Valeria Lukyanova

2013-2-15

Valeria Lukyanova is a Ukranian woman who goes to great lengths to make her self look like a living doll. Inspired by Barbie, it is as if she wants to cross the uncanny valley in the other direction. Lukyanova says:

> I am happy to seem unreal...It means I'm doing a good job.

At the same time, men and women are becoming increasingly enamoured with her look. If this account of the Guangzhou Sexpo is to be believed, the uncanny appearance of dolls is hardly an impediment to attraction or erotic potential. It seems that just as Lukyanova is working to become more doll-like, teams of Japanese engineers are working to make their dolls more like Lukyanova. Rather than facing a future in which robots are indistinguishable from humans (as in Blade Runner), we might instead face a world in which humans are indistinguishable from robots, in the sense that it is robots which provide the ideal against which humans measure themselves. The engineers currently developing robots may owe Luckyanova a debt of gratitude as she has made their task much easier.

What both Lukyanova and the sex dolls call into question is the tendency of theorists to adopt a notion of the body that exists prior to culture. This is a major theme in Judith Butler's critique of both Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche:

This 'body' often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription from a cultural source figured as 'external' to that body. Any theory of the culturally constructed body, however, ought to question 'the body' as a construct of suspect generality when it is figured as passive and prior to discourse. (2006:164)

In the case of the sex dolls, we can easily see that they are not prior to discourse as they are a material cultural product. Not only do they come from a culture, they are simultaneously constitutive of that culture through their enactment of particular ideals of beauty. With Lukyanova, we can say that her body was born into a world that already contained signs of beauty. Her body is similarly performative, but rather than asking whether Lukyanova's physical body has been inscribed with cultural signs (as in the case of cosmetic surgery), we need to ask where her body is.

What is interesting about Lukyanova's performance, and what differentiates it from that of the sex dolls, is the way that she anticipates being technologically mediated. Whereas the dolls are haptic objects, Lukyanova is not meant to be touched at all, but rather to be seen. This gives rise to a notion of a body-subject that is dispersed across others:

> It is the very narcissism of the performance of the self that inexorably engages the self in the other: our self-conception, or self-performance can only take place through our phenomenological assumption of subjectivity... via others in the world... The subject 'is' only always in relation to the perceptions/memories of others. ([Jones 2002](http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0415252229/):705)

This is correct in the sense that perceptions are certainly multiple and dispersed, but it seems to hide an assumption of an authentic body-subject behind the performance. What Lukyanova clearly demonstrates is that performance is similarly multiple and dispersed. Lukyanova is not to be seen outside a network of technologies: make-up, surgery, camera, Photoshop, internet, and computer screen. Her body is not in a single place but constituted through this assemblage. This is similar to Walter Benjamin's conclusion about the screen actor whose "performance is by no means a unified whole, but is assembled from many individual performances" (2008:32). We are left with a body that is dispersed not only on the perception side, but also on the performance side.

Rather than Lukyanova as a single actor, we have a host of vague actors engaged in her "self performance." These include, for example, the people at the cosmetic companies who make Lukyanova's eye-liner, the software developers who create Photoshop, and even things like the individual crystals in a computer display which will subtly alter her performance. Because it requires this network of actors and material processes, we can suggest that Lukyanova's body ends up being very similar to the body of a sex doll, not just in appearance but also in its enactment.


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