Post-human porn production is confronted by the artist in ‘Second Sex War’, as digitally-enhanced fantasies are morphed into an exhibition that challenges the power structures of desire and its representation
A black vegan leather beanbag is lain on the gallery floor, invitingly. I recline and put on the Oculus Rift headset resting on top … it’s my first time. Given the premise of 'Second Sex War', the exhibition by Sidsel Meineche Hansen commissioned by Gasworks and subsequently on display at Trondheim Museum of Art in Norway – “to critique post-human porn production from within” – I anticipate that the virtual reality I’m entering will be libidinal but have no visual preconceptions about how the patriarchal POVs of porn studios will be, as promised, subverted.
I am embodied in Eva (v3.0), aka DICKGIRL; translucent blue with white sculpted breasts and a large electric blue phallus. The phallus penetrates an amorphous, primordial blob, 'iSlave'. It’s inhuman, a brown malleable object; Eva is post-human, not fleshly but synthetic. Eva takes on iSlave’s skin, morphing with the inanimate, boundaries made fluid. Porn is already a game of prostheses, pharmaceutically and post-productively enhanced: 'Second Sex War' reminds the (embodied) viewer of this.
Meineche Hansen tells me by email that work on 'Second Sex War' began after she purchased the Eva v3.0 product online in 2014, and while she was researching the 1980s feminist sex wars – between anti-porn activists and so-called post-porn feminists, who became involved in porn production to try to overturn its typical arousal cues and experiment with its effects and affects:
“Scrolling through Eva’s ‘user manual’ I discovered the ‘morph function’ of her vagina and I started to think about the gendering of 3D objects and the role of the female avatar in adult games and 3D porn. [...] Eva v3.0 features in one of the first 3D adult games for VR called Xstory Player, where you can interact with the Eva alias ‘Samantha’ through very basic commands. If you press ‘P’, for example, a white erect dick enters the frame from a first person perspective. Besides stating the obvious about white patriarchy in adult gaming and tech, I became interested in hacking the virtual pornographic body by appropriating preexisting elements from VR porn – genitalia props and pre-animated pose sets.”
The phallus penetrates an amorphous, primordial blob, 'iSlave'.
That all parts of the simulation Second Sex War Zone (2016) – also displayed as an animation (Dickgirl 3D (X)) on a screen hanging from a BDSM-inspired wooden structure in the adjacent room – are made from standardised CGI elements, explains the oversized dick and C-cup breasts. But here the sexualised shapes are amalgamated into a cyborgian subject and xenomorphic object; their surfaces earthy like soil or shit, or shiny like plastic dildos.
As Linda Stupart commented in their talk at Gasworks, “Always Already Dead, Unbecoming Object”, such objects “literally fuck with” the tendency of CGI technologies to reproduce existing norms and accentuate standards of bodily ‘perfection’. In No Right Way 2 Cum (2015), an example of a blemish-less, fat-less white girl’s body touches herself until transparent liquid squirts at the camera. The work is a reference to recent law changes in UK regulation prohibiting female ejaculation on screen. With accelerating technologies to mimic and enhance already constructed, socially conditioned, fantasies, where hyperreal bodies perform the physically unattainable, how long will it be until all porn production is computer generated?
“In this work, the sex is dead,” Sidsel writes to me, “but perpetually performed by an algorithm.”
The artist worked with digital arts studio Werkflow to produce the graphic animations, a practical necessity that is also typical of the ways in which she foregrounds collaboration and collective labour (or perhaps, a parodic analogy with the studio set-up of porn-making). In the hands-on collaboration Cultural Capital Cooperative Object, a large-scale clay relief co-produced with a group of artists (Manuela Gernedel, Alan Michael, Georgie Nettell, Oliver Rees, Matthew Richardson, Gili Tal and Lena Tutunjian), the solo show protagonist seeks to overwrite the neoliberal branding of artists and satirise the ‘co-work’ contexts of creative labour. The once pliable material of clay, scored and moulded roughly, then painted, is a flat counterpoint to the dynamic screen-based animations. The pale pink mass of Cite Werkflow Ltd (2015), a squashed imprint of the artist’s face, meanwhile refers to the scanning and flattening of bodies for CGI.
With accelerating technologies to mimic and enhance already constructed, socially conditioned, fantasies, where hyperreal bodies perform the physically unattainable, how long will it be until all porn production is computer generated?
“Clay to me represents an analogue medium for 3D modelling. Cite Werkflow Ltd is made from organic clay; iSlave (the sculpture that DICKGIRL is fucking) is made from polymer clay. I wanted the animation to be a mix of porn and body horror and for the materiality of this production to feel very physical. But I also wanted the dildo dick to have zeroes and ones running through it, and for it to represent capitalism.”
A back and forth from artwork to algorithm also occurs in the lasercut drawings Wannabee Dickgirl and iSlave (nondualistic) (2016), where naive, originally hand-drawn lines of figures are converted into illustrator files to engrave plywood panels. The gestural, “authentic” marks of the artist’s hand (the subjective hand, that also masturbates) are transferred into the programmed cuts of machine labour. The human is shown to be bound to its technologies, which may also feel liberating.
'Second Sex War Zone' holds art-making as a form of feminist resistance against the status-quo of gender, capital and reproduction, and art objects, along with their modes of production, as a way to think through the fusing of corporeal and digital materialities in contemporary life.
Second Sex War is on view at the Trondheim Museum of Art, Norway, until October 16th, 2016.