Artist gazes at porn performer -- through Google Glass (Q&A)

Molly Crabapple, known most recently for her paintings inspired by the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street, presents a modern take on Degas' dancers as she explores the boundaries of Google Glass.

Portrait of the porn performer and aerialist Stoya, by Molly Crabapple. Molly Crabapple

The revolution won't be televised, but it may get livestreamed over Google Glass.

At least, it's taking a step in that direction on Wednesday as writer and artist Molly Crabapple livestreams her latest drawing project with a hacked pair of Google Glass. Inspired by Edgar Degas' paintings of dancers, Crabapple will be drawing the adult film actress and aerialist Stoya as she moves through her warm-up routine.

And yes, Stoya will be clothed.

The project, called "Glass Gaze: An online performance with hacked Glass and Stoya," is multifaceted. It looks at the relationship between the artist's eye and the model, and how what the artist sees is not necessarily what winds up on the page. And aside from test runs, this will be the first time that Crabapple will be using Google Glass.

Born Jennifer Caban, the New York native Crabapple has a long history documenting the political and social turmoil of the 21st century with breezy, Victorian-style linework.

She is one of four people who has been allowed to draw the prison and military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Her 2013 New York exhibition "Shell Game," a surrealist approach to the financial crisis, led Rolling Stone to call her "Occupy's greatest artist." Crabapple's successfully funded "Week in Hell" Kickstarter project helped elevate the crowdfunding site's profile among artists as a viable way to fund non-mainstream art.

Journalist Tim Pool, who hacked his own pair of Glass over the summer to assist in reporting from crisis areas, hacked Crabapple's pair of Glass so that it could livestream.

In this lightly edited transcript from an instant message conversation, Crabapple discussed with CNET how being able to look through the artist's eye challenges the art of expression.

Seth Rosenblatt: "Glass Gaze" is a bit different from your usual project. How did it come about? Molly Crabapple: People often ask me what I'm seeing when I draw. What sort of thing goes on between what's in front of my eyes and what's on the paper. What interested me about Google Glass was that it's a way to capture looking itself -- with everything f**ked and fascinating that implies.

What's f**ked about it is that a giant corporation, with ties to the NSA, that mines everything for advertising, can track exactly what someone looks at. Perhaps not in this [iteration] of Google Glass, but certainly in future ones.

How did you choose to work with Stoya? Crabapple: First off, she's an old friend and I love her. Second, because she's just charisma and beauty. Third of all, because I'm a bit obsessed with Degas' dancers, and as both a porn star and a circus performer, she's in some ways a modern embodiment of them.

I told her to do positions like she would if she was warming up for an aerial performance. And she's going to be wearing her practice gear, so it's an update on the concept.

What is it about the dancers that has you obsessed? Crabapple: They're held up as these symbols of fragile beauty. And they are.

But they're also these iron-tough, working-class athletes, who were mostly sex workers, and that heritage gets lost when we take them out of context. That mixture of glamor and toughness has been one of the main inspirations of my art.

What fascinates you about Glass? Crabapple: Well, photos are still moments, framed and composed. And video is edited -- they're fundamentally different from unedited livestream shot direct from your eyes. The way your eye moves is a much less deliberate, controlled thing than the click and pinch you do on the iPhone -- that's what makes wearables like Glass so fascinating but also kind of horrifying.

Do you think Glass will change how artists perceive their own art, if they use it? Crabapple: Drawing while wearing Glass is incredibly distracting. You keep having this Pavlovian drive to look at the little image on the glowing cube, as opposed to the big world in front of you, which is really one of the downfalls of mobile tech in general. When it's hacked to run uStream, the little image in the Glass is the same as what's in front of me in the real world -- and I find myself wanting to look at that little image.

Are there going to be contact lenses in 10 years that use facial recognition to tie people to their Facebook accounts?

Was it hard to narrow your focus to exclude the Glass? And, if so, do you think that it's going to be difficult for others as well? Crabapple: Very hard. I think that's the point: to colonize daily life and make it seamless with the network. Even the term "Explorers Program" is unintentionally sinister. Explorers historically haven't been neutral. They've been the shock troops for an empire taking over a new place.

Drawing is all about focus. Staring hard at one thing, making patient marks, smearing colored pigment on a sheet of paper until it's right. It's physical.

Glass is all about distraction, and it's the ultimate in unphysical -- it's light on a piece of clear plastic in front of your eye.

Molly Crabapple, who is live-streaming her latest project through hacked Google Glass. Steve Prue/Molly Crabapple

Is it bad that Google wants to insert more Internet into our lives? Crabapple: I wouldn't moralize like that. It's Google's nature. Companies want more market share. [What if] you could make reality itself that thing you get market share of?

What I wanted to do with Glass Gaze is to take the most classical, thousand-year-old way of looking: an artist looking at a model. It's the most undistracted, direct, unmediated thing. And then run it through this super-mediated, captured, commodified way of seeing that Glass represents.

Also, I wanted to let people know what it was I saw when I drew stuff.

Well, close to what you see, right? Crabapple: Half an inch above.

Which is incredible, from a technological point of view. Crabapple: It really is. That's the fascinating, fantastic part of it. It's black magic, the world literally from another's eyes.

I don't want to sound too negative -- it's an amazing technological achievement. And there are always old people, for every one of these achievements, saying, "Back before the written language, people had to memorize things!"

But I wouldn't wear Google Glass when I was going to the bar, either. Or really, outside of doing special art wank projects.

Do you think you'll be doing more with Glass in the future? Crabapple: I'm not sure. It's a glimpse into a future way of seeing that fascinates me, even if I wouldn't say I "liked" it per se.

Update at 1:30 p.m. PDT to credit Tim Pool with the Google Glass livestream hack.

 

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