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Algorithmic Aesthetics

Bodies and Subjects in the Era of Big Data

Andrew J. Ball

Though the authors in this general issue of Screen Bodies engage with a wide array of media, they express a shared group of concerns. Namely, how recent technological advancements and the big data cultures of the Information Age are altering social norms concerning the body, the subject, and intimacy. The first two articles focus on increasingly data-oriented cultures that have given rise to aesthetics derived from quantification and mathematics. In “Qualities Over Quantities: Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice,” Amy Christmas examines the “surveillant aesthetic” present in three multimedia art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2002 to present), Jill Magid’s Composite (2005), and Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions (2012–2013). Christmas argues that these artists explore new modes of subject constitution and constraint, and reveal the potential of “dataveillance” to bridge formerly disconnected processes of “quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative)” self-formation. Similarly taking up questions of aesthetics, the “quantified self,” and its relation to narrative, Kallie Strode examines the datafication of beauty in “Narrating (Sur)face: The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty.” Strode reflects on the ethics of quantifying beauty and looks to the plastic surgery method patented by Stephen Marquardt, who has developed a model of facial beauty using the golden ratio. The Marquardt mask, she argues, exemplifies an algorithmic aesthetic that is being applied to the reformation of bodies. Along similar lines, in “Cyborgian Salariats” Stephanie Bender argues that the individual is subordinated and rationalized by modern technology. Bender examines how Sasha Stone’s photo essay “Hundred-Horsepower Office” presents an optimistic vision of a new kind of subject, the Weimar-era white-collar worker, a human-machine assemblage that combines the body and modern office technology.

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Cyborgian Salariats

Rationalization and the White-Collar Worker in Sasha Stone’s “Hundred-Horsepower Office”

Stephanie Bender

This article examines Sasha’s Stone’s photographic constructions of the salaried worker, or die Angestellten, within the rationalized Weimar office as published in his 1926 photo essay “Das 100-Pferdige Büro—keine Utopie” (The hundred-horsepower office—no utopia). I analyze his images of the modern office and the white-collar employee as participating in the public discourse regarding the highly debated phenomenon of rationalization, presenting the Angestellter as a tool of rationalization rather than an individual, creating automata-like employees that fit with the broader trend of depicting such employees as what Matthew Biro describes as cyborgs, or human-machine hybrids. I assert that Stone’s essay performs a dialectic role in relation to other, distinct versions of the same photographs, suggesting that technology within the sphere of the modern office, while inevitable and necessary, is possible only through the subjugation of the individual humanity of those at work by such technology.

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The Face of the Future

An Ethical Examination of Lucrecia Martel’s AI

Abby Sacks

Lucrecia Martel is an accomplished film director and creative. Her 2019 short film AI blends fiction and reality, imagining what a humanoid artificial intelligence might look like in our world. But her use of a psychiatric patient with schizophrenia to portray her vision has problematic ramifications for the present, namely contributing to the existing stigmatization of people with mental illnesses. Art does not exist in a vacuum, and it is important to examine how a piece might be interpreted or misinterpreted and how it may affect people in their everyday lives. Though AI is an effective work of science fiction, I argue that is overshadowed by the negative unintentional impact it may cause for people with schizophrenia and mental illness at large.

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Loneliness and Love

The Potential of Human-AI Relations as Explored by Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema

Abby Lauren Kidd

Science fiction films about artificial intelligence have often perpetuated anxieties about new technology as a widescale threat to humanity. However, more recently, the genre seems to be moving toward more positive and open-minded representations of technology that envision humans embarking on relationships with AI in varying capacities—perhaps a reflection of technology’s increasing value and permeation within all aspects of contemporary wider culture. Thus far, such texts have been given little scholarly attention, yet they offer significant insights into our possible coexistence with advancing technologies of the future. This article analyzes three contemporary science fiction films about artificial intelligence and demonstrates how they are offering unique perspectives that lend support to wider applications of AI, specifically as social companions.

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Narrating (Sur)face

The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty

Kallie Strode

As plastic surgery becomes increasingly normalized as an act of selfcare, it is essential to consider the ways in which facial beauty has been enacted as data on the surface of the body. Taking seriously the paradox “raw data is an oxymoron,” this article explores how facial beauty has been algorithmized in the recent past as a geometrical proof based on the golden ratio. As an overlay system founded in the late 1990s, the Marquardt Mask claims to beautify any face. Yet, it achieves this universalism via its interdisciplinary exploitation of mathematics and biology. The mask thus participates in a cybernetic paradigm of control by abstracting human faciality as an aesthetic feedback loop evidenced in life and nature.

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Quantities Over Qualities

Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice

Amy Christmas

In a society suffused with surveillance technologies and practices, which persist in their extension across and into all dimensions of human experience, members of the contemporary art community have made significant contributions to the ontology of the surveillant self. This article compares recent works by several prominent multimedia artists who have explored the radical potential of dataveillance as a way to bridge the disconnect between quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative) representations of self in the Information Age. By considering the questions raised by three recent art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience; Jill Magid’s Composite; Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions—I explore how each artist employs a surveillant aesthetic to test the extent to which meaningful subjectivities may be constructed out of decontextualized metric data. In this way, these artists are directly engaging with the surveillant assemblage, harnessing the discrete flows of data that normally work to depersonalize and thereby negate individual identities, and instead repurposing these disassembled metrics as a means of examining modern selfhood as it both produces and is produced by surveillance environments. In particular, this article focuses on the tension between metric and narrative representations of self, by drawing on multimedia artistic projects that engage with and combine both aspects and document their efforts in a range of visual and textual media.

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Welcome to the Machine

Artificial Intelligence on Screen

Rebekah Brammer

Artificial intelligence has been a topic of fascination for film and television since the earliest appearances of robots on our screens, bringing with them questions about ethics, sentience, and the long-term fate of humanity. This article explores depictions of artificial intelligence on screen from a thematic rather than chronological viewpoint. Themes explored include the popular sci-fi trope of robot rebellion, androids as worker/slaves, and intimate relationships between humans and AI. The article also raises philosophical questions of why we wish to create robots in our own image, and what AI sentience, in both android bodies and more elusive disembodied forms, could look like. A range of films and television series—from the Terminator franchise to HBO’s Westworld—are used to unpack humanity’s dreams and nightmares of how AI could shape our future.

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Figure 1. Male bodybuilders from the Physical Culture Society of Montreal posing semi-naked with their trainer in a photo (Public Domain).

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Book Forum

João Florêncio’s Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (New York: Routledge, 2022)

Frank G. Karioris, Ricky Varghese, John Thomas, Claire Rasmussen, Christien Garcia, Liz Rosenfeld, Oliver Davis, and João Florêncio

The Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities is thrilled and honored to present this expansive and profound Book Forum on João Florêncio’s Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (2022) as part of the celebration of the release of the paperback edition of the book. It is truly a joy and privilege to be able to be a part of this event and to be able to share these responses that are, each in their own way, far beyond any expectation, elucidating not only the measure and success of the book, but charting out—as all good engagements must—entire worlds that are yet to be created, yet to be explored or terraformed, worlds beyond the imagination that are being brought to life in the fogged-up mirror as one breathes out, in the slide of water between fingers on uneven ground.

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Catherine Roach

Massimo Recalcati, The Enduring Kiss: Seven Short Lessons on Love (Polity, 2021) 97 pp. ISBN: 9781509542482 $19.95 paperback.