Frail but Indomitable

Visual-audio interactive installation
Processing, Kinect 2, Max/MSP

Inspired by a novella and a painting…

This installation was primarily inspired by The Malady of Death, a novella by Marguerite Duras, and La Maja Vestida, a painting by Francisco Goya from the early 1800s.

In The Malady of Death, Duras describes a female character as “frail but indomitable,” highlighting the power she has over the male character despite being controlled sexually.

La Maja Vestida is in fact one of a series of two paintings – one nude (La Maja Desnuda), one clothed (La Maja Vestida). It is one of the first paintings with a female character gazing directly at the audience. The nude version is also one of the first to portray female pubic hair.

Inspired by the female characters and complex power dynamics in these art pieces, we created this media installation to explore power and control between the digital image and the spectator, between the female body and the rest of the world.

The look

The image of La Maja with random, frequent glitches are run by a Processing script and projected onto a big screen. A TV with only the face of the woman overlays that part of the screen.

When someone walks in front of the screen, their body casts a pixelated “shadow” over the image of the woman.

On the TV, her eyes follow the spectators as they move.

These motions are captured by a Kinect.

The sound

Three different voices reading lines from The Malady of Death are run by a MAX patch to play in the background. They interlace, and the lines are chosen randomly from the following.

You wouldn’t have known her, you’d have seen her every-where at once, in a hotel, in a street, in a train, in a bar, in a book, in a film, in yourself, your inmost self, when your sex grew erect in the night, seeking some-where to put itself, somewhere to shed its load of tears.
You say she mustn’t speak, like the women of her ancestors, must yield completely to you and to your will, be entirely submissive like peasant women in the barns after the harvest when they’re exhausted and let the men come to them while they’re asleep.
You accept.
You put your hand over her mouth to silence her. Tell her one doesn’t say such things.
Because you know nothing about her you’d say she knows nothing about you. You’d leave it at that.
You lie down beside her. And, still for yourself, you weep.
You want to see all of a woman, as much as possible. You don’t see that for you it’s impossible.
You look at this shape, and as you do so you realize its infernal power, its abominable frailty, its weakness, the unconquerable strength of its incomparable weakness.
You’re afraid she’ll go to sleep again, you rouse her and say: Go on talking.

Implementation details

System diagram

Max patch controlling the sound