“We need the excuse of fiction to stage what we truly are.”
“Consumption is power, and the ability to consume excessively and wilfully becomes the most desirable aspect of power.”
MAX AR is a part of a long running practice based research project in which I am analysing my personal identity through the eyes of my alter ego. This alter ego has many forms. It started as a sculpture, transformed into a performative piece and moved online by becoming a 3D character and then a face filter. In this research project I will be analysing my journey of creating this fictional character through a theoretical lens and question the form of the individual projects in the context of the environment and culture of where they were created and the experiences that shaped them. It will contemplate personal power and the abuse of power, identity, consumption and the gaze.
Max Sculpture (Venice)
Max.W.Leroux's beginning started as a bust of a sculpture to whom I gave an identity and created a Facebook profile for him. His identity was formed by Venice, the Carnival city. His face mimicked Venetian masks and 1920s movie monsters such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925), played by Lon Chaney, Frankenstein (1931), The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1923) and The Man Who Laughs (1928). Not yet aware of Slavoj Žižek’s dislike of romanticising “the monster”, I was enamoured with the idea of “seeing” the beauty in my disfigured sculpture’s face. I used the archetype of male movie villain and created it into a protector – I consumed the identity I was scared of and used it to empower myself by shifting the narrative from the villain to the friend.
Max Mask (Zagreb)
On return from my studies in Venice, I found that the cultural environment in my home town didn’t respond as well to the sculpture of Max as much as it was accepted in Venice. As a result, I took a cast of my character’s face and used it to create a mask. Max became a performance in which I performed the gender of a male. This transformation of the Max character came as a response to the #MeToo movement and “confidence culture”. “During #MeToo’s height, it sometimes felt that we women were required to tell our stories.” While performing as Max, I felt assertive without the pressure that I am being “bossy”. I could feel that “machismo confidence” seep into my female identity as well, making me feel “heroically invulnerable”. Max “maximised” me – the persona I created became my shield against a culture of sexism that I experienced as a young woman – I figuratively tensed up scared of vulnerability. When I would perform as Max, I felt free from the pressure to observe myself as the recipient of the male gaze. “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
I admire Cindy Sherman and the way she analyses the male gaze and the otherness of the woman in her work. In my research of Max, I found her photographs crucial. Peggy Phelan writes about her: “Sherman’s work suggests that female subjectivity resides in disguise and displacement. She uses the self-portrait to investigate the foundational otherness of women within contemporary Western representation.” In a more pornographic way, the performer Narcissister uses female archetypes as well as Sherman. In my research of the way I would perform my identity I was inspired by both artists, though I felt that in comparison to Sherman, Narcissister is more grotesque. As Slavoj Žižek would put it: “Here is the dark side of 1960s ‘sexual liberation’: the full commodification of sexuality.” In my performance as Max, I didn’t want to fall into the trap that Peggy Phelan writes about: “(…) the abject image of woman is (only) the other side of her “beauty.” Displaying the feminine as a landscape of horror did not “protect” it from being read as sexual. (The economy of the self-same always makes femininity erotic, in the same way the “person of colour” is always seen as a representative of “the racial other.” This is the trap of contemporary “visibility politics.”) (…) Sherman discovered that showing the lopsided and imbalanced equation between horror and women did not lessen its summarizing force.” The uncanny images of Narcissister and Cindy Sherman have elements of feminine beauty in them that still serves men’s desire. The nudity of women portrayed in photographs has a different meaning to that of male nakedness. When analysing Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, Peggy Phelan writes: “Sexual objectification of men allows for an ascendancy toward “power” while sexual objectification of women almost always implies degradation. This is absolutely and crucially connected to how men and women are seen within patriarchical ideology of heterosexuality and sexual difference.” This perceived “power” and “degradation” is something that relates to male desire and the gaze as well.
Angel writes: “All sexuality is responsive; all sexual desire emerges in a culture which in turn shapes it.” My performance as Max was a product of its environment.
Max AI (London)
On moving to London, I left Max’s mask behind me. It felt like an old layer of skin I needed to shed. The identity of Max still stayed with me and took on a different meaning. In the first term at Goldsmiths, I used photogrammetry to create a 3D model of Max as a sculpture. In my group project The Dystopia of Digital Feminine Entities, Max appeared as a fictive artificial intelligence that had a conversation with Cortana about her identity as a female AI and the abuse she experienced from her users. Max became similar to other internet art projects and characters in films: the blue bear from The Waldo Moment, Black Mirror, the virtual fake identity imam.gram and Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno’ AnnLee, a 3D model with her “own rights”. The short film we created made me feel a desire to “be” Max again. The new Max owned a voice for the first time and that made him appear real. He was his own identity.
MAX AR (London)
The main purpose of creating Max as a face-filter was to hide my identity online and be able to freely share Max’s ideas without the pressure of the gaze I feel on my own personal social pages. I felt the wish to embody him in every moment and to be able to carry him in my pocket without people around me knowing that I am him. That would give me protection of anonymity. In this context being visible was not an option for me.
In relation to “visibility politics” Peggy Phelan writes: “I am not suggesting that continued invisibility is the “proper” political agenda for the disenfranchised, but rather that the binary between the power of visibility and the impotency of the invisibility is falsifying. There is real power in remaining unmarked; and there are serious limitations to visual representation as a political goal.
Visibility is a trap (“In this matter of the visible, everything is a trap”: Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts: 93); it summons surveillance and the law; it provokes voyeurism, fetishism, the colonialist/imperial appetite for possession. Yet it retains a certain political appeal.”
Phelan continues: “If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture. The ubiquity of their image, however, has hardly brought them political or economic power. (…) “Visibility politics are compatible with capitalism’s relentless appetite for new markets (…) The production and reproduction of visibility are part of the labor of reproduction of capitalism.” Phelan gives an example of the Guerrilla Girls, “a group of women artists and feminist theorists from New York”  who use their anonymity to oppose and avoid the power of the “gaze”. “By refusing to participate in the visibility-is-currency economy which determines value in “the art world,” the members of the group resist the fetishization of their argument (…) By resisting visible identities, the Guerilla Girls mark the failure of the gaze to possess, and arrest, their work.”
With the face filter MAX AR, I want to give myself the same liberty that the Guerilla Girls ask for. I chose a male form because I wanted to discover and play with my perception of my own gender identity.
MAX AR (augmented reality) is the last artefact I created for Max. It consists of two face filters (one with a neck, one without) of his face that I can use in everyday life without showing my identity. The content I create as him I will be posting on his Instagram mimicking the artist Amalia Ulman. In contrast to Ulman, Max will be the shield and the identity protecting my message from the gaze.
“Using her existing Instagram account (@amaliaulman), Amalia Ulman began acting out a tragic story of a fictitious alter ego. (…) Unaware that this was all an elaborately scripted performance, followers liked and commented on Ulman’s pictures, apparently revelling in her spiralling descent into a state of narcissistic desperation. Ulman’s work reveals a disturbing truth about how the majority of people use and consume photography. By taking selfies and sharing them online, photography has given us what we all yearn for: an identity. Only, the identity it has given us isn’t ours. To a greater or lesser extent, it is a made up character, someone we have created to be ’liked’, envied and, in extreme cases, bought by brands. It means that, as a communication tool, photography is more powerful than ever because it has turned us all into marketers – the product being sold is ourselves.”
- Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel
- Ways of Seeing, John Berger
- Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan
- Gender Trouble, Judith Butler
- Violence, Slavoj Žižek
- Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs of People, Henry Carroll
- Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot, Henry Carroll
- See Yourself Sensing – Redefining Human Perception, Madeline Schwartzman
- Great Women Artists, Phaidon: Cindy Sherman, constructing identities, Page 371
 The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Sophie Fiennes, said by Slavoj Žižek, 2006
 Cannibal Culture – Art, Appropriation, & the Commodification of Difference, Deborah Root, Page 9
 Violence, Slavoj Žižek; „(…) Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (…) In Frankenstein, the monster is not a 'thing', a horrible object no one dares to confront; he is fully subjectivised. (…) The ultimate criminal is thus allowed to present himself as the ultimate victim.“ Page 39
 Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel;
"(…) Rosalind Gill and Shani Orgad have termed ‘confidence culture’, which holds that it is not primarily patriarchy, capitalism or entrenched institutional sexism that hold people back, but rather their own, individual lack of confidence – a lack framed as an entirely personal matter.” Page 16
 Ibid “#MeToo not only valourized women’s speech, but risked making it a duty too, a mandatory display of one’s feminist powers of self-realisation, one’s determination to refuse shame, and one’s strength in speaking back to indignity. It also gratified a salacious hunger for stories of women’s abuse and humiliation – though it did so selectively.” Katherine Angels writes that white women had the privilege to have their voices heard in comparison to other female minorities. Page 6
 Ibid “Women are told that they are not “assertive enough” while “they are often punished and criticized (they are bitchy, bossy, angry) for precisely the confident, assertive poses and behaviours they are being asked to cultivate.” Page 17
 Ibid Angel writes that this culture of positivity is weary of any manifestations of vulnerability: “they render insecurity or lack of confidence as ugly, abject and shameful – something any self-respecting woman would not feel or at least not express. There is in these modes of address an almost manic insistence on strength; they are at great pains to present women as almost heroically invulnerable.” Page 17
 Ibid “Women’s sexuality is frequently punished; women are routinely harassed, and their bodies policed; they are constantly reminded of their susceptibility to male violence, and made to feel responsible for it. Shame, fear, cultural proscriptions and trauma – often sexual trauma – can be profound inhibitors of sexual enjoyment. Yet women are urged to claim their desire with confidence.” Page 65
 Ibid “Chanel Miller, in Know My Name, writes (…) “Rape, she says, ‘makes you want to turn into wood, hard and impenetrable. The opposite of a body that is meant to be tender, porous, soft.’ Hardening oneself is often a necessary response to violence, or a necessary strategy in the face of it. Perhaps the fear – the constant spectre – of rape does this to our thoughts, our ideas, too.” Page 37
 Ibid “The consent discourse both acknowledges vulnerability and disavows it: you are vulnerable, therefore you must harden yourself; you are violable, therefore you must cast yourself as inviolable. You must become iron-clad, impenetrable. Emphatic rhetoric urging self-knowledge about desire is problematic not because it depicts women as vulnerable, but because it reveals a horror of vulnerability.” Page 36
 Ways of Seeing, John Berger; “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.” Page 46
 Ways of Seeing, John Berger, Page 47
 Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs of People, Henry Carroll “Cindy Sherman is best known for photographing herself acting out a variety of clichéd depictions of women in cinema, from femme fatale to seductress, to girl on the run, to victim of domestic abuse.” Page 15
 Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan; “The image of the other cannot be so easily distinguished for women as it seems to be for men. Nor can the image of the other be so easily appropriated by women (…) But exactly because the “thereness” of women is perpetually in doubt and because women’s image is employed as a fillin for the fantasy of the other, it is difficult for women to appropriate the image of the other for their own fantasy. As Lanac bluntly puts it, “There is no Other of the Other” (Television:40).” Page 60
 Ibid Page 60
 Violence, Slavoj Žižek, Page 30
 Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan; “Representation is almost always on the side of the one who looks and almost never on the side of the one who is seen. As feminist film theorists have demonstrated, the fetishized image of the female star serves as a deeply revealing screen for the construction of men’s desire. The image of the woman displays not the subjectivity of the woman who is seen, but rather the constituent forces of desire of the man who wants to see her.” Page 26
 Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan; Page 51
 Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel
When analysing the difficulties women face in the context of their desire, we should not think that we should imitate male sexual behaviours. “So male desire is encouraged, but it is also required. The expectation that men be relentlessly desiring machines in not one to emulate; the relentless pursuit of the horizon of heterosexual masculinity is not something to envy. (…) the failure to reach this impossible horizon engenders the very feelings of insecurity and shame from which male violence ensues. Men, after all, hate women so that they don’t have to hate themselves.” Page 67
 Ibid Page 68
 Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel
When the author Katherine Angel wrote in the first person about sexuality, she came to feel an admiration repulsion and fear from the people who read it: “an acknowledgement that to talk about one’s sexuality as a woman is reckless.”
“But perhaps some of that repulsion always reflects what we all know: that a woman who exposes herself, in a world that both desires and punishes that impulse, is making herself vulnerable. Her vulnerability in turn provokes fear, which is easily converted into either contempt or admiration.” Page 13 “Speaking up about one’s sexuality as a woman can be dangerous. People in the same time admire such frankness and openness, but perhaps because it comes from a place of danger. The notion that an assault can be justified just because you “love sex”. “Signs of enjoyment count against a woman (…)” Page 12
 Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel; “Women live with heightened awareness of their vulnerability to assault, and of the complex bargains they have to enact in order to experience pleasure. And we are all, regardless of gender, born into a landscape shot through with violence, rigidity, and shame. Each of us develops our own complex and idiosyncratic erotics in response. Who knows why we do what we do, who knows why we want what we want?” Page 114
 Unmarked, The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan, Page 6 “While there is a deeply ethical appeal in the desire for a more inclusive representational landscape and certainly under-represented communities can be empowered by an enhanced visibility, the terms of this visibility often enervate the putative power of these identities.”
“Arguing that communities of the hitherto under-represented will be made stronger if representational economies reflect and see them, progressive cultural activists have staked a huge amount on increasing and expanding the visibility of racial, ethic, and sexual “others”. “
Phelan states a few “presumptions which bear further scrutiny”:
1. “Reading physical resemblance is a way of identifying community.”
2. “The relationship between representation and identity is linear and smoothly mimetic. What one sees is who one is.”
3. If one’s mimetic likeness is not represented, one is not addressed.”
4. Increased visibility equals increased power.”
“Each presumption reflects the ideology of the visible, an ideology which erases power of the unmarked, unspoken, and unseen.” Page 7
 Ibid Page 10/11
 Ibid Page 11
 Ibid Page 19
 Ibid Page 19
 Gender Trouble, Judith Butler “If there is something right in Beauvoir’s claim that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, it follows that woman itself is a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or to end. As an ongoing discursive practice, it is open to intervention and resignification. Even when gender seems to congeal into the most reified forms, the “congealing” is itself an insistent and insidious practice, sustained and regulated by various social means. It is, for Beauvoir, never possible finally to become a woman, as if there were a telos that governs the process of acculturation and construction. Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being.” Page 45
 Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot, Henry Carroll, Page 43