[Air-l] vOluptuary : an algorithic hermaphornology

Joseph Nechvatal jnech at thing.net
Tue May 7 08:42:29 PDT 2002


For Immediate Release 

Joseph Nechvatal 

vOluptuary : an algorithic hermaphornology

May 22nd ­ July 3rd  2002

Opening Reception: Wednesday, May 22nd   (6-8pm)

Universal Concepts Unlimited announces the opening of new media pioneer
Joseph Nechvatal¹s exhibition "vOluptuary : an algorithic hermaphornology".
This exhibition consists of recent computer-robotic assisted paintings on
canvas and a complimentary custom real-time operative artificial-life viral
computer application which consumes the file images on which the paintings
are based. There will be an opening party on Wednesday, May 22nd from 6-8

Since 1986, Joseph Nechvatal has been making computer-robotic assisted
paintings which allow the tradition of canvas painting to integrate into our
present digital times.  In this sense he has been creating an interface
between the virtual and the actual - what Nechvatal calls the "viractual".
It is through this exploration of viractuality which has brought Nechvatal
to the creation of complex numeric viractual images which typically consist
of a mixture of drawing, digital-photography, painting, written language,
and externalized computer code - all of which is submitted to computational
manipulations (including viral attacks). His current work, called
"vOluptuary: an algorithic hermaphornology" (1) stems from a computer virus
program developed by the artist in 1991 as a Louis Pasteur
artist-in-residence in Arbois, France. Nechvatal's featured paintings
translate intimate body images of both sexes into basic pictorial units
which he and his computer-virus mutate and metamorphose.

"vOluptuary: an algorithic hermaphornology" makes use of what Gilles Deleuze
has called Œpornology¹ (2) for here representations of the intimate body
associated with sexuality (of both sexes) undergo an intricate
re-combination and subsequent intermixture with flowers. Of crucial interest
to "vOluptuary: an algorithic hermaphornology" is the origin of the
hermaphroditic androgyny image. This hybrid image first appears in Ovid¹s
classic text ŒMetamorphoses¹ - and perhaps this emergence is well worth
recounting here. The hermaphrodite initially occurs in Western culture as a
son of Hermes and Aphrodite named Hermaphroditus. Hermaphroditus was a
typical, if exceptionally handsome, young male with whom the water nympth
Salmacis fell madly in love. When Hermaphroditus rejected her sexual
advances, Salmacis voyeuristicly observed him from afar while desiring him
fiercely. Finally, one spring day Hermaphroditus stripped nude and dove into
the pool of water which was Salmacis¹s habitat. Salmacis immediately dove in
after him - embracing him and wrapping her body around his, just as, Ovid
says, ivy does around a tree. She then prayed to the gods that she would
never be separated from him ­ a prayer that they answered favorably.
Consequently, Hermaphroditus emerged from the pool both man and woman.

As the tale of Hermaphroditus suggests, "vOluptuary: an algorithic
hermaphornology" is a show of androgyny eroticism married to flowery
virtuality (3), incomprehensible transformation and immersive excess. It
aims to depict an imagined realm of political-spiritual chaosmos where new
forms of sexual order arise such that any form of order is only temporary
and provisional. Obviously this sphere is attained through an emergent
operation, and, indeed, Nechvatal takes abundant pleasure in the forms of
pan-order that arise within his continuously swelling processes. The point
is that within the "vOluptuary" all sexual signs are subject to boundless
semiosis - which is to say that they are translatable into other signs.
Here, of course, it is possible to find resonances and affinities between
sexual opposites. Here a chameleon-like sexual attitude is being built from
the virtual abyss.

Within the realm of the "vOluptuary" no one fathoms whether they are female
or male. All rest between male and female, between straight and gay, between
dominant and submissive - nothing but curves and clefts. All is in a matrix
of possibilities, self-assembled out of a flowery excess of erogenous

(1) The word Œvoluptuary¹ generally means Œdevoted to pleasure¹. It comes
from a Late-Latin variant of the Latin voluptarius  / voluptas.
(2) Pornology is aimed at confronting an idea with its own limits. The idea
is rendered precise in Deleuze¹s essay ŒKlossowski or Bodies-Language¹ which
is found in his book ŒThe Logic of Sense¹. Here Deleuze develops the term
"pornology" so as to describe the dynamic of a transcendental empiricism in
the circuit Klossowski establishes between theology, as a divine belief
structure, and pornography, as a perverse expression of the body.
(3) One here thinks of Alan Turing (the grandfather of computing) and his
horrid endurance of a quack treatment for his homosexuality where he was
overdosed with female hormones to the point where he developed breasts.

Joseph Nechvatal has exhibited his work widely in Europe and the United
States, both in private and public venues. He is in the permanent collection
of the Los Angeles County Museum, the Moderna Musset in Stockholm and the
Israel Museum in Jerusalem. His work was included in Document 8. His
web-site, with full CV, collected writings, and various essays on his work
can be found at :

For downloadable digital images of the computer-robotic assisted paintings
in "vOluptuary : an algorithic hermaphornology" and/or to see the artist
statement concerning this show see:

Universal Concepts Unlimited
507 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tel: 212.727.7575
Fax: 212.727.7676
Email: ucu1 at rcn.com


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