Frances Stark and David Kravitz: Opening the Kimono
August 7 2014
When artist Frances Stark and Snapchat developer David Kravitz discussed the idea of having sex on stage during a public presentation at the New Museum in May 2014, it wasn’t entirely surprising. This proposal came as part of Rhizome’s Seven on Seven Conference, which pairs artists and technologists for a one-day collaboration with the prompt to “make something” and then present it to the public the following day. During their presentation, neither of their bodies was on view on stage (Kravitz came up alone for the Q&A). Instead, they appeared onscreen via a live iMessage conversation.
Soon, Kravitz was telling Stark about his friend’s suggestion that they have sex on stage. After further flirtatious repartee, Stark suggested that they “open the kimono,” a phrase used in Silicon Valley to describe an open sharing of business information. The oversexed exchange—fashioned in the style of a demo-day presentation—continued as the duo unveiled their main project: to “cut out the middlemen” from the “sublimated” sex orgy that is our economy. It was pure vaporware as absurdist critique.
Titled Opening the Kimono, a screen-capture video version of this performance is now presented as part of First Look, an online commissioning program organized by the New Museum and Rhizome. The presentation’s comedic tone and salacious content were familiar territory to its performers: Kravitz is not only a developer, but also an amateur comedian, while Stark has employed sex chat in her studio practice in the past. The resulting conversation shifted the focus from masturbation to sexual promiscuity, drawing an analogy between the latter and, in Stark’s words, “certain forms of creative labor.”
Promiscuity is the promise and threat of digital culture. It represents a possible freedom, the potential to reinvent our social roles in fluid, polymorphous fashion. But it also brings us into relationships with myriad “middle men“—all of the systems and websites and apps we use, which structure our interactions for worse and for better. Like the ghost, digital culture has long been described as “immaterial.” Recently, though, commentators and critics have taken great pains to cut through this kind of obfuscation, arguing that digital culture relies on physical infrastructure, that it structures our physical world, and that code itself can be seen as a kind of material. But the outlines of the digital, networked culture in which we live cannot be fully glimpsed in these materials. Our bodily actions, our performances, our promiscuous behaviors remain at the center of digital culture. The objects and files we create are merely the side effects of these actions; to make them visible, we must throw on a sheet.1
Established in 2012 and co-organized by the New Museum and Rhizome, First Look is a digital art commissioning and exhibition program representing the breadth of art online—from interactive documentary, to custom-built participatory applications, to moving image-based works, and art for mobile VR. Encompassing a substantial array of work that continues to expand, First Look explores the formal, social, and aesthetic possibilities of emerging technologies on the web.