Art Talk: Tiffany Trenda

Ellie Ebby

August 22, 2020

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This past Monday, the internationally celebrated and award-winning artist, Tiffany Trenda, gave a presentation of her work through the WITI Art and Tech Café and Gallery. Her works Vanishing Portrait, Ubiquitous States, and Proximity Cinéma were featured in the WITI Virtual Summit this year. The captivating presence found in Trenda's performance art is crafted with 3D printed costumes, inviting viewers to consider how the body, specifically the female body, interacts with technology. The 2010 piece faceME consists of a performer outfitted in a bodysuit adorned with two screens, one screen covering the performer's face with animated expressions. The performer's body language replicates that of a robot, blurring the line between human and machine in how the performer is perceived in the combination of the physical and simulated world. Through the nature of performance art in which each individual experience is the medium, Trenda utilizes technology as a second skin in which she can transform into an augmented creature.

The way in which the physical body is altered in its combination with technological systems inspires the question of where identity lives and how it can be disclosed or concealed through the frequent usage of everyday devices. Trenda sees the cell phone as one of today's most intimate objects, as it holds all of our information and allows for an environment in which private conversations are circulating in public spaces. The cell phone can also promote a power structure change via the rise of the selfie, which actively lessens the prominence of the role of the male gaze in the world of image taking. Allowing for broad audiences and perspectives, online performance platforms such as Instagram become a resource of images created for the internet's gaze. Trenda's interactive videos featured in Vanishing Portrait Series call attention to the manipulations of identity that these platforms may reinforce, whether that be in the form of harmful Instagram filters, racist hashtags, or whitewashing beauty standards. Viewing technology as a reflection of our time, there is a call to our collective consciousness that insists on diversifying the human processes behind building such algorithms. As Google AI is able to read and react when a person is staring at the screen, the interactivity of this series further suggests how we are constantly bringing our own experiences into the world around us, even if only passively viewing the world from behind a screen.

Exploring the possibility of creating empathy from virtual reality and the concept of sensationalism in a state withdrawn from human touch, some of Trenda's work also brings light to issues such as cyber rape and online harassment. When explaining the theory behind her work, Trenda emphasized that there is a difference between putting the viewer in someone else's shoes and keeping the body connected in order to bring the viewer's own history into the perspective through which they try to understand someone else's experiences. Trenda continues to question how the virtual can be limiting in this sense but also sees sensory systems as hopeful future machines of connection, rather than data collections alone. In an attempt to match heartbeats between two strangers, Ubiquitous States incites the question of whether advancing technology connects us closer or prohibits the chance of visceral experiences.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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