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Revealing The Illusion Of Perfect Beauty With Art Series 'Law Of Averages'

Addie Wagenknecht's new series quantifies idealized forms and unveils the fallacies of beauty norms.

Miss America 2013, 39x50cm Print, Vienna, 2014

The seventh sense has changed from a psychic reference to understanding a form of code as if it were a language or part of our daily existence. Opening April 4, LEAP gallery in Berlin will showcase Obsessive Sensing, a group show featuring the works of eight artists who delve into sensing things we can’t actually see, but are becoming omnipresent in our digitally-modified lives.


Vienna-based American artist Addie Wagenknecht will show a new series called Law of Averages, algorithmically-computed prints which use pixel averages on image searches. The pieces are compiled using eye tracking and RGB averages to create a perfect average (and composite) of the aggregated data.

Whether it's Selfie, the personification of anti-glamour, or Miss America, which pinpoints the calculated perfection of beauty, Wagenknecht reveals perfect averages she has found with these computer-generated, auto-tuned portraits.

Known for fusing pop culture, tech, and OpenSource software, her body of work includes intersections of humans and machines, such as Optimization of Parenting, Part 2 where a robot arm reacted to a baby crying in a crib as if it were a worried parent. She also made pop-friendly pieces like Webcam Venus, which asked webcam sex workers to pose as famous works of art, while Asymmetric Love equipped a baroque chandelier with CCTV cameras.

Leafing through her art is like scanning a news site where you can’t resist the temptation to click on everything you’re not supposed to. Slowly, she will be everywhere. We spoke with Wagenknecht about the seventh sense, quantifying idealized forms, and why your Google search results for "happily ever after" will never look the same as anyone else's.

The Creator’s Project: How do you feel your work ties into the Obsessive Sensing theme of this group show? Can you tell us what the seventh sense means to you?


Addie Wagenknecht: There is a type of sense called conscious proprioception and unconscious proprioception. It is the brain’s knowledge of the relative position of the body’s parts. This is a similar point where artificial intelligence and machine learning starts coming in, in relation to human senses.

Cameras with 50 gigapixels have four times the resolution of normal human vision. Once these cameras are commercially viable and once they become cheap, the improved affordable sensors will make it easier for artificial intelligence to gain more benefit from pattern recognition. This means, to some extent, we will have a baseline robot that will surpass human ability to sense. In the case of the exhibition, Obsessive Sensing, most of us are working with how information we cannot perceive is quantified by code. It is sort of a low-level artificial intelligence exercise, as we are still able to manipulate much of the data points.

We are approaching a time, if we aren't already in it, where everything we are creating is with the language of code; it is beyond our own intelligence as a species. Fluency in code is becoming a necessity to evolve as a species. Depending on the applications we make with these code bases, we have the ability to flourish or destroy ourselves by our own creative output, and I find something really poetic about that.

The Law of Averages series is like looking at the internet drunk at 4 a.m. How do you feel about norms?


That is a loaded question for 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. There are so many types of norms, but without defining which norms you are referring to—social, person, gender ­ I don't really know where to start. I suppose to some extent we all want to fit in somewhere with someone, even if its at the outcast table with the other outcast. Norms really come down to being about fear and everything we want is on the other side of fear. Norms keep us fearful and placid, so we don't get too interesting or adventurous. If the majority of society wasn't afraid of failure or of being different ­ where would we be?

'Selfie,' 50x70cm Print, Vienna, 2014

Probably the most obviously relevant piece is the selfie. What pattern did you see the most in your research and what did you learn about how you don’t want to appear online?

I have been pretty obsessed with online worlds with projects like the Webcam Venus only feeding me. When we create a presence or anything really for as an internet-based society, there is always a risk that someone is going to see it or define it. The internet in the western world is a pretty democratic form of distribution versus prior methods. If you want to know who you are dating, most of their history is a Google search away.

Twenty years ago, the photos we took would never leave the shoebox in our bedrooms or art artist make would never spread much beyond our gallery, but on the internet there is always the risk that someone else sees it.


Considering all the scandals over the years with beauty pageants, you chose a flattering image for Miss America. How vacant is that image to you? I know I’ve struggled with that norm.

Companies makes millions off of destroying women's self-esteem, magazines sell more magazines under that same theory. Accepting ourselves is practically impossible, especially as women. The messages that are constantly repeated by [American] culture preach a very narrow definition of what is beautiful. The piece/print of Miss America is actually how this entire series started, as a sort of exploration of what was defined by mainstream as a representation of an American Woman. I was reading an article about the pageant and looking at the photos when I noticed the bodies and faces were more or less the same. I wanted to find a way to compare them all at once, so it becomes a statement about quantifying an ideal, the norm. at the same time, to be able to reject those norms and the billions of dollars in marketing campaigns to instil those ideas to us more to be ‘more,’ for women anyways, is about the biggest middle finger you can give society.

In terms of Celebrity piece, who is the most normal celebrity you can think of? Is it usually before or after their fall from grace?

For me, that piece was more about exploring the superficial aesthetics that make up an average celebrites face, hair and eyes. What do those averages look like? Do they change once compounded? Someone said that portrait from the series reads like a Disney character. Luke Dubois, a fellow artist at bitform gallery did a really interesting video piece around Britney Spears called Pop Icon: Britney.


It’s a computer-generated portrait of growing up alongside the proliferation of auto-tuning and the internet. It tracks her ubiquitous face across the net. He manages to capture both a familiar and dark quality to her personal which balances this before and after successfully.

The Happy image [above] looks like a fairy tale wedding in a strip joint. What’s going on here with the layers?

Google, Twitter and Facebook are skewing the internet. We are starting to become feedback loops within what activist Eli Pariser coined 'filter bubbles'—meaning social networks recommend content based on what we already like and on what people similar to them also like. So does Google, Twitter ads, Instagram… I used Google's image search for that specific query­ so it’s quiet likely if you search 'Happily Ever After' on your browser, using 'your' Google, you would get a very different image result than I did. I think I probably look at more porn than most women and classic art nudes. There is an interesting dichotomy in those images results. What we consider to be non­biased results are heavily skewed by a search engine algorithms based on our data, friends and caches. Turn on Tor and watch it all break.

As for CEO and President, I haven’t seen the images but I assume they’re both men. With Sarah Palin quoted this week saying she supports Hillary Clinton and other women in the ‘upper echelons’ of authority, can anything else be added at this point?


That’s for time to tell.

What else are you working on?

I am working with curator, Nora O Murchú who is developing my first solo exhibition in the UK Outsourced Views in June at Rua Red. I am really excited about the works we will be showing­ almost all of them are new. We are working with the ideas of alternative economies, outsourcing and surveillance culture. Also in June, Marisa Olson is curating an exhibition in New York City called Postbinary Feminism at bitforms gallery and about the same time Link Editions UK is publishing "Technological Selection of Fate," edited by Domenico Quaranta. It’s a book which will take my livejournal entries unedited from 2000-­2009. I have hundreds to thousands of private entries I wrote to a very small group of readers, and will publish these archives in a sort of experimental series around personal caches.

Obsessive Sensing opens April 4 at LEAP in Berlin, Germany, featuring works by Jamie Allen, James Auger und Jimmy Loizeau, Ralf Baecker, Rosemary Lee, Sascha Pohflepp and Chris Woebken, Addie Wagenknecht .

Check out more from Addie on her website and follow @nadjasayej on Twitter.