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The body interrogated

Kathy Cleland is eXXXamined at Artspace

Kathy Cleland is a Sydney-based curator and writer.

Beth Stryker and Virginia Barratt, crosSeXXXamination Beth Stryker and Virginia Barratt, crosSeXXXamination
crosSeXXXamination is a collaborative website project by New York artist Beth Stryker and Australian artist Virginia Barratt (ex-VNS Matrix). The exhibition was the culmination of Stryker’s artist-in-residency at Artspace and was the first public viewing of the crosSeXXXamination website.

The site-specific installation housed two Powerbook computers in circular cubicles with plastic curtains creating a sense of privacy and intimacy while offering voyeuristic glimpses of the interior to those outside the cubicles. In the window frontages of Artspace, small video screens projected images of bodies and body parts supplied by guest artists. Opening night also featured a performance where audience members were invited to be examined by solicitous plastic-clad attendants, their tender ministrations given a sinister twist by the fact that the ‘consultations’ took place on top of a dissection table.

Timed to coincide with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the project has been influenced by Alan Turing, well known for his work on artificial intelligence. In his paper “Computer Machinery and Intelligence” Turing described a game where a man and a woman each sitting at remote computer terminals try to convince a third party who interrogates them that they are a woman. In the now famous Turing Test it is a software program that competes with a human, both trying to convince the interrogator that they are the human. The idea of the test (which has become a popular benchmark for testing computer ‘intelligence’) is for the computer to convincingly perform as human or ‘pass’ as human. These boundary crossings—male/female, human/computer, deviant/straight—echo throughout the crosSeXXXamination website. Turing himself was forced to undergo organotherapy, a hormonal sex change, as a supposed cure for his ‘deviant’ sexuality after he was arrested for consensual homosexual sex.

crosSeXXXamination parodies and subverts the way in which medical discourses seek to discipline and pathologise socially ‘deviant’ subjectivities and desires. On entry to the crosSeXXXamination site, the user/subject checks a number of randomly generated statements before being processed, eXXXamined and classified.

Your subject code classification is an indecipherable hieroglyphic (my most recent was ‘Bxxx.LB.brut’ which didn’t tell me much—kind of reminiscent of those arcane squiggles doctors make about you in their notes when they don’t want you to know what they’re doing!).

You can then click your way through to the next section where you ‘claim your body’. Having been interrogated, classified and assigned a body yourself, you can now interrogate and examine the revealed body parts (yours?), cut-up image fragments of head, torso and legs. Clicking on each segment reveals new images which disintegrate on further clicking to reveal new images. If you haven’t already guessed it, yes, you are still being interrogated; the images that you show a particular interest in determine where you will next end up…this can take some patience as you need to keep clicking on ever smaller segments.

Finally, you move into one of the various examination rooms designed by the artists Beth Stryker, Virginia Barrat and guest artists Sarah Waterson and Rea where you will be met by one of a variety of eXXXaminers. Unlike the situation in the Turing Test where it is a human examiner interrogating a software program, in crosSeXXXamination the tables are turned as the computers interrogate, provoke and question the human users/subjects.

Xstatic> I’ve been waiting for you…Will you stay with me…?

Xperiment> Do you always wear clean underwear?

MachineLove> Look into yourself to see if you see what others see in you.

After you have concluded your examination, you can choose another body by clicking in the graphics at the top of the screen. This will take you to a new section where you can scroll through and select various different bodies (text descriptions), for example, “inmate autopsy brutal softcore”, “butt lesboy autopsy invert”, “alien blueboy Other softcore”.

crosSeXXXamination is a technically ambitious, conceptually provocative and visually intriguing website. However, navigating the site can be a frustrating experience with lengthy waits while images load and an absence of instructions about how to progress at certain stages.

Users can quickly get confused and irritated if they are not given sufficient guidance or feedback that they are doing the right thing. It is difficult to know how much of a site you have seen. How do you know when you are finished? A number of users I spoke to got stuck in the Body Shop, confused about how to progress any further or whether that was all there was to see.

Some users will also have problems if their computers do not handle Java well (Java is programming language for the web). PCs generally perform better than Macintoshes in this area and there is still the odd bug that needs to be ironed out. This is a website that requires patience and perseverance (and a reasonably fast system!) but it’s worth the effort.

One of the particular strengths of on-line art projects such as crosSeXXXamination is their dynamic nature. As well as users being able to interact with the work in real time, aspects of the site are themselves randomised, so that users will have a different experience every time they visit the site. On-line work can also be adapted, modified and added to over time. The creators of crosSeXXXamination (along with guest collaborating artists) plan to continue the development of the website and tour the work in its exhibition incarnation both nationally and internationally.

crosSeXXXamination, [expired]
A collaborative website project by New York artist Beth Stryker and Australian artist Virginia Barratt, Artspace, Sydney, February 5-28.

Kathy Cleland is a Sydney-based curator and writer.

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 30

© Kathy Cleland; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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