By Stephanie Tokasz, March 19, 2021
A discussion with Stephanie Rothenberg, the artist behind the short film “The Beauty Spot” and the multifaceted project “Aphrodisiac in the Machine.”

Entangled Infiltrations

"The Beauty Spot"

Blog posting written by Stephanie Tokasz, Film, Photography, and Visual Arts ’24, minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Psychology, FLEFF Intern, Orchard Park, New York.

If one were to try to locate Buffalo on a map, it might seem like an insignificant place in Western New York. However, to Stephanie Rothenberg and myself, it is a place where a lot of our lives have unfolded.

It also emerged as the second coronavirus hotspot in the state almost exactly a year ago.

Rothenberg is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Art at the University at Buffalo SUNY where she also co-directs the Platform Social Design Lab, but her work extends far beyond this. Her research-based creative practice intersects the fields of art, economics, science, and technology.

On top of that, she has always viewed herself “as an artist whose work is motivated by broader socio-economic themes.”

Recently, Rothenberg has been working on a multifaceted project that will be expressed through a multitude of forms: website, film, interactive installation, and performance. This project is an environmental sci-fi titled “Aphrodisiac in the Machine.”

The project plays on the myth of the oyster as an aphrodisiac, and how it can be used to help cure climate change. In the narrative, cyborg oysters are bioengineered in futuristic aquaculture farms around the globe. The oysters discharge an aphrodisia inducing fluid that is moved into water sources making it accessible to the public.

Although the project does use humor, it also investigates crucial topics such as “the contradictions of green capitalism that privilege the human over the nonhuman and the necropolitical impact of bioengineering marine life.”

Her short film, “The Beauty Spot” reflects on the pandemic by considering a graphic visualization of the coronavirus. The film makes the invisible virus visible to the human eye, making it recognizable as a serious reality. It is meant to put a face to the unknowable.

The film was made in response to the initial lockdowns as anxiety peaked in the United States.

“The Beauty Spot” closely aligns with FLEFF’s 2021 theme of infiltrations because of its visualization of the virus that has infiltrated our daily lives. 

This year at FLEFF, Rothenberg is “really looking forward to hearing thoughtful discussions and watching critically engaged films that address this year’s theme.” She believes that the “concept of ‘infiltration’ is a smart platform for unpacking the emotional and intellectual trauma the world is feeling from not only the pandemic but the past several years of unstable political regimes, especially in the US.”

Rothenberg first took part in the festival in 2008, but over a decade later, she is “always honored to show [her] work at FLEFF as [she] find[s] it to be an extremely important festival that brings together brilliant thinkers to address very timely issues about art, media, politics and the environment.”

In this time of virtual festivals, she believes that FLEFF’s 100 percent virtual platform “makes the festival much more accessible to a broader audience.” She is hopeful that this virtual platform can help launch conversations that can continue to unfold globally.

Rothenberg’s work poses the question about how our current cultural practices are damaging the earth. This can hopefully initiate conversation surrounding what cultural practices the public can adopt to help begin to repair the planet.

“The Beauty Spot” is part of the “Entangled Infiltrations” exhibition, and Rothenberg will be participating in the exhibition roundtable on March 22nd at 3:00 pm. She will also be in conversation about her current artworks including “Aphrodisiac in the Machine” on April 6th at 7:00 pm with media scholar Claudia Pederson.