Stefanie Rau

Berlin University of the Arts / Sandberg Institute Amsterdam

On Hands in Gloves

Stefanie Rau--OnHandsInGloves.jpg

The essay “On Hands in Gloves” takes the cursor symbol of the white pointing gloved hand as a starting point to think with and through its history and symbolism about the complicated relationships between bodies and technology. The cursor (which stems from the Latin noun cursor: runner), moves across the screen on our command, it obeys and follows our movements. Virtually computer users put on this white glove that becomes an extension, a prosthetic device, a layer on the surface of the screen between skin and interface acting on the navigator’s behalf. 

The text follows the traces of this specific two-dimensional representation of a hand, which has its visual derivations in the depiction of a famous mouse drawn by Walt Disney in the early 20th century. Analysed from a media historical perspective the white gloves ‘worn’ by Mickey Mouse (drawn, animated lines) were necessary visual markers of a yet underdeveloped medium of film. Their functionality is located on the surface, to increase the contrast of movement, technically determined by the technology of black and white film. They describe a relationship of dependency between the body depicted on the screen and the machine. Is the white glove on the screen the working garment of a butler that is serving us, or are we the ones that have to obey? Our hands ‘click’ and ‘grab’ and yet we’re not able to grasp below the glassy surface covered in with our greasy traces. Touching through the glove, we are not able to interfere with the structure, visible to us only through a comprehendible interface, but hiding its complex layers underneath. The interaction between the hand and me that does not only involve ‘the machine’ and myself, but an incredibly dispersed, geographically separated chain of labor. The white glove offers a different perspective of thinking through a surface about the intrinsically political history of media, in this case the history of servitude, the relationship of master and slave (Hegel).

This essay deploys an exploratory narrative, following an associative approach to think through the white glove as an (inter)medial artifact, connecting the design of the cursorhand with early animation techniques, early robotic devices and automatons of the Arabic-Islamic Renaissance, and the mechanical derivations of the technologies of the present. By critically dissecting the histories and connotations of contemporary appearances the still immanent politics of servitude become graspable in today’s mediated practices.


Stefanie Rau holds a Bachelor degree from the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) and a Master from the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam. She has worked as an assistant at the Media Theory department of the Institute for Time-Based Media at UdK Berlin. Her artistic practice takes the approach to think through objects, situations or places to unravel their histories and implicated cultural, political or historical connections, and explores writing as performative or voiced articulations. With her practice she aims to inhabit an artistic space in-between disciplines and is interested in offering different perspectives and critical understandings that manifest in the form of essays, lecture performances and essay films. Her texts have been presented or performed at the Museum for Photography in Berlin (DE), the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (NL), Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart (DE) and at the Virtualities & Realities Conference at the National Museum of Art in Riga (LV).