Until 16 October, you can immerse yourself in Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s partially virtual exhibition Second Sex War at Trondheim Kunstmuseum. Immerse, because a number of the works at Danish artist Meineche Hansen’s first solo exhibition in Scandinavia unfold through the medium of Virtual Reality (VR). Spectators become visually connected to the avatar EVA v3.0, which might then have sex with itself in the animation No right way 2 cum (2015) or with a sculpture in the recent VR production DICKGIRL 3D(X).
Queer-feminist positions and an in-depth study and critique of capitalism’s and patriarchy’s manipulation and control of the human body are central concerns to the artist’s works in the exhibition. Here, virtual 3D animations are presented side by side with a series of laser-cut drawings, a collectively made wall relief, and a new virtual animation that can be viewed through an Oculus Rift headset. In these works, industries such as the porn industry and the pharmaceutical industry are scrutinised as contributing parts to the digital stranglehold of biopolitics.
Sidsel Meineche Hansen (b. 1981) is a graduate from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, she stopped by Städelschule in Frankfurt and then obtained an MA in Research Architecture at Goldsmiths in London, the city she now lives and works in. She is a professor at Funen Art Academy in Odense and is just about to set out for Los Angeles to conduct further research at Cal Arts. Kunstkritkk caught the artist via email just as she was installing her Trondheim exhibition, engaging her in a conversation about virtual sex work, capitalism and art, 3D bodies, pornography and female ejaculation.
First of all, what is this war you refer to in the exhibition title Second Sex War? And what are you showing at the exhibition in Trondheim?
The exhibition’s title refers both to The Second Sex by French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir, as well as to the so called ‘sex wars’ that split the feminist movement into anti-pornography and anti-censorship groups in the early 1980’s. Alongside this historical trajectory, the exhibition SECOND SEX WAR explores a cyber feminist and queer position against the patriarchy and white supremacy underlying the (re)production of the gender binary in virtual reality. The exhibition includes existing as well as entirely new works. Central to my recent work is the female avatar ‘EVA v3.0’, a royalty-free product sold online by TurboSquid, a company that supplies stock 3D models for computer games and adult entertainment. I have used EVA v3.0 as the main protagonist in my animations (Seroquel®, 2014; No right way 2 cum, 2015 and DICKGIRL 3D(X), 2016) – and as an object in my research, which is concerned with the commodity status of 3D bodies in X-rated digital image production.
The most recent work, DICKGIRL 3D(X), is a pornographic virtual 3D animation that I directed and produced with the 3D studio Werkflow Ltd. from London. DICKGIRL 3D(X) can be viewed through a VR headset. The animation is made from ‘genitalia props’ and readymade ‘pose sets’ used for animating mainstream 3D porn. I consider DICKGIRL 3D(X) as an automated performance, which is choreographed by a new epoch in the porn industry that aims at commodifying virtual sex.
Virtual reality was spoken about with great enthusiasm some twenty-five years ago, but only recently has it come flooding in across the world as a hugely delayed tide. How do you go about working with digital image technologies, and do you aim to incorporate a specific ideological code of conduct in your use of VR?
Stereoscopic 3D image production has a long history that goes back several hundred years, but I am (together with a large number of global corporations) primarily interested in the relationship between virtual reality and the Internet and how VR via the Internet is likely to redefine social reality. So far Facebook has bought the media company Oculus Rift and is planning to make VR as mainstream as smartphones. The tech industry has invested a lot of money in the development and marketing of VR. One example is Google Cardboard (Google’s new VR platform, ed.), where users can generate their own content. I am interested in 3D pornography because the porn industry – which supposedly is the largest producer of digital images worldwide – is a key player in the development of VR content and VR as a visual technology. The VR experience is called ‘immersive’. This immersive or extra-intense consumption of images that specifically aim to move and arouse the body already represents a shared interest between the realms of VR and porn. I see my work in this field, as an attempt at hacking the virtual pornographic body.
Could you say a little more about the development of your imagery as it appears in your 3D animated video works and VR works. The body is seen as a transparent, permeable interface or portrayed as organs and surfaces that can be penetrated – all while using ready-made stock material. What do you see happening to the representation of the body in such technologies – and in the political reality right now?
My works in the VR format are about the marketing of Virtual Reality that is taking place right now as capitalism expands the existing market into the virtual world. I see this as a colonisation of the digital space that historically resonates with structures that commodified the body to patriarchal advantage. The relationship between the avatar (the electronic representations of the user) and the 3D bodies, that users interact with, is opening up a new labour force. Gender is clearly part of this, although the worker is considered immaterial, think of Siri for example and chatbots like Xiaoice and Tay. SECOND SEX WAR, is a critique of «immaterial labour» and I’m using feminist history, philosophy and queer theory as a way to think critically about the relationship between sex, technology and reproductive work.
The work No right way 2 cum is a short VR work about the orgasm as a political figure. What is the story behind that work?
On the one hand, the work is informed by the recently introduced ban against female ejaculation in British-made pornography, and on the other hand it reflects the sex activism related to female ejaculation carried out by pro-sex feminists such as Deborah Sundahl and by Kathy Daymond, who directed the film Nice Girls Do not Do It (1990), featuring the philosopher Shannon Bell ejaculating.
The piece No right way 2 cum was my first VR production. In order to watch it, you have to immerse your self in EVA v3.0’s body and see the world through her eyes. No right way 2 cum is about debunking the notion of universal viewership. On a technical as well as critical level, I wanted to explore whether Oculus Rift’s immersive interface into virtual reality, could be used as medium for feminist sex activism, in a space that is largely defined by tech industry demographics.
The characters in the work DICKGIRL 3D(X) have striking surfaces: glossy, slimy and heavy. How did you work on and with that surface?
In the CGI video DICKGIRL 3D(X) the character DICKGIRL (which is an augmented version of the product EVA v3.0) fucks a sculpture I made. This creature, called iSlave, is made out of epoxy clay. In order to let the sculpture enter DICKGIRL’s world, we made a photogram of iSlave (DIY style) and had it animated as a humanoid 3D figure, despite of its four legs. At some point of the animation DICKGIRL cuts into the skin of iSlave, which starts a transformation where DICKGIRL takes on iSlave’s skin … So the skin you are talking about is a digital scan of clay. Clay is an entirely analogue medium, but it has properties akin to 3D modelling software. Both are tools and a material for a form of immanent shapeshifting.
What will you do next?
I am doing a show at Rodeo Gallery in London, and I am thinking a lot about the commercial market and how selling art constitutes a point of contact with the 1%. From the perspective of institutional critique, global capitalism is the context for the production of art. Perhaps this applies less in Scandinavian countries, where art funding (for those who receive it) creates a form of artistic middle class, but in a city like London, even non-profit and public galleries depend on private investors and philanthropy.