“The Internet,” sings Trekkie Monster in the musical Avenue Q, “is for porn.” Estimating pornography’s share of Internet traffic is an activity that may rival the popularity of adult content: unsubstantiated figures in the 40-50% range abound. A more credible number, however, comes from the neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, who researched this subject with co-author Sai Gaddam for their book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts. Ogas told Forbes: “From July 2009 to July 2010, about 13% of Web searches were for erotic content.”
The impact of pornography on inter- and intra-human relations is still contested. One thing, however, is clear: the rise of online pornography has changed our relationships with technology. Digital Sweat Gallery, an online gallery created by Christian Petersen, aims to explore these changing relationships. It is, in Petersen’s words, “a platform for digital artists to explore sexual and erotic themes.”
For his gallery’s opening exhibit–also entitled Digital Sweat–Petersen invited a range of digital artists to submit works that addressed the theme of erotics. The entries displayed on Petersen’s site are mainly animated gifs. These works of art, like sexual expression, run the gamut from alluring to intriguingly off-putting, often blurring the line between seriousness and humour. Rick Silva’s “Multitouch”, for instance, reimagines scrolling on a MacBook’s trackpad as quasi-sexual caressing motion. In “Activity Milk,” Carolyn Tripp replaces areolae with the spinning “loading” symbol that crops up in user interfaces across the Internet.
“I know it when I see it.”
By sexualizing the online realm, Digital Sweat emphasizes the ways in which we have become connected to our devices. This is not object sexuality; it is the recognition that objects can take on sexual connotations even if one is not attracted to them. In that spirit, Ole Fach’s “Porn Behind Coca Cola Bottle” is a literal interpretation of Freudian symbolism. The piece, as its name implies, superimposes a phallic Coke bottle onto pornographic footage. The visual gag is sophomoric, but intentionally so. Like much of Digital Sweat, “Porn Behind Coca Cola Bottle” takes concerns about sexuality in 2015 and stretches them to the point of absurdity.
Asked to define obscenity—and, by extension, pornography—United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously declared: “I know it when I see it.” Stewart’s definition may have worked in 1964, but it’s now quite hard to make sense of what one sees. Digital Sweat teases out these challenges by featuring works that juxtapose erotic and decidedly un-sexy elements. At what threshold do these works become pornographic? Unlike Stewart, we cannot know this point when we see it, and that’s why Digital Sweat’s probing of Internet culture is so badly needed.