We are already cyborg constructs. While we may keep the original organic base unit of the human body, we have extended ourselves through omnipresent digital windows of computers and phones into a digital ecosystem. Our feelings are no longer limited to the function of muscles pulling and pushing flesh and fat to compose an expression. They have hijacked language characters to distill our innermost drive for understanding. Through emoticons, we have created a new vocabulary of emotive expression. The emoticon for “smile” and “frown”, “:)” and “:(” repurpose grammatical tools, expressing emotional signals that have been hardwired into our physical bodies.
And yet, as we accelerate to greater immersion in the digital medium, some things, it seems, never change. Recent turmoil in the digital scene has illustrated in a consistent and agonizing way that, while many pay lip service to concepts of equality, the underlying framework of as women as the “other”—to be objectified as a thing of convenience rather than independent equals—still remains.
“:)” coalesces this sense of gender instability in life, art, and digital expression. Reinterpreting Picasso’s painting “La Reve,” “:)” takes the image of his tranquilly slumbering mistress and pastes on the emoticon smile. With facial recognition technology running behind the canvas, the smile slips into a frown when no one is looking. “:)” explores the persistent expectation of women to be presentable and affable, regardless of the individual woman’s current condition and challenges. It is an exploration of the persistence of expectation despite the expansion of expression and bids the audience to critically consider their own perceptions.