Faith Wilding on Tue, 13 Apr 1999 20:17:38 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Next Cyberfeminist Report

Next Cyberfeminist International in Rotterdam:
 Report on Thursday, March 11, l999
"Feminist Activism/Resistance/Intervention/Globalism
(organized by Yvonne Volkart and Faith Wilding)

l. "Feminism, Difference, and Global Capital: A conversation between
Maria Fernandez and Faith Wilding.
This session began with brief statements from Faith and Maria.
Faith Wilding:  Reviewed the radical goals of early feminists to bring
down the patriarchal institutions of the Church, State, and Family. 
Subsequent feminist work of the 70~s created an international movement
with very wide repercussions for women politically, economically, and
socially. The movement was created out of local CR and action groups and
networked nationally and internationally. There were significant
achievements in the women~s health movement, affirmative action, women~s
studies and education, legalizing abortion, some sexual rights, more
economic and legal parity. 
The issues facing women now include: the effects and impact of the new
information and communications technologies, biotechnology, genetic
research and engineering, and economic and labor issues. 
a. Women~s health: crucial issues in reproductive technologies,
medicalized pregnancy and birth, gene therapy and engineering; the often
adverse impacts of new biotechnologies in third world countries. 
b. Affirmative action is being eroded. Women still earn less and work
longer. Women still work a double shift. Working conditions for women in
third world countries and the global sweatshops are appalling and beyond
the garment industries not much is being done.
c.Women~s education is strong in certain fields. Women still find it
difficult to enter the male culture of many of the sciences and computer
sciences and the higher rungs of the technology industries. Women are
not yet a full part of the design and implementation of digital
technology, and have little power in the debate over its effects and
d.Women~s sexual and reproductive rights are under renewed attack.
Issues are very complex in developing countries where protection against
AIDS, forcible childbearing, or forcible birth control are almost nil.
Global capitalism, and the spread of technologized work and life to even
the remotest parts of the world are having far-reaching effects on all
populations of women. Changes of identities and subjectivity are taking
place rapidly bringing with them new problems of representations of
difference in the face of global homogenization. These are all issues
for cyberfeminist investigation and action.

Maria Fernandez: Began by making a statement about the changing 
focus of her research from critical to theoretical work in electronic
media and post-colonial studies.  At present she is exploring the
possibility of "an emotional feminist politics" and attempting to
formulate supportive feminist  practices. 
        The context of feminist activism shows that issues of difference
are still problematic and divisive. The desires to form global networks
and activism, often conflict with the lived problems of local
differences.If successful organization among women is to occur at both
the local and the global level we must examine and confront our
discomfort with issues of race and class.                
        A starting point to promote change is  the revaluation of the old
dictum "the personal is the political." "The personal" has usually been
understood as our most intimate relations. Feminists have spent great
amounts of energy observing and reevaluation inherited gender roles and
attitudes and those efforts eventually resulted in change. It is now
necessary to apply comparable energy to becoming aware of how we deal
with differences perceived or imagined. Many of our attitudes to
difference are also inherited and embodied.     
         In the current state of technologically- facilitated global
capitalism it becomes imperative for our survival to form practical and
politically effective alliances among various groups of women.  It is now
clear that it is not not only poor, young and uneducated women in areas
of the "Third World" who are exploited but also white-collar workers and
highly educated women in the "First World" working part-time or at home
in exchange for underpayment, longer hours and no benefits.     
         Centers result from the creation of margins. If we believe that
we are at the center, we owe our position to the marginalization of other
spaces. Unquestioned prejudicial attitudes restrict and weaken our
collective possibilities. We may need to let go of our central roles and
welcome other ways of interacting in and out of cyberspace.

Points of Discussion from the Conversation:
a.The problems of essentialism. The interconnections of these in
feminist and post-colonial discourses. The interconnections of
patriarchy and technology: The military, Bio and medi-tech, space
industry, labor  issues, global economy, women~s bodies.
b.Relationships between issues of reproductive biotech and difference: 
Homogenization; normalization; reifying differences that exist because
of different levels of access; the applications of technology which are
employed differently to enforce certain hegemonic power structures;  the
fascistic implications of bypassing and regulating sexual body processes
which can be seen as complicity with certain utopian electronic theories.
c.Building networks around issues of labor, difference, and biotechnology:
--the necessity of network building brought about by the conditions of
new global capital and technologies. Examples: faces, obn, Zapatistas,
nettime, subRosa: information, 
d. Creative strategies: the network as art; Activist art which reframes
and embodies the data, and engages people in discussing and discovering
the ideologies and mythologies of patriarchal discourses and structures
through the "real" manipulation of, and engagement with, actual
materials, images and actions.
In the far too short discussion which followed, the criticism was raised
that Maria's and Faith's ideas of activism and tactical strategies ~
i.e. the
study of mainstream issues,  building networks etc. - are not direct
activist actions, but they may lead to them. Faith and Marias proposals of
creative tactics and concepts seem to match much more that which has
traditionally been defined as the field of theory or art, in other
words, what they proposed seems to be much more in the field of political
reflexion or engaged/critical theory, which in its committment to social
change is a very important condition for many actions, but it is not the
same. Maria and Faith responded that our understanding of activism, and
what kinds of activism are possible and effective~particularly in the
Internet~needs to be rethought and thoroughly researched. 

2. Art Strategies of the New World Order, or, What do
resistant art works look like? Yvonne Volkart started with the idea that
in the current reconstruction of the new world order culture and art became
important factors in more or less hidden policy structures. Especially
since the intensification of the enhanced scientific and social
development of communications- and biotechnology, the discourses about
the blurring of the borders of gender and body are not only overwhelming
but even producing and instating these new bodies. She referred to
former lectures, in which she despised the main tendency of effecting
uncanny feelings, objecting that most of those art works about
disgusting or homogeneous future bodies still represent patriarchal
views, or function in the traditional way of warning and
showing the usually not articulated dark side. She summarized her plea
for a nasty, lusty and ironic (=cyberfeminist) cyborg vision
(VNS-Matrix), or for art projects which move beyond the current
demonisations, the real interests of markets and/or reflect the artists own
intertwinement in these processes. As one example she showed Natascha
Sadr Hagighians video documentation "Touch the Screen" (1995) in which
interests of the Wellcome Trust in fusing science with art and culture
were critically examined. In a short overview she discussed further
ambivalent art & science-projects like "Posthuman", "Art & Brain",
"Hybrids", or "Gene Worlds" etc. and pointed out, that the art with its
presentations of aberrrant bodies in this framing always seem to
function as nonverbal, pure visual criticism. It may be too
one-dimensional to conclude that all art works which deal with
phantasmatic aspects are only
compensations and consolidations in the pancapitalist machine. But 
examples of work by Mariko Mori, Rosemarie Trockel and others, only
adopt or mime the method of redesigning bodies, genders and races in the
frame of traditional ideological differences, and cannot claim to be
critical for they do not create another virtual space. The pure method
of condensation of hegemonial visualisations and concepts, the holding
of the so-called place of the symptom, is certainly seductive and
ambivalent, but it is finally both a visual ideological support of
cultural stabilisations and a visual control. Volkart ended by
presenting the damaged cyborg bodies and monsters of Lee Bull as
metaphors for a female monstrous space. Further, she showed Kristin
Lucas~ video "Host",  in which the future technobody is the actual
female body, overwhelmed and invaded  by different technologies of
survival and control. Volkart affirms that showing the dark side,
especially if it includes
shifts or breakdowns of ideological systems, can still be important. But
unlike many (usually male) works, which were discussed in the beginning
and in which the fear of bio- and hightech is represented as fear of
losing sexual identity, these critical feminist works make clear that the
worst thing which new technologies may cause for women is that they never
stop being a woman. Finally, she suggested that the new cyberfeminsms
creation of new virtual spaces - the cyber/spaces - has still to be
invented, but it is THE issue of the NEW CYBERFEMINISM.

3. A Manifesto Against Manifestoes, Caroline Bassett 
Bassett~s presentation centered on a critique of the utopian writings of
Sadie Plant, who creates a story of origins, of the new (old) Eve~woman,
the weaver of all life!~allied with the machines. (By contrast, for
example, Haraway~s cyborg does not evolve, she breaks with her origins).
 Bassett quarrels with Plant because she is the chief public
representative of a cyberfeminism which propagates a kind of
essentialism (that of women~s natural bonding with machines). 
Bassett believes cyberfeminism declares itself to have a project: to be
feminist and to be critical of  a salvationist embrace of digital
technologies. Cyberfeminism need not necessarily think of itself as
connected to the machine. Is cyberfeminism a politics or a mythology?
Bassett suggests that we need a new utopia, a vision towards which to
work. Utopia has shifted both geographically and temporally. When
utopian dreams are fulfilled by technological change there~s always
something else left to be desired (something is missing). Thus new
cyberfeminist politics does not harness its utopian visions to machines
but rather concentrates on our claims for the new and the now.

4. Art of Work, and Cultural Terrorist Agency (CTA), Rachel Baker
Rachel Baker discussed and showed her Art of Work Web project in which
she advocates swap tactics and shows techniques for "Human Resources
Mismanagement", such as temporary office workers misusing work and
office resources, wasting company time, appropriating company materials
and technology for their own art or pleasure, and in general exploiting
the workplace for less productivity and more creativity. While giving
useful and amusing suggestions for real life subversions of the
workplace, this project also implicitly critiques contemporary workplace
speed-up, surveillance, Taylorism, job insecurity, and the isolation and
powerlessness of (women) workers in the global assembly line. Rachel~s
work also raised the question of interactivity provided by the net and
effectiveness for a wide public of so-called activist actions if they
happen in such a restricted area as she showed, because it seemed that
not many persons feel adressed or participated in the project. What is
the efficacy of activism, if the concept is more important than its
actual impact? Isn't this really what has traditionally been called
"art", rather than activism?
Rachel also discussed and showed the Web page of CTA~s first
Bioterrorism project, Superweed. This consists of distributing 
bioengineered weed seeds resistant to any bugs and herbicides now known.
Superweed can be used to destroy fields of crops of other bioengineered
plants (such as Monsantos bioengineered potatoes or corn), for example. 
Rachel discussed the structure of CTA which hosts and distributes guest

5. NET AUDIO: enlivening Cyberspace, Rasa Smite

Unfortunately the sound chip from our rented computer was missing so we
were not able to hear examples of the work which Rasa has been
broadcasting, however if you go to ><  you can both
hear and read about the many activities and programs of the e-lab in
Riga which Rasa has been working on and with. Rasa gave us a short
overview of the goals and highlights of real-audio programs and we also
got an announcement of the special women~s programs which are being
pioneered by Ieva Auzina, a colleague of Rasa~s. So tune in to find out
what~s going on. 

6. Private Views: Space Re/Cognized in contemporary art from Estonia and
Britain, Mare Tralla (Estonia/UK) and Pam Skelton (UK) dialog,
presentation, screening.
This last section closed with a dialog presentation and screening  of
this collaborative project between Estonian and British women artists
working with photography, video, film and digital art. The first
exhibition took place in Estonia in June 1998, and was followed by an
academic publication and an internet project, as well with a touring
exhibiton. The communication between artists over the Net has been a
crucial aspect of Private Views. One aim was to underscore differences
in relation to gender, geography, history, and culture in an exhibition
which brings together Eastern and Western European artists, given that
culture is always formated through social and intellectual patterns. Pam
Skelton stressed that "The exhibition Private Views" acted in principle
as a catalyst in underlining the need for studies which
address the social and political projects of feminist histories and art
practices as they evolve and interact in the spaces of East and West
Europe. Estonia is currently reclaiming a national identity within which
gender issues are trapped while at the same time the country is attempting
to claim its presence in a global culture. This is to ask what does it mean
to be a woman and an artist working in new media today in two European
countries where different feminisms and diverse traditions intersect?"
This is a question which strongly underlies Mare Tralla's "",
a very funny, ironic and complex interactive CD-ROM, produced for this
exhibition and presented by the artist. "" deconstructs both
socialist heroines, new forms of nationalism and western consumer
ideologies which took place in post-socialist Estonia. Klicking the
seductive images, lushly filled with flowers and pink  colors, you are
driven in a game where you have to find the right button to quit,
meanwhile you read the sentence: "She was the heroine of socialist labor
because she
pressed the right button". You see images, read sentences and hear voices
about the fact that the Estonian big and heavy heroines like tractor
driver, cosmonaut, milkmaid etc. become Barbie dolls, that "because she
doesn't want to be a Barbie doll, she becomes a feminist", or,"after all,
it's good to have tampons and computers and cyberspace. Maybe she will
become more happy". Mare Tralla spoke about the situation in Estonia and
the reception of the exhibition: The independence movement and the rise
of national identity in the late eighties provides some insights into
the reasons why critical practises such as feminism are not popular in
Estonia today; yet
paradoxically it also appears that the latter could only have appeared
after the events which brought about independence." 

Closing comments: 
The important  topics of this last day of the CI2 and the way they were
discussed by the various presenters need a great deal more group
discussion.  Despite the many lively discussions we had at dinners, in
breaks, and in the hotel rooms, it was clear that the implications of
the content could have been analysed more and on a deeper level,
especially considering the different approaches to esthetic and activist
strategies which were proposed and shown. Unfortunately, after this very
fully programmed day we all were too tired to summarize the threads for
the closing debate: We realized, that we had to come to an end, but that
this end was the real starting point for the
future in which we truly have to seek and discuss strategies in all their
different forms. Many, many works, ideas, analyses and
criticisms, and a few hopes and utopias were presented -- in this sense
I (Yvonne) agree with Caroline's remark during her lecture. This is all a
really good foundation for further investigations. The impression
remained that the "new" cyberfeminism as presented in Rotterdam has to do
much more with practices and negotiations of theory and feminism in the
real world than with strategies or tactial interventions there and in
cyberspace - something which obviously has to be developed, researched,
invented and supported through the "real" manipulation of, and
engagement with, actual materials, images and  actions in the future,
which means NOW.

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