(This article contains adult content) - Wanting to utilize social media and the female form in a subversive way, artist and game developer A.M. Darke, a.k.a., Aliah, tricked Snapchat’s face detection algorithms into recognizing her breast as a face, and applied lenses accordingly. Darke tells The Creators Project that it was a way to explore “digi-physical body-mod” in the wake of a drawn-out breakup. She calls the pop-up, hosted on her Snapchat page “prettydarke,” the ar+ show / technology is stupid, but so am i.
In one augmented reality lens, Darke and her pierced breast get face-swapped. In another, a cat perches on her breast. It also gets transformed into an augmented reality angel, duck with pigtails and glasses, a deer, and a nurse with disturbing cuts, amongst others.
“It wasn't until after physically modifying my body that I became aware of the ‘glitch’ that allows me to utilize Snapchat's face-recognition in this way,’ says Darke, who decided to enter a period of celibacy and, in a way, ritualize this decision by piercing her nipple with a barbell. “My best guess is that the nipple/barbell combo makes it look like a nose to snapchat's lens software. It doesn't automatically trigger—I've got to get into different angles and lighting. Certain cloth colors also help make my breast seem more like a face.”
“I think it's interesting that the physical body modification enabled the digital one,” she adds. “The breast was not an obvious choice, just stumbled upon that with, uh, typical use.”
Darke, a heavy social media user, believes social platforms are one of the few places where she feels like she can really process her feelings. At the same time, she recognizes that these platforms are not safe spaces. “In theory, people follow you and are opting in, but there's also an often unspoken policing that goes on,” Darke says.
Users become accountable to audience expectations, whether they be friends, family, colleagues or strangers. Darke, who only recently started using Twitter and Instagram, and guards her privacy on Facebook, is skeptical of these platforms but also realizes they are a utility. Her work is often about agency, specifically how to create it for marginalized bodies. So the Snapchat ar+ pop-up show, as Darke is referring to it, and other works, are a way of liberating herself from identities imposed on her and the expectations that come along with them.
The Snapchat pop-up also grew out of Darke having been left out of a feminist art show a couple months ago, which prompted a conversation about how to foster and democratize creative space. This resulted in a call for developing a mixed-use space in virtual reality.
Darke didn’t arbitrarily chose Snapchat for this pop-up. She says she had never before been nude in her work. And even though Darke is aware that users can save the content, she was willing to take the leap because of Snapchat’s otherwise adequate ephemerality.
“Snap [also] has a great feature that allows you to see who viewed the work,” she adds. “It's about 40 people so far. One guy keeps sending me dick pics, but mostly I'm just getting screenshots and 'LMAO’s.”
“I just think it's good to remind ourselves that computers are dumb,” she says of the subversion of Snapchat’s face detection technology. “It's easy to be intimidated by technology, but often things that look really sophisticated are effective because they are doing something quite simple in concept.”