Friday, April 26, 2013

The Robotic Gaze

I began the morning by reading a fantastic summation of the male gaze. Not the happiest way to start out, but a subject at the back of my mind. I recently watched two movies at opposite ends of a cultural spectrum: The Godfather, and Cannonball Run II. The latter was so unredeeming I left the room and was bitterly chastised for over-sensitivity. The former had obvious merit and I stayed the course. But it was so male dominated that I didn't feel offended, I felt bored. There was so little I could relate to. My interest was sustained by the beauty of the shots and Marlon Brando's acting, and by my husband's delivered promise of a good parting shot. The only woman who really speaks is Diane Keaton. She's wonderful, but in her two big scenes she's a walking incarnation of this footnote from The System of Objects:
12. 'Loud' colours are meant to strike the eye. If you wear a red suit you are more than naked — you become a pure object with no inward reality. The fact that women's tailored suits tend to be in bright colours is a reflection of the social status of women as objects. - Jean Baudrillard, 1968

It was fortuitous to read this text and see this movie for the first time within weeks of each other. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I love this section of the book; here is what surrounds the footnote:
The world of colours is opposed to the world of values, and the 'chic' invariably implies the elimination of appearances in favour of being:12 black, white, grey — whatever registers zero on the colour scale — is correspondingly paradigmatic of dignity, repression, and moral standing.

'Natural Colour'
Colours would not celebrate their release from this anathema until very late. It would be generations before cars and typewriters came in anything but black, and even longer before refrigerators and washbasins broke with their universal whiteness. It was painting that liberated colour, but it still took a very long time for the effects to register in everyday life. - p. 30
The good news here is that robots are ungendered. They're unburdened by history, with the potential for an aesthetic unshaped by its influence. Maybe they'll show us that the female human form is objectively beautiful and we were right all along. Maybe they'll show us something different. I really love the photos my robot Nila takes while she's painting, and am trying to figure out how to expand this with Neko.

The viewer never saw the image feed from Nila's camera, because people like looking at their own image, and I wanted them to look at Nila. I think I'll change this with Neko, and am experimenting with different modes of interaction.

To cleanse the palate, here is my favorite piece of art on the subject. The camera is given its rightful place as neutral observer. Below is an interview with the artist by MoMA.

Picture for Women, Jeff Wall, 1979

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