“I feel weird about watching other people watch me in a video” – Petra Cortright on webcam works in a gallery context, the male gaze, and the many forms of digitally-based work. Questions by Emma Steinfort.
How do you define your practice?
I told someone the other day that I treat software and digital tools like paint. Whether I’m literally creating a painting in Photoshop or I’m pulling together different elements from Google image searches, antiquated desktop backgrounds, language from bizarre forums, or layering webcam effect on webcam effect, it all has to do with creating a visual language and mood.
How did you engage with the internet growing up, and did your relationship to it change/transition when you began creating art which drew from internet culture?
It wasn’t as clean of a break as “oh i’m making art now,” I had been making art for years before I really started calling it art. It was just something I liked to do. I started calling it art after being in art school for a while, but especially when I first made a website. That was a defining point for me, because I had to think about the content that I was going to put on the site. So I went through all my old files and kind of realized that I had been making bodies of work for years, especially little drawings, paintings, collages, sketches in Photoshop, etc.
Still image from i feel u (2015) by Petra Cortright, Webcam video 1 min. 46 sec. Courtesy Foxy Production, New York. Copyright Petra Cortright.
You recently spoke about how inescapable the male gaze is online. Do you feel you work with Virtuagirl strippers is an appropriation of it, or a deconstruction of it?
It’s a direct appropriation of software which purposely is designed for the male gaze. The context in which that is presented is a deconstructed version of the intended context: a desktop background is replaced with a greenscreen, which places the strippers in both a void and anywhere a viewer wants them to be. However, I don’t consider myself a photographer or filmmaker, so when I refer to the male gaze, it sort of expands that definition, or maybe calls into question how the male gaze has shifted and expanded to include the internet.
Many of your works can be viewed online on your official website. How do you feel the experience of viewing art online (where colour/brightness setting and devices can be different for each individual) compares to experiencing it in real life in a gallery space or festival environment?
Something I enjoy about making digital-based work is the many forms a single idea can take, especially with the variety of screens and surfaces we pull information from in today’s world. I’m pretty non-discriminatory about what one file can be transformed into. The digital paintings I make have been printed on aluminium, plexi, polyester, silk, and also turned into videos. I’m working on incorporating electronic paper. Viewing my webcam videos on your phone or screen is much more personal and intimate, and there’s the engagement factor at play also. In a gallery, I feel weird about watching other people watch me in a video — like those works aren’t meant for me to see you see.
What are you watching right now?
In this moment, I’m doing what everyone else I know is doing, which is watching Narcos on Netflix. It’s so good.
Artists that I’m into right now: Cecily Brown, Kate Cooper, Monet, Lauren Elder, Jennifer
Mehigan, Matisse, Lex Brown, Deanna Havas, Katja Novitskova, Ida Ekblad, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and Marc Horowitz 😉
More about the artist
Petra Cortright is an award winning Los Angeles, California based artist. She is renowned for making self-portrait videos that use her computer’s webcam and default effects tools. Her core practice is the creation and distribution of digital files, whether they be videos, GIFs, or jpegs, using consumer or corporate software and platforms.