Venus Inscribed: on Colonizing (Anti-)Spaces

by: Alex Cruse


About four years ago, I came upon an image (should specify here—digital image—as designating a “physical” identity to the Thing serves my larger point): a Venus of Willendorf statuette, its face replaced by a Mac Finder icon.

Signified: abstracted geometry—an assemblage of features signifying “face” itself constitutes another icon for the search function; a psychic anchor for unnavigable systems; a perverse Janus mask—yet its modern incarnation communicates that tragedy is Not An Option, which may be the most inhuman feature of all. Despite this, the face reads as male. The face of a balanced, unflagging presence that condenses all ideas of self-awareness. [Could we program a machine to fear itself? HAL speaking through a Jenny Holzer filter? (And could we know the programmer’s gender?)]

To extend this anti-human theme, (predominantly male) technologists and programmers continue to advance the increasingly delocalized and atemporal aspects of human life. Algo-trading splices our conceptions of time into millionths of a second, while the tendency toward digital archiving stores all our movements and actions in multiple “spaces” simultaneously. Subsequently, the cyclical, the bodily and the biological—that which is given to decay—are displaced. This aggressive linearity assists the (fundamentally inhumane) neoliberal conceptual framework, where scarcity and eventual depletion are, likewise, Not An Option. This economic model easily transcends to online realms, as these environments are perfectly-suited to its transnational and transcultural qualities.

Fittingly, for the artist’s purposes, Venus’s body speaks to the original delocalization. Carved from oolitic limestone not endemic to Willendorf, this Paleolithic statuette exemplifies our earliest tendency to reappropriate, to collapse space. Although archaeologists and anthropologists have provided speculative answers, her definitive function remains ambiguous. Speaking symbolically, she lacks sensory apparati to gain knowledge of her environment. She exists only to absorb the creators’ magical thinking. In 2009, a Net Artist grafts Icon of Omniscience onto a flattened image of her form. Now she is something that we can understand. She is transformed into, to use Hito Stereyl’s words, “… a fetish made of crystals and electricity, animated by our wishes and fears—a perfect embodiment of its own conditions of existence.”

Rather than erode the boundaries of our physical/material genesis in order to pursue a more lateral society (or, taking cues from species such as the Tetrahymena—a protozoa with seven genders—a society comprised of shifting multiplicites), men have ventured to colonize even spaces that do not tangibly exist, to eradicate earth-bound mystery. This mentality encourages the standardization of male power within cyberspace: this power has only more representations of itself to answer to.

The popularity of both Neo-Classical and Neo-Primitivist aesthetics within Net Art communities is indicative of this. As an attempt at visual subversion, those operating outside of the dominant milieu deal in a type of bifurcated irony: Greek busts, early symbols of hegemony, are inserted into bizarrely comic contexts of bathetic consumerism; prehistoric artifacts are displayed in close proximity to technological components. Their invocation of forms and styles so tightly tied to an era—a specific time and place—represents contemporary artists’ collective desire for a similarly historicized, codified “movement” today (which, due to the fragmented conditions described above, will likely never be seen again.)

Yet, in spite of this desire, we continue to fail to produce forms motivated by sincere philosophic inquiry and political motivation. When irony is embedded in the object itself, the space for relevant critique of social/economic/political systems closes.

And so, hierarchical consumer-capitalism continues on its trajectory, in multiple realms.

Post(∞)modernism produces its own laff trak.

These are our burial goods; our radiocarbon-dating for the primary motor cortex; inverted- totemic odes to a future already over.