by Tina Lam
As digital technologies sweep across the globe, it may be believed that a virtual space will open the way towards greater fluidity of expression for historically oppressed and marginalized people in a too often patriarchal and white dominated society. But do social media and virtual reality truly succeed as modes to seek freedom and gain a new voice for those who feel oppressed? Perhaps the hegemony of the white male extends even into the virtual world, controlling, directing, and constricting the freedom of the many, whom despite the promises of free expression on these platforms still find themselves being controlled, objectified, and scrutinized.
The multitude of questions surrounding the insidious reach of oppression are visited by three artists presenting in the 2018 HTMlles Festival at articule; they are raised by Lesya Nakoneczny’s photographic installation Untitled (Men Responding), and by Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera’s immersive virtual reality installation The Novels of Elsgüer (Episode 3) - Live Despecho.
In the sphere of social media, the cultural sector has embraced Instagram as a platform to post creations and ideas alike, on which an endless array of images can be found. When scouting through the social media platform, what is disturbingly striking is the overwhelming presence of images of naked women posted by male users and artists veiled by an alarmingly blasé attitude towards the depiction of women as hypersexualized objects. Coincidentally, it is deplorably not surprising that women working in the cultural sectors are more often paid significantly less, expected to work more for less recognition, and still too often subjected to overinflated standards compared to their male counterparts. Is the objective sexual exploitation for monetary gain and the demeaning attitude towards women as being less worthy not one and the same? Would a male artist accept to pose naked for an artistic photoshoot at the same rates and conditions that a female artist does? These questions are being raised and explored in Lesya Nakoneczny's work. The installation of photographic works addresses the disparity between the objectification of women on Instagram by male artists; how the latter benefit from keeping the former as an exploitable source of profit and creativity and more fundamentally how the cultural industry has been historically batting an eye to this insidious inequality.
The increased flux of human travelling across the globe is creating new struggles for a vast portion of society that is too often forever exiled as migrants in foreign lands due to geo-political conflicts, or sometimes simply due to displacement to seek other opportunities abroad. The virtual world thus represents yet another elusive promised land for migrants who hope to carve a place for themselves in spite of being trapped in a physical world where their bodies are too often shunned, scrutinized, and persecuted. Is there a welcoming place for people who have been physically displaced on which to anchor themselves in the virtual world? Can virtual spaces afford an arena for civilization to ponder and reflect on what it means to belong or to be ostracized from a society? The interactive virtual reality installation of Laura Acosta and Santiago Tavera serves as an interface to question how the displaced body of migrants and their multiple representations can aspire to carve their place in a virtual world in the midst of a too often physically xenophobic culture.
The advent of a virtual world offers an unprecedented opportunity for society to reify a new beginning: to have the chance as a society to rectify the rampant injustices of the past. Why do we nonetheless still condone chauvinistic practices instead of opposing such inequalities in the virtual world? Could there be hope for our society to lay the foundations for a greater inclusivity in the virtual world? Questions of this nature will continue to arise as society contends with technological progress and its possible simultaneous isolating and encompassing qualities. The onus of questioning how the virtual world will evolve is at the discretion of the viewer.