Monotone

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Monotone


Monotone (video)
 
Used: digital camcorder, Final Cut Pro, Robosapien, SpokenText.net

For this project, I updated Vito Acconci's video art piece "Undertone." Here are a couple popular descriptions of his piece:

"In this now infamous tape, exemplary of his early transgressive performance style, Acconci sits and relates a masturbatory fantasy about a girl rubbing his legs under the table. Carrying on a rambling dialogue that shifts back and forth between the camera/spectator and himself, Acconci sexualizes the implicit contract between performer and viewer - the viewer serving as a voyeur who makes the performance possible by watching and completing the scene, believing the fantasy."

"In a visual style of address exactly equivalent to the presidential address, the face-to-face camera regards The Insignificant Man making the Outrageous Confession that is as likely as not to be an Incredible Lie. Who can escape the television image of Nixon?" - David Antin, "Television: Video's Frightful Parent," Artforum (December 1975)

(These and an excerpt of the video can be found here)

My piece replaces the human sitting at the table with a robot. While Acconci's piece questions and closes up the distance between the viewer and the viewed, the subject and the object, "Monotone" instead plays with the boundary between human and machine. What happens when sexuality is programmed into a machine? If one of the "ultimate goals" of artificial intelligence is the creation of a machine that could pass for human (i.e. could pass the Turing test with flying colors), shouldn't sexuality be included in the machine's programming as well? Does a machine relaying its sexual fantasies and implicating us in the process make us any more or less uncomfortable than Acconci fantasizing in front of the camera? And once a machine can accomplish this, can it also make art?

Ultimately, this piece is about humanity, sexuality, and creativity not just as programmable but also as performance. I would argue that one of the most important aspects of Acconci's piece is that it emphasizes his own sexuality as a performance in the literal sense - he PERFORMS his fantasies in front of a camera and assumes an audience (indeed, "needs" an audience). "Undertone," I believe, makes this performativity even more explicit by positing sexuality as a program run by a machine. This begs some questions: is this robot's sexuality its own? Or is it forced onto it by someone else, like the programmer? Is the machine simply the participant in Searle's Chinese Room? These questions about the machine can easily be reflected back onto humanity; does ANYONE own their own sexuality? Or is it in some ways programmed into us so that we may perform it in front of society's audience, without ever fully understanding it even as we perform?

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