Eyebeam’s Annual Showcase explores the tensions between technologies, individual and societal pursuits, and the politics of identity
The 17 Eyebeam artists at the opening reception of the showcase, which kicked off on Jan. 16, considered the questions that emerge in our digital age.These questions ponder psychological, social, and political topics.
1. Does the anonymity that the Internet provides destabilize the meaning that race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality seems to signify?
2. How can the individual understand his or her relationship to the senses and the external environment?
3. What does the face emit about the emotion, personality, and the intentions of a speaker?
By Pamela Segura
Zach Blas’s Facial Weaponization Suite, which became public in 2011, was the first exhibit as viewers walked into Eyebeam’s Chelsea space in New York City. The work challenges biometric facial recognition.
In Facial Weaponization Suite, Blas uses amorphous masks to destabilize rigid structures of identity, especially race and sexual orientation. Blas places emphasis on the latter of these two identity markers, targeting biometrics that claims fixed relationships between sexual orientation and facial features.
Blas’ Face Cages highlight the general discrimination inherent in the visual motif of biometrics machines. This visual motif—which Blas describes as “minimal, colorful diagrams that visualize over the face for authenticity”—eliminates the facial contours of most individuals, creating a “digital portrait of dehumanization.” The cages evoke this psychic violence. They are dramatic configurations of this visual motif. The cages are painful to wear. This material version of the visual scans of biometric machines conveys the friction between individual identity and political representation.
Wu Juehui, who is based in Hangzhou, narrows the focus to technology and individual senses. His two pieces, the Offline Eye and Beak/Bluetooth Organs, play with the philosophical and metaphysical problems inherent in our understanding of the senses.
The Offline Eye creates an objective point of view for the spectator. The individual wearer puts on the new eyes, which are built like bulky binoculars that have one eye that frequently pops out of the binocular’s “socket.” The viewer then sees the external world from a disconcerting distance. The beak operates on similar grounds, albeit distorting the voice. Juehui strips the individual beak wearer of his or her voice’s sonic individuality. He turns the nuances of pitch, dynamic, and timbre into deep and monotonous utterances.
Juehui engages with the premises of subjectivity. Reality depends upon the relationship between self and the senses. Objectivity and subjectivity, then, rest on this relationship, which Juehui determines is easily manipulated through technologies.
The aesthetics of the eyes and beak relate this concerting fact: the two pieces are heavy, bulky, and require the artist’s assistance to put on. Juehui, like Blas, use technologies to find and reveal inconsistencies in mainstream identity.
Others at Eyebeam use technologies and individuality to convey the potential of sameness and difference without conflict. Lauren McCarthy meditates on facial expressions, changes in vocal pitch and dynamics, and dialogue in Us+, a Google hangout app that she created in collaboration with artist Kyle McDonald. The app uses specifics—the shades of the voice, the multiple cultures on social media, and countless other details—to promote effective communication while maintaining open structures of identities.
Eyebeam’s Annual Showcase uncovers the different ways the social landscape is both shaped and dissected by mainstream technologies. This discourse, however, does not stop here. In the next week, upcoming Eyebeam events engage far-reaching issues like speculative physics and feminism.