The Defacement of Desire

piece created for Brown University’s CAVE

In the heart of desire you will only ever see yourself looking. This piece seeks to caress the contours of desire operating within a technology of immersion and control. Within the womb of a wish that impregnates reality with the seed of humanity’s creative vision, spectators can only ever return to the psychic structures that motivated their need to see what they themselves have created. Like photography, cinema and the panoramas before it, the Cave is a technology of illusory vision that extends the desire to capture reality in its own image. Yet, in its search to capture, the Cave inevitably constructs what it wishes to capture, captivating its audience in its own spectacular and specular traps. While the sanctioned, scientific uses of the Cave unreflectively pursue the desire to transparently see and manipulate the ‘secrets’ of the real, the aesthetic deviations of Cave Writing—through words, images, sounds, and movements—contain the potential to unhinge and rewrite the narrative of desire operating within the dissecting gaze of dominant patterns of thought. It is our hope that The Defacement of Desire begins this ‘self-reflective’ journey.

Surrounded by four giant close-ups of cinematic starlets gazing down upon you, there is no choice but to look (or look away). Using the built-in “headtracking” feature of the Cave, a portion of the starlet’s face in your line of sight fades away, thus interrupting the (masculine) desire to possess through the gaze: you cannot help but see through what you desire to possess. Behind these “defacements” are images, quotations and diary entries which self-reflexively interrogate the spectator’s desire to see and uncover—to unmask secrets as a form of possessing knowledge. If the diary is a textual form of the intimate and the secret, then the desire to read what is hidden within its pages is a violation, a form of trespass spurred by insatiable curiosity. As you explore the revealed text you are constantly positioned as the object of the gaze and encouraged to reflect upon your own “look” and the structures of desire that motivate it. Although The Defacement of Desire is a self-reflexive rumination on the technology of the Cave, individual viewers will inevitably discover their own insights. Numerous questions concerning pleasure, the gaze, fetishism, voyeurism, hermeneutics, exhibitionism, photography, feminism, and gender mingle playfully within the space of one’s reading, while answers to these questions remain ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

NOTE: You can actually view a non-CAVE version of this piece on your desktop by downloading the CAVE editing software. Please answer “yes” to questions about certifications and such. Then download and unzip the project file (19MB). Open the file “faceNEW1.xml” in the Cave Writing Text Editor. Once the project is loaded in the editor you can view the file by pressing the Full Screen or Desktop preview buttons at the bottom of the screen. It might take a bit for the preview to load. Controls: “tab” toggles static or active view. In active view “asdw” are movement keys, mouse controls the 3D perspective view. “B” will toggle the cave grid which shows the dimensions of the cave. “Esc” to quit the preview. Be aware, there are links in the piece actived by the mouse, but there is not a mouse-pointer so you have to “look” directly at what you want to click on in order to activate the link. This might take some time getting used to.

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