(Above photo by Martinez, 2020)
A_Sexualizing Design – How Can [Aromanticism and Asexuality] Change the Practice of Representation in Visual Communication?
This project focuses on diverse representation in visual communication with a focus on aromantic asexuality, an identity that only gained recognition within the last two decades (Bogaert, 2004). Because of this “newbie-status” in the queer landscape, it is still somewhat of a visual blind spot. While this invisibilzation has a significant negative impact, I look at it as a blank slate for design.
How do we represent an identity without relying on the physical body or recognizable visual traits? How can we “introduce” this identity in a humanizing way, instead of singling it out as “Other”?
Using Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality (1978), I establish the parallel between subjectification* as an oppressive practice, how visual communication follows the same principle of focusing on the body for representation in the name of ‘empowerment’, and how that parallel probably shouldn’t exist.
[*Scientists in the 19th century reduced humans to their physical bodies, i.e. subjects, and ‘diagnosed’ sexual ‘abnormalities’, like homosexuality, as medical/mental dysfunctions or illnesses.]
Instead of conforming to the – at its core – oppressive norm of representing identity through the depiction of bodies, my Delabeling approach centers experience: Not what it looks like to be aro-ace, but what it feels like.
Sex and romance are everywhere, to the point where it by no means only makes aro-aces feel a type of way, but most people. That uncalled-for sex-scene that makes you discreetly look at the wall until it’s over; when somebody is just a bit too close for comfort, … But also those moments of bliss, being surrounded by friends, not missing a single thing – Labels separate into “us” and “them”, whereas experience unites.
While labels are currently an essential tool for marginalized communities to take up any space in public discourse at all, over time, the goal should be rendering them meaning-less (referring to Stuart Hall’s Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices, 1997).
For that, we have to deconstruct the power-systems that charged them with meaning in the first place. Designers are too comfortable conforming to industry standards of representation –diversity being a “stylistic choice”, not political action– and have allowed the profit-driven design industry to limit their vision of what the future could be, and what they, as designers, can contribute to reaching it. Delabeling therefore not only acts as another (not alternative) way of approaching representation, but also explicitly considers design as (a tool for) political action and wishes to remind and encourage other designers to reclaim their creative and political agency.
Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality: An introduction. New York : Pantheon Books. Available at: https://suplaney.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/fou- cault-the-history-of-sexuality-volume-1.pdf.
Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. [PDF]. SAGE Publications. Available at: https://eclass.aueb.gr/modules/docu- ment/file.php/OIK260/S.Hall%2C%20The%20work%20of%20Representation.pdf.
Beau, J. (ca. 1894). No title. Wikipedia Commons. https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Btv1b8433329b-p050.jpg
Biva, H. (1905–1906). Matin à Villeneuve [Oil on canvas]. https://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Matin_%C3%A0_Villeneuve#/media/File:Henri_BIVA,_ ca_1905-06,_Matin_%C3%A0_Villeneuve,_Salon_1906_postcard_-_origi- nal_painting,_oil_on_canvas,_151.1_x_125.1_cm,_private_collection.jpeg.
Flyron-Fist. (2019, May 10). This bathroom. Reddit/assholedesign. Retrieved August 19, 2023, from https://www.reddit.com/r/assholedesign/ comments/bmtsf8/this_bathroom/ .
Martinez, A. C. (2020, September 24). No Title. Pexels. https://www. pexels.com/de-de/foto/licht-stadt-strasse-verkehr-3497624/ .
Odintsov, R. (2020, June 30). No Title. Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/ photo/couple-having-sex-and-using-smartphone-4553619/.