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Bindigirl--interview with Prema Murthy

[Prema Murthy's new project "BindiGirl" openned last month on The Thing
website (http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/). Eric Baudelaire caught up
with her recently, to ask a few questions about the project, and learn
more about those darn yellow earmuffs! -ag]

Eric Baudelaire: Who is Bindigirl?

Prema Murthy: Bindi is a girl born out of the "exotic" and "erotic." She
is the embodiment of desire for and of the "other" - the desire of
wanting to be known or to know on an intimate level and at the same time
finding safety, even power in distance, in being mysterious - liberation
in not being easily categorized.

Bindi is my avatar. Not only is she my alias in the virtual world but a
play on the word which in India means an incarnation of a Hindu deity,
the embodiment of an archetype. In this case she is the embodiment of
the "goddess/whore" archetype which has historically been used to
simplify the identity of women and their roles of power in society.

Bindi is neither here nor there but exists in screenal space. She is
somewhere between a question and an answer.

EB: There seems to be some degree of comfort, perhaps even liberation,
in Bindi's existence in screenal space, yet her bio
(http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/bio/biotext.html) suggests that
technology has failed her.

PM: Technology like religion was invented to help us cope with or
liberate us from our daily existence in a physical world - to make it
better somehow and bring us to higher levels of functioning. But we as
humans have "bugs" in our system that keep us from moving on to the next
level. Therefore our code (in both culture and computers) is erred. It
is not technology itself, or religion for that matter, that has failed
Bindi, but those people who use them as a means to keep in place
existing structures that reject diversity and a sharing of power.

In the BindiGirl site, I draw parallels between technology and Indian
religion. Bindi is meant to poke fun at how we have used these tools so
far to achieve a so-called "higher existence" and "greater cultural
understanding."

EB: By selling souvenirs on the site and setting-up pay-per-view
performances, is Bindi trying to extract some payback from her digital
predicament, or do these transactions simply confirm her subjugation?

PM: Bindigirl is the product of a colonialist mentality. She is very
aware that she is being watched. She asks for something in return for
being looked at to mimic the symbiotic relationship that exists in the
"real" world between the colonized and the colonizer. Not only does a
desire to conquer the Other exist in colonialism, but a longing by the
Other for its conqueror and his (capitalist) ideals. This pattern of
desire and longing must be re-evaluated before we can move on into a
post-colonial territory.

EB: So…. what's with the yellow earmuffs
(http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/souvenirs/souvenirs.html)?

PM: It can get pretty chilly with just a few dots to wear….!!!

EB: I don't blame her… Speaking of fashion, Wellhung
(http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/chat.html), Bindi's chatroom
counterpart, weighs in at 250 pounds and sports eyeglasses and blue
sweat pants from Wal-Mart. How have the aesthetics and class of the
colonialist archetype evolved in the digital age?

PM: For the most part it is still very white, very male and very
Western. But there are signs of change occurring, like with the
Zapatista movement for example.

Access seems to be a major deciding factor on who can actually launch
into cyberspace and make some kind of impact there. Access not only to
equipment but also to the knowledge of how to use the equipment - either
through other people or learning on your own - which in turn ends up
being about time and money.

It is very interesting to see how the Net is developing as corporations
are allotting huge portions of their budget to equipment and bandwidth,
but don't have any idea about how it all works or a clue about
aesthetics. Meanwhile, artists and hackers, who have the knowledge but
not the capital, are teaming up with them. Another type of symbiotic
relationship is forming but just who is the colonizer and the colonized
- the artist or the corporation - is hard to tell.

How I became interested in porn specifically on the Net was out of
research I was doing on streaming technology for my performances. I
searched for interesting art sites that were up-to-speed on the
technology but found that it was the porn industry that was way ahead of
everybody. They were using the newest software that was easy for anyone
to use and making money at it as well.

EB: Porn made the VCR, and it will make the Internet… Why does the
porn industry play such an important role in bringing technologies,
concepts and business models into the mainstream?

PM: Desire is a subject that many of us, despite race, class and gender,
can relate to in some way. It determines much of how we relate to other
people and things, how we identify and are identified. It touches a very
base aspect of who we are as human beings. I think we cannot escape
desire as a link between our minds and bodies. It is what makes us
human. Porn is just one manifestation of desire.

It makes sense to me that this very basic instinct is a driving force
behind much of what we do, including the development of technology.

EB: Is human desire modified when experienced through the interface of
technology?

PM: Masturbating to your favorite porn can get you off - quick and easy,
with no emotional strings attached, just as shopping through a catalogue
is quick and easy without the hassle of dealing with the people in the
stores. You know what you want, you get it, your done.

There is something very appealing about speed and convenience that
technology offers. But when it comes to the acting out of desire nothing
really can replace face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh encounters, or the
feeling of trying on a hot pair of heels!

Not that technology is supposed be the same as "live" encounters and
that real connections cannot be made using it, I just think that up
until now it is still not as satisfying.

I've heard of VR experiences where people can experience desire through
another's eyes, body, etc… but I personally can't do VR because it
makes me nauseous. I get motion sickness really easily…!

EB: Is all of your art digital?

PM: There is always an element of the digital in my work. I output
digital prints, usually inkjet or electrostatic, my performances are
broadcast on the Net, I process sounds either found or of my voice
through the computer… I am currently working on an installation using
a MIDI-triggering device to effect the audio and video environment.

It seems very natural to have chosen to use technology as my main means
of expression. Conceptually, my work in general is about how perceptions
of ourselves are changing through technology. But besides that, when it
come down to it, I am more comfortable with a mouse in my hand than I am
with a paintbrush.

EB: Another tool you seem pretty comfortable with is your body. In
Fakeshop (http://www.fakeshop.com/) there is also a lot of performance,
and a fair amount of nudity. What are the conceptual
continuities/discontinuities pertaining to physicality and
spectatorship?

PM: In Fakeshop performances we tend to deal with issues of the body and
how it's translated through technology. We talk about the body as a
generic body - an organ, a machine.

In Multiple Dwelling, an installation and performance piece presented by
Fakeshop last year, the performers wore coverings below the waist but
chests were bare. We wanted to present the body as a machine, a machine
that rebels against an overload of exterior technological control. We
made a conscious decision to use both male and female performers to
evoke a generic body because there would be nudity involved. All we
heard from many of the audience members was "look at all those breasts!"
They could not get past the fact that there was a half-naked body
standing in front of them. The male performers seemed invisible.

Women's bodies are read differently than men's. What makes this so
raises many of the same issues that I explore in my own personal work -
specifically, the female body as reproductive machine = a sexualized
body. Although we (women) are no longer valued socio-economically solely
as babymakers and caretakers we are still read culturally in the same
way.

I think it is really interesting how many Hollywood actresses are
following Pamela Anderson in having the silicone removed from their
breasts. It is like they are saying "we know that there is power in
sexuality but can't we move beyond it already!"

EB: How much longer will the Bindigirl site be up, and for how long will
we be able to catch your performances?

PM: BindiGirl will be featured in the [projects] section of Thing.net
(http://www.thing.net/) till the end of June. After that it will be
archived on the server. The performances will continue till the end of
June as well and then be archived on the site as a pay-per-view or as a
members-only section.

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