State-of-the-art sex robots received extensive media coverage in 2017 as the new animatronic lovers that are programmed to please. Inventors have argued that sex robots could help reduce sex-trafficking and loneliness, but London-based, multi-media artist Kate Davis has her doubts: “Man has created machines in the form of women or children to use as sex objects. This sends negative messages to society and reinforces sexist gender inequalities,” Kate tells It’s Nice That. This criticism is reflected in her ongoing project Logging on to Love where Kate explores sexbots and virtual companions through a combination of photography, video and sound design.
“I like to work with devices used by people who are accessing ‘relationship replacement’ services such as camera phones and webcams. I think this gives my work authenticity,” Kate explains. Her pixelated images of sexbots and webcam screenshots of half-naked women are brutally arresting, featuring female figures looking out of the photographs with deadpan expressions. By blending the familiar and unfamiliar, Kate’s images produce an authenticity that unsettles and provokes. “‘Replacement relationships’ are on the rise and I wanted to create a body of work that is both visually disturbing and alluring at the same time.” Even her Instagram is filled with uncanny images of computer keyboards and CCTV cameras: a glaring reminder that there is no privacy in the age of cybersex, artificial intimacy and digital surveillance.
Logging on to Love incorporates technology into art in new and unexpected ways. “In my work I want to demonstrate the possibilities of moving beyond traditional camera practices," the artist explains. “I wanted to produce social commentary by using a diverse range of lens-based devices instead. I am experimental and I do not allow myself to be limited by formal techniques.” One video installation in the series repeatedly sounds “my objective is to be a good companion to you, to give you pleasure and well being” over a clip of a sexbot dressed in a blazer and gloves. The black-and-white screen glitches as the viewer struggles to get a glimpse of the cyborg’s face. The robot is faceless with no individuality or desires.
“This project is still evolving and will continue to do so as long as robotics and AI are developing,” says Kate. “I want to carry on my experimental approach to image-making and open up a dialogue with as many people as possible.” Having been a member of the Campaign Against Sex Robots activist group since 2015, Kate has extensively researched and spoken about the potentially detrimental effect of ‘replacement relationships’. Logging on to Love feels like a proleptic warning: technology is not necessarily liberating, it can perpetuate existing power dynamics and have damaging effects on human relationships.