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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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Gabriel Remy-Handfield

Abstract

This article explores the aesthetic of the grotesque in Lu Yang's recent work Delusional Mandala (2015) and Delusional World (2020). I argue that the aesthetic of the grotesque envisioned in these two works becomes a radical tool for the artist's deconstruction and dismantling of the socially and culturally sanctioned boundaries of corporeality and normativity. My approach to Lu Yang's aesthetic of the grotesque is based on Sara Cohen Shabot's theorization of grotesque philosophy and the grotesque body as well on the concept of faciality proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Two questions guide my reflection and readings in this article: What are the characteristics of the grotesque aesthetic in Lu Yang's films? In what ways does this aesthetic deconstruct concepts such as the human and normativity?

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Aesthetics of Futurism

Lu Yang's Art and an Organological Redefinition of the Human in the Planetary Age

Hai Ren

Abstract

Studying artworks on the human body and the brain, as exemplified by Lu Yang's work, enables a new perspective in the debates over the redefinitions of the human, whether anthropocenic redefinitions of the human (in the scholarships of the Anthropocene, posthumanism, new materialism, and speculative realism) or a technoscientific redefinition of the human (in the scholarships of technological transformations). Not only does Lu Yang question the defining properties of the humanness but the artist also creates an organological form of the human. This organological perspective enables an aesthetics of futurism based on both a nonreproductive kinship between the human and the nonhuman, and a new regime of the future grounded in the habitability of the human as a more-than-human agent in the planetary age.

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Barbara Pollack

Climbing, climbing the circular staircase of a decaying art deco apartment house, a throwback to Old Shanghai's grandeur in the 1930s, I felt like I was stepping back in time. It was fall of 2011, and I was accompanied by a twenty-seven-year-old artist named Lu Yang who led me on this upward trek to a studio. As Lu Yang opened the green door to the space, I was immediately thrown forward from the past to the future. The darkened room was packed with computer monitors flickering with the running text of chatrooms. Aquariums, filled with dead frogs floating in formaldehyde, gave off an eerie green light. There were no sketches or paintings or anything like traditional art making. What an awakening! I realized that this was the kind of art I had been searching for on my trips to China since 2004. I was looking for an artist whose work reflected the enormous upheaval of the Reform era, the influx of Western goods, the possibilities of the internet, and the shock to the psyche that these changes had wrought. Lu Yang completely fit the bill.

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Challenging Binaries in Posthuman Worlds

An Analysis of Lu Yang's The Great Adventure of Material World

Jori Snels

Abstract

The Material World Knight is an anime-style superhero from Lu Yang's artwork The Great Adventure of Material World—Game Film (2020) who battles oppressive binary systems on his quest for transcendence. This article uses discourse and visual analysis to study how this short film employs references to Buddhist philosophy and Japanese anime to reconceptualize subjectivity. The study draws on posthuman theory by Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway to show how the artwork produces a post-dualist, posthuman, relational concept of subjectivity while also complicating any straightforward interpretations in favor of maintaining complexity and “staying with the trouble.”