Intimacy in New Media Art


Andrea Ackerman, artist, theorist, psychiatrist, New York


To be presented at the New Media Caucus Panel, "Can Geeks Be Humanists?" for 2007 CAA Conference New York, New York organised by Marcia Tanner. Other participating artists include Claudia Hart, Sabrina Raaf, Gail Wight, and  John Slepian


I have always been interested in intimacy. The power to engage, in the brushstrokes of  a Velazquez in portrait, or in Rembrandt's Toilet of Bathsheba, depends upon creating a feeling of intimacy with the flesh (the paint), and the mind, the mind of the character in the painting, the mind of the artist, and the mind (world) of the painting. These paintings open up an in-between space, a space for meaningful intimacy and deepgoing interactivity, a space for play, what D.W. Winnicott called transitional space. Both kinds of intimacy, of the flesh and the mind, are missing from geeky new media art works.


Philip K. Dick ( in Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? and Man Android and Machine), characterises our anxieties about synthetic life, the life of machines or androids. He equates being human with a capacity for empathy, for individuality and free will; the opposites, ruthlessness and stereotypical behavior, are equated with machine or android life. Katherine Hayles, in How We Became Posthuman  traces the evolution of how the virtual, came to be, and be thought of, as disembodied. Both are pointing to what makes geeky new media art unengaging, a lack of empathy, individuality and free will and disembodiment.


I have said (as does Hayles) that the posthuman condition doesn't have to be this way. In the posthuman condition (we as organic machines and machines as increasingly alive) a new kind of embodiment is happening;  the condition of constant and ongoing transformation from virtual, to machine-flesh-embodied and back again. This is Hayles's distributed cognition. We can include feelings and the capacity for empathy, individuality and free will as Dick would want. And the capacity for intimacy too.


In my works, the 3D computer animations, Rose Breathing, Yawn, and Woman Waking_Paper Dissolve, I create a feeling of seamless continuity digital to human, bringing a subtle slow, complex emotionality to 3D characters, creating an experience of intimacy. In Rose Breathing, a synthetic rose, whose petals are reminiscent of flesh, rhythmically opens and closes in human like respiration. In Yawn, and Woman Waking_Paper Dissolve, a virtual monochrome gray woman, mysteriously natural yet obviously artificial, undergoes a series of ambiguously but deeply emotionally expressive transformations. Her expressions, changing between human and animal (canine, reptilian...) or suggesting a planetary body orbiting in space, induce the viewer to wonder "What is she thinking?", "What is she feeling?".


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