Liz Magic Laser,
For the video’s duration, the camera is unnervingly trained on Laser’s handbag, as multiple tentacle-like robot arms enter the frame to pinch, snip and suture.
Bypassing the purse’s zipper, the mechanized arms cut through its white crocheted exterior, extract her various belongings, and proceed to deface and destroy them. The artist’s driver’s license portrait is smeared with red lip gloss. A packet of Splenda is opened and poured. ATM-fresh twenties are tugged from her billfold, as the arms precisely cut out Andrew Jackson’s face and stitch thick black thread through his eyes.
While the work’s tautly poetic title suggests an investigation of identity, the use of the da Vinci Surgical System calls into question who or what is “mining” Laser’s personal effects for information. Certainly, the System’s operator does not have stewardship in mind and the entry of the robotic hands at the top of the frame suggests a puppeteer’s manipulation. Thus we are prodded to read the “surgery” as not only a fundamental intrusion of privacy, but an affront to individual autonomy.
Tellingly, “Mine” was first exhibited in an empty downtown Manhattan office building, as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s residency program, in 2009. It debuted in the midst of the subprime mortgage crisis and, mere spitting distance from Wall Street, in the eye of the storm. Given that context, the legal tender-shredding hands have a very specific referent.
But in the years since its debut, as “data mining” has become a commonplace transgression and drone technology has redefined warfare and surveillance, “Mine” has proven worryingly prescient in its depiction of remote forces surreptitiously observing — and to no small extent, managing — our activity.
After all, the da Vinci Surgical System, which was originally conceived as a kind of drone medic, capable of dispensing treatment to wounded soldiers while minimizing casualties, uses a form of remote robotics known as “master/slave” technology. That division, concretely reinforced by the slash, draws a clear line in the sand between the “operators” of power, from financiers to the military, and those whom are operated upon, with all the awareness of anesthetized patients.
Liz Magic Laser at Yale Union, Portland, OR.
Originally published in The Oregonian
Liz Magic Laser’s video “Mine,” 2009, which is currently installed at Yale Union, bears witness to a simple, somewhat absurd action: The New York artist’s purse is dissected and examined via the state-of-the-art, remotely operated da Vinci Surgical System. But within the succinct conceit of her video, implied meanings pile up, surfacing some of the most troubling aspects of our age.