[-empyre-] queer faces

Amanda Phillips aphillips at umail.ucsb.edu
Fri Jun 8 16:58:15 EST 2012

Zach, thanks for the great rundown of the Fag Face project! Obviously I'm a
big fan and I find it very neat to be working on what are kind of inverse
ends of the same problem. I asked about the racialized face because that is
something I'm explicitly trying to work through, so I didn't know if you
had done any working through this issue yourself. I love how the Fag Face
masks add an explicitly queer dimension to resisting faciality - now I'd
love to see how we can expand that vision to specifically account for race,
gender, ability, and so on. Have you seen the Guess My Race app? (
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/guess-my-race/id372936589?mt=8) It is very
similar to the studies inspiring Fag Face except that while it invites you
to guess the race of the face depicted, it consistently frustrates any
attempt to pin race down as something that can be reflected in a face. I
wonder if a Fag Face app might do something similar?

The communal mask making is a great aspect of the project, and I can't wait
to see a QT shelf lined with unrecognizable pink faces! For me, obviously,
mask making extends into the digital realm with avatar experimentation -
work that, as Micha has already pointed out, is closely aligned with the
experimental avatars that Fox Harrell thinks about and creates in his work.
I've just completed presenting part of my faces chapter for Alan Liu's Lit+
class, so if you want to check out the project page here and see where your
work fits in for me here it is:
pulls from the poster I created and also went with an oral
so let me know if there are any gaps that I can fill in.

So how can we meet in the middle thinking about machines reading and
writing the face? These technologies are closely aligned - I don't know how
familiar you are with facial animation technologies, but many of the newer
techniques are based on facial recognition technologies that can parse
images of the face in similar ways. As I've mentioned in a previous post,
the techniques and training are very much based in an quantitative
anatomical view of the human face, with image references dating back to the
19th century. This is such a troubling genealogy in ways that are similar
to the unsettling treatment of a face as a barcode.

And then when you add narrative into the mix in gaming, which sets further
constraints on what an avatar might look like, the possibility for refusing
recognition is even further limited. What can we do within these systems
besides hack, mod, or refuse to play?

On Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM, Zach Blas <zachblas at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi all--
> I’m finally getting to issues of the faces and faciality, which is
> something amanda and i are both interested in from queer media
> perspectives.
> for at least 7 years now, i’ve always wanted to do a project around
> “fag face,” which is a phrase i heard quite a bit growing up in rural
> town in west virginia. i was always struck by that comment--that
> someone could look at your face and conclude that you’re gay. it was
> always a phrase of harassment, never used as a way to forge a gay or
> queer community.
> within the last couple years, i’ve been really taken by research in
> biometric facial recognition technologies. i knew there was some way
> to think through fag face in relation to these biometric technologies.
> and then i found an article in scientific american called “there’s
> something queer about that face,” which outlined a study conducted at
> tufts university where test subjects were shown cropped male faces
> with no “distinguishing marks,” like piercings, tattoos, or
> eyeglasses. the study concluded that test subjects were noticeably
> successful in determining of a male face was gay or straight. studies
> like this are continuing to emerge. a recent study at the university
> of washington was just published in the new york times. these other
> studies have also included women, and they have revealed that test
> subjects have a much more difficult time determining if a female face
> is gay or straight.
> i am very curious about these test subjects. how can they separate
> styles of the face--how faces express--from a biological deterministic
> understanding of the face, that is, in these experiments, how do those
> determining if a face is gay or straight parse cultural stereotypes,
> instinct, and scientific observation.
> these studies are striking to me in so many ways. initially, i wonder
> what is the goal of such research? biometric facial recognition
> technologies are developed around security, control, and
> commercialization. the us military has recently gathered large amounts
> of civilian data in afghanistan and other countries in the middle east
> to aid in tracking potential terrorists. this biometric data is also
> used to fill large databases to help locate suspected criminals in the
> us and abroad. biometric facial technologies are also being used to
> quantity expression and affect, to know whether a face is happy or
> sad. such developments are spilling into dynamic and interactive
> advertising.
> so where do these fag face / gaydar facial studies fit into this
> biometric facial matrix?
> many people laugh when i tell them about this research i’m doing. and
> sure, it does sound ridiculous. but this drive to know the face, to
> parse it and fully quantity it--be it sexual orientation or affective
> expression--is part of a larger drive today that intersects with
> militarization, neoliberalism, and globalization. kelly gates has
> written an amazing book on this called “our biometric future.”
> i have tentatively started working on a project roughly called fag
> face / facial weaponization suite. right now, it’s put with my queer
> technologies project but i think this work will eventually break off
> from QT and become something else. i have a video and some articles on
> the project available here:
> video -
> http://www.queertechnologies.info/products/facial-weaponization-suite/
> fag face - http://version.org/textuals/show/19
> weapons for queer escape -
> http://www.zachblas.info/publications_materials/schlossplatz_identitycrisis_2011.pdf
> queer darkness (coming soon) - http://www.hbksaar.de/depletiondesign.html
> currently, i am imagining a set of playful, performative, and artistic
> devices to use to evade facial recognition detection. ultimately, once
> these devices are configured, i’d like to collectively organize some
> public inventions and performances--so if you’re interested, please
> let me know and you can join me!
> right now, i’ve settled on masks as an item in this facial
> weaponization suite. i wanted to start with masks because they were
> evocative to me in queer and feminist contexts. using the mask maybe
> to hide but more to transform, to change, to become the other or
> others. the mask as performative and celebratory. i’m thinking of
> masks and faces in j18 protests, anonymous, and gloria anzaldua. i’m
> starting with a fag face mask as a direct response to these recent gay
> face studies. i’m taking biometric facial data from a set of
> self-identified gay men. i’m bringing all that data together in 3d
> modeling software and making a mask out of it. what you get is
> something alien, abstract, and inhuman. (although, my current
> prototype is a bit too alien ape.) the idea here is collectively
> wearing the faces of many. if these studies claim to successfully
> identify 1 gay male face, then by wearing 20 simultaneously you get
> something unrecognizable.
> i’m attracted to this idea of unrecognizability because i find it very
> provocative and possibly controversial. i think these studies pose an
> interesting question around the desire to become unrecognizable. and i
> think this is somewhat of a queer desire. to mess with recognition, to
> confuse it, to refuse identification from the state.
> now, i’m really in the thick of this project, so i don’t have all the
> answers or have it all figured out. i just going with a tendency here.
> i see the connection between fag face, facial recognition, and
> queerness. and i also see the connection between queerness and all the
> work in political theory today around becoming imperceptible,
> unrecognizable, etc.
> amanda, in regards to deleuze and guattari, i think their idea of
> fleeing the face is more about refusing recognition. for d&g, the face
> is different from what they call head-matter. the face is someone
> else’s interpretation of your head-matter. and they are resistant to
> this because they want each face to maintain a singularity, an
> irreducibility, which for them, maintains multiplicity (which they
> prize over identity). perhaps in the wake of biometric facial
> recognition and all that it implies, we might want to seriously think
> about resisting certain readings of the face.
> amanda, i don’t have a good answer for the racialized face, just as i
> don’t have a good answer for fag face. i think part of the anonymous
> dimension here is not forgetting or ignoring those aspects but reading
> them differently, leaving them open, affirming their irreducibility
> and embodied singularities. no doubt, this is a constant and
> continuous struggle. and i’m not saying that by making masks we solve
> the problem. but for me, mask-making can be a joyful collective
> endeavor that politicizes us toward the next steps in resisting
> neoliberal drives to calculate.
> --
> zach blas
> artist & phd candidate
> literature, information science + information studies, visual studies
> duke university
> www.zachblas.info
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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