There Is A Body On The Screen!: Reflections on
Humanity in Contemporary Computer-Aided Art

Art Gallery of Luxun Academy of Fine Arts,
Opening May 22, 2013; Shenyang, China

"The virtual is not what is deprived of existence, but that which possesses the potential, or force of developing into actual existence."


As one of the first women artists who employed 3D visual language in fine art practice, Hart is acutely aware of the gender politics of the high-end technology industry. The industry has been exclusively male-dominated community since its very inception and, as a result, of her confrontation with it, Hart has investigated the problematic of the sexual representation of women. The classic binary of man being the subject and woman the desired object defines the conventional image of women, epitomized in the well-known game character Lara Croft. In her representations in 3D games and Hollywood movie, Croft's self-empowered and healthily sexy vibe are overshadowed by its image of seductive, devilish temptress, which goes back to the classic "femme fatale incarnate."

The seemingly apolitical virtual world - because it is "virtual" - therefore demands a feminist group that understands womens' issues specific to the digital practice. As a cyberfeminist artist, Claudia Hart genders her digital avatars. Her heroine for Recumulations (2011) is apparently a woman. However, Hart's portrayal of sagging breast, rocky hairs, frozen-looking body, and characterless face highlights her physical agility to engage with the choreography instead of her erotic quality. Such gender ambiguity is in a stark contrasted with classic Lara Croft-style girl characters prevailing in Hollywood and game productions.

Hart takes her inspiration from Trisha Brown's signature work Primary Accumulation (1972). Brown, American postmodern dance doyenne, challenged the dance tradition that was preoccupied with the stylized move, by introducing radically pedestrian movements. In her work, dissolves the long-standing obsession with the formalistic beauty of the dancing body.

Brown's presentation and performance of Primary Accumulation de-highlight the "feminine" features of her body. Brown repeats simple gestures, looking relaxed in loose-fitting outfit as if she is not aware that she is performing and being videotaped. Above all, her supine position flattens out, and thus, liberates the dancer's body from the vertical orientation of conventional performance that is designed to emphasize the hourglass female body shape.

While building upon Primary Accumulation, Hart's Recumulations complicates the issues explored by Brown through gender, media, and generational crossover. Here is a process Hart underwent: her collaborator Robert Sifuentes created a live choreography based on Brown's original performance which was recorded in VCR in 1972. Then Hart applied Sifuentes' rendition to her 3D virtual dancer. The diversity among the participants collaboratively contributes to this process where one gender, media, and generation plays against another. Hart describes that Sifuentes' live performance transformed Brown's videotaped one into "male and significantly gendered movements." Next, Hart's digital interpretation of Sifuentes' choreography and insertion of it into her virtual avatar makes her a "transgendered" and inter-media creature.

In Hart's transference of Brown's and Sifuentes' works into virtual realm, it is the spatial ambiguity that becomes prominent. In Primary Accumulation, the verticality of body in conventional dance performance is a target of Brown's challenge. The nature of the digital medium gives Hart a greater freedom to freely explore the verticality and horizontality. The stark white background featured in Recumulations is lacking a common sense of spatial depth, only except the subtle shadow casted on in. The artist calls it the wall, but depending on how to display the projection, the background could also be the floor or ceiling. In either case, she dances in the air without any solid contact with the background. In other words, the idea of "floating in the air" becomes absurd in Recumulations because neither air nor gravity exists in the virtual reality.

Hanna Yoo, 2013
excerpted from exhibition essay

All photography by Chen Hailing

Essay: There Is a Body On Screen (pdf)