Portraits (Terminators, 2011)


Single channel video, 3D tracking, and post-production software


The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism.  But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins.  Their fathers, after all, are inessential.

– Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” 1985

Portraits began as an investigation of Youtube 3D motion-tracking software tutorials.  One such tutorial, using various proprietary softwares that could produce what was touted as a “realistic” Terminator eye effect, became immensely popular over the course of a few short months.  Each user diligently constructed his Terminator eye adding slight variations, including FX-enhanced backgrounds, animations, and title sequences.  An ad hoc community sprang up around the learning process, each user commenting on each other’s progress, sharing tips and compliments as the group continued to grow.  Trends and motifs appeared; footage of the user was usually taken by a laptop camera, in low resolution, contrasting greatly with the high resolution images produced with the 3D modeling software.  To show off the 3D motion tracking, and presumably to echo the stilted, robotic actions of the Terminator, most users slowly turned their heads right and left, up and then down.  The young men peer at their laptops from bedrooms, dorm rooms, bathrooms, some locations digitally replaced or enhanced with flames and the flicker of static to appear cinematic.

Ultimately, are we willing to accept that the image of the Terminator is the product of a reflexive circuit that causes us to endlessly recreate the very technology that destroys us?  Cameron’s Terminator could be identified as a symptom of the long narrative of militarism that lies at the beginning of so much of our present technology.  The parents of many of our current consumer electronics are, literally, military-grade.  However, these participants – tech-savvy fanboys – are able to participate in a community that doesn’t discriminate based upon access to the means of software production.  Theirs is a taste culture that depends upon predilection and a certain amount of technological access.  Asking whether or not they constitute a “real” community is hardly relevant; rather, we should pay attention to how they re-make themselves and the Terminator in order to make it something entirely new.  These Terminators, as explained by N. Katherine Hayles, might be thought of as “… a dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines [that] replaces the liberal humanist subject’s manifest destiny to dominate and control nature.”  Here, the bonafide cyborg is not the fictitious Terminator, but the fluid relationship between users and software that allows for a creative, passionate community despite the often rigid restrictions of proprietary, commercial tools.