NW: As a participating artist, what does She Performs mean to you?
PB: When [curators] Holly and Lynn approached me about participating in She Performs, my first thought was, “Oh, this is very interesting”, because my work is not primarily female performative, but on another level it very much includes it. Holly and Lynn’s invitation allowed me to go back to the work and look at it in that way, which I hadn’t before – and it’s such a big part of it! My work deals with AI (artificial intelligence), and whether in reality or fiction most of the time it’s a female body performing the AI role and it’s usually seductive and very acquiescent: the woman as servant performed by a robot. Or think of Siri, or Alexa, even the first robot citizen – they’re all female!
When I first began the series The Algorithm Will See You Now, I only photographed women and I got questioned about this a lot: why not photograph men? My instinct was, “no, shooting men doesn’t make sense”, but I didn’t really know why until I started to think about the project more and then it emerged that it had to be women, because AI technology is very much about the woman’s body, which is interesting when we think about why we’re making AI robots – it’s always to serve us. I think that our wanting to make robots human is problematic in the first place, but to then gender them – which isn’t inherent to a robot or algorithm, but something we need to do in order to understand it, to interact with it – that’s quite disturbing. Why is it made in our image?
NW: As an artist, as a woman, how do you perform ‘yourself’?
PB: I think we do it in many ways. As an artist, I think we perform because we have to be more careful than other [male] artists in the way we carry ourselves, which is driven by our need to be aware, because somehow it’s on us [women] if we send the wrong message or find ourselves in certain situations. If you think about the art world in general, it’s so much about personal relationships and interacting with people and in that environment, as a woman, you are aware of not wanting certain lines to be crossed or even allow things to get to that point – you avoid ‘that point’ as much as possible – and in terms of performativity, it does effect it.
And then there’s the issue of being called a ‘woman artist’, when you just want to be viewed as an artist. It’s not because you want to reject your womanhood – not at all – it’s just that you want to be at that point in history where it doesn’t need to said or stressed. We’re not there yet – sometimes you feel that there is that distinction and you have to fight harder. There are so many women in art schools and yet when you look at galleries, that’s not really reflected there and that’s why I think that shows like She Performs are great, because they’re needed.
NW: How does ‘the body’ inform your work?
PB: I guess in my case it IS the work, right? Having been in a not great-functioning physical body for so long [Pauline has a condition that it took doctors many years to diagnose], I think it was inevitable that would inform my work, but I’m also thinking about what’s happening to the body in general and how technological developments – like AI – are affecting our perceptions of our bodies. We talk a lot about the mind – how the mind affects the body, and is this all-powerful thing – but I think that the physical body and the experiences and knowledge that you gain from it are very, very important, and I want to honour that, because you can’t separate the mind and the body – it’s not just a brain driving an empty marionette. There are so many elements to what we are and what affects us and those things to me are very pertinent. How are our collective lives and bodies changing? How do we feel about that? I think that as a society we have a lot to think about in terms of how we want things to develop in a way that we will be able to live with in the future. Technological developments can be great – in helping to eradicate diseases, for example – but then you really have to think about how else it’s used, and how we can safeguard our society from its potential misuse. There’s a lot to happen in terms of the female body – it’s a big bone of contention because the notions of it are being iterated into the future – “oh yeah, remember that devious machine [in the film Ex Machina]? Oh yes, now she can be your maid at home” – and that is quite odd.
She Performs Curator of Interpretation