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PHI Centre Antenne SDD Article COVER

Art and sexuality: a new technological approach

  • Article
  • PHI Centre
By  Simon Bacon

Since the summer of 2023, a new experimental exhibition has captured the attention of curious visitors wishing to better understand how technology has infiltrated our intimate lives. Sex, Desire and Data is an interactive and collective experience exploring the links between sexualities and technologies, composed of eight multisensory works (MAX, ALGO MATCH, RESULTS, HELLO, CONFESSIONNAL, SHOW ME YOURS, VIBRATO, and QUEERING THE MAP). The exhibition incorporates artificial intelligence, extended reality, as well as interactive projections featuring works from a diverse group of artists and creative technologists, offering an exploration through the multifaceted aspects of online relationships and sexual exploration by inviting us to question these relationships and the way we understand them in a world of constant technological evolution.

PHI Antenne Centre SDD Article IMG1
Photo: Adil Boukind

The exhibition exposes how digital technologies shape and reflect our intimate lives. It is a must-see for anyone interested in the intersection of technology, sexuality and human connection, offering a rare glimpse into the future of digital intimacy. Sex, Desire and Data also explores the relationship between sexuality and artificial intelligence (AI), including the important political issues surrounding its penetration into our more private spaces.

One of the major concerns raised by AI is the representation of marginalized communities. The tool struggles to navigate its subtleties and is mainly based on training from databases, too often composed of uniform content, with a language and aesthetic specific to a majority. The result is that AI thus perpetuates existing stereotypes and its widespread use, amplifies them.

Two works presented in Sex, Desire and Data exploit the aforementioned issue. The images projected in "RESULTS" are a synthesis of millions of pornographic search results. They clearly reveal the racial discrimination and cultural bias present in this type of content. The second, "MAX", is an innovative counterweight to this suppression of the complexity of our desires. Max is a chatbot that accompanies visitors throughout the experience. A training database has been specifically developed with the help of researchers in sexology so that the entity can hold constructive exchanges with the public on this central theme of the exhibition. Coline Delbaere, Immersive Experience Producer at PHI Studio, explains that

"we wanted Max to speak positively about sexuality." 

This kind of initiative sets a precedent in highlighting and challenging web systems that alter the representation of human carnal pleasures.

PHI Centre Antenna SDD Article IMG2
Photo: Adil Boukind

Search engines and social media also control what reaches our awareness. Computer programs such as Chat GPT will soon have a similar impact. Safeguards are put in place within all these technologies so as to avoid inappropriate drifts. These safeguards, designed to promote safe public debate, can also exclude constructive dialogue. Certain topics are banned or fiercely downgraded. The power to include or exclude results on search engines thus determines what information shapes the public domain.

Sex, Desire and Data came under fire when it was first promoted because of its 'explicit' nature. Edouard Lanctôt-Benoît, Creative Developer involved in the production of the exhibition, points out that these algorithms prevent the dissemination of certain artistic representations, particularly in sensitive areas such as sexuality.

"The moment we talk about sexuality, we’re blocked everywhere," 

he explains, highlighting the restrictions imposed by AI filters. These filters, according to Edouard, limit discussion and creation around subjects such as sexuality, even when approached in a positive way. He denounces the fact that image generation algorithms "do everything they can to prevent the creation of images around sex," highlighting a problem in freedom of expression and diversity of artistic content in the digital domain.

The language generation model used for Max intentionally excluded sexuality from its conversational possibilities. For LanctĂ´t-Benoit, despite its pivotal place in the history of art,

"in AI you can't do nudes because it's deemed inappropriate now by the corporations [...] that build these models". 

During its development, workarounds had to be conceived so that Max could converse freely.

Another limitation resulting from the digitalization of our world is the increased personalization of our virtual experience in order to better target the advertising to which we are subjected. The content consulted online is now extremely focused on our predetermined expectations, thanks to the multitude of data derived from our electronic behaviour. "ALGO MATCH" mimics this process by exploring the notion of 'compatibility' on dating applications. This interactive installation emulates the distortions in our conception of seduction resulting from the use of dating applications. The profiles we see are a tiny fraction of the real population. These platforms are trained to show us what we want to see, to the point where it proves difficult to access what exists outside our preferences.

PHI Centre Antenna SDD Article IMG3
Photo: Adil Boukind

Generally speaking, technology is transforming art as we currently understand it. In the constantly evolving world of digital art, Lanctôt-Benoît likens new technologies to a "sandbox " that "gives a kind of blank canvas, you can do anything with it." This vision opens the door to infinite creative possibilities.

However, these technologies also come with their own constraints, their own limits. These challenges don't just restrict; they also stimulate creativity, forcing artists to think differently and innovate. This collaboration in digital art creates teams that are multidisciplinary combining skills in technology, visual design and sound.

Artificial intelligence represents a crucial tool in this field, a means of "accelerating the artistic process." Edouard compares its impact on art to that of photography on painting, stressing that "it's going to change the way we think about creation."

These reflections offer a unique perspective on how technology is shaping and redefining contemporary art, raising new questions about the nature of artistic creation and the limits of human expression.

Sex, Desire and Data confronts contemporary society with the way in which it imagines itself. Art has always been a mirror of who we are. The image it reflects allows us to understand and renegotiate the world we create. Every stage in the development of traditional art has been strongly influenced by human contemplations on sexuality. It has also been constantly shaped by our relationship with technology at any given time. By confronting these themes, the exhibition pushes the boundaries of our understanding of the contemporary sex-technology relationship and embraces the power of art to illuminate the complex nuances of our times.

Discover the exhibition

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article Algomatch


"ALGO MATCH", a multiplayer video game, challenges participants to slip into the shoes of characters navigating the world of online dating. Developed in collaboration with Club Sexu, a media and creative studio specializing in positive and inclusive sexuality, it cleverly highlights the biases and seduction strategies inherent to dating platforms.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article RESULTS


"RESULTS", by Sandra Rodriguez and Édouard Lanctôt-Benoît, delves into the field of artificial intelligence and its understanding of human desire, informed by millions of pornographic videos. This immersive work raises profound questions about the nature of desire. The work offers a strange yet familiar perspective on how our fantasies are shaped by technology.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article HELLO


"HELLO" by Ianna Book presents a trans woman's experience of dating applications. Drawing on the artist's personal experience, the work examines the anticipations, tensions and distances created by these platforms, offering a moving insight into her personal experiences.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article CONFESSIONAL


"CONFESSIONNAL", in collaboration with Club Sexu, presents the personal accounts of individuals in the process of discovering their sexuality. In an anonymous and respectful environment, the work highlights the diversity of human experiences shaped without judgment.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article SHOW ME YOURS


"SHOW ME YOURS", by Sam Greffe and Juliette Langevin, reproduces scenes from “cam” workers. Mixing physical and digital reality, we are invited to re-evaluate the hierarchical relationship between the participants in these exchanges. It reveals the latent aspects in the representation of sexuality by juxtaposing the performative scenes of sex workers with their private living spaces.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article VIBRATO


Laura Mannelli's "VIBRATO" adds a unique touch with its interactive installation that mixes real, virtual, imaginary and digital spaces. She repositions the exploration of desire within a physical, sensory and emotional body, inviting the audience to engage with different forms of pleasure and connection, while reflecting on the codes of consent.

PHI Antenna Centre SDD Article QUEERING THE MAP


"QUEERING THE MAP" adapts the web platform into a counter-map that digitally archives the stories of queer folk. It documents their anxieties and exhilarations in relation to physical space. This adaptation challenges viewers to rethink colonial cartography.

Watch our video about the exhibition

PHI Event Centre Sexe Desirs Data COVE Rv2

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