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Art

Probing Our Fetish for Digital Devices

In her latest solo show, artist Faith Holland wants you to consider how you finger your phone when scrolling, the way your MacBook heats your crotch, and the flirtatious smile you give your screen when texting your crush.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

Faith Holland wants you to get comfortable. When you enter her show, Speculative Fetish, currently up at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn, you’re met with large, vinyl letters that read: “Best Viewed Without Underwear.” Below sits a large fishbowl stuffed with panties and boxers—all from actual attendees of the show. The participatory piece is also a ploy to get viewers to the bathroom, where they’re met with a video portraying Holland submerged in a bubble bath filled with a multicolored tangle of Ethernet cords. As she tenderly caresses the cords with a loofa, the sound of the running bath echoes softly in the small bathroom, like a whisper in your ear.

Holland’s work is largely about intimacy, specifically as it manifests at the intersection of sex and technology. Her current solo show is centered around a series called “The Fetishes,” which draws out the erotic qualities of our relationships with our digital devices. She wants you to consider, for instance, the way you softly run your finger across the screen of your phone when scrolling; the way your MacBook heats your crotch when you set it on your lap; and the flirtatious smile you give your phone when texting your crush, all of a sudden unaware of your surroundings. “[Devices have] become like a bodily attachment,” Holland tells Broadly.

The New York City artist is not only interested in these physical relationships, but the emotional as well: “It’s about the kind of intimacy that’s developed with the devices themselves that are giving you bodies that you’re attracted to; they’re giving you messages from the person you’re sleeping with; they’re giving you likes on your hot selfie,” she says. “There’s all this affection that’s coming out of these devices, and my feeling is that you put it back on to them.”

One GIF from the series "Body Devices," which was a digital predecessor to "The Fetishes." Courtesy of the artist.

“The Fetishes” intimates this relationship through a kind of absurd and at first almost off-putting literalization of metaphor: an iPad with its screen covered in lotion and dark, curly, pubic hair, plays a looped blur of pink flesh jerking back and forth — a GIF made from a zoomed-in snippet of porn. Similar GIFs play on all the sculptures in the series: an iPhone covered with dried-out contact lenses, and another covered in lipstick; one iPad is painted with pink nail polish, and a laptop is wrapped in fur; a scattered display of cheap makeup and outdated computer cords sit in a vitrine below the sculptures, lying together as if naturally strewn across some hybrid vanity-desk.

An installation view of "The Fetishes" in Speculative Fetish at Transfer Gallery, courtesy the artist.

For Holland, an interest in technology emerged through an academic fascination with porn that started as an undergrad at Vassar. “I was always thinking about how porn moved technology forward, but also how porn moved the commercializing of the web forward,” she says. “The first sites to have moving image content were for porn (GIFs and then streaming video); first sites to accept credit cards and deal with e-commerce. Pop-up ads, also porn. All of these things were really generated from this industry.”

Intent on playing with the idea that porn is at the core of the Internet, Holland created the website vvvvvv.xxx, which hosts what she calls a collection of “abstract porn,” for her MFA thesis in 2013. The website contains a gallery of GIFs of orifice-like imagery from Hollywood films, such as depictions of cyberspace that take the viewer traveling through a wire. For the piece, Holland deems these tunnels of lasers and light “cyber pussies,” and claims that they're what the internet is made of. As part of the project, she took out intriguing ads on small porn sites that would direct unsuspecting masturbators to her art piece.

"Birth Canal in Pink," from VVVVVV.XXX, courtesy of the artist.

Since then, she’s been fascinated by the idea of disrupting the flow of porn-viewing by inserting her artwork into NSFW contexts. “When you’re showing in a gallery, there’s some part of it that’s always like preaching to the choir; you have a sort of built-in audience that kind of already agrees with you,” says Holland. She wanted to transcend that.

In 2014, Holland started an ongoing series titled “Porn Interventions,” for which she does subtly titillating performances for the camera—taking off her shirt or shaving her legs—but ultimately stops far short of anything actually pornographic. In one, she rubs her camera lens with what looks like lube, licks it, then ends the video. She uploads these pieces onto amateur porn site RedTube.com and labels them with popular tags in the hopes that they’ll pop up in someone’s viewing stream — effectively turning the site into a guerrilla gallery space.

Although the "Porn Interventions" were made with considerations of the often harmful clichés that exist in porn, they don’t come off as anti-porn or jarringly different than other content on the site. Rather, they’re subtle enough to simply suggest a slightly broader conceptualization of eroticism—one that intentionally doesn’t end, as the vast majority of porn does, with male ejaculation.

"Wire Bath," courtesy of the artist.

“It wasn’t about, ' Porn is bad, therefore let me insert my documentary about why porn is bad on RedTube.' That’s not of interest to me at all,” says Holland. “It was more like, OK here we have this space where all these amateurs are making porn, all these different people are making porn … but it’s just reproducing what already exists, and all the problems of what already exist. So, let's think about what else it can be.”

With the intimacy of the installations in Speculative Fetish, one gets the sense that Holland is also interested in what else a gallery can be, and whether it can be made to feel more like sitting in your bed, watching porn. For Holland, erotic and creative energy are often one in the same, she says. (The same conflation has been fueling Internet innovation for decades, after all.) This overlap is exemplified well in the prompt that Holland gave to more than 20 artists who will be showing original GIFs at the closing reception to her show on January 6. She asked them to create a kind of porn that doesn’t yet exist, citing claims 34 and 35 of The Rules of the Internet, a list of axioms supposedly governing the web that were posted to an online forum back in 2007 and became a foundational meme. Rule 34 reads: "There is porn of it, no exception." Rule 35: "If no porn is found at the moment, it will be made."