One of the largest challenges facing computer animation and robotics today is the phenomenon known as “uncanny valley”, a pseudo-scientific term used to describe the visceral aversion felt by a viewer in the face of an artificial human. This intangible life essence has become the unsurpassable gap between creating that which is life-like and that which is alive. It is this uncomfortable aesthetic slippage between artificial and the natural that Laurie Simmons examines in “How We See”, now on view at the Jewish Museum in New York.
While the scientific community works to create fiction that seems fact-like, humans are undergoing their own bionic transformations, often adopting increasingly digital characteristics as means to achieve a heightened beauty: image filters, Photoshop adjustments, plastic surgery and additive cosmetics are each ways in which we are able to control, adapt and alter our own human form.
Having previously delved into the world of Doll Girls, a subculture that includes cosplay, kigurumi, and other female driven dress-up fantasy worlds, Simmons always uses her subjects to create photographic series that are meticulously crafted and thoughtfully feminist.
“How We See” further considers the relationship between appearance, reality and fiction, using live models and the unimpeachable studio portrait to address poised femininity and the malleability of persona. For this small but fierce exhibition of large-scale photographs, six women are each posed individually and styled plainly in front of florescent fabric backdrops. The paired down appearance and high-saturation ever so slightly edges its way into the realm of sci-fi. This is underscored further by the model’s tromp l’oeil eyes painted atop their closed lids. The result is a collection of beautiful women staring dead-eyed past the camera’s lens. Each is eerie, otherworldly, and most definitely uncanny.
The painted eyes allow for the women to be perky yet vacant, constantly at attention yet not truly focused. Their blindness gives them the passive power of being seen rather than the active power of seeing. All the while, the viewer is able to examine the dead-eye girl with the cool cognitive dissonance of an unimpassioned spectator, and for once, understanding the relationship between “How We See” and how we’re seen.
Text by Devon Caranicas
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