Contemporary digital artists have been exploring the function of the face and its relation to public space for several decades. This essay offers a close reading of artworks by Keith Piper, Nancy Burson, Keith Obadike, and the collective Mongrel that address the relation between race discourse and the visual representation (or elision) of the face. As the most reproduced visual sign on the Internet, the face continues to operate as a threshold to public space. Facebook, the largest social networking site with more than 80 million registered members, has uploaded more than 4 billion images in the past four years alone. The writings of media theorist Mark Hansen offer a provocative starting point to explore how a desire for racial neutrality can lead to the unintentional repression of important forms of cultural difference. Two models of ethics, grounded in the writings of Giorgio Agamben and Emannuel Levinas, respectively, are posed as alternatives in the quest for understanding the importance of “the face.” Finally, the essay asks what role secrecy might play in the production and subversion of the public sphere, as well as in the fantasy constructions of race and racial difference.
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Jennifer González; The Face and the Public: Race, Secrecy, and Digital Art Practice. Camera Obscura 1 May 2009; 24 (1 (70)): 37–65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2008-014
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