Theory: Can We Fall in Love With a Machine?
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Curator and Book Editor of
Can We Fall in Love With a Machine?

Exhibited at and book published by:
The Wood Street Galleries
601 Wood Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Jan 27- April 1, 2006

Exhibition participants:
Jean Dubois, Jose Carlos Casado, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Claudia Hart and Michael Ferraro, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Lynn Hughes and Simon Laroche, Catherine Ikam / Louis Fléri, Thecla Schiphorst, Mary Ellen Strom

Book contributors:
Essays by Claudia Hart and Andrea Ackerman, with papers by Michael Century, Dr. Beth Coleman, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ellen Levy, Dr. Judith Rodenbeck, Dr. James H. Rubin, Dr. Sherry Turkle, Dr. Mari Velonaki


My original research on new media forms emerged from a feminist and iconographic study of the contemporary gaming industry. As an art form, however, 3D ‘virtual reality’ gaming is particularly unevolved. Its forms are fueled primarily by what stimulates sales in its key audience: adolescent boys. My attempt to frame a context for an alternative constructions of a (potentially amorous) virtual Subject, one that was sensual rather than pornographic, became Can We Fall in Love with a Machine? - an exhibition and a related College Art Association panel. The title was intentionally simple, a question posed to new media theorists on a CAA panel and to artists considering the possibility of a virtual Subject.

Posing a deceptively simple and intentionally naive question in an academic context possessed a degree of precocity. This was, first, because I felt that, as an artist, I had already answered it with my artwork. Second, by the time I framed the question to a panel of invited critics and theorists, I’d already researched and discovered a group of artists whose work I also felt proposed evocative answers to my question. I invited only ten out of a discovered twenty because of constrictions in space, budget and schedules, proposing the exhibition to Murray Horne, director of the Wood Street Galleries, a public space in Pittsburgh, PA dedicated to new media art. He immediately agreed to Can We Fall in Love with a Machine? which developed simultaneously as a show and a CAA panel.

The artists in Can We Fall in Love include Jose Carlos Casado, Jean Dubois, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Lynn Hershmann, Lynn Hughes and Simon Laroche, Catherine Ikam and Louis Fleris, Thecla Schiphorst, Mary Ellen Strom, Mari Velonaki and myself in collaboration with Michael Ferraro, are all working with the theme of representing a specific identity, one that emerges from the possibilities of virtual media and, as is also necessitated and implied by the creation of such a virtual being, an audience’s reception of it. Interestingly, although the original theoretical intention of the paper Virtual Sex was a Butlerean feminism, in searching for art for the exhibition Can We Fall in Love with a Machine?, my curatorial parameters were broader than feminism. I searched for virtual beings, but did not care if the orientation of the artists who produced them were feminist or otherwise. I was interested in digital work that stimulated an emotional exchange with its audience. The group of artists that emerged, however, revealed my feminist orientation. Artists who created such compelling virtual beings seemed to consist either of women or of men working in partnership with a woman, or – in the case of Carols Casado – a gay man whose work investigates, among other themes, gay sexuality and gender. In addition to researching identity – as Lynn Hershman and Catherine Ikam have for 30 years - much of the work included in the show portrays virtual characters that seem to emerge from a somatic state, perhaps evolving towards an awakening consciousness, and included work by Lynn Hughes and Simon Laroche, Jean Dubois, Thecla Shiphorst, Mary Ellen Strom and also my own Sleeping Beauty. Or, like the robot wheelchairs that are Mari Velonaki’s Fish-Bird, they are virtual beings posed on the brink of an evolutionary divide, hovering between animal, machine and conscious Subject.