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How face filters and augmented reality are making us all cyborgs

As they join the 2020 Dazed 100, digital designers Autonommy and Johanna Jaskowska discuss coding as art and post-human beauty

The Dazed 100 is back, but not as you know it. For 2020, we’ve partnered with Converse to spotlight not only 100 of the world’s most creative, outspoken, and passionate next-gen names, but also their creative and philanthropic ideas. Explore the list, and you’ll find 100 manifestos to create, inspire, connect, and power change. 

When it comes to the face-filtered, iPhone-led boom of augmented reality, the aesthetics of cyber-humanity far outstrip fleeting beauty trends. “The world is getting technology-dependent, and one day our biological bodies will be merged with tech,” predicts French digital creative Johanna Jaskowska. Better known as @johwska, her futuristic Instagram filters like Beauty3000 and Badland have propelled her to the forefront of an emerging generation of AR influencers. Another of the scene’s most promising innovators is London-born creative developer Autonommy. An ethical hacker, she has built immersive AR effects ranging from dreamy eye contacts to digital iterations of designer rugs (so if you didn’t cop the IKEA x Virgil Abloh collaboration, you can at least own it virtually).

In their Dazed 100 Ideas Fund proposals, both creators hope to tap into the revolutionary potential of digital fashion. “I’d love to create a collection of augmented accessories and wearables,” says Autonommy – “We’re in a digital age and people are very focused on impermanence so dynamic accessories are a great solution to encourage people to buy less and start thinking about tech and sustainability.” Seeking to further explore and materialise her fascination with the prospect of a human/cyborg fusion, Jaskowska would use the grant to enable the creation of  a line of futuristic fashion accessories consisting of electronic devices enhancing the body’s sensory faculties – “imagine a device that enables your fingers to touch colours, or your eyes to see temperatures.” 

We caught up with the two developers and asked them to discuss reality-bending, the future of social interaction, and post-human beauty.

In her Cyborg Manifesto, feminist theorist Donna Haraway advocates for the cyborg as an emancipation from gender binaries. Given your common focus on AR, how do technological progress and gender intersect for you?

Autonommy: My background is in ethical hacking and penetration testing, and when I was studying security at uni, there were maybe two girls in a class of 100. I was fortunate enough to go to an all-girls’ school that really pushed us towards tech. The real takeaway that I got from being a female in the industry is that it does provide you with a different perspective, and that does reflect in your work in some ways, but at the end of the day, real progress to me, is when you as an individual stop being the focus, and let your work speak – technology should act as an equaliser. Progress means that ideas such as gender or background lose their relevance. 

Johanna Jaskowska: I agree. I was always a nerd, and the field of video-mapping is so dark and masculine, I always felt that digital art can be so much broader. There weren’t a lot of fresh digital art experiences I’ve come across. The vision of the future, for me, shouldn’t be apocalyptic and bleak and pessimistic. We shouldn’t look at it in a Black Mirror sort of way. That brings about some very conservative ways of imagining the future. I think we should look at the future in a positive way. 

Autonommy: At the end of the day, to enable this idea of technology as something that can bring hope or positivity, it needs to be correlated with representation. For technology to have a truly positive potential, it needs to be acceptable, and in order to be acceptable, it has to be made by people from all walks of life – regardless of gender, sexuality, or social background.

People often see art as something separate from science and technology, but with digital art and advent of apps, AR and filters, the line becomes ever more blurry. What does art mean to you in a digital age?

Johanna Jaskowska: Art to me is always about raising questions, and this is something I definitely hope to do. I like to provoke, in a way; confuse people, get them to think and ask questions related to their own attitudes, behaviour, reference systems. Art is also about making people dream a little bit, and much of my work with AR revolves around that. For example, I worked on creating this digital dress linked in the blockchain, and the whole concept was a bit of a mindfuck. People were curious as to why I would wear a digital dress, why it would have to be in the blockchain, and so on. It was the kind of project that really got people to question or deconstruct some preconceived ideas of what fashion, for instance, could be. 

Autonommy: This is both interesting and weird to me, because I come from such a technical background. Everything has always been to me about ones and zeroes, this or that being mathematically correct or false. Recently, I felt like I’ve been catapulted into this art space, where people are taking what I look at in terms of challenges and optimisation, and they’re saying, “wait, this is art”. It’s interesting to see people focus on the surface of something I try to create based on functionality and transferability. It’s hard to adjust to these new interpretations, at times, but it’s fun to see something that you’ve built being understood in so many different ways – especially when it comes to augmented reality and mixed reality. It’s fun to build things that espouse different interpretations or uses, even when they are very different from what you originally had in mind.

“Everything has always been to me about ones and zeroes, this or that being mathematically correct or false. Recently, I felt like I’ve been catapulted into this art space, where people are saying, ‘wait, this is art’” – Autonommy 

Johanna Jaskowska: Maybe coding, with its ones and zeroes, can also be seen as an art medium, not that different from a brush or a camera?

Autonommy: Definitely! I recently started exploring audiovisualisation, because I love music and it’s so fun to see how different wavelengths and spectrums affect things like portable movement or colour.  It’s fun to see visual representations of things that I’m used to seeing as matrices and numbers.

Johanna Jaskowska: That’s funny – this is exactly what I was doing five years ago when I was working as a VJ in the digital art field. I was basically creating visual representations of sound, and I was obsessed with that. It’s funny to hear that you’re getting into it now. I find the immersive side of AR much more interesting though, because you’re not just staring at a pretty thing for a limited period of time, while it goes from A to B. You actually engage in something that isn’t time-constrained. 

Autonommy: True. It’s interesting how everyone experiences something completely different every time they return to it. Even as developers, and as people who produce the product, it’s so enriching to see how others interact with it.

You both create face filters, so what do you make of the tension between self-acceptance and body positivity trends, and this almost post-human aesthetic? Are we trying to emancipate from our human form?

Johanna Jaskowska: I’m fascinated by this. Even before face filters came about, the cyborg aesthetic and the robots that look almost human – the uncanny valley – intrigued me. It provokes a very visceral reaction. You’re not quite sure whether to feel disgusted or curious. That’s 100 per cent the reason why I like to play with it. Regarding identity… I feel that we’re all cyborgs. We don’t feel it, we don’t realise it, but we are so connected to the technology we are almost fusing with it. It’s becoming part of who we are. The further we go, the more these devices that were previously external to our bodies, such as phones, the internet, apps, or any sort of data will integrate our physical beings, be it through vibrations, chips, holograms, whatever it may be. If our devices run out of battery today, it’s as if we were running out of battery ourselves! I’m still part of a generation that spent their childhood without the internet, but for the coming generations, dissociating from technology will be unthinkable. 

“We’re all cyborgs. We don’t feel it, we don’t realise it, but we are so connected to the technology we are almost fusing with it” – Johanna Jaskowska 

Autonommy: Especially now, with social media, there’s so much focus on curating our own identities. We want control over how we represent ourselves, maximise the aspects of ourselves that we like, minimise those we dislike, control even the seemingly uncontrollable aspects of our identity such as our speech or body language. And that’s where this technology comes in. It gives us a very strong feeling of autonomy over our own image. There absolutely is a craving for a post-humanity. 

Johanna Jaskowska: Online, you can be anything. You can have green hair, snakeskin, morph into Catwoman. It’s like The Matrix

Autonommy: Totally – ultimately, to me, this idea of post-humanity is a mindset rather than an aesthetic.

The pandemic is bringing the importance of digitalisation to the fore, with many speculating on what changes the aftermath may bring, in terms of how we communicate with each other, or how we function. How do you envision this future?

Johanna Jaskowska: It’s all just a constantly fluctuating work in progress. Things will inevitably transform, as they always have, and in our time this involves a massive expansion of the digital realm.

Autonommy: It is a transformative period for sure, everyone’s perspectives and priorities and shifting. 

Autonommy, you mentioned the idea of taking control over our image and our identity using technology; where do we draw the line between us using the technology and letting the technology – from AI to a social media persona – take control of us? 

Autonommy: I think the line can be drawn at our level of self-awareness, how educated we want to be on the technologies we’re using and how transparent the developers are. And then of course, some things seem outside of our control. There are instances of people getting ID chips inside them containing certain information, forgetting passwords and getting locked out of their own bodies, things like that. That’s a scary thought to me.

Johanna Jaskowska: I totally agree. It’s wild. The more we grow as a society, the more complex this dilemma gets, and there definitely is the fear of us becoming shaky in attempting to manage this complexity.  But you’re right, Ommy: education and information are essential. Even I never read any terms and conditions, despite being fully aware of the mechanisms behind it. I’m just like, fuck that, and click “yes.”

Vote for Autonommy’s idea on the 2020 Dazed 100

Vote for Johanna Jaskowska’s idea on the 2020 Dazed 100