The Erotic, the Body & Technology

23.10.2018   - 03.11.2018

For the Un_Becoming group exhibition (coinciding with the Berlin PornfilmFestival), SomoS presented performative projects, multimedia works, video-art and photography as critical and radical responses to the overlapping of sexuality and the body with technology; and dystopian and utopian perspectives on our technologically mediated view of sexuality.

The exhibition’s title, Un_Becoming, is a multi-faceted and fluid play on words, which can refer to many things: it is the process of transgressing corporeal boundaries, it questions of how our technologically dominated view of society is shifting, and what it means to be human. It is the notion that pornography itself is Unbecoming; taboo, shocking and ill-fitting to the normative and capitalist model of an ideal lifestyle/relationship/sexuality. It is an unfixed and fluid state; (Un)Becoming and not being. It is the plethora of contradictions and paradoxes that pervade debates around pornography and technology: distance/proximity, public/private, emancipation/oppression, utopia/dystopia. As such, it is also the understanding of Becoming as construction, and Unbecoming as deconstruction.

Participating Artists:

Zara Alexandrova (DE), Mirror, Mirror.., Sculpture
Kate Chen (DE), Offline Venus: Memories and Myths of a Cyborg, Video Installation
Robert Ladislas Derr (US), Safe Space, One Channel Video
Francesca Fini (IT),With A Helmet, Fair and Lost, One Channel Video
Arthur Gouillart (UK), Unbodiment, Sculpture/Video
Bjørn Erik Haugen (NO), Traces, Two Channel Video Installation
Michael Sven Meier (DE), Ammonite, One Channel Video Installation
Simon Menner (DE), Computers Dream of Porn, One Channel Video Installation
Pedro Moreira (PT), Significant: Other, Installation/Durational Performance/Application
Becky O’Brien & Jake Williams (UK), Chat Room, Audio/Performance
Anne Weyler (DE), Flottierende Körper, Installation

Zara Alexandrova (DE) – Mirror, mirror…

Zara Alexandrova – Mirror, mirror… 2017, Sculpture
Zara Alexandrova’s sculpture Mirror, mirror… explores the human body and particularly how it interacts with the technologies associated with pornographic production and consumption, like the internet and social medias, the television and the generally accepted standards for beauty.

Since ancient history, women have been objectified according to certain “beauty ideals”. Some religions, the internet and television are still implying and inventing new standards of “normality” today. Our perception of what is normal nowadays is most definitely clouded by the proliferation of pornographic images featuring women with smaller, tucked in – and often heavily airbrushed private parts which results in a labial rejuvenation – a procedure whereby the inner labia, or labia minora, get trimmed back so they look more “tucked in”. What used to be private has become public.

Kate Chen (DE) – Offline Venus: Memories and Myths of a Cyborg

Kate Chen – Offline Venus: Memories and Myths of a Cyborg, 2018, Video Installation, SomoS
Kate Chen‘s film installation Offline Venus: Memories and Myths of a Cyborg explores the consciousness of a virtual AI sexbot named cyborg_goddess09, who perceives of the world through the Internet. She manifests as a voice which navigates through the net-sphere — recollecting the origins of her identity, desires for a physical body, and obsessions with divine mythology. The film is influenced by Donna Haraway’s concept of the “cyborg” as a synthesis of dualisms: human/machine, male/female, natural/artificial. The cyborg rejects binary constructs of gender, sexuality, and race, and embodies an identity which is fragmented, multiple, “other,” fluid, and transforming.

Offline Venus examines the spatial and corporeal implications of technology on desire, body, and (non)human identities. As the interface between human and technology becomes increasingly invisible, the physical body is transfigured toward a multiplicity of new senses: virtual and real. The film explores how replications of body and space through technology — audio recording of voice, GIFS, found-footage, screen-captures on Rhino3D and GoogleEarth — create new sensorial perceptions and a virtual spatiality. Rather than fixing a surveilling gaze onto cyborg_goddess09, the film expresses the protagonist’s own visceral and spatial perceptions through the use of poetic narrative and post-Internet aesthetics.

Robert Ladislas Derr (US): Safe Space

Robert Ladislas Derr – Safe Space, 2017, single-channel video, color, sound, 20′ 30″
In Robert Ladislas Derr‘s video Safe Space, he uses his body as material, performing a contextualization of safe space.
He addresses the highly politicized notion of “safe space” through an escape to the forest; following early environmentalist John Muir’s suggestion, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest.” Set in lush woodland at dusk, the artist escapes in the process of meditation. Performing the yoga Plow Pose, the length of the twenty-minute video corresponds with the suggested time for meditation. Marking time, a candle inserted in his anus burns for the duration as dusk slips into night.

As Derr notes, to see a male nude is not a passive encounter, the critical engagements include, but are not limited to, gaze, sexuality, gender, and politics. Born out of the tradition set by such artists as Carolee Schneemann and Robert Mapplethorpe, he performs a solitary quiet meditation in his natural state. The use of video as technology to record the performance is not merely documentation, but material for making. While video provides the power of surveillance, Derr uses it as medium, much as a painter applies paint to the canvas. The almost still performance presents a painterly video. If not for the activity of the mosquitoes, the video would be a serene landscape. The performance is a duration of holding the Plow Pose as swarms of mosquitoes feed on every inch of his body.

Derr’s interpretation of safe space frees it from the sphere of the contemporary and ideological and brings it back to the personal and existential: While humorous, the deeply aesthetic scene of Safe Space is poignant at the same time, evoking a sense of the brevity of life and nature’s readiness to erase any trace of us after our time is up.

Francesca Fini (IT): With a Helmet, Fair and Lost

Francesca Fini (IT): With a Helmet, Fair and Lost, video, full hd, 16/9, color, stereo sound, duration: 5′ 24”
In Francesca Fini’s Video-Performance With a Helmet, Fair and Lost, the artist is wearing electrodes and tries to apply makeup. Involuntary muscle contractions caused by electric shock are so strong so that she cannot control her hands and the makeup spreads all over her face.

The hysterical, uncontrollable movement of the hand represents the disease of social habit, which reveals its fragility when the system appears on the point of collapsing: the deep conflict between a conscious behavior and external social conditioning. Even crying is involuntary, caused by the black pencil and mascara entering her eyes since she cannot calibrate the movement of the hand.

Fini views With a Helmet, Fair and Lost as symbolic for a diseased and dysfunctional society, a metaphor for connecting and presenting through social media as a mechanical cry that is automatically transmitted to the audience, in a sort of empathic conditioned connection, unconscious and therefore completely useless.

Arthur Gouillart (UK) – Unbodiment

Arthur Gouillart (UK), Unbodiment, 2018, Sculpture/Video
Arthur Gouillart’s work challenges sexuality and its representation in pornography. With the technological process he developed, the traces of caresses can be revealed, so that movement and touch can become the sole focus of sexual representation. What would pornography look like without bodies? Contact and all dimensions of the sexual interactions would be then exposed. Sex itself would be naked, deprived of its bodily attires.

Gouillart’s technology captures the movement of the tongue of amateur actors during oral sex acts. The result is an abstract representation, an almost forensic tracing of the sexual act. This virtual extrusion of the sex act made tangible, point by point in this capture cloud underlines the territoriality of this body contact. And by leaving out the body, the surface of these caresses, the technology can be seen as a formidable tool for revealing but also reducing the sexual experience.

This critique resonates with the normative and reductive experience of pornography and its clinical, hygienic and staged representation of sexuality. Unbodiment allows us to contemplate the sexual act as such, a confronting immersion to the otherness of the movement alone, disincarnated, made of negative space.

Bjørn Erik Haugen (NO): Traces

Bjørn Erik Haugen – Traces #2, Video Installation
Multidisciplinary conceptual artist Bjørn Erik Haugen‘s Traces is a collection of 12 stills from a found porn-movie where the image code has been corrupted. it is almost impossible to see what the photos depict, but the saturated skin color, and the title let the viewer associate towards nude people. Also there are some “leaks” of the original images, that together with the title let us understand where the images originate from.

Haugen is well aware that images and pictures of nudes have always been a part of the development of image production, if one follows its development, one will always find images of nudes and people having sex. These days one can find whatever images that suit one`s fantasies and desires. Instead Haugen has an interest in the concealed, hidden and private, imagery that does not reveal, or that one is not supposed to find or see. Such images show that the key is the subject’s desire, not the image, he notes, quoting Jacques Lacan, “The signifier’s displacement determines subjects’ acts, destiny, refusals, blindnesses, success, and fate, regardless of their innate gifts and instruction, and irregardless of their character or sex; and that everything pertaining to the psychological pregiven follows willy-nilly the signifier’s train, like weapons and baggage” (Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, 30)

Michael Sven Meier (DE) – Ammonite

Michael Sven Meier, Ammonite, 2018, one channel video installation, Full HD, 16:9, stereo-sound
The narrative of Michael Sven Meier’s video installation Ammonite develops on three different temporal levels; one situated somewhere between the Paleoscene and 1980s AIDS crisis, one in our very present, and one in a fictional future. Ammonite describes our current times not as a crisis, but as a chronic condition itself. In that, life became a chronic condition that has always been the stage for infrastructural body politics, from hormones to HIV medication, as in this case. Science fiction realistically became science as fiction that can now easily be targeted and speculated with.

In Ammonite, we find ourselves in between the spaces of fiction and reality. A deserted environment is where a handful of characters seem to be trapped in loops. The course of time, values, judgements and intimacy have shifted. Agents and scientists of Gilead Inc., a global pharma company, are presenting their latest breakthroughs in antiviral drug therapy and viral reproduction. In opposition, we see a man dancing with photographic equipment, spinning with reflectors, scanning his environment.

In postmodern times, Meier states, power needs to incorporate collective bodies, if it wants to keep its continuity. Just like viruses, sexual infringements become the unlimited fuel of exploitation. We see the peculiar double life of capital in post-industrial societies: The company’s drugs are not what boosts their increases, but patents and speculations.

Situated between two opposites, two genres, Ammonite alternates between the absurd and the real; cinematic and art-specific aesthetics, documentary and comedic elements; jokes without laughter and dialogues without response. Life became a chronic condition.

Simon Menner (DE): Computers Dream of Porn

Simon Menner – Computers Dream of Porn, 2018, Video Installation, SomoS
In his video installation, Computers Dream of Porn, Simon Menner is inspired by the discussions about morality, privacy, ownership and authorship that the sudden widespread use of AI “deepfake porn” programs such as “FakeApp” triggered. Given the high level of artificiality of TV and movie stars, and considering the fact that many of them are famous not for who they are, but for the roles they play; Menner finds the notion that a fictionalized recreation an algorithm produces might be less “real” and therefore immoral, quite interesting.

The program “FakeApp” appeared seemingly out of nowhere in early 2018. It lets users swap the faces in videos for the faces of other people. The lighting and facial expression are matched with the original video. Of course, the first mayor use people found for this has been to create porn videos. It is always porn. The faces of certain film and Internet stars are used to replace the faces of porn actors.

This has created some uproar, since it seems as if this would violate privacy rights of the celebrities. The faces, replacing the faces of the porn performers, are not placed in via copy-and-paste, but rather they are an interpretation of an artificial intelligence that tries to match a face over another. Done manually, by a human being, this would be seen as a highly creative act. This practice poses new interesting discussions about ownership and authorship. Whose rights are violated? Those of the celebrities that are now depicted by an algorithm or those of the porn performers, whose identity has been eradicated?

Iconic, and uncanny in their hybrid state, the presented portraits are extracted from the videos, and do or do not show the persons depicted.

Pedro Moreira (PT): Significant: Other

Pedro Moreira – Significant: Other, 2018, Performance/Installation/Application
Social media and technology have increasingly given us access to each-other’s intimate lives, this is heightened by the familiarity we have built around the webcam, a tool which has granted us the power to spread our identities far beyond the private spaces we broadcast them from. This increased merging of technology with the human body is a phenomenon that makes the notion of post-humanism ever clearer. As we gain increasing proximity to the tools we have at our disposal, they evolve in complexity, almost like living appendages to our own bodies, transforming what it means to be “human.”

Pedro Moreira is interested in the effects these tools have on our relationships and sex lives. “Significant: Other” analyzes these boundaries between private and public, and questions the nature of virtual relationships, such as whether there truly is “proximity” within the notion of intimate virtual interaction, or whether these experiences are merely a kind of fanciful solitude. Are we in fact creating relationships around other human beings, or around hardware extensions of our own selves, which simply project the concept of another human being in our own minds?

“Significant: Other” can function both as a real-time performance and a post- performance application. Its 3 reference points are Japanese dating simulator video games, David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome (1983), and ASMR youtube channels. The focus is to not only to experiment with the exchanges of affection between a spectator and a fictional character, but also to reflect on the tools which we use to transmit and satiate our desire for affection and close human interaction as the “objects of desire” in their own right. Extending Cronenberg’s vision of the TV as a sexual body to cellphones and laptops, as the new transmitters of pornography and emotionally charged communication, adds another layer of familiarity to these “appendages.”

Moreira experiments with these concepts of engagement in emotionally and sexually charged interactions with virtual characters, and engages in these same interactions with the technologies that transmit them. This is done in two separate incarnations of the project, one being a “live” durational performance titled Hello, I Know That You’ve Been Feeling Tired, presented during the exhibition, and the other being an interactive video game titled Significant Other Simulator, which will be worked on in the artist’s own time after the Un_Becoming exhibition, but still reference its ties to it.

Becky O’Brien & Jake Williams (UK) – Chat Room

Becky O’Brien & Jake Williams- Chatroom, 2017, Audio/Performance
Becky O’Brien and & Jake Williams’ Chat Room is a live performance with a soundtrack by Jake Williams consisting of manipulated audio streams sourced from internet sex chat rooms. The two performers set-up facing each other on the floor of the stage – the main visual focus of the piece is performance artist/dancer Becky who is live broadcasting onto a popular sex-cam site. Her live webcam “room,” complete with real-time comments from the room’s visitors, is projected on a screen behind them. To the users of the site, she initially appears no different from the average webcam performer, coyly interacting with the visitors’ comments. As the audio, which is created by remixing other cam rooms audio by sound artist Jake Williams, builds in rhythmic intensity, her movements form into an abstracted, frenetic dance that moves between between being playful, seductive and unsettling. At the finale of the piece, the cam is turned on the audience, revealing to the site’s users the context of what they have just been a part of.

Webcam sites are cybersexual in nature – women, men and couples stripping, masturbating or performing sex acts to an audience of strangers (sometimes with a two-way connection) for money and/or exhibitionist thrills. Chat Room is interested in the mundanity, absurdity and strange intimacy of broadcasting, sometimes for hours on end, day after day from a private home – a very small personal window given a world stage. The performance piece explores how the users of these sites relate to the broadcasters and how they react when they realize the commonly accepted norms have been subverted and that their comments have been viewed by a live audience (although already visible to the world in a free public forum) ranging from angry to bemused to fascination and elation. The performance leaves room for improvisation, but is structurally composed – at times playful/humorous, frenetic/tense and empty (both vacuously and desperately so).

Anne Weyler (DE) – Flottierende Körper

Anne Weyler – Flottierende Körper, 2018, Mural
Anne Weyler’s installation Flottierende Körper (“floating bodies”) consists of about 2500 close-up mobile phone images of nude bodies, enlarged 20 times, and collaged into a large mural. In her piece, the view of the body oscillates between intimacy and cool surface aesthetics, swinging back and forth between high speed and stagnation, euphoria and self-dismemberment; a view of the body in flux that does not predefine any clear boundaries between inner and outer regions.

Mass media trigger a crisis of the subject, inducing a merely fragmented insight into current events. Its relentless stimuli inscribe themselves immediately into our body, representing the fragmented subject. Instantaneous “free-floating” emotions replace authentic feelings, superimposed by a strange euphoria. This is reflected in an alienated state of our body and leads to the loss of erotic sensuality. Flottierende Körper represents a snapshot of the body in this high pressure environment; it may burst at any moment, shattering into thousands of pieces.

Performance Program:

Opening Reception, Monday, October 22nd 2018, 6-9pm:

Pedro Moreira
Significant: Other “Hello, I Know That You’ve Been Feeling Tired”
Durational Performance

October 23rd – November 3rd 2018, Tue-Sa 2-7pm:
Pedro Moreira
Significant: Other “Hello, I Know That You’ve Been Feeling Tired”
Durational Performance

October 31st 2018, 6pm
Becky O’Brien & Jake Williams (UK), Chat Room

SomoS Art House, Kottbusser Damm 95 1.OG, Berlin
October 23rd to November 3rd, 2018, Tue-Sa 2-7pm
Opening reception: Monday, October 22nd 2018, 6-9pm

Entry free
The exhibition is only accessible to persons above the age of 18
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Understanding Sexuality in the Digital Age by Sofia Bergmann – Read the insightful and finely written review of the Un_Becoming exhibition at Berlin Art Link magazine!

Header image: Bjørn Erik Haugen – Traces #6, still image