Understanding Sexuality in the Digital Age

Article by Sofia Bergmann // Oct. 31, 2018

Contemporary perceptions of sexuality and intimacy as seen through the lens of technology bring out multifaceted and often unexplored traits of our current social climate. The ongoing exhibition ‘Un_Becoming’ at SomoS already conceptualizes these traits in its title, which stems from its inherent breakdown of taboos and conformity, visualized through pieces ranging from performance, video, sculpture and photography. The exhibition serves as a dissection of technology’s influence on sex and lust, encompassing online pornography, chatting, dating and other sexually-driven apps, and how they address privacy, psychology, gender roles, expectations and self-image.

Francesca Fini: With a Helmet, Fair and Lost // Photo courtesy of Francesca Fini

Francesca Fini’s chaotically painted face greets visitors entering the gallery. In her performative video piece With a Helmet, Fair and Lost, the artist is shown wearing electrodes on her body as she applies makeup, causing involuntary muscle contractions that force her to decorate her face excessively and uncontrollably. She embodies a metaphor for problematic female expectations, which control body image and appearance in the same painful way the electrodes control her body and, consequently, her face.

As the eyeliner pencil continuously jabs into her eyelids and skin, as the lipstick is repeatedly smeared across her face, and as she begins to cry from the mascara seeping into her eyes, she is demonstrating the internal struggles of women who try to fit the mold perpetuated by social media, and unrealistic beauty standards heightened by photoshop and airbrushing technologies. The effect of her interactive performance evokes uneasiness and discomfort as viewers witness a physical conflict between her conscience and what she is being forced to do.

Francesca Fini: With a Helmet, Fair and Lost // Photo courtesy of Francesca Fini

Nearby, two projectors slide through a series of 12 unrecognizable pixelated images, but the artist Bjørn Erik Haugen has deliberately left just enough traces of the originals for the audience to decipher that they are seeing shots from a porno. In the piece (NO): Traces, there is no explicit indication of the nature of these visuals because of the corrupted image coding, but the viewers’ intuition picks up on the sexual connotations.

In effect, Haugen exposes the traits of the human psyche that are driven by lust and desire–heightened by the abundance of sex available online. The work questions the meaning and purpose behind the censorship and privatization of sex in a society where almost anything can be found online, and how this censorship impacts the way we might repress or subdue our expression and familiarity with sexuality, something that is universally internalized.

Bjørn Erik Haugen: No Traces // Photo courtesy of Bjørn Erik Haugen

Computers Dream of Porn ruthlessly displays the power of our perception, sexual fantasies and the use of technology to manipulate and inflate said perceptions and fantasies. The artist Simon Menner is interested in the recent emergence of AI “deepfake porn” programs such as Fake App, which allow one to replace one’s face in a video with another face. This new trend has seen celebrities’ faces imbedded in pornographic videos, causing an uproar regarding the privacy of these celebrities and the morality of the app. The piece shows examples of only faces pulled from the program, but is sexually suggestive nonetheless: an allusion to the power of perception.

In his photo and video installation, Menner addresses the presence of this “deepfake” trend to expose the lengths to which humans will go to fulfill sexual fantasies, even if considered corrupt or immoral. This invites contemplation on how “deepfake” porn might impact our expectations toward relationships with people, as well. As the question remains whether it is the celebrities or porn actors being misrepresented and who should hold the copyright to these videos, the piece also addresses ownership and authorship, identity and violation of privacy.

Simon Menner: Computers Dream of Porn, ‘Un_Becoming’ // Photo courtesy of SomoS Art House

Everything from censorship to technology’s influence on private relationships and sexuality is explored in the exhibition at SomoS. The explicit and avant-garde, but also intimate nature of each piece creates an effective experience of contemplation and discourse, addressing taboo topics in a considered way.

Exhibition Info

SOMOS
Group Show: ‘Un_Becoming: the Erotic, the Body & Technology’
Exhibition: Oct. 23–Nov. 03, 2018
Kottbusser Damm 95, 10967 Berlin, click here for map

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