Interview with Dirty New Media Artist Shawné Michaelain Holloway

Beatriz Preciado writes in Testo Junkie, “After World War II the somato-political context of the bodies technopolitical production seems to be dominated by a series of new technologies of the body (biotechnology, surgery, endocrinology, genetic engineering etc.) and representation (photography, cinema, television, internet, video games  etc.) that infiltrate and penetrate daily life like never before. There are biomolecular, digital, and broadband data transmission technologies. This is the age of soft, featherweight, viscious, gelatinous technologies that can be injected, inhaled, incorporated." 

We could apply Preciado’s description of these technologies to a genre of art that leaves the idea of the romantic painter behind. Instead we have art that can be seen in a white box gallery projected on a wall or even taken in from your own cozy bed while you’re bathed in the white light from your laptop. Still art that can be a personal reflection, a call to arms, an exposition, an experiment. This "New Media Art" is created with these technologies;think: computer, internet, robotics, biotechnology (any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use), graphics; and nestles itself in social and cultural context of the present time and begs for an interaction between creator, work, and observer. 

Shawné Michaelain Holloway is a Chicago native living in Paris studying design and technology at Parsons. Her website is a collage of screenshots, social media, iPhone conversations, play buttons, digital images, and self-portraits. I am left with impressions of Shawné's lips, gem emojis, flashing text "i look cuter on the internet," neon, and snippets of porn.

Shawné's work is sexy, yes, but it touches on the deeper darker places of what it means to be human - a woman, someone who desires, and the object of desire. Shawné's work screams from my laptop, and I’m right there with her. I’m in her room, on her disheveled bed, soaking in a soapy bath. We are taken from our reality and inhaling hers.

How do you define your visual language/aesthetic?

Slowed and shifted, fragmented and distant. Unclean and monochromatic, claustrophobic and persistent:  I want every piece I make to feel like a garbled transmission or a heavy body high. Looking back, it was jonCates introducing Evan Meany’s video work to me as student that really impacted me the most. The way he uses glitch art, a medium focused on error and failure to talk about memory in /THE_CEIBAS_CYCLE still remains extremely impactful to me. It really reflected the gravity of the project and I try to accomplish that weight as much as possible in my own work as unapologetically as possible.

The ideas I’m exploring now are not suitable for high definition or carefully constructed rendering. I want to stand in aesthetic and thematic opposition to this clean, light, white, bright, and hyper-arranged look that’s super in right now-- especially with my self-portraits. None of that stuff reflects my identity and I’m interested in #representing with every signifier I can. Instead: I’m black, I’m anxious, I’m messy, cynical, impulsive, extremely sentimental, and quite structured. I’m only happy when my work successfully reflects these things equally.

How did you begin working in art and new media?

I never thought I’d be an artist. At first I rejected it because art was always around and I wanted to run away and be something completely different. First, I tried acting and modeling but hated how cool everyone needed me to be. In reality, I was sitting around behind a computer writing in livejournal all day long about teenage love and coding javascript to make my profile look cute. I never really felt comfortable anywhere but online.

I found new media on complete accident because I didn’t know it existed as an art. It suddenly legitimized all the hours I spent online learning programming languages and communicating with others while encouraging me to think critically about pop culture and history.  It fit my vibe and the skills I had were completely acceptable from the get go. I felt included and like my peers actually wanted to listen to what I had to say. I got a sense that we were building the definition of new media together and I needed so desperately to be a part of that and thankfully, as long as there is new media and new cultural development, I always will.

Can you describe "dirty new media"?

Dirty New Media is a kind of new media art that embraces the failure and chaos of human systems and emotion in the pursuit of a cathartic mediated expression. It incorporates glitch art, narrative film, creative writing, sound composition, critical scholarship, curatorial practice, and many other elements as mediums to communicate a quite active fantasy-turned-fetish of technological workflows and radical openness. In general, Dirty New Media artists strive to convey a feeling in their work that equally reflects the amount of emotional and digital labour that was used to conceive and birth a given project. Dirty New Media has a diverse aesthetic but its content always returns to the way in which we are being, feeling, and existing within pervasive socio-technological systems. From sex to copy-write, Dirty New Media artists are always #thinking and #feeling through network landscapes.

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In one of the articles linked on your website there is a quote from Jerry Saltz,  “It is a whole new landscape, a new biology, one that is changing us as much as we are changing it—and could one day live on the moon or inside us. Either way, we are digital’s bitches.” What is your relationship to technology, to your technological devices?

I allow myself to get completely involved with my tech. I feel like I’m in a relationship with my phone and my computer. Actually, once I made an artware detailing my master/slave relationship with my laptop that scheduled regular events to clean the desktop and organize the files. It made me sign a new contract each time and then it put them into a restricted folder. I’m not afraid of getting attached to these devices because I’ve always seen them as extensions of myself. Inside the browser is my natural habitat. My work is peppered with references to windows and browsers and interfaces. I’m really interested in how UX design systematically manipulates us via structures that have been devised to increase capital or control users. For example, this is what my video a_personal_project, IV: password protected thaumatrope, security measures for a caged is about feeling trapped both inside and outside these systems.

Let’s talk about connecting and disconnecting. How do you feel that the digital age we live in has affected the way we connect or disconnect to reality, to art, to other people?

I know people talk a lot these days about feeling disconnected from reality or nature or other bodies, but I really don’t see how that could possibly be. I feel like these are the same people who also get in fights or discover life-altering information on Facebook but don’t realize that this is the exact kind of power that the digital world (and especially social media world) produces. Anything and everything we do online impacts us in our physical world. Our consciousness and data survives without us in databases that are constantly acting and being acted upon. I really detest this point of view that we have a true nature away from the network. It presumes that humans in their state right now  have a specific perfection that can otherwise be damaged if influenced by external forces. To me, I see our technoscape as a catalyst for evolution. It has the potential to consume us.

What’s your grad school experience like? How has it been living abroad?

I had a unique opportunity to study at Parsons Paris with Benjamin Gaulon, a well-known artist/hacker whose work focuses on planned obsolescence and failure. I was exposed to it as an undergraduate at SAIC and there was just no way I was going to say no to learning from someone with that much experience and expertise. Most importantly, It has been extremely important for me to receive guidance from someone whose work is so different than mine. His brain works in a completely different way, and he looks at activism within a bigger picture, whereas I try to come at it from an individual perspective.  In Chicago I was surrounded by people who worked in a similar way and bonded over common methodologies. In Paris I’ve gotten a chance to get another point of view in the midst of constant reminders to not be afraid of trying new things. I’ve now been in Paris for a year and a half. While I’ve been pretty diligent about curating my experience here, I’m excited to have been exposed to so many new ideas through the culture and architecture. My favorite part of my time here has been smushing my two art worlds together: Parsons and SAIC co-organized the festival in the spring.

Was there a moment when you began to define yourself as a feminist? How do you define feminism?

Absolutely I’m a feminist but I am even more of a humanist. I’m black and traditional understandings of the word “feminist” are complicated for me. I don’t fit into the communities that label themselves feminist, and I’m ok with that. I’m brown and I sexualize myself so I might as well be as unrepresented in the feminist community as men. I sometimes find URL pockets of black feminism, but it’s just the same there too. We need to advocate for the rights and fair treatment of women’s bodies and social standing, but we don’t need to judge and step on each other inside the community in the process. For example, it blows my mind when people look at my work and say, “you’re glorifying sex work, aren’t you afraid young girls will see this and want to be like you and start to put themselves into positions that make them vulnerable?” or when someone tells me something is too aggressively BDSM-related to be seen within the feminist ethic. I get so confused; feminism, to me,  is acknowledging others have agency and emotions and using your own agency and emotions to live your life without trying to dehumanize others. I’m a feminist, but I’m not running with the pack, and I don’t feel left out because I was never included in the first place.  

How did your upbringing influence your art practice, you as a woman?

Art has always been in my life. My mother, Letitia Holloway, is a super talented designer. I watched her go from hanging fancy wallpapers to doing full-scale custom homes where she designs everything from the bedframes to the stairwells. Her work ethic is immovable and being around that taught me that I can always get what I want if I work for it. I’m really lucky to have someone in my life who is supportive and takes care of me. I still don’t know how she managed to beast the single-mother mode so hard.

As I got older, she got really adamant about how I needed to stick to doing what I love and that I needed to take an ethical route to success so I’d be able to feel good about myself. She’s always indirectly telling me that it is important to enjoy what one works for in a meaningful way and making sure you take care of yourself mentally and physically in order to do so.

I found experimental arts outside of her guidance, but if it weren’t for her encouraging me to apply to SAIC after a largely miserable time at a liberal arts school, I wouldn’t be where I am now. She also attended SAIC, and our similar experiences as artists brings us closer all the time.

What sort of challenges have you experienced as a female artist? As a woman in general? As a woman of color?

I think visibility and representation is a hard thing for anyone with a minoritized identity. My artwork doesn’t function in certain circles simply because it’s not the right aesthetic, but I’m not so interested in being curated into those kinds of environments in the first place. I’ll say “no, thank you” before I let myself or my voice be silenced. However, sometimes I’ll push my work into spots where it isn’t supposed to be just to juxtapose overt ignorance-- even if only one person notices that dichotomy, I’m happy.  I’m not afraid to let others go ahead and hate or challenge me. I’m also not afraid of people misunderstanding my position within these gender and race politics. For example, I get a lot of shit about aligning myself with because of the sexual content and the roles that men have in creating it. I stand by my participation and my project in essays I write as well as in conferences.

This isn’t to say I haven’t taken a stand in opposition of white-middle-aged-noise-bro mentality, though. I noticed almost immediately when I shaved my head and started mouthing off that I got more attention and respect from my community so I exaggerated my masculinity to see what would happen. I did everything I could to deny them the opportunity to sexulize me IRL so I could maintain some sort of control over the way in which my artwork was consumed. Since arriving in Paris, my work has become more feminine, soft and open. Because I’m working more on my own, I’m away from the social dynamics that help me build that wall. While I’m happy I’m out from under that pressure, I also feel as though I’m not actively pushing against it. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I know I don’t have to be loud to make an impact but right now I have the energy, and I would like to be as boisterous as possible.

Do you have a favorite emoji, text slang, or abbreviation?
I suppose it’s more of a text meme but “This could be us but you playin” def takes the cake.