Part of Nives’ presentation that stood out to me last week was the fact that she incorporated the people behind her e-lit piece, Window , into her walk-through. This added a layer of depth and meaning that made the material come alive in a different way than I had experienced up to this point. As I interacted with the assigned pieces this week, I decided to try this approach and see if it could help give me a deeper experience. I wasn’t disappointed with the results, though I still found myself bewildered by the amount of jargon in this field that I am still not familiar with.
My focus this week was on Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself. In her article “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine” we learn that Davis has a background in advertising and that as she moved into feminist art and web media design, her past experience with the use of “visual and verbal rhetoric” (27) in targeting an audience gave her an interesting approach to her art. Her background can be seen in the design of Pieces of Herself as it simulates the common interface that is used with games that allow young women to drag-and-drop clothing onto a virtual mannequin (29). Davis uses this particular interface in order to critique the messages sent to women and in the process sends her own anti-messages (so to speak) to her ‘consumers’. The set up of Pieces of Herself creates an experience where the consumer is eased into a familiar process of dressing up a doll-like figure only to discover that the ‘materials’ they are having to use are at once strange and all too familiar. As we drag-and-drop symbols onto the doll-body, we are exposed to sounds and pieces of dialogue expressing concerns about body image, responsibilities to others, the desire to be wanted, expectations of how women are to act in the work place, etc. Davis describes this process as a “subversive experience”(27) where the consumer is being forced to consider how they are impacted by the environment they have been steeped in and the messages that have formed their identity. Her anti-message calls attention to the seemingly innocuous platforms and interfaces we use regularly and what messages they are reinforcing every time we interact with them.
I had none of these things in mind when I initially interacted with this piece. When I was a little girl, I wasn’t one to play with the kind of interface that is being recreated in this work, but I was familiar with the messages that I heard as I dropped random objects onto the body of the doll. One thing that was unnerving as I interacted with this piece was how the sounds I placed on the body would either be repetitive or overlap with each other. This cacophony of messages and stimuli felt disorienting and made it hard to concentrate on enjoying my interaction with the work. After I read Davis’ article, I saw this annoying experience as not just a feature of navigation, but a way of using navigation to create further commentary on what the piece is getting at. As women we are sent messages our whole life that contradict and interfere with each other, causing a chaotic inner experience that makes it difficult to function at times and steals our joy. As a woman who doesn’t identify with many of these societal concepts of womanhood, I have often felt the burden of trying to figure out how to be female in a world where few of the models of femininity resonated with me. What is even more frustrating, and adds to my own inner noise, is trying to block out the noise of others who try to decide for me where I should fit in the societal view of womanhood.
This attempt to find where I fit and to fight against where others try to make me fit is not a unique experience to me or to women in general; most of us in our humanness are trying to figure out where we fit. The messages about who we should be in light of what ‘society’ determines is best are all around us. Davis’ piece is one more message in the mix, but in amplifying the messages that she is critiquing she creates a space to cathartically practice cutting off the noise. I found that when I got too overwhelmed with the interaction of sounds, I would just start over and turn off the volume until I knew everything was quiet again. This ability to have agency over how much I listened to the messages within the piece opened up a space in me to consider how I might start doing this in real life. I don’t think it is possible to get away completely from these toxic messages and their influences, but I think it is possible to start recognizing where they come from and find ways to turn them down or off completely.
Though unassuming at first glance, Davis’ piece is deeply moving, which makes it quite fitting for the subject matter she is critiquing. I found it interesting that though there were very few physical words to read, there were plenty of mental narratives that automatically played in my mind at the sight, sound, or experience of the objects I would place in the doll. I wonder if we all were to write the words that come to mind in response to this piece, if we’d find we have all written the same book, just in different shades and tones – and what power would lie in working together to write something new.
Davis, Juliet. “Fractured Cybertales: Navigating the Feminine.” The MIT Press Journals, vol. 4, no. 1, 2008, pp. 26-34.
Davis, Juliet. Pieces of Herself. Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 2, https://collection.eliterature.org/2/works/davis_pieces/index.html. Accessed 13 October, 2020.