"Using technologies at a fashion show to make the onlooker's gaze apparent -turning the elusive gaze into a very concrete object that we can then encounter and further interrogate." Andy Clark

robotic installation

‘Returning the Gaze’ is an cyber-physical robotic installation by Behnaz Farahi supported by Universal Robots commissioned for ANNAKIKI’s Milan Fashion Week.

Fashion is an important medium for the production of culture. Yet the fashion industry has long been complicit within a tradition of female objectification and sexual harassment. Women’s bodies are regularly objectified within the fashion industry. Moreover, women have come to absorb this condition unconsciously as a form of the internalized male gaze. As feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, has observed, the male gaze serves to depict women as the object of pleasure for the heterosexual male viewer. It is as though women are under perpetual surveillance from the male gaze.

But what if women were to subvert this through the power of their gaze? What if we could use technology to extend and amplify her response? And what if we were to do so on the catwalk itself, where the female model is often subject to sexual harassment through various forms of ‘looked-at-ness’? What uncanny feelings would this evoke? And what strategies of resistance would it promote?

robotic installation

‘Returning the Gaze’ is an exploration of this scenario. In the center, a female model wears a spacesuit-like outfit and a headpiece fitted with two tiny cameras. The cameras track and capture the movements of the model’s eyes, enlarging and displaying them on four monitors mounted moving around on robotic arms glaring back at the observers. The gaze of the model is thereby directed back at the viewer, extended and enhanced through cyborgian technologies. This project brings together robotics, fashion, design, feminism and critical thinking in order to critique the asymmetry of social and political power relations between men and women.

Robotic installation

Selected press:

FastCompany: This feminist suit makes eye contact with the men gazing at it

Interior Design: Behnaz Farahi’s ‘Return the Gaze’ Performance Piece Showcases Her Responsive Materials

  • Behnaz Farahi
  • Julian Ceipek
  • Paolo Bassetti, Laura Civetti
  • Herta Paula
  • Nick Soland
    Special Thanks
  • Meng Ji
  • Gloria Sormani
  • Rafael Mancilla
  • Courtney Fernandez
  • Cliff Tsugawa
  • Lauren Lee McCarthy
  • Denny Cubbage
  • California State University, Long Beach