium, light, colour, code, data, digital self, ephemeral-(ity), transient entities, time, evanescent, fluid, fragility, interactive aesthetics/poetics, webcam, interdisciplinary, practice-based research, digital literacies, Processing, Open source.





Interactive PROJECT from Chercher le texte Online Gallery Festival 2013. You need a computer with a webcam and an embedded microphone so the poem hears your voice when you speak to it. Project will download when you click on Mac user or Pc user. Please go to downloads an open from there. Wait for image to appear and follow instructions.


Newer version for new operating systems in Macs. PLEASE READ!

Apple sees apps like Transient Self-Portrait as made by an "unidentified developer", so they block them by default.
To download the work: Due to the security settings on newer Mac Operating Systems, you have to go to System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> General, Then click on the lock in the bottom left corner and type your password if prompted, then under "Allow apps download from:" select "Anywhere". After that the app should work. If the instructions are unclear here is a website that explains it with screenshots:


DOWNLOAD Mac version- English (.app-wait 30 seconds to load to your downloads) DOWNLOAD Mac version-Spanish

Instructions:If the room is dark you won't see much as the camera needs to pick up your image and your image will become part of the work (in the screen).

Interaction: Selected a language. To reveal sound and text: 1st stage: Left Click, hold and roll over mouse to reveal the text and sound. When 90% of text is revealed the piece will move to the next stage. 2nd stage: read the sonnet aloud to activate and reveal text with your voice. 3rd stage: Click, hold and roll over mouse to activate sound and image until it disintegrates. Press space bar to go back to the beginning.


Exhibitions: Mexico, Portugal, France, UK.

Mencía, M. (2015), Transient Self-Portrait, Plataformas de la Imaginacion,Escenarios de la Literatura Electronica, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco y Universum- Museo de Las Ciencias de la UNAM, Mexico 2015.
Mencía, M. (2015), Transient Self-Portrait, Language and the Interface, International Conference on Digital Literary Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal.

Mencía, M. (2014), Transient Self-Portrait, exhibition at the Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts (DRHA), Conference University of Greenwich, London, UK. Exhibition Catalogue-Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts- DRHA 2014

Conference Abstracts-Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts- DRHA 2014 Looking Beyond the Screen session- go to abstracts

Mencía, M. (2013), Transient Self-Portrait, ELO Paris 2013, Chercher le Texte, Locating the Text in Electronic Literature, a conference including performances and exhibitions of selected works, organised by the electronic art organisation (ELO) and hosted by the Laboratoire Paragraphe and the EnsAD (Ecole nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs) (peer-reviewed).

This virtual gallery showed at: 1-The French National Library in the exhibition "Digital Literatures From Yesterday to Tomorrow"

2- Public Library of the Centre Pompidou and 3- Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts décoratifs for the duration of the ELO conference (23-29th September). It is a part of the DDDL :: Digital Digital Digital Littérature site and the Chercher le Texte site.

Mencía, M. (2013), Transient Self-Portrait, Words Unstable on the Table, E-Poetry 2013, Watermans Art Centre, London, UK.


Chapter in Book: Transient Self-Portrait: The Data Self in Mencía M (ed), #WomenTechLit ( 2017) West Virginia University Press.



María Mencía, Artist, Concept and Researcher


Programming-Realisation by Reda Yacouby and Jalal Miftah

Project developed using open source Processing

Special thanks to Serge Bouchardon


Sonnets: En tanto que de rosa y azucena, Sonnet XXIII by Garcilaso de la Vega

Mientras por competir con tu cabello by Luís de Gongora


Translations: French by Alix Ingber

English by Pierre Darmangeat


Readers: Spanish by Pablo Romero

English by Ian Smith

French by Serge Bouchardon


Funded by Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, London, UK Residency hosted by Technologies and Human Sciences (TSH) Department, Université de Technologie of Compiegne (France)