Tiffany trenda performance art playboy

From Touch to Touchscreens with Performance Artist Tiffany Trenda

Trenda explores our relationships with technology—and each other

Courtesy Tiffany Trenda (Photographer: Eric Minh Swenson)

When a woman in a white latex bodysuit covered in QR codes enters the room, she commands attention without saying a word.

At StARTup Art Fair, held at the Kinney Venice Beach in Los Angeles in February, the woman in white walked to the center of the hotel’s courtyard. She took a wide stance, raised her arms and for about 15 minutes she stood perfectly still as various people approached her and snapped photos of various parts of her body. Her white bodysuit and mask left her lips exposed, but she never spoke.

When artist Tiffany Trenda performs her piece Body Code, she doesn’t have to say anything to get her message across—the scannable QR codes covering her body communicate for her. Whenever someone uses their phone to scan one of the codes, they are sent to a search results page for data relating to that body part. Trenda—who was a dancer before becoming a performance artist—created Body Code in 2012 after observing that people had become increasingly more interested in scanning and scrolling rather than in absorbing the details. She says, “It’s almost like an obsession or the idea of scopophilia—the act of looking—rather than actually acquiring the information.”

Trenda is fascinated by how people interact with technology and how those interactions change our behavior. She says, "Thirty years ago, when we said scanning, it was something to do with the eyes. It was a body motion. Now, when you think of scanning, you think of scanning with a phone or scanning with technology. Technology is changing the way in which we are using our words and changing the way in which we’re describing our bodies.”
I like the idea that people look at it and I look like I’m a robot or something like that, because of the combination of technology and the body.
When Trenda performs, maintaining anonymity is important. “I always like to keep the face covered, because I think people project things onto it. We project our own lives onto other people’s lives or screens through social media.” She constructs the identity-concealing suits out of manmade materials like vinyl, latex, and plastic, and notes that during performances, people often question if she is “real.” She says, “I like the idea that people look at it and I look like I’m a robot or something like that, because of the combination of technology and the body.”

For another performance piece, Proximity Cinema, Trenda wears a skintight red outfit with 40 cell phone screens attached to it. “It used to be we were more face to face and having more real connections, and now we just sort of curate our lives through the screens," Trends explains. "By putting screens onto my body, it’s like I’m revealing and concealing parts of myself through screens.”

The concept for Proximity Cinema came out of a piece Austrian artist Valie Export created in the late ‘60s called Tap and Touch Cinema. For that piece, Export went out in public with a box around her bare breasts and invited people to reach into the box and touch them. Trenda wanted to create a similar experience to address how the definition of “touch” has changed over time. She says, “Going back thirty years, we thought of touch as a physical touch between human beings. Now, you think of touch, and you think about your iPhone, or iPad or something—touchscreens, you know?”
Instead of baring her actual skin, she bares it through the phone screens that cover her suit. “People can come up and touch my body, and it reveals an image of my body underneath the suit.” The screens also display the most-said words between men and women, including phrases like, “Go ahead and “Don’t worry about it.” While Export’s piece addressed the male gaze in cinema, Trenda sees hers as a statement on the internet gaze. The bodysuit also contains proximity sensors and displays different images, depending on how close Trenda is to the person she’s interacting with.

As she performs, she walks up to people and hugs, touches, or caresses them, making the experience even more tactile. She says, “I was thinking about the idea of this sort of intimate space within a public domain. And I was thinking, well, cell phone screens are sort of like that. We’re having these intimate experiences and we’ll be out in a public setting. People are having conversations with their psychologist or their boyfriend or their husband.”
For Trenda’s piece Ubiquitous States, she wears a 3D-printed dress and headpiece she designed with Janne Kyttanen of 3D Systems that take nearly four hours to put on. The feathery design is based on the shape of her heartbeat. Her gloves contain heart rate sensors, and when she touches someone else, a touchscreen embedded in the front of the dress shows an animation of both of their heartbeats. She says, “We’d try to match each other’s heartbeat, and we could listen to each other’s heartbeat as well. The piece was a lot about simulation, and always having to deal now with the real tactile world versus the virtual world.”

Much of Trenda’s work is influenced by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s ideas on what is real and what is not, and dealing with both concepts simultaneously. With projects like Ubiquitous States, she explores the idea of having meaningful, soulful experiences through technology, and whether technology can bring people closer. To prepare for Ubiquitous States, Trenda went to places such as Muir Woods and Grand Central Station to see how different locations affected her heartbeat and then practiced controlling it herself. Inside the 3D-printed suit, she can barely walk, but that’s not the most difficult part. She says, “It’s a lot of concentration to listen to somebody’s heartbeat and try to match it.”

Intimate moments like matching a stranger’s heartbeat are challenging to create, but Trenda says they’re also why she does this work in the first place. “It’s about that connection. It’s about that experience, and with performance art, you have to be there to experience it.”

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