William Osborne on 13 Nov 2000 11:02:08 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Resolution to Ars Electronica

Six major international women-in-music organizations have signed the
resolution below directed to Ars Electronica and its sponsors.  The
combined membership of these organizations represent approximately 2500
professional women musicians.  Additional signatories are expected.  For
further information about the Ars Electronica festival mentioned, see the
article included at the end of this post.  

William Osborne

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In early September Ars Electronica presented a festival entitled "Next Sex:
Sex in the Age of Its Procreative Superfluousness" that embraced and
advocated the aesthetic use of eugenics.  Presentations opposing eugenics
were not included.  Vitally important ethical questions were thus omitted. 
Ars Electronica's ideology of biological determinism was so extreme they
even included speakers advocating the "naturalization" and aesthetic
validation of rape.

For a detailed discussion of the festival and its program, including links
to other informative sites see:
<http://www.osborne-conant.org/ars.htm>  (An article from the MSNBC website
is included below.)

The signatories of this resolution call upon Ars Electronica to present a
-wider- spectrum of discussion concerning eugenics.  This would include
opponents of eugenics and discussions of legal limitations responsible
artists would envision.  

The signatories also express categorical opposition to aesthetic
validations of rape.

This petition will be sent to Ars Electronica and its sponsors, which
include  Austrian State Television, Microsoft, Compaq, Hewlett
Packard, SGI, Oracle and Siemens.


1.  Unabhängiges Frauen Forum  (Independant Women's Forum of Austria)
2.  FrauenMusikForum Switzerland  (800 members serving Switzerland, France
and Italy)
3.  The International Alliance for Women In Music  (800 members serving the
United States)
4.  Internationaler Arbeitskreis Frau und Musik (600 members serving
5.  Canadian Women Composers  (Canada's largest women-in-music
6.  The Pauline Oliveros Foundation

(Combined membership: approximately 2500 professional women musicians.)
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Profoundly Shocking Ars Electronica
by William Osborne (100260.243@compuserve.com)

(as published by MSNBC at: <http://msnbc.com/news/465919.asp>)

There's no doubt that "Next Sex: Sex in the Age of Procreative
Superfluousness"--the latest edition of Ars Electronica, Europe's
largest festival for digital media and the arts--was calculated to
shock. The festival has focused on bio-technology for the last several
years, but this time took things a step further, demonstrably a step too
far, by centering on the aesthetic use of eugenics.

The goal of the festival, held earlier this month in Linz, Austria, was
to "scrutinize the contours of a society in which human beings are
genetically configured--not simply born."[1] Eugenics has a long
history. It has, de facto, become a part of society, particularly
through the use of biological engineering, according to Ars Electronica
director Gerfried Stocker.[2] Anyone even vaguely familiar with the 20th
century, let alone with new developments in medicine and bio-technology,
can see that.

But since presentations opposing eugenics and biological determinism
were not included in the festival, the potential for debate was, to say
the least, restrained.[3] Indeed, Ars Electronica embraces a future
where humans will be "fabricated," and where sex will be "relieved of
its functional indispensability for reproduction." This will "reorder
... the battle of the sexes" and the "moral steering mechanisms" of
society, according to the festival program.[4]


Historical ironies abound. After the Anschluss of 1938, Hitler planned
to destroy the national identity of Austria by reducing Vienna to
provincial status and transforming his hometown of Linz into one of the
largest cultural centers of Europe, a grand city reflecting the newly
created eugenic purity of the Aryan race. (In nearby Mauthausen
concentration camp, 100,000 people were murdered as part of Hitler's
"purification" of Europe.) A half-century later, the Linz-based Ars
Electronica embraces eugenics, biological engineering, and the use of
living tissue for the creation of artworks. And one key festival
participant notes, "Even rape can be considered an art-creational

The festivals views reflect a Darwinist philosophy. "Complex tools and
technologies are an integral part of our evolutionary fitness. Genes
that are not able to cope with this reality will not survive the next
millennium," says a recent festival press release. Meanwhile, the
festivals discussions of genetic engineering, its confrontation of
sexual taboos, and its masculinism were all couched in what many saw as
an emphatic misogyny.


The misogony is illustrated by some of this years major festival events:

+ Evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill, author of the controversial
book _A Natural History of Rape_, presented a lecture asserting that
rape is a natural part of male sexuality, and that women should restrict
their behavior to avoid this "natural" phenomenon.[6]

+ Media artist and prophet of cyber-sex Stahl Stenslie presented a
lecture in which he said, "Even rape can be considered as an art-
creational strategy." This statement, also printed in his contribution
to the festivals 415-page program book, is not conditioned or qualified;
it is meant literally.[7]

+ The festivals most publicized event was entitled "Sperm Race." A
"container laboratory" was placed in a central location of Linz where
men could go to produce sperm samples. The "quality" of the sperm was
then tested using "computer-assisted sperm analysis." At the end of each
day, a winner was announced. Women were allowed to go to the container
and place bets on their "favorites."[8]

+ Nobuya Unno, a member of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of
Tokyo, presented a lecture on artificial placentas (extra-uterine fetal
incubation.) His presentation included grotesque photos of goats being
incubated in artificial placentas.[9]

+ Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, presented
a project entitled "Tissue Culture & Art(ifical) Wombs." Their goal is
to use tissue culture and tissue engineering as a medium for artistic
expression. They have created what they call "semi-living" dolls.[10]


Thornhills biological views of rape were consistent with most of the
festivals other presentations. His "naturalization" of sexual violence
easily followed along the lines of Stahl Stenslies notion that "rape can
be considered an art-creational strategy."

Stenslie, known for his "cyber-s/m" experimentation, studied at the
Academy for Media Arts in Cologne. His work has centered around tele-
tactile communications. In a project called "cyberSM," he constructed
leather bodysuits with built in "sensors" and "effectators" that allow
people to engage in forms of sexual activity via their computers modem.

His work is somewhat dated. Cyber-sex was a theme among media artists
and theoreticians in the 80s, but by 1993 it was already declared
"tired" by publications such as Wired Magazine. Stenslie, however,
remains undeterred. By embracing eugenics and bio-engineering, he hopes
to make his ideas more plausible and provocative. In an e-mail article
published in 1996 as part of a symposium on mimesis, he wrote, "The Web
is full of intentions, but where can one feel the essential, hard core
experience? Why shouldnt the memes and digital metaphors boot up the
body in ecstasy?"[11]

In the same article he explained that digital technology and biological
engineering will transform humans into self-evolving cyborgs--though, of
course, he doesn't say how.


Such speculation is commonly referred to as "hype" among computer
specialists, but Stenslie insists this combination of biological and
virtual reality, "opens up the thrilling possibility of a mind
independent of the biology of bodies. [ ...] Disguised in delicately
coded flesh," humans will "experience the primal scream of digispace."
After such revelations, Stenslie asks taunting questions, "What is there
to be afraid of? Because the nature of the beast is bizarre and
monstrous, alien and terrifying?"

Ars Electronicas reactionary postmodernism, which defines the new man as
a perfectly engineered, hard-core cyborg of transcendant, male
creativity, is not especially new. Eighty years ago the Italian
futurists worshiped power, masculinism, speed, eugenics and technology
as they moved toward Benito Mussolini, their hard-core Nietzschian
superman. Hitler followed and created the largest eugenics program in
the history of humanity.

Such considerations answer Stenslies question about what there is to

If Ars Electronica represents the future of the body and gender, then
women will face a continuation of one of patriarchy's most common and
violent narratives: domination, rape and dismemberment. Its an age-old
myth, but the festivals curators remain oblivious to it meanings.[12]
(Being a woman is a biological curse; the womb represents a chaotic
force of nature which must be tamed; woman is a receptacle for the
"natural" desire of rape, she is a half-living doll to be played with,
she carries a burden of womanhood that can only be lifted by
dismembering and re-engineering her body to effect a leap to men's self-
appointed status of creative autonomy.)


If the festival's curators had included gender studies scholars in the
program, the narratives that inform the festival's misogyny could have
been examined, but in the parochial atmosphere of Austria, such fields
of thought play little role in the arts.[13]

Ars Electronica is able to embrace eugenics, because historic ideologies
related to biological determinism and cultural nationalism still
influence many members of Austrian society. The Vienna Philharmonic
provides an interesting example and corollary. The orchestra forbids
membership to women and people of color, because they believe gender and
ethnic uniformity give the ensemble aesthetic superiority--a sort of low-
tech bio-engineering.[14] Rightist Jorg Haider, head of the Freedom
Party, exploited these forms of chauvinism in his rise to political

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[1] _Ars Electronica Statement_. September 15, 2000.

[2] Gerfired Stocker, "The Pencil of Nature II." _Next Sex: Ars
Electronica 2000_ Ed. Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schoepf (Wien:
Springer Verlag 2000): 20-24.

[3] Jeremy Rifkin attempted to oppose the festivals acceptance of
eugenics, but he is not listed anywhere in the festivals official 415
page program book or anywhere on its official website.

[4] _Ars Electronica Statement_. September 15, 2000.
(http://kultur.aec.at/festival2000/timetable/index.asp) See also note 2.

[5] Stahl Stenslie, "Terminal Sex: Future Sex as Art Practice." _Next
Sex: Ars Electronica 2000_: 209.

[6] Thornhill presents a summary of his views in this article: Randy
Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, "Why Men Rape"
( For
responses to Thornhill see: Susan Brownmiller, "Thornhill: Rape On the
Brain" at: (http://www.echonyc.com/~sueb/Review/review.html) See also:
Jerry A. Coyne and Andrew Berry, "Socio-biology and Fascism at the Front
Door" at: (http://csf.colorado.edu/pen-l/2000I/msg02450.html) (Jerry A.
Coyne is in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of
Chicago, and Andrew Berry is at the Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs,
Harvard University.)

[7] Stahl Stenslie, "Terminal Sex: Future Sex as Art Practice." _Next
Sex: Ars Electronica 2000_:209.

[8] _Sperm Race_. September 15, 2000.

[9] Nobuya Unno, "Development of an Artificial Placenta." _Next Sex: Ars
Electronica 2000_: 252-3.

[10] Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, and Guy Ben-Ary, "Tissue Culture &
Art(ificial) Wombs." _Next Sex: Ars Electronica 2000_: 252-3.

[11] Stahl Stenslie, "Fleshing the Meme" September 15, 2000.

[12] See: Gena Corea, _The Mother Machine, Reproductive Technologies
from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs._ (New York: Harper &
Row Pub., 1985.) She discusses how present-day medical practices
controlled by men attempt to appropriate birth itself.

[13] Marie-Luise Angerer, a media theoretician and gender scholar,
presented a talk but did not direct any comments to the festivals
misogyny, such as Thornhills and Stenslies assertions. Even in an
interview in Telopolis she seemed reluctant to criticize the festival.

[14] Osborne, William. "Symphony Orchestras and Artist-Prophets:
Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power in Music." _Leonardo
Music Journal_ 9 (1999): 69-76. See the article on the web at:

Additional Reading:


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A shorter version of this article appeared at

William Osborne is an American composer and arts activist living in

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list of all links mentioned

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William Osborne

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