“Welcome to the Global Stage” and “RMB City”: Imagining the Self of the Internet

I’m writing this blog post amidst half-done ceramic doll-people that comprise my (soon-to-be-finished) art thesis, and try as I might I’ve failed to come up with a topic that does not relate to art. On a related note, this is also my first ever blog-post. We’ll all see where this ends up.

After reading and discussing “Welcome to the Global Stage: Confessions of a Latina Cyber-Slut” within Juana María Rodríguez’s Queer Latinidad, I began rethinking an art project (based in cyberspace) by artist Cao Fei. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which Fei’s project illustrates many of the same phenomenon mentioned by Rodríguez in her tales of cyber adventures. Yet, I am also interested in the ways Fei’s work is more rooted in a DIY identity than the chat-room based experiences of Rodríguez, and how Fei’s work reflects a different sort of subjectivity. I think these differences demonstrate how different identities relate to the discursive space of the Internet.

Cao Fei is an artist I studied in my art theory class (major-requirement) and who was quite controversial for many of us art majors. Fei has worked in video, but as of 2005 she has become more and more interested with the Internet as a tool for art making, and as viewing art as a social practice. In general Fei is interested in how people mix their imagined or idealized identities with their real identitites and how the professional and public world can both nurture our fantasies and limit what identities we can perform or even what identities we can imagine. Fei is also interested in the ways people create private identities as coping mechanisms that allow them to deal with traumas as they navigate the social world. In the art piece “Whose Utopia”, for example, Fei provides light-bulb factory workers opportunities to re-imagine themselves and perform this new-self, and in so doing Fei hopes they can also re-value themselves outside the monetary valuing of the worker.

In 2006 Fei started the project “iMirror”, which is essentially the tale of her fictitious avatar, China (given name) Tracy (chosen name) withing the role-playing game of Second Life, which was/is popular in China. China Tracy is documented as she uses her body, an imitation of a female body, to explore the virtual world and how these performances and their patterns establish a sense of self. This to me is reminiscent to how Rodríguez reminds us that even in the body-less discursive space of the chat room, the imagining of the body is all encompassing and almost phatasmagorical. In iMirror, the exaggerated, expensive organs that Tracy aquires to become female encourage certain responses from other users and determining the type of social self that is developed. Eventually Tracy, like Rodríguez, develops a romantic relationship within Second Life, although exclusively with a male avatar. Generally, this space imposes a kind of heteronormativity or indulging in a male-fantasy of lesbianism that enforces heteronormativity (men role playing as female). Yet, like in the chat-room, the anonymity of Second Life does open up a broader possibility of relationships than most users would experience in real life (the possibility that both users are secretly male). Additionally, as with Rodríguez, Fei does learn about aspects of her lover from the real world. Eventually she does learn about her lover.

Over the course of her experiences as Tracy in Second Life, Fei comes to believe that the Internet is an allegorical exaggeration of aspects of the real world, and is not liberating. While the characters are free to create themselves and become hyper-sexual bodies, constraints from the real world impede upon any desire for liberation. Rodríguez comments upon how the discursive space of the chat-room is not free from cultural impediments from the real world (such as the ones that appear when she enters a lesbian chat room and is asked western-specific questions to determine her validity). As a result of this realization that Second Life is merely a reflection of the constraints of Real Life, Fei comes up with the idea to create her own world: “RMB City” (a word play in Chinese). In 2007 she created her own city for Second Life to open up some possibilities that were closed off to her in the normal parameters of Second Life. He overall goal was to make this city an allegorical version of the real world with utopian proclivities. She wanted something consciously designed and collaboratively made and have a collage-like quality. Eventually, an electoral system was implemented and users could vote for and be elected as mayor so as to implement and advocate for changes they desired. Overall, Cao Fei is interested in how RMB City is rooted in a Chinese subjectivity, and how RMB becomes a sort of space to deal with the trauma that occurs in the cultural clash between the “Eastern” and the “Western”.

Obviously there are major differences between Fei’s art projects (based in video-games) and Rodríguez’s experiences in language-based chatrooms. Yet, I feel there is something of a corollary to and expansion of the ideas that Rodríguez develops in the chapter. In addition, I am intrigued by the ways contrasting Fei’s project with Rodríguez’s emphasizes the ways in which both are rooted in a unique subjectivity.


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