Act 20

July 1, 2008

Dr Frankenstein’s Daughter–Anonymity and Pieces of Women on the Web

Frankenstein's Daughters

For the next several weeks I really want to look deeply into the question of ‘how are women represented within web 2.0’ and I started this week by hitting the ‘random journal’ button on Live Journal (which I believe disappeared the day after for some mysterious reason, but never mind, it served me well) and observing the kinds of default icons people have with depictions of women in them. One thing that struck me–apart from the fact that people seem far more likely to have an image of a woman as an icon than an image of a man, particularly if it appeared to be a self portrait–was that it seems to be very common for womens bodies to be pictured as pieces cast a drift from the whole.

I don’t mean head and shoulders shots, because of course I understand that most portraits will not include *all* the body *all* the time, you are always going to have to make some decisions about what the most important visual information is to include, but I am talking about actual individual separated body bits.

I find this a really interesting phenomena, I can totally relate to how it happens–many of my early works included nude or semi-nude models who were known to me (or were me)–and showing segments of the body was always a good way to preserve anonymity for the subject, even if it was only a veneer of anonymity, where everyone who saw the image agreed that it was anonymous, even though we all secretly knew who it was. The worst part of this way of working is that is usually produces many shots of decapitated bodies, which is creepy at best, and a bad sign of societies group subconscious at worst.

As women we often have a tendency to chop ourselves to pieces–“I like my eyes and my boobs are great, but my neck is too short and my ankles are chubby”–so it is no surprise that we extend this very conditional love into our photography and self portraiture.

But there is something else at work here too. Women’s greater need (both perceived and real) for anonymity. This is something I can totally identify with, while my last weeks post was all about how much I love my supporters for linking to me and all the people who have dropped in to look at my work (and you have all truly been lovely so far) there is also an element of fear in me. While on one hand I would love to do something that makes it on to a high traffic blog site and all the blogosphere attention that comes with it, I also fear this and worry about the trolls and other nasties it brings too. And of course I worry that my web trail is not really particularly hidden and could easily lead to he real life me (I haven’t made any real effort to hide it apart form using a regular pseudonym-why would I? why would anyone?). And of course as I said much of this danger is only perceived danger, but some of it is real. Although the rational part of me says that the percentage of the danger that is real must be really very small, and I wonder if we actually cause more harm to ourselves with our well meaning dismemberment. And as small as that percentage is that veneer of anonymity still remains quite important to me.

So I guess the question is: How does one engage in meaningful self-portraiture on the web without dismembering ones self or leaving oneself open to the ill intent of others?


This image was created using the generous work of other artists who have offered their images on flickr for use under various creative commons licenses, because I have used so many I will credit everyone with links in a separate post. I have taken some of the many beautiful images of body parts that I found and tried o stitch them back together into a full body–Dr Frankenstein’s Daughter is the result. I have no cropped or altered the dimensions of any of the images, just applied colouring and other PhotoShop treatments and layered them on top of each other, but the body parts are as I found them. My re-mixed image is offered under a cc attribution, non commercial share alike license.

2 Responses to “Act 20”

  1. […] Fifty Two Acts examines some of the issues around women being visually represented as a disconnected collection of body parts. […]

  2. Chila Bulbeck Says:

    What fun you look to be having Sarah. I particularly like the interweaving of traditional female skills such as knitting (I love the idea of the boob beanie) with the most modern technology. and your projects explore the representations of gender on the net – both in surprising new ways but also ways that appear to have changed little at all. If we can have sexy gorgeous avatars who have sex and relations with other sexy gorgeous avatars, what does that make of our competence for personal material interactions?

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