Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Collective Orgasm": The Eco-Cyber-Pornography of Shu Lea Cheang

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Collective Orgasm": The Eco-Cyber-Pornography of Shu Lea Cheang

Article excerpt

In 2004 Taiwanese-born artist Shu Lea Cheang created the Web site Milk for 56kTV, also called bastard channel, a Swiss hybrid Web/television project (http:// www.56k-bastard.tv/b_milk2). When logging on to this site, viewers encounter a random, shifting collection of small-scale still pornographic images mined from the World Wide Web that simultaneously cover over and expose a large-scale image of a woman's mouth and naked breasts covered in a white liquid that slowly begins to fill the background with the frustratingly sluggish speed of an outdated dial-up connection.1

Over the flashing, blinking pictures of contorted, naked bodies, a pink band cuts across the middle of the screen. It contains a timer that counts off the seconds and then minutes since the page has been downloaded. Next to the timer, a rapidly moving counter reminds the viewer: "__ Africans have died of AIDS since you loaded this web page." In one minute the number on the counter is 4, in five minutes it has jumped to 23, by twenty minutes, it is 92. The counter continues for twentyeight minutes, by which point the background photo has fully loaded, the smaller images disappear, and the counter is replaced by the sentence "MILK is the white fluid for the 21st century what the white powder was for the 20th century high."2

The pornographic images, many of them pixilated and seemingly made by amateurs, are interspersed with other images culled from the vast field of the World Wide Web-news photos, advertisements, family snapshots, celebrity pictures-as well as pop-up slogans promising "all access" and "U PayPerView." At times the smaller images all disappear, allowing an unobstructed view of the photo of the nude woman as it slowly loads in the background. seconds later the screen is again littered with smaller random images that overlap and crowd one another out. The effect is a distillation of the visual and psychological experience of interacting with the World Wide Web, in which total access is simultaneously promised and frustrated because of bandwidth limitations and in which pornographic representation is both liberated and domesticated through its mundane and endless availability and repetition.3 During a visitor's time on the Milk site, the images are called up live through a data-mining search engine, ensuring that the photos are different with every visit. Although the program code uses "porn" as the search keyword, a number of other images are captured through the process, producing the numbing effect of rapid channel surfing and commenting on the ways in which the structure of commercial porn consumption has shaped viewers' relationships with all media images.

The repetitive similarity and stasis of the pornographic images are placed in contrast to the rapid and inexorable movement of time represented by the African AIDS pandemic, which mimics a counter that marks the charges being accrued by visitors to Internet porn sites. The experience of seeking erotic pleasure through online porn (an experience that involves both excitement and frustration) is transformed into a conduit for political awareness and connection to a global health issue and a global activist community.4

Shu Lea Cheang's interactive, multimedia, Web-based art practice draws its charge from the overlaps and tensions between the pornographic, political, economic, and artistic value of digital images, challenging the ways in which these modes are understood as exclusive or paradoxical.5 Fueled by a utopian goal of interpersonal connection and progressive political community, Cheang's art comes closest to reaching that goal through an exploration of the limitations-the controlled, commodified, and privatized nature-of the Webscape in which it exists. In particular, Cheang's work exploits the ways in which digital technology and cyberspace have fundamentally reshaped our experiences of space and time, simultaneously offering the promise of endless free choice and limiting our options through an increasingly singular consumerism. …

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