Tag-Archive for » techno-art «

Cartoon We

In an idle moment the other day (yeah, I really shouldn’t admit to having those in academia), I loaded into my Firefox an add-on I found on Facebook called MyWebFace that promised to let me make a cartoon image of myself.

An aside: I might add that I found this app only because I was searching the Facebook ad board looking for an ad that I would be willing to  ‘thumbs up’ to appear alongside my page. Not only did I find no such thing, I discovered that Facebook now does not allow users to ‘thumbs down’ an ad. Possibly this is my fault, since I relentlessly thumbs-downed (down-thumbed?) dozens of ads in my first weeks on Facebook, hoping to help skew the ad pool toward public service ads and away from shopaholic ads (the bulk). It always gives you a good feeling as an adult citizen of a republic when your options are: you may approve of this, or you may approve of this.

cartoon-meBack to MyWebFace. It’s set up as a kind of simple Identi-Kit, allowing you to construct your face from mostly predictable parts: noses, eyebrows, lips, etc., all of various shapes. Size, color, and placement of most objects can be adjusted. After I was finished, I ended up with what you see here. Anyone who knows me will see that this is not a good cartoon of me; the reason for this lies in the kinds of choices the software gives—and just as importantly, withholds. Eyebrows, eyes, and mouths come in a fair range of shapes (not enough noses, though). Skin color is wide open– a matter of picking from a palette of millions of shades.

For face shape, however, you appear to be stuck with a default upper half of the face and a modifiable chin. Result for me: entirely wrong face shape. (Oddly, you can choose various kinds of ‘blush’ for your cheeks, as if that is more important than basic face shape.) In addition, the general body type is  too skinny for me and not modifiable (this head shot is a detail of a full-length image). Hair style: no options match my admittedly idiosyncratic style. Accessories: no glasses frames match the ones I wear. Hair accessories and hats: nothing matches what I wear; the earphones were the best option because I use them when playing online games. Clothing: nothing really matched in the limited choices, largely because almost all the clothing styles skewed at least a decade younger than I am. In general, registering aging was not an option. You can make your hair all blond/red/brown/black, or all gray, and nothing in between—no one in MyWebFace’s world is grizzled. There is one pane for wrinkles, but they’re so lightly drawn and weirdly thought out that they don’t make the face look older so much as scribbled on. Basically, you can’t make yourself look older than about 25 with this software (or to be fair, much younger either; no kids need apply). Can you say target demographics?

Filippa HamiltonCoincidentally, as I was halfway through writing this, I stumbled on the image below over on boingboing.net, in a post rejoicing in the wonderful  title “Ralph Lauren opens new outlet store in the Uncanny Valley.” They credited a favorite site of mine, Photoshop Disasters, where the image has since been made to disappear by a DMCA-wielding Ralph Lauren; see this Huffington Post entry for a similar threat against boingboing. Ralph Lauren has admitted to their “poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body.” Yet model Filippa Hamilton was fired by Ralph Lauren last April; she says they told her she was overweight. So fashion logic has finally created the inevitable impasse for itself, in which the cartoonized emaciation of this image is “very distorted” but a 5’10″ model weighing 120 lbs is “overweight” (although one might want to take models’ claims about their height-to-weight ratio with a grain of salt; given the constraints of their job, they have every incentive to modify this figure to gain professional advantage.) In other words, at ground zero of the American female body image, the concept of “just right” has at last shrunk to a complete null set.

My reason for making this post, though, has less to do with the general problem of body image than with the propagation of this cartoonization through software—through Photoshop, which allows it (but does not require it; you can just as easily make yourself fatter and older in Photoshop), and MyWebFace, which actually requires it. What has previously been reinforced through consumption of media created by others, we are now made complicit in reinforcing through the software we ourselves use and the objects we ourselves make.

where women aren’t

An interesting discussion has been taking place on the ‘faces’ listserv of women in media and communication arts concerning the continuing underrepresentation of women artists in galleries and other exhibition venues. Artist Deborah Kelly started the discussion off with a post entitled “Are there any women artists in France? At all?,” writing:

“I just received the regular newsletter from the Palais de Tokyo, which has a very active program which seems to show male artists exclusively. Not that the curators ever feel the need to mention or notice or highlight (OR EXCUSE) such a thing….

Women are ‘mysteriously’ vanishing from public life and art— perhaps partly because we stopped counting and calling to account.”

In the deluge of responses, many different aspects of this frustration were articulated: that when the issue is raised in public forums, men don’t see a problem or a need to participate in the ensuing discussion; that women curators don’t show enough women artists; that the need for Guerrilla Girls style activism never seems to abate. The writers are calling the situation bad everywhere, and some participants voiced concern that the situation is actually getting worse (and I would guess that it is likely to continue doing so, given that the poor state of the world economy will tend to make people behave more conservatively in general).

From artist Anne-Sarah Le Meur:

“I began to boycott exhibitions with 100% [male] participants. In France, if you have 10% women, you should be happy.”

From artist and writer Martha Rosler:

“In 2005 or 2006 a young male German curator working in England told me that a young male French curator had proposed a show for the English institution, and the curator says he exclaimed in shock, ‘But there are no women!’ The French guy stared at him and replied, ‘We don’t have to think about that any more!’….

Guerrilla Girls are still working hard here in the US because things are slipping back back back… And women artists are still disrespected by most critics.”

From artist Perry Bard:

“I just came back from Beijing where I’m in a show with 10 male Chinese artists and 10 artists from US male and female. When I asked the curator why no women he said they weren’t ready yet.”

Not to pick on China, but—over half a billion women and none of them are ready?

For a look at some recent statistics for Australia, check out the CoUNTess blog (“women count in the artworld”), which features a spreadsheet summarizing the poor situation on that continent.

In new media, digital media, computer art, techno-art, and related “hot” areas, a number of observers (myself included) have noted a closing down just in the last decade or so. That is, in the early 1990s, when the web was new and hardly anyone knew what “new media art” or “internet art” or “interactive art” or any of those other neologisms might be, women were much more visible and exhibitions were more inclusive than they are now. (It would be interesting to see some research nailing down this anecdotal evidence.)

One question this raises is the degree to which the problem in the techno-arts is not just one of inadequate curating, but might also have to do with women leaving the field in discouragement (or not entering it in the first place). Speaking from my own limited experience as a curator in the United States, I would venture that both are at work. In 2000, I co-curated a show on computer games and art (SHIFT-CTRL) that included roughly 40% women (the numbers are difficult to count precisely since several companies and large collectives were included). Four years later, when I co-curated a sequel exhibition on independent and alternative games (ALT+CTRL), the proportion of women artists was much lower despite energetic efforts by all three curators to recruit women for the show—no more than 15%, a percentage that reflected the tiny proportion of women who responded to the show’s open call and to our recruitment efforts. If I had this latter exhibition to do over, I would handle it quite differently; I feel that we missed a real opportunity to take issue with the culturally embedded notion that games are a male domain.

The question, as always, is: what is to be done? Several listserv participants noted that some women artists, perhaps especially younger artists, don’t want to be included (or made to feel they’re being included) in shows as part of a quota of women. But as artist and writer Faith Wilding noted in her response:

“Maybe tactics of solidarity have to be invoked again—if you are the only, or one of the only women artists invited to an exhibition, conference, etc. then tell them you won’t participate unless they change the list (also make them think about needing to include differences in general).”

And Martha Rosler likewise noted that it is critical that women own the fight and not succumb to that maddening sense that it should have been won by now.

She added:

“In 2003 a young female French curator held a panel in Paris about this very problem and the audience was packed with young women. One asked, in anguish, ‘Why did we fail?’ I could only answer that history is not yet over…”

And this is really why the problem has to be addressed vigorously. Exclusion from exhibitions is only the first stage in a vicious spiral. If you’re not in the exhibitions, you don’t get bought by collectors, who later pass their collections on to museums, who draw on those collections for future shows. And perhaps most importantly, you don’t get included in the books that periodically emerge summarizing the state of a field. You are literally written out of history. (And don’t count on the rewrite—it’ll have its own inaccuracies).

If this sounds like a call to arms, it is. And I’m not just talking to you (whoever ‘you’ are). It’s myself I need to remind, as much as anyone.