TABOO - TRANSGRESSION - TRANSCENDENCE
in Art & Science
26-28 November 2020, University of Applied Arts Vienna/Online
Spli/ilt is a lo-fi, live-action, first-person virtual reality experience where the viewer watches the artist intentionally pour hot coffee on her pubic region. The audience hears sounds of distress as the action occurs.
In this virtual reality project, the user’s periphery is obliterated as they embody a decapitated version of my body. The first-person experience is intended to destabilize the user’s subjectivity as they view my body as a stand-in for their own. This includes the inherent objectification that results from their inescapable gaze. Within the simulation, a white, cotton boundary is transgressed and my vagina comes under threat - perhaps symbolic of the castration that establishes subjecthood.(1)
Beneath the cloth boundary is where the line between the inside and outside of my body begins to blur – a vulnerable orifice that is the site of the abject.(2) The vignette visually submerses the viewer in the internal world of the headset while they contend with the awareness of their own body outside of the experience. Spli/ilt is an attempt to mimic the teeter - tottering experience of abjection.
Throughout the medium’s history, Feminists have considered VR for its potential to create a nonlinear, non-hierarchical way of communicating and exploring female subjectivity, but had their doubts given the patriarchal structure of the programming behind the new technology.(3)
Fast forward to today and VR experiences are largely designed by white, cisgendered, heterosexual men for white, cisgendered heterosexual men whether they’re totally aware of it or not.(4)
Spli/ilt is a subversive work that aims to undermine and question the corporate trajectory of VR as a medium for narrative storytelling – which tends to be linear and hierarchical. Danish artist, Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s No Right Way 2 Cum offers a feminized VR experience that critiques the patriarchal design of the current mainstream experiences being offered to consumers, particularly in the arena of pornography. In her first-person VR experience, the viewer takes on the body of a female avatar that is masturbating. When the avatar orgasms, her ejaculate shoots back in the face of the viewer, creating a reverse cum shot.(5)
The aesthetic of Spli/ilt is inspired by similar first person VR pornography experiences and through its content I hope to also rearrange tropes that have forever been perpetuated in 2D media. Another example is Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence virtual reality experience in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, where the viewer confronts the artist brutally beating a person on a city street. The lack of narrative leaves the viewer to grapple with the brute force of this senseless murder.(6) Spli/ilt also utilizes the form of vignette to further the experience of abjection which exists in what is not said – and to do away with the expectations associated with narrative storytelling.(7)
(1) Kristeva Julia, “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection” Columbia University Press. New York. 1982
(2) Arya Rina, “The Fragmented Body as an Index of Abjection”Manchester University Press. Great Britain. 2016
(3) Guertin Carolyn, “Gesturing Toward the Visual: Virtual Reality, Hypertext and Embodied Feminist Criticism”
Surfaces Volume 13.101. University of Montreal, 1999
(4) Ormonde Ryan. “SECOND SEX WAR Explores The Limits and Freedom of Our Bodies in Virtual Reality”
Fader, 2016. https://www.thefader.com/2016/03/24/sidsel-meineche-hansen-second-sex-war-interview
(5) Kryer Mathias, “Ten Questions: Sidsel Meineche Hansen” Nordic Art Review, 2016.
(6) Kaplan, Issac, “The Gut Wrenching VR Work That’s Got The Art World Talking About Violence” Artsy,
(7) Kristeva Julia, “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection” Columbia University Press. New York. 1982