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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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Melinda Luisa de Jesús

Since 2008 I have had the pleasure of teaching Girl Culture at California College of the Arts (CCA), a private art/design college located in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article features student zines from Girl Culture at this college.

Girl Culture is part of the school’s general studies curriculum in the Humanities and Sciences at the upper division (junior and senior) level. The course title comes from Sherrie Inness’s foundational anthology defining American Girlhood Studies in the twentieth century, Delinquents and Debutantes (1998), in which she notes,

"Too often girls’ culture is shunted aside by scholars as less significant or less important than the study of adult women’s issues, but girls’ culture is what helps to create not just an individual woman but all women in our society. (11, emphasis in original)"

Girl Culture explores the myriad forces that have an impact on American girls’ lives today and seeks to identify the places where artists and designers can best advocate for girl-centric liberation, autonomy, and joy.

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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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“Defining Ourselves for Ourselves”

Black Girls Conceptualize Black Girlhood Online

Cierra Kaler-Jones

Black girls have long created their own subversive and creative forms of curriculum and pedagogy. I explore adolescent Black girls’ suggestions for teaching and learning about Black girlhood online based on a virtual summer arts program called Black Girls S.O.A.R. Through performance ethnography, we contended with our conceptualizations of Black girlhood and identity sense-making. The co-researchers suggested that storytelling, learner-centered pedagogy, and intentional community-building must be central in virtual pedagogy and saw reclaiming girlhood and self-care as two essential topics for teaching Black girlhood content. I also reflect on the tensions and possibilities of co-constructing participatory learning environments with Black girls, particularly as it relates to disrupting power and adultism.

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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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Gen Ed Girlhood

Artifact-centric Approach Invites New Students to Girlhood Studies

Jen Almjeld

While general education (gen ed) courses are commonly created as overviews of disciplines, a girlhood-centric approach celebrates a tightly focused introduction to girl identities as an entry point to critical analysis of gender and associated systems of oppression. I offer a rationale for my Cultural Constructions of Girlhood course and discuss specific assignments and strategies for introducing girlhood as a field of study for university students. This course offers grounding in how important childhood literature is in shaping our concepts of who we are and are allowed to be as well as indicating ways in which the idea of literature may be expanded and updated to include many modes and styles of text by attending to the artifacts of everyday girlhood.

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Julie Snyder

Ann Smith (ed.) 2019. The Girl in the Text. New York: Berghahn Books.

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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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Material Moments in Virtual Worlds

Creating Hybrid Spaces for Feminist Consciousness-raising

Syafiqah Abdul Rahim and Hannah Walters

Covid-19 signalled rapid, near-wholesale shifts to the online world, yet how this affected the establishment of supportive, safe spaces for activism has received scant attention. Based on ongoing work with young women and girls in Malaysia, we discuss the pedagogic processes of feminist consciousness-raising as an informal mode of Girlhood Studies education and how online spaces might be reconfigured to enhance the virtual experience through hybrid workshops. Theorized from a feminist new materialist perspective and guided by the principles that feminism is an everyday practice, and feminism is for everybody, we argue that the hybrid space introduced material and sensory elements, facilitated feelings of connectedness, and helped establish a safe space for participants to engage with feminism and girls’ rights in meaningful ways.

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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.