queering faciality? about the fag face project.

„Accumulate cum so that your face becomes a volatile liquid surface with no eyes, nose, or mouth; keep the smell from rimming so that your face and ass are irreducible; let the pubic hair gather into different consistencies of stickiness; wipe the shit left on your fingers under your hidden, cum-filled eyes like war paint. Transform your face into a hypertrophized state of fag-ness. Let these new excesses dissolve readability. Let your fag face configure with these materials into that which is not identifiable. Once 1000 cocks have cum on my head and 1000 asses have wiped their shit and sweat there, try to tell me what my face is. We accelerate like this—fuck like this—to become faceless. Because a face is never ours.“ – Zach Blas on Version.org, March 15, 2011

The fag face project of Zach Blas / queertechnologies.info was presented through some texts and a 15 minutes video, and during the transmediale this year in berlin and it is currently in competition for funding through rhizome.org. A response:

You want to provide as tools or weapons three kinds of masks: The first mask is the mask that unites homosexuals under what you suspect to be a kind of common mouth formation that supposedly can be unconsciously analyzed by humans. So the person carrying the mask would only be recognized as part of a group that performs a specific oral sex practice, and not identified as an individual. First step. The second step is aimed at providing a training ground for a new faciality, through building a mask that has more extreme dimensions of expression than what humans are capable of performing. The third step then is to evade recognition and facial expression altogether and go into a fog that provides invisibility as a precondition for revolt and queerness.

By setting the camera eye and the human eye in one, you reduce the problem to recognition, and therefore you argue as if without recognition of individual faces there would not be the exclusion of those that are defined as deviant. Where you touch the question of oppression of deviancy, you introduce the fog, as a little trick cloud in which everything is invisible and that makes everything possible.

And, as a basic problem in your project, you cut off the discourse around faciality, that you try to take part in, by putting a mask before the face.

In detail:

Human faces have a certain common form and a variety in the details, this connects faciality with the problem of standardization and exclusion of what is seen as not fitting. This also bothers Deleuze and Guattari in their text in Mille Plateaux about faciality, for example they discuss the dominance of the white face/dark holes system (All Deleuze/Guattari quotes below are also from this text that is also mentioned in the fag face presentations). But this visual process is a part of the general social process of inclusion and exclusion and standardisation. The imperative of control comes first, and then the seeking eye. The process of building individuals that are conform with the social is a completely violent process not only on the level of visibility. You want fags to escape into the fog because the conditions are bad. Fog is the closest thing to non-existence other than death that you can imagine. This comes from not wanting to talk about individuality and the social, but instead using a jargon of existence and being. You want to build up dense fogs in which one cannot see each other’s faces and where „we will find our friends and love“. My reply to this concept would be this: friendship and love are social „fog“ themselve, forms of relation that leave the order of control.

What goes together for you, is the gaze and the biometric reading. These two can be linked closer than in your presentation, through a McLuhan quote: „When you give people too much information, they instantly resort to pattern recognition to structure the experience.“ This too much information is quite an interesting point to include, because it shows us that how the face is viewed is a core problem. Your project presents a exaggerated mask, as a training ground for new expressions, like a static grimace. You aim at training unhuman grimaces, instead of training to have a softer reading of the face, one that takes it as a riddle that cannot be solved, as a living artwork. You propose artificially distorted faces. I propose to have a closer look at the difference between the parts of facial expression that are trained miens from culture industrial learning and those that are more free artistic expression, a conscious expression that is written and read as an coded hieroglyph that cannot be decoded (this idea of art being a hieroglyphic writing stems from Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory).

The problem is of course, that faces are always (moving) images, and if one understands the image as readable representation, one gets into the field of cybernetics. But images understood as artworks cannot be read directly and also not throughoutly. A machine and a person can only recognize standardized expressions. You want a queerness that „refuses to be recognized“. But faces themselves refuse to be recognized. They are always a medium that asks to be interpreted.

Because the human way of seeing can evolve, it is possible to imagine other ways of seeing faces: „freckles dashing toward the horizon, hair carried off by the wind, eyes you traverse instead of seeing yourself in or gazing into in those glum face-to-face encounters between signifying subjectivities.“ Deleuze/Guatari. This perspective can be seen as central for the specific seeing of faces, as Emmanuel Lévinas argues in Totality and Infinity, An Essay on Exteriority, by seeing a face the closed quality as an image and as an idea of the other gets overflown and destroyed.

You mention that the fag face is socially constructed and read through the process of stereotyping. But you drop that point immediately because you link two things on purpose: one being that a computer today can recognize face shapes and face surfaces, and the other one that, according to a study that you refer to, people can interpret from a face if a person has a homosexual orientation. You imagine that this is due to face deformation from oral sex. And not because of a microscopic standardized face performance, trained through culture industrial processes.
You want to pick up this way of inscription of sexual practice and extend and reverse it, to smear sperm and shit on the face to make the shape unrecognizable. But the basis before the designing part remains a quite vague assumption that what is considered a „fag face“ is not performed, played, stylized and interpreted, but a cemented formation due to a common sexual practice. Also again, this proposal only makes sense in your simple narrative of control versus unrecognizability, where people stare at each other like face recognition software.

By this you deny an important progressive perspective, that people can treat a face much different than a machine, through not only comparing faces in shape and surface, but to interpret expressions from their experience of culture-industrial and artistic experience. A machine cannot do that, people bring a non-standardized pool of aesthetic experience with them, a machine has standardized procedures, people can have soft areas of interpretation and they can accept and process unclear answers.

But also you go further than visibility, and say that existence is directly linked with recognition and control, and the only fleeing route that you see is the non-existence. You understand non-existence more or less as to escape visibility, through the use of masks and other obscuring. You mention the faciality text of Deleuze and Guattari, where they imagine to „get past the wall and get out of the black holes, that make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face“, They describe how the faces are used differently, in an unregulatory way. They also mention masks in that text, but in a different context, as a mode to deterritorialize the assemblages of power of the body.

Interestingly the question for Deleuze/Guattari in the text that you mention is also to look at the conditions of the face: „The question then becomes what circumstances trigger the machine that produces the face and facialization.“Deleuze/Guattari. With your jargon of escape this message gets lost. When the recognition process is sabotaged, there still is the faciality, that is more complex than recognition.

To summ up the criticism against the fag face project:
You pick up on a theory that people can read from a face how it is used in sex. It is much more probable that the culture-industrial image of the homosexual has generated a stereotypical expression, that is trained but at least played. So queering the fag face would mean to become aware what everyone has done to their facial expression in terms of training and in terms of the scope of possible expressions.
Your exaggerated expressions mask is not helpful here, since people more and more have stopped to exaggerate their own face performance, in accordance to the cultural shift from dramatic and cruel theater to spectacularity. The possibilities of miens and grimaces have to be excavated through conceptual work and not by doing a simple caricature. And after that still lie the big possibilities of the discourse around faciality, that also waits to get picked up instead of being cut off.
What happens inside foggy spaces of freedom through invisibility is not so much of interest for faciality, but rather concepts of new ways of seeing and expressing and how a media competence can evolve beyond an interfaciality where persons are seen and act as screens and cameras.