Cyber*Babes >>
Lisa Hutton

Cyber*Babes appropriates other websites to complete a dialogue on the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

||| HIAFF 3.0 | university of colorado | department of art and art history | digital arts area | in conjunction with alt-x | atlas | blurr
Katherine Taft: I wondered who the majority of your audience includes? The net- savvy, activists, art critics?

Lisa Hutton: In the case of cyber*babes, as with most net art, one cannot really say who the audience is only who the author expects their audience to be. I made cyber*babes as an open-to-all dialog about the TCA and its relationship to the first amendment. The net is a demand-pull environment, meaning that if you don't want to see something you can simply turn it off. Further, in 1996 there was software available to keep the children away from the objectionable material. That said, the audience falls into two camps. Bluntly put, the audience either "gets it" or doesn't. Cyber*babes promises porn in name only and fails to deliver. Some of the audience looking for porn and not finding it will be frustrated, those looking at net art think the site is great fun, and some who are seriously looking for porn also "get it" and think the project is great. This is how the general public seems to view the work.

There is plenty here for critics and the net savvy as well. Using outside links to create a dialog is what I call, using the net as an object, where one can take other parts of the net and recontextualize them into a larger dialog. I think the outside links are of particular importance to critics because of what the TCA deemed to be objectionable--nudity--and the TCA's lack of consideration of the greater amount of objectionable material also available on line. In the end, cyber*babes asks a better question about the use and placement of censorship. For some reason, common sense eludes us as we (Americans) tend to ask the wrong question when confronted with any objectionable circumstance. For example, people express horror at school shootings and ask, "how could this have happened?, or "why would a teenager do this?" when the better question is, given society and mass media, "why doesn't this happen more often?" or "why should we expect the student to behave in a non-violent way?"

KT: What sort of responses has the work received and from who?

LH: Cyber*babes received critical acclaim in 1996 in the form of an honorable mention at Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. Cyber*babes was later included in the Walker Art Center's beyond.interface exhibition, curated by Steve Dietz. On occasion, I still get email about the project from people who have surfed in and enjoyed it. In 1996, I had one or two hate mails from highly frustrated porn seekers who didn't "get it." Cyber*babes was also reviewed in context with the work of Stelarc in the French language journal Archee (http://archee.qc.ca/) in an article written by Pierre Robert (probert@videotron.ca).

KT: What were your original intentions for the site as artwork?

LH: To not use any pornography to get to my point. To use very low bandwidth for maximum distribution. To have fun with a medium which had not been described or validated. To develop an expressive medium which exploited wide distribution. In addition, I should talk about the images and why I chose them. The images in cyber*babes take up pornographic images in terms of objectifying the body and body modification. To do this I collaged parts of men and women into a single grossly exaggerated body type. Again, any nudity (primarily the nipple) is quickly covered up with what appear to be little pieces of black tape. I chose images from muscle and fitness magazine and playboy and playgirl to demonstrate how the body is exaggerated for particular types of consumption. In bodybuilding, sexual dimorphism is diminished, while the pin-up objectifies the body as highly masculine or feminine. In the end, both styles exaggerate the body by constructing a kind of masculine or feminine drag. The exaggeration of combining male and female was intended to titillate the audience not by way of nudity per se but by triggering a visual response akin to that experienced at car accidents. When confronted with striking visual information we know we shouldn't stare but can't seem to help it. See Robert Williams "rubberneck manifesto".

KT: Have they changed at all as a result of changing context?

LH: In 1996 it was not obvious that the outside links would go away and need to be updated. Interestingly, it almost seems that with the increasing number of web pages available it has become harder to find objectionable material which is not pornographic in nature.

I say this because some of the original outside links in cyber*babes are no longer working and so I had to replace them. On the other hand, this is a natural consequence of working in any digital medium. It is simply a fact that technology breaks, projects need updating to current software and OS's to remain alive, and the gallery exhibition becomes a web site and a CD-Rom project.

Since I have to update the outside links to keep the project going, in critical moments, I wonder if the new links are as pithy as the originals.

Around 1998, I duplicated the terminal outside link, "Squirty's nude picture archive." I think Squirty's is a classic in its own right and I was concerned that it too might lose its URL. I didn't replicate the other outside links because I felt it was important that they be live active sites. I duplicated Squirty's because it was a one page special interest site. Conversely, I didn't feel the net would ever stop generating objectionable material for my perusal in cyber*babes. In the end, cyber*babes evolves, and while this summarizes the state of digital art, I don't think one could have predicted this evolution in advance.