Work It (2022)
Work It is a series of GIFs created with different bodies performing the same act. Depict the urge to perform and the compulsion to see the new, but eventually only produce variations of the same. These bodies become gears, engines, and fuel to the never-stopping digital content production. They lure us with glamor, vitality, and positivity like propaganda or ads. The project was developed during the research Initiative hosted by Trinity Square Videos and The Digital Justice Lab from 2021-2023, resulted a series of gifs accompanied with the essay titled, Bodies, Bodies, Performative Digital Bodies (2022).
Work It, Walk It, Flex It, Strip It
Bounce It, Twerk, Roll It, Sway It
Jump It, Lift It, Bend, It, Stretch It
Dive It, Pose It, Spin It, Smash It
Smile It, Pout It, Wink it, Lick It
Clap It, Slap It, Cry About It
Grab It, Rub It, Tap It, Pinch It,
Slide It, As if you can touch It
NOW, LOOK AT ME,
NOW, LOOK AT ME,
PERFORM IT FOR ME.
- Reinterpretation of lyrics from the song Technologic by Daft Punk (2005)
In the early 2000s, I remembered how plain and dry web pages were due to the poor design and lack of content. Somehow, that always encouraged me to explore for more. The early-day digital experience is an odd balance of information between the boring web design and the flashy pop-up ads for Viagara and penis enlargement. However, living in the contemporary digital network means being surrounded by "certain objects"' like these performative bodies on social media, overcrowded yet helplessly dull. Even being fed with pleasure leaves us with the bitter aftertaste of guilt. Our minds tell us to stop, yet our fingers continue the scrolling motion. It becomes tricky to describe the digital experience, articulate what we are to each other, and make sense of how that experience affects whom we are becoming. The digital space contains many bodies to focus on and creates too much noise to inhabit. If philosopher Yves Citton is right about my encounters with objects "constitutes 'my experience' of the world." (Citton, 2021, 125), perhaps we can understand the digital space better by carefully observing these bodies.
Social media feels like a meat market with different faces and bodies available to us through the screen. These bodies are bare and smooth without any resistance. The "immediate contact between image and eye" accelerates the exchange of information and gratification of desires. (Han, 2018, 38) Fascinating, luring, overwhelming, and then distressing. As we scroll through applications like TikTok and Instagram, we see all kinds of bodies, from tall, short, straight, queer, muscular, soft, hairy, smooth, and everything in between. Regardless of what these bodies look like, they are full of actions and agency, even if they are not moving. These performative digital bodies are designed to express and capture our attention, yet they hold no soul or care. They flex, bend, jump, shake, exuberate with vitality, and are constantly erect. As we watch in idle in front of the screen, we are prompted to engage with the bodies we choose to fulfill our desires.
In electronic duo Daft Punk's song Technologic, we celebrated technology through a series of verbs in the early 2000s—" Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it." We were excited about the new possibilities of using technology as a tool to enrich our everyday life. Fast forward to 20 years later, it seems now we are imprisoned by technology—posting, liking, and commenting have become a duty to remain visible rather than for genuine communication. We are no longer the smart people operating the machine but the performers occupied by the smart machine, performing for the Internet efficiently, spontaneously, and tirelessly until exhaustion. To cope with our ever-intensified attention economy, we again optimize our bodies and minds in ways that are unclear if they are enhanced or reduced. I cannot help but question if technological advancements truly make us harder, better, faster, stronger. Or did it simply make us tired, aloof, and superficial?
To accommodate the fast-paced digital culture and the more information-rich economy, bodies go through a series of "thresholds, filters, and portals which affect a preselection of the information" to be reachable. (Citton, 55) We constantly dissect ourselves with labels and hashtags, grinding our identities to formulate a hybrid form that appeals to the market based on Google Analytics. This hybridization does not create superhumans or enhance performance. Instead, an ultimate mesh of likable qualities, niches or gimmicks only results in mediocracy. Like German filmmaker and artist Hito Steyerl's description of Spam, they seem seriously lacking in substance, "... an uncanny mix between the natural and synthetic. It is both organic and deeply inauthentic, an industrial product with some remnants of nature in it." (Steyerl 105) Besides the visual resemblance of our physical bodies, these digital bodies are customized for particular market needs. Performing the
same actions repeatedly, like twerking, bouncing, and flexing, demonstrates the contemporary producer's urge to be seen and the consumer's compulsion to see the new content but only encourages variations of the same. They are the "pointless repetition," hoping "to extract a tiny spark of value lying dormant within inert audiences." (105). The lack of care in this attention game may be why we see digital bodies so often yet barely know them. Even so, these people fulfill
our desires online, but we never think of them when the screen turns black.
We are constantly in the center of the battlefield fighting over attention as both producers and consumers. That is why our digital experience can feel so exhausting and violent. Since digital spaces are now dominated by capitalist exploitation, "which seeks to submit attentional flows to needs and desires that will maximize financial returns." We work tirelessly like a bot for the attention economy only to feast on non-substantial content as we turn our bodies into consumable Spam, incapable of bridging connections, expressing care, or sustaining for long. (Citton, 73) The phrase, "I love myself, but I don't like the way I am" from American drag queen Trixie Mattel always seems so relatable to me. Because we know we deserve better, but always give in to the pleasure from all the cheap thrills. Nonetheless, we are deemed to die out spiritually from this mode of labour without change or resistance.
However, even Spam can be used to create delicacy, and maybe the future of performative digital bodies is not as abysmal as it seems. With the long history of discussion on cyborgs and physical enhancements in posthumanism, perhaps the hybridization of bodies can also be used to enrich our mental strength and adapt to the ever more technologically advanced society. A "glitched body," as American curator and writer Legacy Russell articulated, is "a body that defies the hierarchies and strata of logic, it is proudly nonsensical and therefore perfectly non-sense." (Russell, 2020, 169) There are possibilities of liberating the bodies from the logical labels of social norms and excitingly experimenting with whom we can become. A hybrid body does not go through the reduction for efficient communication and categorization. To accomplish that, we may need to acquire a hybrid soul matching with the hybrid body from the precipitation of our journey and investigation to know the self, the others, and our surroundings. The hybrid soul provides a sense of control we regain over our bodies. Allowing us to navigate comfortably through digital spaces, where when to be visible and whom to give our attention to remain our choices instead of coerced ones.
Citton, Y., & Norman, B. (2021). The ecology of attention. Polity.
Okoye, F. (2020, August 4). Decolonising Bots. Bot Club. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://botclub.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/activities/decolonising-bots
Han, Byung-Chul, and Daniel Steuer. Saving Beauty. Polity Press, 2018
Han, Byung-Chul. The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present. Polity Press, 2020.
Russell, Legacy. Glitch Feminism. Verso Books. Kindle Edition. 2020
Steyerl, Hito. Duty Free Art. Verso Books. Kindle Edition. 2017
Steyerl, Hito. The Wretched of the Screen (e-flux journal Series). Sternberg Press, e-flux. Kindle Edition. 2012