Never Let the Truth Spoil a Good Story: Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Los Angeles’s Dual Histories
What follows is my contribution to our exhibition catalog for Staging Los Angeles: Reality, Fantasy, and the Space Between. More information about the show can be found at http://www.staging-la.com.
A pro pos of today's article in the Washington Post, a brief writing exercise I did on Sulkowicz's piece:
In the fall of 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz made international headlines when she began carrying a 50-lb. mattress with her everywhere she went while on the Columbia campus. Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) was the sole focus of her senior thesis. Two years prior, Sulkowicz says she was raped in her dorm room by fellow student Paul Nungesser, with whom she had previous consensual encounters. According to a police report filed the following year, following consensual sex, Nungesser “hit her across the face, choked her, and pushed her knees onto her chest and leaned on her knees to keep them up.” He then restrained Sulkowicz by holding down her wrists and anally raped her, then left her room without saying anything. As she would later find out, Sulkowicz was one of three women who claim to have assaulted by the same man, an ex-girlfriend of the assailant known as “Natalie,” and another student known as “Josie”.
The three victims filed a formal complaint with the university, and in the summer of 2013, Nungesser was let off. “Natalie” was ruled against in the university hearings after she stopped responding to inquiries. “Josie” seemed to fare slightly better when her complaint was upheld, but it was ultimately overturned in an appeal which she chose not to fight. In the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the university found her accused assailant “not responsible.” Sulkowicz was now left to carry the weight not only of her assault, but of the other two students involved.
Frustrated by the outcome, Sulkowicz filed a police report with the NYPD, which brought her no closer to resolving the case than working with Columbia University did. In the summer of 2014, while studying at Yale University’s Summer School of Art and Music, Sulkowicz began to form her senior thesis: an exorcism of her trauma, and a protest against the way sexual violence is handled on university campuses and the world at large. Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) began with a video of the artist dismantling a bed, and also included a sound component of Sulkowicz’s police report, which she recorded while she was being interviewed. Finally, at the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, Sulkowicz began carrying the large, 50-lb., dark blue mattress similar to the one on which she says she was assaulted. In her studio, Sulkowicz painted on her walls her Rules of Engagement: Sulkowicz must carry the mattress whenever she is on university property. If Sulkowicz leaves campus, the mattress must remain there. When she returns she must retrieve the mattress from where ever she left it. She may not ask for assistance carrying the mattress, but if anyone offers to help her, she may accept. She continues to perform this piece and has vowed to continue to do so until graduation if she must. She will not end the performance until Paul Nungesser is either expelled from Columbia University, or leaves willingly.
Reception to this piece has been largely favorable, and Sulkowicz’s actions have brought greater attention to the issue of campus assaults and given her a larger audience for her performance, including an appearance in conversation with New York Times co-chief art critic Roberta Smith at the Brooklyn Museum in December 2014. Sadly, amongst the tremendous support Sulkowicz has received, the inevitable victim-blaming, attacks on her credibility, attacks on her intelligence and artistic ability, and tremendous cynicism have all surfaced as well. In his article New Evidence Suggests Mattress Rape Victim Emma Sulkowicz Made It Up, Blair Naso writing for Return of Kings (an online publication which features articles such as If There’s a Mess On Her Floor, She’s Probably a Whore and How to Identify 3 Common Types of Feminist Bullshit) cites Facebook messages exchanged between Sulkowicz and Paul Nungesser weeks after the incident as undeniable proof that the violent encounter between them was consensual. Further, based on the vernacular of the messages, the author asserts that “…college has apparently failed to teach [Sulkowicz] grammar and articulation as much as it failed to teach her art.” Sulkowicz’s performance only reinforces the cruel irony of the ignorance demonstrated in this article and the many others like it. Sexual violence has never been a cut and dry issue, with some victims of assault needing decades to come to terms with their trauma and share their stories, and some never coming forward at all. Only recently have “Yes Means Yes” laws finally begun to be enacted, and we have people like Emma Sulkowicz to thank for that.
The images of Sulkowicz being aided by fellow students carrying her burden have numerous writers comparing the act to the Stations of the Cross, and further implicated that Sulkowicz has a sort of messianic complex. Whether she sees herself as a savior for all victims of campus assaults and even the veracity of her claims are entirely beside the point. To paraphrase Lorraine O’Grady, it doesn’t matter who is saying it, as long as someone is. Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) is the kind of deafening, uncomfortable, impossible-to-ignore piece that will continue to prompt more conversation, more legislation, and more effort on the part of university campuses to prevent sexual assaults and help victims bear the weight of their trauma.
Lorraine O’Grady’s work reclaims the black female body, black middle class identity, and the place of black artists within the postmodern moment. As she stated in her recent lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, O’Grady “makes the invisible visible.” O’Grady herself was born into relative privilege in a middle class, educated family. However, this privilege in itself made her part of a mostly invisible black bourgeois. While O’Grady is of West Indian descent, the obstacles she has run into have been the same as those of her contemporaries of African descent. In her lecture at MOCA, she attributed this to a fear of cultural competition by the white bourgeois and upper class. Marginalizing both middle and working class black Americans— apropos only of their skin color and not of their descent or station in life— retains them as a noncompetitive class. Most working class blacks were and continue to be prevented from entering the middle class at all. By speaking out and actively creating new spaces for black art, O’Grady is creating the cultural competition which was previously not allowed to exist.
On September 22, 1966, 40 attendees of the 4th Annual New York Film Festival boarded a bus headed for a small artists’ colony called the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York. Experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek premiered the embodiment of his premise of the Culture Intercom. It was a prototype for his vision of human communication for the future— the Movie-Drome. VanDerBeek, who had for years been working in what became known as “expanded cinema,” created what he referred to as an “experience machine.” In so doing, he expanded his own practice to investigate what art historian and foremost researcher on VanDerBeek’s work, Dr. Gloria Sutton, dubbed “immersive subjectivity.”
The Movie-Drome itself was a 31 ft. high repurposed grain silo, purchased by Stan VanDerBeek from an agricultural mail-order catalog. The project was originally conceived while VanDeerBeek was at Black Mountain College in the 1950s, and built between 1962 and 1965 in Stony Point, NY, on part of The Gate Hill Cooperative. The structure itself and conceptual framework were heavily influenced by the work of Buckminster Fuller, who taught briefly at VanDerBeek’s alma mater. The dome included multiple 16mm and 35mm film and slide projectors arranged on a movable platform, and the artist’s wife, Johanna VanDerBeek, as well as their children participated in controlling the projectors and sound equipment during the one-time performance. The Movie-Drome was built on a wooden platform with a trap door in the floor, so viewers could enter from underneath. Viewers then took their places lying on the floor of the dome in a large circle, feet touching. The plywood floor was lined with cushions sewn by the artist’s wife. Though it was incomplete, it was still exhibited on schedule as part of the film festival.
VanDerBeek’s aim in creating the Movie-Drome was to develop a new means of visual communication, bridging the gap between cultures created by the Cold War. VanDerBeek was tremendously concerned about nuclear proliferation and hoped that by helping the world’s citizens—especially Americans— become more engaged in the global community, he would give them incentive to preserve it. While he was working on the Movie-Drome, VanDerBeek was also continuing to formulate the philosophy behind it. His vision began to take its final form following a speech VanDeerBeek saw given by communication theorist Marhsall McLuhan at Vision ’65. VanDerBeek had been laying the groundwork for the Culture Intercom since the early 1960’s, and received a Rockefeller grant in 1963 for “studies in nonverbal communication.” While VanDerBeek had been outlining his vision for the Movie-Drome for years, it was not until he saw communication theorist Marshall McLuhan speak at Vision ’65 that VanDerBeek’s concepts became the more cohesive whole. VanDerBeek cited McLuhan’s speech as most influential point in his development of the Movie-Drome. Invigorated by McLuhan’s rhetoric, VanDerBeek redoubled his efforts to create a new means of worldwide communication which would connect disparate communities through a common visual language. “[His] concern [was] for a way for the over-developing technology of part of the world to help the under-developed emotional-sociology of all the world to catch up to the 20th century… to counter-balance technique and logic.” First published in the Spring 1966 volume of Film Culture, he called his manifesto Culture Intercom. He proposed “that immediate research begin on the possibility of an international picture-language using fundamentally motion pictures.” In Culture Intercom, VanDerBeek alludes to fears which, while he doesn’t say so explicitly, echo the sentiments that World War I was a 19th-century war fought with 20th century technology. He worries that “technological research, development and involvement of the world community has almost completely out-distanced the emotional-sociological… comprehension of this technology.” He saw a future in which the technology which was so rapidly outpacing humanity could be harnessed, suggesting that the movie-dromes could function as “image libraries… [which would] use some of the coming techniques (video tape and computer inter-play) and thus be real communication and storage centers… by satellite.” He envisioned a massive network of movie-dromes that would include artist-in-residency programs, allowing artists to curate the material for the experience machine.
In Dr. Gloria Sutton’s extensive research on Stan VanDerBeek, she has often emphasized the concepts of immersive subjectivity in terms of VanDerBeek’s attempts to “…deal with logical understanding, and to penetrate to unconscious levels [through] the use of such ‘emotion-pictures,’… to reach for the ‘emotional denominator’ of all men.” This illustrates what Sutton described as VanDerBeek’s desire to “…eradicate the formal distinctions between art and life by immersing subjects visually and aurally…in an effort to tap into people’s emotions.” VanDerBeek’s aim was for his viewers in Movie-Dromes throughout the world to be connected to each other as part of a global commonwealth. The orientation of the audience to the dome was illustrative of his image for the future: that there were no boundaries between audience and screen, audience and artist, or even the individual audience members themselves.
VanDerBeek was by no means the first to consider immersive formats of filmmaking. In 1964 Ray and Charles Eames built an egg-shaped theater for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In this exhibition, viewers entered through a door in the bottom of the “egg.” Seated in a traditional auditorium style, they were lifted 53 feet into the air toward the top of the screen, creating an immersive experience. The theater presented a multi projectional experience called “Think.” The aim of this performance, however, was to demonstrate the abilities of computers to solve problems in everyday life (to sell IBM products). Consider also the advent of the extremely popular IMAX format, which began its life as an attraction at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair. These commercial formats of immersive media were designed to make the audience feel removed from themselves and lost in the films they were viewing. By contrast, VanDerBeek sought to cultivate the group consciousness, rather than focus on the individual experience. He wanted the audience to feel that they were having an intimate experience with one another inside the dome; though the idea behind the projected collage was that each viewer would pick and choose and draw their own conclusions from the information provided. VanDerBeek hoped that by providing this kind of shared experience, he could “…find some way for the entire level of world understanding to rise to a new human scale.” By design, the viewers inside the dome would have physical contact with each other, laying on their backs, feet facing inward in a huge circle, touching each other.
VanDerBeek’s utopian vision is nothing if not ambitious, and the theoretical framework is strong; but was the 1966 premier of the Movie-Drome a successful demonstration of the Culture Intercom? Gloria Sutton describes the performance experienced by the New York Film Festival Audience in her essay Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome: Networking The Subject:
On the spot illustrations (projected while they were being drawn) and roving lights were superimposed with stock newsreel footage and found films… Political speeches, newscasts, promotional announcements, and prerecorded music tracks collided with one another, testing the quadrophonic sound system and reverberating off of the curved aluminum panels that served as the dome’s exterior and interior.
At the end of the 20-minute performance, viewers and press didn’t really quite know what to make of it. The projectors suddenly turned off, and what followed was tentative applause. In his review in the New York World Tribune, Robert Christghau referred to the performance as a “clumsy episode.” Conversely, while acknowledging the incompleteness, Fran Heller wrote more favorably about the demonstration in her review in Newsweek, saying that, “the acoustics [were] fantastic!” Her article also quotes some guests who were less impressed, overheard saying things like “It’s useless!” and “you can’t see it all.”
In spite of its initial failure, the Movie-Drome offers much to art historians and curators investigating the interaction between artwork and publics. VanDerBeek’s keen interest in the public benefit of Movie-Dromes suggests an investigation through the theoretical frameworks of Jurgen Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and Chantal Mouffe’s Art as an Agonistic Intervention in Public Space. Both models give an excellent means of further exploring the impact of the exhibition. Bearing in mind Mouffe’s agonistic model, The Movie-Drome could be considered against the Eames/IBM project “Think.” “Think” was attempting to use the same visual language as the Movie-Drome, but to a completely different end. The Movie-Drome’s intention was to intervene in language and create a massive shift in public consciousness. VanDerBeek not only saw the Movie-Drome as a space for shared understanding and communication, but proposed that they also be used in early childhood education.
During Marshall McLuhan’s influential speech at Vision ’65, he identified a need for a revolutionary approach to education, arguing that in an increasingly electronic age, the traditional school system was not helpful for children any longer. McLuhan was altering conference attendees to the massive of a paradigm shift that was occuring. In the 1960’s, children were now growing up in a country where 90% of households had television. In his speech at Vision ’65, McLuhan states:
Our children live in a world in which the environment itself is made of electric information…The young person today is a data processor on a very large scale…The small child in the twentieth century America does more data processing…than any child…in the history of the world… and when these children enter a classroom at elementary school, they encounter a situation that is bewildering to them.
Looking further into McLuhan’s speech, there are also striking parallels with Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
When printing was new, it created what was known as the Public…The sixteenth century created the public as a new environment. This completely altered politics and altered all social arrangements in education, in work and in every other area. Electric circuitry did not create the public, it created the mass, meaning an environment of information that involved everybody in everybody. Now, to a man brought up in the environment of the public, the mass audience is a horror. It is a mess. In the same-way, the public was a many-headed monster to a feudal aristocrat. Circuitry brings people into relation with each other in total involvement which creates the possibility of dialogue and discovery on an enormous scale. The structure of the public had less of such possibility. The public consisted of fragmented separate individuals with separate points of view. The public was an additive structure. The mass audience is a quite different structure, enormously richer, enormously more capable of integrated creative activity than the old public was. All the old public could do was to enunciate private points of view which they clashed into each other furiously.
McLuhan was also addressing the same shift away from political thought within the public sphere and toward commercialized mass media that concerned Habermas. While the timeline is a bit different, the crux of the argument is much the same, and the way McLuhan sees it, developments in communication and in electronic media may be the public’s savior.
The Movie-Drome was recreated and shown as part of the Ghosts in the Machine exhibition at the New Museum in 2012. The recreation, though ambitious was not true to the original. The projectors within the New Museum’s Movie-Drome were not operated by projectionists— rather, the projectors were placed stationary on the floor of the dome. There was no moving platform to allow for the images to whir around the screen as they had in their original presentation, and no live animation. Among the most brilliant design features of the original Movie-Drome was the manner in which viewers entered from the trap door underneath. This ensured a light-tight environment, and there were no gaps in the screen. This was instrumental in creating the totally immersive experience which VanDerBeek sought. By contrast, there was an opening inside the New Museum’s Movie-Drome, allowing viewers to walk in and out at their leisure (as you would in most galleries). Further, rather than a set, timed performance, the images were shown on a loop. This further alienates the viewer from the imagery and destroys any possibility for true emotional immersion.
Given the proper funding, a true recreation of VanDerBeek’s vision is possible. It could be taken beyond a historical recreation and expanded into an actual fabrication of his ultimate goals. Given modern technology, it would be relatively easy to realize VanDerBeek’s vision to its full potential. Rather than utilizing a network of satellites transmitting material via “…television and telephone at 186,000 m.p.s.,” multiple Movie-Dromes in multiple locations worldwide could be linked via the web. Projections curated by artists-in-residence and the public alike, with controls inside the domes would allow the viewers or trained projectionists to manipulate the images during the screening. Along the with integration of social media, the public sphere of the internet can be utilized to continue the dialogue and actually attempt to create a common language through visual means. Our need for a common visual language is no less urgent now than it was in 1966.
I feel that as a curator, it is imperative that I embrace the role of “curator as iconoclast,” as Boris Groys puts it. The entire act of finding a common thread in seemingly unrelated various artworks, then removing them from their natural environment and placing them on display seems inherently alien. However, it is my belief that seemingly disparate works, even from differing fields of study and differing time periods, are actually in conversation with each other and should be viewed that way. By relating ideas outside of the art world to art, it better enables me to bring people who might not necessarily consider themselves “fans” of art into to fold. It is this framework that has lead me down the path to seeking a role in a large institution or museum, rather than a gallery or non-profit. Within that environment, there is far more opportunity for public interaction than there would be in smaller spaces or within the private art market.
I see many benefits in working for a large institution. First, there is greater access to a greater number of private and public collections, including the ability to loan between institutions. In a perfect world I see myself as a senior curator in Media Arts/New Media/New Genres at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the deYoung Museum, or the San Jose Museum of Art. I would primarily focus on interactive installations, kinetic sculpture, and other iterations of the blurring line between art and technology. The Bay Area as the heart of the tech world makes these museums an ideal location for new media. My exhibitions would feature almost exclusively new works with an emphasis on work that can be given a political or socio-political reading. My desire to bring the public into the art world in a meaningful way dictates that the exhibitions I will design should have a critical motive.
I understand that being a curator for a large museum is inherently problematic. My judgement is that art is by definition money and power. What is defined as “art” is controlled by the boards of trustees at museums, wealthy collectors, and local politicians. Consider for example the controversy surrounding Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc. Owing to his previous success and status as a superstar in the art world, Serra was chosen for the project which would appear in the east plaza outside the Federal Building in New York City. Shortly after its installation in 1981, a Federal Building judge named Edward Re began an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign to remove the sculpture. Judge Re’s luck changed in 1984, when a zealous Reagan administration on a mission to eradicate the scourge of federal bureaucracy appointed regional administrator William Diamond, who took up Judge Re’s cause. Following numerous hearings and petitions to keep the Arc in place, a five-person panel voted 4-1 to remove the piece. None of the five had experience in public art. The fight was framed as “workers” (that is, those who worked in the building) versus “the art world.” The voice missing from the conversation was the public that utilized the space, albeit in a fleeting way. “People from all over New York who needed a green card, a new driver’s license, who must meet a court date, or serve on jury duty,” could enjoy the artwork while completing otherwise tedious tasks. In this case, the public was not able to weigh in, and the battle was ultimately fought and won by those in power; the federal employees.
Curators are in many ways enablers of this paradigm that is excluding the public and maintaining the exclusivity of the art world. As a curator who values the relationship between the public and art, I fear continuing the cycle. However, as long as I remind myself I can make art a public benefit, I can use the platform of a museum to educate and to serve the public. Most importantly, new exhibition models are being developed for public spaces all the time, so clearly we are not shackled to the white cube. These past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the Ai Weiwei exhibition on Alcatraz. The exhibition, installed on 4 separate parts of the island, brings attention to the worldwide epidemic of political imprisonment. I feel that this exhibition is an excellent proof-of-concept that installing art in a public space (in this case a state park) is a viable model as well. Alcatraz attracts 1.3 million visitors every year, and this works heavily in the exhibition’s favor. By installing the exhibition on Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei reaches an audience that is not necessarily an art-seeking or politically-minded one. In this way, Ai Weiwei is bringing more public awareness to the prisoners his art features and hopefully more voices into the dialogue.
My own history as an artist-turned-curator demonstrates my interest in the relationship between art and the public, and art’s ability to act as a mediator between the public and current events. As an undergraduate, my pieces were generally reflections of current events. An early concept reacted directly to the financial crisis. I had just returned to school, having had to take a year off because the “Great Recession” had an impact on my family’s finances and their ability to send me to a private art school 400 miles away from home. I read an article describing a new edition of monopoly that had been “updated” to reflect 21st-century developments in finance, including the use of Visa branded “debit” cards in place of Monopoly money. It then occurred to me that much like the game, our system of regulations had also become woefully outdated. The game was originally introduced during another downturn, during the height of the Great Depression in 1935. In many ways, it seemed like we were playing a 21st century game with 20th century rules. So, I proposed to rewire the Monopoly game board game with LCD displays in place of the property and utility prices. The prices would fluctuate according to real time market data and reflect inflation since the game’s debut in 1935, but players would be left with the same rules and money as the traditional game. I hoped this would illustrate the unsustainability of the modern marketplace, where computers are making transactions in milliseconds while the public is essentially playing the stock market with Monopoly money.
Later, I became more interested in robotics, particularly in their military use. When the company iRobot launched its Roomba vacuum-cleaning robot in 2002, it was created as a proof-of-concept. Upon the success of the vacuum, iRobot gained numerous military contracts, including a recent contract worth $9.6 million from Canada. As of September 2014, more than 5,000 iRobot robots have been deployed for defense use worldwide. What fascinated me was that this adorable little vacuum was the harbinger of something much more sinister. My response was to collect three of these vacuums, paint them red, white, and blue; and program them to “dance” and play a three-part version of John Philip Souza’s Stars and Stripes Forever. I played up the saccharine patriotism against the more nefarious side of these robots and their deadly cousins.
It’s clear that my approach is heavily political. I do not have a strong background in critical theory, but that’s not to say that I do not use a theoretical framework when approaching my work. My interest in robotics stems from a lifelong interest in science and science fiction, which has turned out to be the framework I use to evaluate artwork. For a long time I have had difficulty resolving this approach, at least until I read Kathy Acker’s chapter from Bodies of Work titled Critical Languages. Acker put into words a mode that I feel I have been working in for years, but have never been able to adequately describe: “…Every phenomenon, every act is a text and all texts refer to other texts. Meaning is a network, not a central icon.”
An earlier formative moment came for me when I was reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (in essence, “Theoretical Physics for Dummies”) and taking an undergraduate class in the history of experimental film practice. I have believed ever since the first time I saw Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon in that class that seemingly disparate works, even from different spheres and different time periods, are in conversation with each other. In Deren’s first two films, Meshes of the Afternoon and At Land, I saw imagery with a striking resemblance to the concepts of theoretical physics I had read about. Deren’s work, I argued in a paper, actually presupposed numerous developments within theoretical physics. “In a rather anachronistic way,” I contended, “Deren unknowingly prefigures many recent developments in the science of physics, particularly in the still controversial fields of quantum mechanics, string theory and the ‘many worlds’ theory of parallel universes.”
My formal foray into critical theory began in my first semester at USC, but I am someone who was rather unwittingly exposed to it earlier in life. Science fiction was my first introduction to Marxist, feminist, and queer theory as well as moral relativism. Many theorists have incorporated science fiction into their work as well. As renowned feminist Donna Haraway sees it, “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, first published in 1991, utilizes the science fiction concept of the half-animal half-machine “cyborg” as a means of transcending the dualistic hegemony. Science fiction acts as a mirror which reflects back our worst fears about ourselves. Haraway’s work along with Kathy Acker's has helped me feel more justified in using science fiction as a lens through which I can critique artwork.
While pursuing my post-baccalaureate certificate at UC Berkeley, I read Lawrence Steefel’s essay Marcel Duchamp and the Machine, and it inspired me to write a paper arguing that The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even; Metropolis; I, Robot; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and its film adaptation Bladerunner were all in conversation with each other about the rights of a lower working class. In his conversations about The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass); Duchamp states “I did not really love the machine. It was better to do it to machines than to people, or doing it to me,” and Steefel describes Duchamp as “…letting machines and mechanisms suffer outrageously.” It occurred to me that perhaps Duchamp was considering that artificial or given life is in many ways lesser than life which occurs naturally, and was exerting control over his machines (the “bachelors” in the lower half of The Large Glass) in a rather cruel way. I felt this reflected the way which the Upper City exerts control over the Lower City in Frtiz Lang’s Metropolis. The Large Glass illustrated the interplay of power between the Bachelors and the Bride, and the fear experienced by both sides at the notion of not being in control. Further, I felt that Duchamp’s idea of second-class citizenship for sentient but created beings also surfaces in and is central to Isaac Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” Finally, the fact the replicants from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Bladerunner have an expiration date from the time of their creation shows a different set of moral standards for sentient artificially intelligent constructs. The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even also speaks to the ways in which the Bride is the embodiment of life and humanity, while the replicants are the Bachelors in amorous pursuit.
While I was heavily influenced by the work of writers like Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenbury, the creator of Star Trek, has had the most profound impact on my work. The mirror I referred to earlier is apparent throughout Star Trek in its entirety, from encounters with alien species to direct confrontation with our past and present selves. In Star Trek’s many iterations, many episodes revolve around time travel back to the 20th century or mid 21st-century, and the crew of the Enterprise (both in the 1960s and the 1990s-2000s) are always stunned by what they perceive as horrifying barbarism and the effects of heartless capitalism on the human race. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone, three 20th century people who had been cryogenically frozen at death are rescued from their adrift space ship by the crew of the Enterprise-D. They each represent a stereotype of white middle and upper class individuals illustrating “problems” of the 20th century: homemaker Clare Raymond (presumably a woman who may not have been able to recognize her potential, having to do household tasks that are now automated in the 24th century); country music star L.Q. "Sonny" Clemonds, with substance abuse issues that apparently do not exist in the utopian 24th century; and shameless capitalist Ralph Offenhouse (likely a stock broker or banker in the 20th century) consumed by the ideas of the wealth he left behind upon his death. The latter is demanding and arrogant, and when he discovers that his wealth and everything he had built up no longer exists in the 24th century, he is lost. With no need for acquisition, what is there to live for? In the episode’s conclusion, Captain Jean-Luc Picard assures the man that in the 24th century, “…material needs no longer exist…The challenge… is to improve yourself, to enrich yourself. Enjoy it.”
The liberated, classless, enlightened human beings who travel the galaxy in later centuries are constantly encountering aliens that are thinly veiled metaphors for humanity as it stands today. Much of the series Deep Space Nine revolves around the economic and cultural recovery of a deeply religious people called Bajorans, who had been under occupation by the warlike Cardassians for decades. The Klingons, first introduced in the 1960s, were a very obvious analogy of the USSR. The race is depicted as untrustworthy and is constantly trying to expand their empire by any means necessary. The Ferengi are a race of hyper-capitalists, whose entire culture is based on the acquisition of profit, to the extent that it is built into their religious and moral code. Debtors and those who did not turn a profit in life spend their afterlives in a sort of Hell, while those who did turn a profit find themselves in the Ferengi equivalent of Heaven. The Ferengi are also terrifyingly misogynist, not allowing women (referred to exclusively as “females”) to leave the home, own property, or even wear clothing.
Star Trek was my first introduction to the concepts of gender politics and moral relativism. In the most recent iteration of the franchise, Star Trek: Enterprise, the binary gender system is constantly challenged. The most explicit example occurs in the episode Cogenitor, in which the crew encounters the Visians, an alien race which requires three biological sexes (and three gender identities) for reproduction. The cogenitor is a third androgynous sex within the Visian race, utilized only for reproduction. When chief engineer Trip Tucker becomes aware of the reproductive system that the Visians use, he feels like the position of the cogenitor is akin to slavery. He refers to the cogenitor throughout the episode as “her,” and feels compelled to impose not only his concepts of binary gender roles but also his concepts of human rights on the cogenitor. Science officer T’Pol points out that the Visians are not human. Tucker’s insistence on forcing the cogenitor to confirm to his standards ultimately results in the cogenitor’s suicide. Having defied its culture’s gender roles, it can no longer exist within Visian society.
I believe that my desire to find so much meaning in popular culture, particularly in science fiction, is because my approach is informed by a constant tendency to look forward. This is also why my undergraduate studies were in art and technology. The artwork I want to exhibit should be critiques of policies and technologies that are hurting rather than helping humanity. This way, I believe we can avoid the dystopian futures of Philip K. Dick and George Orwell.
I developed a concept for an exhibition as part of an assignment during my post-baccalaureate studies at UC Berkeley two years ago. For the purposes of this essay, I will imagine I am creating a catalog for this proposed show. I designed an exhibition exploring the nature of artwork responding to and utilizing “drone” technology. Drones are a particularly compelling subject for me because I cannot entirely determine what my feelings on them are. Unmanned aerial vehicles were put into use by the US military because of their numerous perceived advantages, including saving the lives of American servicemen, cost-effectiveness, lower risk to the vehicle due to flight altitude (see cost-effectiveness), long operational hours, accuracy, lethality against targets, advantages in collecting intelligence, and easier and faster deployment. However, the debate rages on as to how these advantages outweigh the extraordinary costs, including civilian loss of life and the counterproductive and destabilizing impact it has on public opinion in targeted countries. Most disturbing is the diminishing role of ethics in decision-making, which I feel is caused by the physical and psychological distance between the drone pilot and the target (sometimes thousands of miles). My hope is that through artwork, viewers will be able to see the nuances that exist within this debate; for one, how do we as Americans equate one life with another?
I imagine a catalog for this exhibition to read much like the preceding essay. As for form I find that most traditional catalogs do the job well. Having seen the very original card-based catalog Lucy Lippard created for the Numbers exhibition, I feel some pressure to “think outside the box,” but ultimately I think that when trying to disseminate difficult subjects, a straight-forward approach is best. In her 2002 book Surpassing the Spectacle, Carol Becker sees the beginning of the post-Postmodern now as the democratization of the art world. She argues that post-Postmodernism’s primary focus is to bring the public back into the fold by working inside communities and focusing more on public art, as in the works of Pepon Osorio, Suzanne Lacy, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. I agree wholeheartedly with Becker’s assertion that bringing art into the public sphere is key, and I have conceived my approach accordingly.
The curator has a bizarre position of liaison between art and the public. Ultimately, I view my role as that of an educator and a public servant. With heavy foot-traffic and large draws, a large museum is the best place for me to fulfill that role. When designing exhibitions, I will put into practice my passion for the political. My exhibitions will be designed with a framework that encourages all different audiences to see the benefit that art has to offer. Most importantly, I will mount exhibitions and show work in a way that does not make a museum-goer feel like they need an education in art history to glean anything from the art. The key here is accessibility, and as a curator, that is what will be foremost in my mind.
When it comes to American Post-War Art, in particular Abstract Expressionism, size matters. The works displayed as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection are imposing, some of them taking up their own walls. Upon entering the gallery, one of the first pieces on display is Sam Francis’ 1957 Towards Disappearance. The painting is on a massive, unframed 114 x 169 1/4 inch canvas. The composition is comprised mostly of negative space, but the scale of it makes the piece completely immersive. Standing close enough, the painting envelops the (though I am self-conscious about using this term following the O’Doherty reading) viewer’s entire field of vision, generating not just a visual experience, but a full body experience. Morris Louis’ Unfurled Series: Beta Ro from 1959-1960 further emphasizes this idea of total immersion. The colors bleed downward as though toward a drain in this massive 103 x 161 1/2 inch painting. The effect is an unmistakable downward pull, grounding the viewer as the eye takes in the piece from top-to-bottom.
The slightly smaller and more geometric 1959 Getty Tomb by Frank Stella creates a similar effect not by size, but by saturation. The immense blackness of the painting creates a sort of vacuum, sucking in everything around it, and commanding attention. This works beautifully in concert with the geometric lines carved into the surface of the thick paint, producing a labyrinthian effect. The eye is drawn repeatedly toward the center of the canvas, with a vague feeling that perhaps the painting was cut in half— that half of the maze is missing.
Some of the pieces within the collection at LACMA are on the smaller side, and the change in effect is noticeable. Franz Kline’s 1958-1960 composition The Ballatine measures only 72 x 72 inches. The Rothko on display, 1957’s White Center, is a mere 84 x 72 inches. Compared to 1960’s No. 14, 114 1/2 x 105 5/8 inches, currently in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Collection, White Center seems underwhelming. LACMA, however, devised a brilliant solution to this. Placed in front of White Center is the only bench in that part of the gallery. This placement allows for a viewer to spend the necessary time with the piece, encouraging the eye to fully penetrate the color field. Directly to the right is the only Pollock piece on display, 1951’s Black and White Number 20, measuring a diminutive 57 3/16 x 64 inches. While the bench does allow the viewer to spend more time with the Pollock piece, it lacks the visual depth of many of Pollock’s other works, such as 1948’s No. 5 (96 × 48 inches), and of its Rothko neighbor.
While there exists a sentiment to move art outside of the white cube space, I would argue that American Post-War Art needs to be exhibited in this way. The blank, white walls create a larger, endless plane for these works to exist on. For all of these paintings, a surrounding void is necessary to feel the works’ full impact. Though it is not in this particular collection, Rauschenberg’s 1951 White Painting [three panel] at SFMOMA makes its impression directly through the push-and-pull of the white space of the canvas and the white space of the wall. In the case of paintings like Toward Disappearance and White Center, the effect of the colors is much stronger set against the stark whiteness of the gallery.
It would be interesting to see what any of these pieces would look like shrunk down to a measurement like 18 x 24 inches, a standard canvas size at most art supply stores and in many classrooms. I argue that without a large physical presence, these paintings would lack much presence at all.
The most conspicuous aspect of Ai Weiwei’s island-wide installation on Alcatraz is the very choice of venue. Alcatraz is arguably the most infamous prison on the planet, owing to its unique location, rich history, and famous inmates. The venue is for all intents and purposes a tourist locale, catering to 1.3 million visitors every year, and this works heavily in the exhibition’s favor. Advertisement around the bay area is minimal, and by installing this exhibition on Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei is reaching an audience that is not necessarily an art-seeking or politically motivated one. Unsuspecting viewers are drawn in to the stories of political prisoners that they otherwise may never have been aware of, and his approachable aesthetic compellingly sells the tragic message of political imprisonment. In this way, Ai Weiwei is bringing more awareness to the prisoners he features and hopefully more voices into the dialogue. The interplay between the aesthetic (colorful, beautiful, melodic, delicate) and the tremendous weight of the subject matter prevents a sort of “compassion fatigue.”
An on-going debate amongst practicing artists is that the act of becoming an artist is the ultimate in self-indulgence. I think, however, that this can be mitigated depending upon the nature of the work, the resources used, among other reasons. I have a strong aversion to art for art’s sake, because I feel that art should serve a purpose, at its most basic function, as a benefit to society at large and at the very least, to stimulate controversy and debate. I feel that Matthew Barney’s work does not do this at all. I find his work to be the ultimate in self-indulgence:
“I consider all the things I work with attractive to me. Whether they repulse me or not, I’m very, very attracted to them.” -Matthew Barney
“He’s a person who just wants to follow the imagination of his own work.” -Richard Serra
Ultimately, I feel Barney’s work is wasteful. I look at the resources he uses in his work and the first thing that comes to mind for me is, “What other uses could these materials be put toward?” A lot of this has to do with the sheer scale of his work. Sure, the wood we used to stretch a canvas can be a lot of things- but in this case I think there needs to be a sort of “bang-for-your-buck” mentality applied. A painting consumes so little but offers so much, whereas Barney’s petroleum jelly sculptures and giant-scale films like Drawing Restraint 9 consume so much-- not only in terms of material but space, as his pieces are generally quite large-- and offer back to the audience very little.
Having seen one of the petroleum jelly pieces at his show at MOMA several years ago... I was pretty underwhelmed and mostly annoyed, especially after watching an interview with him in which he described some of the most profound experiences of his life as being experiences he had playing football in high school. Again, this makes the work about him, his experiences, his imagination, and thus, of no interest to those of us experiencing his work. Ironically, this attitude is very reminiscent of the stereotypical self-absorbed attitude I encountered when I was in high school, not only in myself but also in my peers. What about the rest of humanity? Is his controversy about his life as a jock? If so, I’d rather see his work executed in Lotrimin or Tenactin. Perhaps, rather than standard canvas, he could repurpose used jock straps.
In his defense, Matthew Barney’s most recent installation in the Drawing Restraint series, Drawing Restraint 19, “...is part of a benefit art show and auction entitled Good Wood Exhibit , raising awareness and funds for a Do-It-Yourself skatepark project in Detroit, Michigan. It “...employs a skateboard as a drawing tool. A block of graphite is mounted beneath the skateboard deck, on the front end of the board. The skater performs a nose manual (a wheelie on the nose of the board, leaning in the direction of movement) across a smooth surface, tipping the nose of the board forward and leaving behind a drawn graphite line.”
So ultimately, my feeling on Matthew Barney is this: while his work can be visually striking, I find that the real interest for me comes from the people implementing his ideas. For example, his prosthetic artist, Gabe Bartalos, is clearly highly gifted. So, Matthew Barney is not only someone whose work is very resource heavy in terms of material; it is also very reliant on the work of others, including the skateboarder performing in Drawing Restraint 19. In closing, I feel Matthew Barney is a perfect fit for the art world that David Hickey has turned his back on-- Matthew Barney and his work could not be better described than as being “calcified by too much money, celebrity and self-reverence.” I think it was very apt for the producers of Art 21 to put Matthew Barney in the episode titled “Consumption.”
The Oakland Museum of California- Playing With Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement
In many ways, The Oakland Museum of California is the red-headed stepchild of the bay area museums. This shouldn’t be because it’s really striking both in terms of its content and its facilities. OMCA focuses entirely on celebrating California and its role in history, art history, and the planet at large. In terms of its facilities, OMCA boasts some amenities that you simply will not find in the San Francisco museums, such as free lockers, $1.00 per hour parking under museum, and free protected bike parking. My experience with the staff was that they are extra (maybe even a little too) friendly. I was asked if I was there to see anything in particular, and given precise directions on how to get to the exhibit. This was actually quite helpful because the museum is large very interestingly laid out. In addition to their exhibition halls, OMCA boasts 4 levels of sculpture gardens.
The museum itself is multidisciplanary, combining permanent exhibitions of art, history and natural sciences. Sadly, during my visit, the History section closed due to theft. According to the artinfo.com blog: “Shortly before midnight on Monday, a thief broke into [the museum] and took artifacts and pieces of gold... pertaining to the California Gold Rush, mining equipment, and Native American culture.” The Natural Sciences under renovation, will reopen next June. While I was disappointed that I missed out, I was here for the other part of the OMCA triple threat: the Art Collection. Best described on their website, OMCA’s “...Art Collection features over 70,000 works from the early 1800s to the present that are by California artists and that represent significant subject matter of the region. The collection features works of all disciplines, including painting, sculpture, photography, craft and decorative arts, conceptual work, and new media, as well as documentary materials such as artists' tools, maquettes, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and other ephemera.” The gallery is divided into 6 separate spaces, including 3 permanent exhibitions and 3 rooms for temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection is curated as follows: California Creativity: “Creative output in California is as multifaceted and expansive as its people and land.” California People: “California artists, like people everywhere, are influenced by the cultures and communities around them.” California Land: “California’s natural beauty and diverse environments have inspired artists from every period and every part of the state.”
As impressive as the permanent collection is, I was at OMCA to see Playing With Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement. Glass is traditionally considered a craft, and this exhibition is especially appropriate to the Oakland Museum because the relationship between art and craft is essential to California’s role in art history. This is especially true when one considers the Arts and Crafts movement which gave birth to world-renowned California institutions such as the (now renamed) California College of Arts and Crafts. I was really taken with how many pieces being shown in this exhibit were made within the last 10 years, and those are the pieces I focused on. On entering the gallery, the first piece I saw was “Charros y Sus Caballos; A Budget of Paradoxes,” by Jaime Guerrero, 2012. It consists 3 life-size glass horse heads adorned with leather and steel halters, bits, and reins, with cascades of papier mache flowers like the ones awarded to winners of charriadas (Mexican rodeos). The piece is an homage to Jaime Guerrero’s uncles, who were champions in charriadas. This piece, as well as much of Guerrero’s other work, features nostalgia for Mexican heritage, and the aim of the artist, in his words, was to “...highlight the true craftsmanship of the charro traditions.”
As I moved through the gallery, I sat down on John Lewis’ 2002 work, ”Copper Patina Bench.” Made of cast glass, and copper foil, the piece is cleverly situated in the gallery in a manner which encourages use and initially distracts the observer from the fine art aspects of the piece. What’s really brilliant is that when the observer uses the bench, the description of the piece is immediately at eye-level, making him/her suddenly aware that they are interacting with the art on display in a very tangible way. I fell right into the trap. I felt that this piece highlights the aforementioned relationship and blurry line between art and craft in California’s art history.
One of the most visually imposing pieces in the exhibit is Bella Feldman’s 2011 piece, ”Jacob’s Ladder.” Composed of glass rods and steel, this sculpture explores the fragility of glass versus the strength of steel; the glass is too fragile to use as a ladder, but it is essential to the integrity of the piece. The steel pieces would not stand on their own, and the ladder is impossible to climb because the rungs are all glass. At the base of the piece are two wheels which suggest the ladder might be used to roll the ladder up to a wall to scale a fortress or castle. The piece employs a beautiful optical illusion: the ladder is scaled down the closer from top to bottom to give the impression that the ladder is much taller than it actually is.
”He kissed his wife and kids good-bye and hitched a ride to Lodi; to work the fields at the peak of summer’s heat, in hopes for an early harvest of the fall,” is a 2012 work by Cassandra Straubing, who relishes in working in a medium that is commonly associated with male artists and craftsman, and plays with the idea of gender roles consistently in her work. The piece itself is workshirt cast in blue glass hanging from a coat hook and resembles denim. It is displayed with broken hoe, further pushing the blue collar nature of the installation. Straubing states that her “...work explores the sociological aspects of working-class garments and the tools of bluecollar labor — how they define a person, externally and internally. These objects become a representation and a symbol of what a person does to contribute to western society and culture. They become a skin, defining a person’s economic and social position as well as their gender role. Clothing, used as a skin to cover the vulnerable and fragile body, is rendered transparent in glass. The viewer can see through the superficial definitions of gender and status to a personal truth without the exterior facade society so readily judges.” The piece and the bluecollar identity that Straubing is exploring is especially interesting because it is so reliant on the history of California, especially the Central Valley. The title seems as though it could have been pulled straight from a John Steinbeck novel.
Finally, “Projections in Tun Yee,” by Oben Abright, 2010, is a large bust consisting of mold blown glass, cement, custom electronics, and projected video. The bald figure is draped in a traditional orange robe. Tun Yee is lit from within, and the glass is frosted except on the back of his head, where video is being projected from inside the sculpture. There is a fascinating description of the piece by Abright included in the installation. It is a “...portrait of a monk, Tun Yee, whom [Abright] met at a refugee camp in Burma when he was a Shan soldier.... the video is... the military’s violent reaction to Buddhist monks protesting in Burma and the detention of Burmese villagers to use in forced labor campaigns... [the piece] provides a platform for expressions of unrest while conveying an internal narrative and the convolution of memory as witness.”
The Oakland Museum of California is an institution which does not get the recognition it deserves. Taking a back seat to institutions like the DeYoung and SFMOMA is a mixed blessing. While it means that the crowds are generally pretty small, for any artist or art history buff it is an absolute must for deepening an understanding of California’s crucial role in contemporary art as well as art history as a whole.
The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even; Metropolis; I, Robot; and Bladerunner: Symbols of Class Struggle and the Rights of Sentient Beings
When Marcel Duchamp created "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even" he decided to have machines act as stand-ins for people, and in so doing created a piece which predicted and is in conversation with, the films Bladerunner and Metropolis, as well as, the book I, Robot; especially pertaining to those works’ exploration of class warfare and the rights of sentient beings through the lens of artificial intelligence. In his conversations with his friend, noted art historian Lawrence Steefel, Duchamp admits “…letting machines and mechanisms suffer outrageously.” (Mink, 2000) Duchamp himself states “I did not really love the machine. It was better to do it to machines than to people, or doing it to me.” Here Duchamp shows that artificial or given life is in many ways universally perceived to be lesser than life which occurs naturally, and is exerting control over his machines in a rather cruel way, in much the same way which the Upper City exerts control over the Lower City in Frtiz Lang’s Metropolis.
The Large Glass illustrates the interplay of power between the Bachelors and the Bride, and the fear experienced by both sides at the notion of not being in control. Duchamp’s idea of second-class citizenship for sentient but created beings is central in Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics: That is: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” (Asimov, 1963)
Finally, the fact the replicants from Do Androids Dream/Bladerunner have an expiration date from the time of their creation shows a different set of moral standards for sentient artificially intelligent constructs. The Large Glass also speaks to the ways in which the Bride is the embodiment of life and humanity, while the replicants are the Bachelors in amorous pursuit.
Read against Metropolis, the Bride is the upper city and the society’s elite, and the Bachelors, as machines, are the lower city and working class. As the film opens, we see the underground workers move in perfect unison like parts of a machine as they exit factory after a grueling 10-hour shift. Later, when Freder, the prince of the city, watches them working the Heart machine when he tries to go below to find Maria, we see the same careful choreography and perfect unison being used to work the machine.
Unlike the Large Glass, in which the Bachelors are forever frozen in their space, in Metropolis, one of the Bachelors is able to experience the Bride he has been looking up at for so long, when Freder trades places with one of the workers. The worker stares out the car window at the woman in the car next to him and fantasizes about her and all of the sensual delights the above world have to offer. The Large Glass also illustrates the interplay of power between the Bachelors and the Bride, and the fear of losing control experienced by both the elite and the workers. In one of the first scenes in the movie, Maria brings the children of the workers from below to see the upper city-dwelling (eg: Upper class) people and tells the children that they are their “brothers.” Almost immediately Maria and the children are sent back below because their presence and especially her appeal to Freder are threatening to the city’s power structure. Later when he goes below to find Maria, Freder is horrified and confused by the Heart machine and following explosion, and hallucinates, the workers being sacrificed to the Ammonite god Moloch. Toward the beginning of his hallucination, the sacrifices are being forced, but they are followed by workers who go willingly into the beast/machine’s mouth.
This exemplifies the general paranoia stemming from a fear of machines overcoming man, man’s seeming willingness to be controlled, and an Acceptance of one’s lot in life. Later in the film, the False Maria, created from the Professor’s Machine Man, controls both the city’s elite and its workers. If we read the False Maria as the Bride, does the Bride in her higher position actually control the bachelors? Or is the Bride the real Maria, with the bachelors projecting their own agenda onto what is just her image in the false Maria while the real Maria is being held hostage.
The Bachelors, if representing the workers, seem to be empowered and released from their machine-like state by the False Maria; in fact, they are just doing her bidding (and therefore the city’s elite’s bidding) and in so doing, while they think they are throwing off the chains of the power structure, they are actually grinding away into self-destruction. The scene in which the False Maria in the appears at the Yoshiwara club is the most explicit visual analgy to The Large Glass- as the False Maria dances, the men in the night club watching worship and lust after her in very repetitive and mechanical ways. As she first rises out of the smoking bowl on the stage, the men are startled by her beauty. Their breathing grows visibly heavier as she turns around to show them her entire body, waving her hips in a circular, almost grinding motion. The men bite their lips and pull their hair, crying out, “For her, all seven deadly sins!” and they rush up to the platform to reach for her. There also exists here the notion that admiration can quickly turn into resentment. The Workers as the Bachelors revel in destruction of heart machine, but the revelry is disrupted when they realize that by being seduced by the False Maria, they have likely drowned all of their children in the city below, and what follows is a witch hunt for Maria. This ultimately concludes with the burning at the stake of the False Maria and the exoneration of the real Maria.
Finally, the Mind/Body disconnect played out in Metropolis plays a similar role to the separation between the two panes of glass in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even-- something exists that keeps the two always in separate worlds. In Metropolis, Maria says, ”Head and hands need a mediator. The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart.” What is missing between the Bride and the Bachelors is a mediator, or heart. In considering the Bachelors as the machines that they are, it begs the question, is AI capable of emotional life, eg, having a heart?
Duchamp’s idea of second-class citizenship for machines is demonstrated in Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics as seen in his 1963 collection of short stories I, Robot. The Laws of Robotics are in order of importance, as follows: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” (Asimov, 1963) Hence, a robot can break the third law if it conflicts with the second law, and the second law if it conflicts with the first. In a rather compelling way, Duchamp is himself exercising a modified version of the First Law of Robotics, as seen in the I, Robot story concerning the unit Nestor 10. The version of the First Law that Nestor 10 is operating with states only that “A robot may not injure a human being,” but can allow a human being to come to harm through inaction. The Large Glass, as an inanimate object, does nothing to actively hurt its viewers, but does nothing to prevent any angst caused by the viewing of the piece, and further offers only a mirror to gaze into, and no solution to the problems which the piece presents.
”A humanoid robot is like any other machine; it can fluctuate between being a benefit and a hazard very rapidly.” (citation needed). The Large Glass speaks to the ways in which the Bride is the embodiment of life and humanity, while the replicants are the Bachelors in amorous pursuit. In the most recent “Final Cut” of Bladerunner, the viewer is made to understand that Deckard is himself a replicant, and he will be analyzed accordingly. Working under the assumption that the Replicants are the Bachelors, the Bachelors are indeed capable of emotion, and The Bride represents the Life and Humanity that they lust after.
The replicants were originally used as slave labor, and as such it was problematic for them to have emotional lives, and as a result they were given a short 4-year life span and outlawed on Earth to ensure the general population’s safety. To further control the replicants, some replicants are unaware that they are fabricated machines, such as Deckard and Rachel. Their creators went as far as to create a past and instill memories into the replicants so that they have no reason to suspect that they might not be human beings.
Where the Replicants try to attain a more humanlike existence, Deckard struggles to maintain/regain his humanity. Regardless of whether Deckard is a replicant or not, he is in search of the same things as the replicants. His job is to kill sentient, emotional beings; his inhumanity is evident in his lifestyle as an angry loner and in the way he treats Rachel, especially considering she is a love interest. Supposing that the Replicants/Bachelors are not supposed to have emotions, are the Bachelors supposed to be in love with the Bride, or just going on base instinct to procreate? This begs the question, can machines have instinct/subconscious drives? Similar to the workers in Metropolis, the Replicants resentful of their position, and are being driven crazy by their lust for humanity and a life span longer than 4 years. Interestingly, Replicants experience empathy for each other; the Bachelors are all in the same agonizing position and likely also empathize with each other, rather than mindlessly grinding away while ignoring each others’ existences. The replicants appear also to be capable of sympathy, and /or, empathy toward humans. As angry as he is at his lot in life, Roy still shows some remorse for killing Tyrell in his rage. Ultimately, like the Bachelors, the replicants and Deckard churn away and pine for something they can never have. The Replicants (and Deckard) can never be human. The Replicants (and Deckard) can’t extend their lives because their genetic makeup makes it physically impossible.
It would seem that Tyrell, like Duchamp, had no love for the machine. An interesting side note is Pris’ (played by Darryl Hannah) costume in the scene in which Deckard shoots her. Her white skin, nude leotard and ivory veil are visually very reminiscent of The Bride.
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