A new project from artists Addie Wagenknecht and Pablo Garcia, brbxoxo, searches online sexcam sites and only broadcasts feeds when the performers are absent. The resulting images, some of which I’ve shared below, are lonely in a specifically digital way, revealing the human details hidden in plain sight in the wide world of amateur porn.
Wagenknecht and Garcia ((Full disclosure: Garcia is a sometime contributor to OMNI Reboot, having penned an excellent article about Renaissance-era hackers for us back in August.)) previously collaboated on a related project, Webcam Venus, in which they asked sexcam performers to replicate poses from iconic works of Western art, including the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and nudes by Raphael, Degas, Delacroix, and Rembrandt. The images from Webcam Venus were striking not because of their NSFW content, but because of the way they juxtaposed the hard-core with high-art. In one, a large-breasted woman in fishnet stockings lying next to a computer keyboard and mouse pulls her shirt down and assumes the pose of Modigliani’s Reclining Nude; in another, a performer who goes by “kimisquirtx” drapes herself across a bed and leans her head back, temporarily embodying Titian’s Venus of Urbino.
brbxoxo, which was launched today, cuts the performers out of the picture entirely, focusing instead on the small boxes which contain their lives: empty beds, home offices full of family photos, chairs draped in fabric, and all kinds of bleak carpeted interiors. The images flicker and change from one dimly-lit interior to the next, sometimes revealing traces of the sexcam performers’ particular demographics: a lonlely dildo there, a strangely skewed, oversize stuffed animal there. Ultimately, however, these interiors are crushingly normal and pointedly unsexy. “We have the same IKEA sheets,” Wagenknecht points out.
There is something unsettling about seeing too much of another user’s personal world. For Sale listings on Craigslist have this unintentionally voyeuristic quality, too: a video game console on the floor, taken in flash photograph, surrounded by the ephemera of the seller’s life. A piece of furniture for sale, photographed in the living room it once called home. In a digital world where we curate every aspect of our forward-facing personas, where we know all our best angles, where our homes and material possessions are hidden away from sight and we all sublimate into aspirational versions of our selves, there are few places where the real banality of everyday life can shine online.
Those places tend to be those no one cares enough to consider: who, after all, is looking at furniture when there’s a nubile sexcam performer in the foreground, contorting to his or her viewers’ desires? But the background reveals so much. Almost too much: some of the empty scenes which appear on the brbxoxo site, coded by Brannon Dorsey, feel as voyeuristic as watching someone perform sexual acts on camera. These are personal spaces, full of rich details about the lives they contain.
As Wagenknecht explains, the ability we now all share to be whoever we want to be online—anywhere, anytime—is “creating a new definition of intimacy and public knowledge—public intimacy…There seems to be this lack of awareness of personal space or how the camera frames it. There is no curation, the cam spaces can often tell you so much about a person—what they eat, what they wear, their taste in art, music, location.” In revealing the details of these so-called “cam spaces,” Wagenknecht believes, brbxoxo reveals “an entire secondary narrative.”
It’s no secret that human sexuality is expressed in its fullest potential online. From the professional to the amateur, the “vanilla” to the underground, sex and its communities are the bread-and-butter of the Internet. This has done a great deal—good and bad—to how sex is understood in public discourse, as well as its social ramifications. In a world where teenagers rampantly Snapchat and Senators sext, we are approaching a kind of banalization of sex. Wagenknecht says that “internet based social medias like cams and chat roulette have become the fulfillment of a trajectory towards normalization of the forbidden.”
After all, many of us unthinkingly share our every thought with the public sphere—how much bigger of a step is it to share our bodies? “Social media has brought new unconscious acceptance at a social level to the formerly hidden,” Wagenknecht says.