Ariane Roesch was attending graduate school in California a few years ago when she noticed that her relationship with her laptop had begun to change.
“I would have these long Skype sessions with people back home and I noticed that my computer screen had begun to feel like the person I was talking to,” she says. “It was sort of unsettling.”
For the 29-year-old Houston artist, those interactions raised a series of questions: Was she willingly investing emotional energy in her computer or was the machine slyly compelling it from her? Are there consequences to building intimacy with a mechanized device or is the budding intimacy between man and machine an inevitability signaling human progress?
To explore these questions Roesch began digging into the history of the PC. Her goal was to unpack the mystery surrounding how these formerly passive machines—housed in huge air-conditioned vaults and lorded over by teams of scientists—were refashioned to fit on our laps, becoming crucial members of the average American household.
The result of that research is “Playmates,” a series of six early model PCs that Roesch has replicated using fabric, turning the prehistoric-looking PCs into interactive playthings made of felt. The effect is both humorous and creepy, a literal rendering of the computer’s original marketing copy and its empty anthropomorphic declarations, such as: “I am more than an intelligent terminal.”
Variations of that copy, which she discovered during her research, are stamped on each one of the playmates, giving them a painfully awkward voice of sorts.
“When you personify the machine it becomes very weird,” says Roesch, who spends up to a week hand sewing each Playmate using photos and old PCs as her guide. “But that was also part of the plan early on—to make these machines more attractive to children, who would become life-long customers.”
Roesch is no exception, she says, pointing out that she spends her days tethered to an iPad. She described her embrace of technology as a reluctant one. Her work exploring the role it plays in our lives is more reflective than political, the artist's own way of understanding how mechanization is affecting her relationship with herself.
“I feel like we tend to accept technology before we understand its consequences,” she says. "I think we need to have a dialogue about it before we make it a part of the everyday."
Roesch's work will be on display alongside five other artists during "A New Wave," an exhibition at Williams Tower Gallery from September 18 - October 25, 2013. The exhibition will open with a reception on September 18 from 6-8:30 p.m.
(Photo at the top of the page by Valerie Green.)