Lena Chen is a Chinese American writer and artist creating performances and socially engaged art in live and virtual contexts. Awarded the Judson-Morrissey Excellence in New Media Award and “Best Emerging Talent” at B3 Biennial of the Moving Image (Frankfurt), she has exhibited and performed at Transmediale (Berlin), Die Digitale (Düsseldorf), Färgfabriken (Stockholm), and Baltimore Museum of Art, among others. She earned a B.A. in sociology from Harvard University and is currently completing an MFA at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art. She has spoken at Oxford, Yale, Stanford, SXSW, HOPE, and re:publica. She has been awarded grants and residencies from Millay Colony for the Arts, Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Office of Public Art, Burning Man Global Arts Fund, Civic Media Lab, and Women’s Media Center. She is currently a Freshworks artist-in-residence at Kelly Strayhorn Theater, developing an interactive game about social media censorship and de-platforming of sex workers.
Since the 2018 passage of FOSTA/SESTA in the US, sex workers and erotic content producers have been systematically marginalized by mainstream social media and payment processors while increasingly becoming the subject of surveillance through facial recognition and data-scraping software. Numerous sites have shut down, disconnecting sex workers from clients and peer support communities and further exposing them to danger by forcing them to work in isolation.
In the game OnlyBans, the player assumes the character of a sex worker establishing their online brand and dreaming of lucrative paydays while living in fear of cyber creeps and account deletion by Big Tech platforms. As the player attempts to evade censorship and surveillance, the game reveals how “free” the Internet really is when you are engaged in stigmatized labour subject to policing and criminalization. Finally, the game offers a vision of how marginalized communities might band together to protest these unjust policies and create better alternatives.
Made on the Twine platform in collaboration with Maggie Oates and Goofy Toof, OnlyBans is inspired by the aesthetics of everyday digital platforms and devices. Incorporated into the gameplay are real images and videos sourced by open call and contributed by sex workers and erotic content producers that have been censored on social media.
Project Website: OnlyBansGame.com