SEX WITH ROBOTS: An interview with Sarah Weis

Chicago-based performance/installation artist Sarah Weis has a thing for transformation. Although better-known for her surrealist internet video work, Sarah’s recent practice embraces the intimacy inherent to the in-person medium, creating an environment of tensions – both alien and comforting, strange and welcoming, stark and manic.

A recurring project, Sarah Weis’s minimalist bedroom, which she first endeavoured upon at the Delano Hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015, sees the artist fully transform a room in a five-star hotel into a vision of her dream bedroom. And these rooms are decidedly hers. With unconscious exuberance, she is drawn to a materially cold and hyper-feminine aesthetic language – pearls, diamonds, transluscence – a quality that references the digital, machine-world, which is reflected in her immersive performance. Specifically referencing the space and gesture of installation, minimalist bedroom subverts the notion of ideological transformation, where her rooms are created not with her hand, but rather her guidance of scantily-clad, hired male helpers, whom she lovingly refers to as her “boys”.

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Less tangibly, the work moves between the physical and virtual realm, relying on video and photographic documentation (in the latest instance by conceptual commercial agency photoxvideo) for memory, bringing her soft, and all-encompassing brand of frivolity, playfulness and sensuality to the public.

Weis and I chatted, appropriately, via a Google Doc to unpack the latest iteration of the project, minimalist bedroom :: pearls, which was installed at the Margiela-designed La Maison Champs-Elysees in Paris during October’s Paris RTW Women’s Fashion Week.

What attracts you to the “bedroom” as a setting? Why not install the piece in a more traditional art space?

I’m attracted to the intimacy of a bedroom, and more specifically to the power and mystique of a female bedroom. Traditionally, an art space carries the illusion of being a neutral zone to display content in but I’m more interested in spaces that are sensual and loaded with context. The bedroom is the space that is supposed to represent a person’s identity more than any other. It’s also one of the most difficult spaces to keep minimal. A “minimalist bedroom” to me is something unattainable because it requires a lifestyle of constant maintenance. That’s why I need all these boys to maintain mine.

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Protect Your Text Neck: an Interview with Jillian Mayer

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“Aren’t you tired of holding up your neck when you text?”

Slumpies are the answers to all your prayers – at least for all your text-neck problems which isn’t in the dictionary (yet) but has its own website http://text-neck.com/. Miami artist, Jillian Mayer has been creating one of a kind Slumpies, sculptural chairs to help with your every postures while staring down at your devices. Constructed out of colorful fiberglass, these pieces can withstand rain or shine unlike nap pods, and have a playful feel – something you would see in a SkyMall catalog or at your local shopping mall but can be seen in galleries around the United States.

After spending several hours myself trying out the sculptures at Mayer’s LAXART opening, Slumpies allowed for a public/private space to check my notifications and emails while still out socializing. At first seeping into the sculpture it quickly takes shape of your body with the material while still being a prototype eventually I became one with my Slumpie. The Slumpie conveniently with an in-built phone charger and even plant holder, feels like a necessity to all public spaces. The standing and sitting options allows you to still be present in public but with a more modern take on a private phone booth. The harder material fits right in with commercial buildings, marble floors, but also outdoors at any public park. The Slumpies have been making their rounds at this years Atlanta Bienalle and Chicago Expo – to keep track of when’s the next time a Slumpie could be in your town or place a custom order based on your height, weight, BMI, and specific needs, check out the Slumpi.es webpage.

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You had the idea of making Slumpies after seeing people’s slumping postures out in public looking down at their screens. What have been some of your own personal problems when staring at your device?

Throughout my art practice, I have always been interested in passive interactions and working with platforms (virtual and physical) that support that. Slumpies fill the negative space between a person and their technological device.

I do suffer from text neck- that’s true. As humans we build lots of innovations to simplify our lives and promote connectivity, but my work often addresses what we give up in order to progress. I could say that detachment from my current environment, access to (non-important) constant stimulation, along with poor posture and hand cramping might be some of my personal issues with chronic phone interaction.

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The Liminal Moment: talking with Alex Saum-Pascual about selflex


Perras y moda by Alex Saum-Pascual

Alex Saum-Pascual is Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches Contemporary Spanish Literature and Culture (20th and 21st Centuries) and Electronic Literature (Digital Humanities). She is also part of the Executive Committee of the Berkeley Center for New Media. Her academic work has been published in Spain, Mexico and the United States. Her digital artwork has been exhibited in galleries and festivals in the United States and abroad.

We asked Alex a few questions about her selflex NewHive feed, which she defines as “another unpolished #SELFIEPOETRY project, this time about WOMEN & CAPITALISM.”


digital reproduction by Alex Saum-Pascual

What started you writing poetry?

Reading poetry, mainly. But also, when I decided I wanted to start a graduate program in a US University, I thought that writing poetry would be a great way to practice with all those crazy GRE words. I started a poetry blog where I wrote mostly in English and I sort of loss the fear of publicly shaming myself. As for my multimedia poetry… that started years later when I was teaching at UC Berkeley. I designed a course on creative digital writing and I thought I had to preach by example, by making my own e-poetry. I got absolutely hooked, obviously.

How does the selflex feed differ from your other NewHive feed? Is everything on selfex part of one project?

The selflex feed is everything else that didn’t fit into my other #Selfiepoetry feed. When I was working on the previous project I had a very concrete idea of what I wanted to explore, and all the pieces there revolved around the same ideas: the falsity behind literary and artistic histories, and the role of the subject faced with a piece of art or literature. Trying not to generalize or universalize any experience, I presented myself as the subject and thus incorporated a lot of private information, the type of embarrassing thing people share willingly and freely online. Working on that I realized that I was increasingly interested in this last part of the project, and I decided I wanted to keep exploring different ways of constructing myself in the web. I started selflex to work around issues of desire, identity projections, signaling and that sort of thing that, broadly women, but particularly this woman encounters in the web. I gave selflex the very pedantic subtitle of “WOMEN & CAPITALISM”, a bit as a joke, but also deadly serious.


amanecer by Alex Saum-Pascual

How does audio serve to enhance poetry in your work? How about other multimedia assets?

Although I work and live around words (I am a literature professor during the day), or perhaps precisely because of this, I find a lot of relief in visuals and sounds that push beyond what words can capture. I am fascinated with the liminal moment between understanding and not understanding (this happens to me a lot, when switching between different languages), and exploring how the brain works to try to make sense out of anything that resembles a word. Audio helps me create this space where the looping and overlapping of words turns them around until they become something that I find incomprehensibly beautiful. A similar thing happens with video, since I am interested in learning what movement can do for an expression like the written expression, like print, that we traditionally associate with stasis. I think the juxtaposition of movement and sound with words works gracefully together, helping us find new hidden meanings. Finally, since every word we use is a borrowed word, I see no problem with borrowing other stuff too, like youtube videos or images.

How do you know when found poetry is poetry and when it is just stuff on the Internet? Is it how it’s combined with other elements?

Everything is just stuff on the internet—that does not make it any less poetic or aesthetic. I believe anything can be poetry, and perhaps it has to do with what you suggest: its combination with other elements, the relation between their juxtaposed natures and contexts. It could be, but sometimes looking at something banal and mundane in isolation can also suppose a very powerful personal experience, and this can be a poetic one, although I suppose that that isolation, and that person, could also act as context, and thus, be completing the metaphor :) The thing about stuff in the internet, in contrast to stuff found elsewhere (like a book or a magazine) it’s the ease in which we take it and repurpose it. It takes us seconds to copy or download any media and make it our own, helping us to understand very quickly what new remixed contexts and sampling may mean. I think I would agree with you, and I would locate “found poetry” in those interesting (and sometimes random) pairings that happen in the internet. They can be quite illuminating.

Are all YouTube comments poetry?

I don’t think most users intend them to be, but you can definitely make them.