Rachael: Do you like our owl?
Deckard: It’s artificial?
Rachael: Of course it is.
Deckard: Must be expensive.
–from Blade Runner
What is it like to be a 3D scanner capturing a beautiful woman? When I meet it someday on Cleverbot, this is what I will ask the Rapid Prototyping apparatus behind Frank Benson’s Human Statue (Jessie), now up at Taxter & Spengemann. Do the quantifying calculations of volumes, occlusions, curves, and folds ever amount to a qualitative response, the way innumerable neural complexity leads to consciousness?
And what is it like to be a 3D printing machine that sculpts a beautiful model? It is the conduit between image processing data and the subsequent tantalizing output. On which end is the “art?” (Irrefutably sculpture, Human Statue still carries the Sol LeWitt torch, as do Cory Arcangel’s irrefutable prints of Photoshop gradients, where instructions are at least as important as their result.)
Does it matter that the 3D machines are blind? Blindly faithful to the data being processed, and blindly committed to the sculptural parts, in spite of the whole? We think of another screenplay interrogation, that of Godard’s Contempt, when the staggeringly beautiful Camille submits to Paul for a piecemeal appraisal of her body, from toes to face, just like the layer-by-layer construction of the rapidly prototyped object – something rapidly approaching “consumer version.” Asking him to view her from the mirror, Camille directs Paul to the picturesque reflection of herself, just bundles of lightwaves, rather than the warm, corporeal body laying next to him. To each question, he answers in a solemn affirmative.
“Can you see my feet in the mirror? Do you think they’re pretty?
And my ankles, do you like them?
Do you like my knees, too?
And my thighs?
Can you see my behind in the mirror?
Do you think my buttocks are pretty?
And my breasts, do you like them? What do you like best, my breasts or my nipples?
And my shoulders, you like them?
And my arms, do you like them?
And my face? Everything? My mouth, my eyes, my nose, my ears?
So you love me totally?”
The transubstantiation, where Camille regains her body and resumes animation, occurs midway through the exchange, when she asks, “Do you want me to kneel down?”
Which might be the question frozen in the pursed lips of Human Statue (Jessie). Atop a small pedestal, Jessie is elevated just slightly above eye contact. You can see her eyes from the side, but her platelike shades forbid a frontal view. These shades are like artifacts from the 1980s: the decade when rapid protyping first emerged, the decade of Nagel, and the decade of Blade Runner. The shades cover much of her face, just as the designer gown, asymetrically wrapped around her torso, covers much of her body. The gown conceals her nudity, while the shades conceal her eyes – the windows to the soul. In this aspect, Human Statue (Jessie) equates nudity with humanity, or at least an aspect of it.
The Aphrodite of Cnidus was nude and infamously, seductively lifelike enough to get molested by a surprise overnight guest. It inspired many other nude Venuses, each mimicking its contrapposto stance and hands raised to cover “the naughty bits.” The Venus of Arles, however, is clothed, which frees up her hands for less purposeful expression.
Human Statue (Jessie) folds her hands, palms upward, in front of her waist. They correspond to the overturned urn at her feet, but they seem like the ballerina’s First Position (despite the feet). Her pose is uncomfortably stiff, like a mannequin, yet her face is so dimensional and richly textured – unlike the marmoreal smoothness of her Venus predecessors – that you might hold your breath while watching for hers.
-Especially if you’ve met her! The model is Jessie Gold, an artist, dancer, choreographer, and musician in NYC by way of Miami. She’s one of the most striking beauties in the New York art worlds, and by selecting her, Frank Benson is also proposing a new model with subcultural valence for the evolving definitions and cults of beauty.
With no access to her eyes, my gaze drops to her lips. A masterpiece of nature in real life, they are plump and textured here, and exaggerated by the metallic face paint the real Jessie wore for the image capture. Looking at these lips reminds us of kissing, of resuscitation, and of course, speaking. My mind wanders to Mona Aamons Monzano, the composite woman and “blonde Negro” of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle: “She was as brown as chocolate. Her hair was like golden flax.” Mona dies when she immediately freezes to death by bringing to her lips the Ice-9 contaminant from the soil beneath her. Mona’s last movement was rising from a kneeling position.
“Would you wish any of these alive again, if you could? Answer me quickly. “Not quick enough with your answer,” she called playfully, after half a minute had passed. And, still laughing a little, she touched her finger to the ground, straightened up, and touched the finger to her lips and died.