opinion

Chat and Culture

Joanne Cachapero
What goes on behind closed doors and in front of the computer screen is examined in "WebAffairs," an exhibition currently on display at the Erotic Museum in Los Angeles.

The artist, who goes by her screen name Show-and-Tell, gathered images and text directly from her experiences in the chatrooms, documenting the progression from curiosity to voyeurism, then beyond personal boundaries into the realm of performance. The artwork explores cultural implications of how technology has impacted sexuality and the dichotomy between relationships conducted in the real and virtual worlds.

"Show-and-Tell is not completely me," the artist said, explaining why she prefers to use her pseudonym. "It's an aspect of me, but it's not 100 percent me. In virtual space, I was acting and talking and it allowed me to be a different person. As an artist, it was important to me that there was a performance aspect to this project."

The WebAffairs exhibit is an extension of the artist's self-published book of the same name. The story documents a 4 ½-year obsession with chatrooms through personal revelations, compelling imagery and emotional exchanges — scenes that could only be played out in the anonymous intimacy of a virtual setting.

"That idea of real space versus virtual space is a nice way to transition into your fantasy," said the artist. "It's such an interesting place to be because it tells us so much about our lives and how our lives have changed through technology."

Pixilated webcam images of figures and household interiors combined with typed conversation are displayed on panels and monitors in the interpretive portion of the exhibit, shown on the museum's first floor.

On the second floor, several low-resolution large-format prints "dissolve into abstract mosaics when enlarged to 4' x 6'," writes Eric Singley, museum curator. "You stand back at a distance and you can just barely decode the subtleties of the figure, the bluish-green glow of the monitor, the furnishings. They're amazing portraits."

The fragmented visuals and complex dialogues speak not only of postmodern sexuality expressed through broadband transmissions but of the humanity and sense of community that Show-and-Tell found online.

"There is something so seductive about the virtual life. If you think about the people who were having affairs, the people who were really filling in some gaps in their lives, then it becomes more satisfying than real life. That's the sad part of it," she said. "But it's also a celebration of connecting to anybody around the world."

"WebAffairs" runs through Jan. 12. The Erotic Museum is located at 6741 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, Calif.

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