h a b i t a r ooe noo(p u n t o)oo n e t
T E X T O S
This text published
in the catalogue of the exhibition "Women who speak of women". Biennial Fotonoviembre 2001 of Tenerife: http://www.elviajero.org/mujeresque
By Remedios Zafra
Art by women aware of being women deals with women, with absent identities, but also with their states of becoming
We know there are many states of being between
that of being a woman and that of being a man: they come from different
worlds, they are born in the wind, they make rhizomes around their roots:
they cannot be understood in terms of production, but only in terms
of becoming. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Mil Mesetas.
Within the need to integrate women socially, economically and politically (inverting the traditional models of exclusion), the most recent historical context is sketched, tinted by theories and practises of reviewing scientific rationalist and criticising essentialism. This context features a great achievement: the fact that in recent decades the social, economic and political situation of women has changed more than in the previous centuries of patriarchal domination. All this should be regarded as a defining sign of the times, although in the late 1990s new developments in the realm of communications technologies have brought new variables and define the differential territory in which these changes are occurring: an on-line society.
In the world of the Internet, interfaced by the machine, it is what qualifies us, and not what identifies us, which sketches in the new subjectivities, always represented. But where are to be found and articulated in the cyber realm the discourses and theories of women who speak about women, about diversity, the simultaneous, the provisional, and the possible? What unique contributions can technology in general and the Internet in particular make to womens political, social and economic change?
To be sure, technology and women have not been close allies, and their alliances have been infrequent, and usually confined to the sphere of the most basic productive and mechanical tasks. To attempt to discover and to force relations that justify their link in another era can only be an attempt to set false tracks on the path already travelled, or, at the very least, to seek convincing metaphors which smooth the distance between women and power production systems throughout history. While it was the most recent decades that confirm the limitation of woman toward the machine this idea is now taking on a retrospective scope: and although the legacy of feminine technophobia still lingers, in our day (and looking towards the future), the relationship is certainly different from that of the past. New paths of action and opinion for the womens social and political change and also new perception and ironic artistic practises, which are critical but not nostalgic, are being mediated by technologies.
Net.art is an art of social grammars in which the dismantling of public and private spheres, on-line collectives and the (de)construction of potential and imaginable subjectivities are some of the fields of artistic action and investigation which are most frequently to be found in feminists discourses about the Internet. Accordingly, in net.art works by women there is a direct or indirect confluence of two metalanguages: the one that poses the problems in adjusting to becoming of subjectivities (women who talk about women), and the one that reflects the differential nature of the medium (codes referring to an on-line society).
In this respect, net.art does not confine the use of the net to its instrumental nature and to displaying the medium itself, but makes it a new space to be inhabited, where the art that is native to it, which we call net.art, is no longer an art of objects, more a thinking art for the medium than an art thought up for the medium. An art in which the word and its action exemplify a moment in which what is said written(as a theory or as an artistic practice) limns one of the most illuminated paths across the contemporary grid of art.
Net.art is an art of social grammar, an art in which the interface, as a new field of intersubjective mediationre-poses the notions of the public and private spheres, positioning itself in terms of resistance, deconstructive, questioning and proposing new manners of being in a space (the net) which seems to allow horizontalised relations.
Womens creations, historically regarded as
a gynaeceum paintings and embroidery culture proclaimed until quite
recently that the sole sphere in which women could take part on an equal
footing with men was confined to seduction , an ephemeral realm of
horizontalisation that always returned to hierarchisation via some (metaphorical
or direct) incursion of verticality. Today, under the pressure of this
identification and questioning of our cultures sexual history,
we shall see how phallocracy crumbles.
In this respect, productions on the Internet made by women speak to us of new strategies of displacement . Indeed, we might say that the key to what inhabits the Internet is the fact of being able to cross borders ; but not only the borders that place it in different spaces, but rather those of the body itself and of the face. In the Internet there is nourished a nomadic awareness as an epistemological but also a political position. Let us recall the words of Deleuze and Guattari the face is a politics , and consequently the fact of face-ification(though reversible) via interface is also a political gesture. Women and men may omit the face in our virtual gestures which in times past would have indicated a predictable future, and thus to create a face as a confluence of absences and intensities. In a simulated manner we face-ifythe interface, and in doing so we overcome the limitation of a body, portraying ourselves as what temporarily qualifies us, but never as what identifies us. And so, in this internetised interface that exteriorises an absent presence we dwell as a subjectivity. Net.art like Brandon by Shu Lea Cheang is able to integrate metaphorically and functionally the nets possibilities of scenifying the imbalances of gender and its transformations. Brandon, a real being, born as a woman, face-ified the absence that kept it from being a man and transformed it into a fictional presence. Shu Leas project uses the net, a medium in which the body is (re)made with words and codes to the users taste, not only as a technological mask but also as a place for meeting and debating questions of gender.
It seems evident that the Internet represents the materialisation of a new ontology of identities and of language: in other words, it offers the chance to make and remake oneself, and also to relate to others via new forms of communication which question the paradigms of linearity and narrativity. Let us consider the works by Lialina, My boyfriend came back from the war, for example, where there emerge new, fragmented forms of narration, in a context of real but also represented war, heading towards continuous division in the minimal frames-stage sets of the monitor screen where communication can take place. Or in her project FTP (File Transfer Protocol), where this time the narratives deal with the implicit communication processes of machines; they display what is hidden (beneath the asphalt of the World Wide Web), what supports the exchanges between connected machines (persons). Internal processes of transference whose structural visualisation makes the comparison of machine and human an inevitable one, and identifies the viscera of the device and the mechanical transfer and exchange protocols with our own interior and with the emotional grammars of our communication.
This narrativity is also questioned in the works of Dora García. Hypertextual searches, fragmented, dripping aphorisms like distributed verses that flow without any pre-established order of reading, beats of the heart (Heartbeat): Dora Garcías net.art in contact with intimate communication processes leaps from the screen. But there are also searches for language through collective creation. In her last work Dora García dilutes boundaries and proposes to move from the physical presence of the performance to the asynchrony of electronic mailing lists and the mnemotechnical power of the data base on la web where she creates an interface with all the stories in the world. Languages composed by insertions of short sentences, orders and encapsulated stories speak to us of a new language, beyond mere hypertexuality, a language in progress, always awaiting enlargement and modification.
In the Internet, horizontalisation occurs via strategies of displacement, to be for the other becomes inevitable for all women and men, as a process of utilisation of the fields of mediation and symbolic representation by means of technological devices.
Horizontalisation via rhizomatic ways of inhabiting a place, which is closer to a time, to a location. Rhizomatic forms (let us recall Deleuze ) that suggest ways of thought and of relating to each other that are in opposition to the verticality of conventional roots. No/phallocentric forms that make us think, as Braidotti said, of a new nomadic political ontology, a way of political resistance to the hegemonic and excluding visions of subjectivity . Ways that speak of a post-human vision of subjectivity, and which Donna Haraway represents in her theory of the cyborg . With technology, the binary logic of identity is subverted. Now we can construct identity, and even gender. Victoria Vesnas work Bodies Incorporated, may be, in this sense, illustrative. The possibility of artificially creating for ourselves a body and personality á la carte (post-human subject), in this instance by means of grafts, plagiarisms, exchanges of feet, arms, torsos, legs, made of air, glass, earth, the possibility of choosing a sex, sexuality, personality, and to interact with others, surmounts the playful appearance of the project and questions a future (not science fiction) in which technologies will permit at more everyday levels the use of sophisticated and disposable bodies. These strategies of (self)creation are based on the graft, the recontextualisation of fragments, copy-and paste, and they convert the interface, as a mechanical field of intersubjective mediation, into a new epistemological space of the being. Bodies articulated with digital scripts that interrupt the discourses of duality questioning the unmoving "sameness" of the subject in the multiple morphologies of the interface, making its social inscription conditional upon the ephemeralness of its duration, its genuine temporality and total contingency.
In the Internet a zone is being created in which all the channels as senses are entangled in impure promiscuity with everything it touches, surrounds, and penetrates without resistance . It is a zone in which we no longer have gendered bodies to conceal ourselves, but rather a polyvalent interface with which we can act, in which the determination that age, race, or sex induce in the physical world is dismantled in its material structure. Sexual difference and even generation time are systematically undrawn. The fleeting appearances on the screen, the oscillating images, represent the flight of bodies and the material realm, a journey to other spaces where individual(s) separate themselves from their foundations, from their empirical relation to the matrix which they want to investigate . The matter making up our bodies seems to be left behind and appears only as a protection-projection screen . In this context the monitor and the interface can be viewed as folds in our new wardrobe, suggesting, in a way, some kind of real space beyond the screens, some space that you cant see but that you know exists .
Interfaced habitation that permits horizontalisation to be understood also as de-hierarchisation and the process of feminisation of culture, taken not as what is linked to the vulnerability and instability ascribed to things made by women, but rather as the use of technology for political thought and action based on the rejection of the common principle of domination and on liberation from hegemonic habits of thought, by means of successive shifts, as Braidotti says without an essential unity and in opposition to such a unity. A feminisation which in relation to art also speaks to us of the liberation of the repressed and excluded subconscious (with which women and all those othersare identified) as a positive orientation of the living other, the "saved other", and the "other no longer threatened with destruction . This feminisation is possible thanks only to the technologies, and we should not forget that technological devices can facilitate or repress ways of being, but ideologies and the will to change them are the real engine to drive social change.
A new reading extracted from the link Woman-Art-Internet is the creation of a sphere for no-sense , Internet as a space for falsehood. There, in that field in which the subject disappears and makeup is applied to a character is where women have been situated historically, and where some people situate femininity (the alienated being of women) when the alliance of appearances confronts sense, enveloping it in a playful ritual..
Consider, for example, the use of chat, one of the plainest and most widely accepted social uses in which the individual, without a body of her own, becomes pure appearance, an artificial construction that adheres to the desire of the other , where the potential for lying attains its highest degree, for doubt, for the mystery of the one behind the screen, of what you want to be. However, its specificity in comparison to other devices such as e-mail has to do with the delimitation of a space for consenting to no-sense, where the person wishing to enter assumes that she is entering a fictional space which may be more real than reality itself. The differential levels of manifestation of language take place and conceal an abstract totality, which is not said and yet circulates like an implicit agreement among the chatters seeking the practise of seduction, generating a dialogue of questions and answers that are inferred, in which the ritual logic achieves its greatest height. Baudrillard would say that absence seduces presence: for Virilio it might be an aesthetic of disappearance. This ritual we can also see in Intruder, one of Natalie Bookchins latest projects, in which the scenes are articulated under the deceptive appearance of a video game which becomes a ritual when it is discovered that only one outcome is possible. Bookchin creates several scenarios based on the plot (a story of the passion and jealousy of two men fighting for a woman) where there are no Martians to kill, nor points to earn, just a story generated by means of a critical and ironic analysis of the narrative via dynamics fragmented by different interactive games. The womans role in the story does not change; she simply moves to a realm different from that of the original story (a tale by Borges), but continues to be treated like an object, this time like a ball or a trophy, an object of desire, a recompense for the winner, an umodifiable destiny in the story, a deceptive and fraudulent game in which everything is already written.
At the same time, let us not forget that in the Internet the latent power to falsify the visible and to recreate the subconscious through folds of garments that cover the bodies going beyond their poses and helping to surmount their contradictionsalso has a reading on the side of the folds that envelop. Nietzsche said: We dont believe that the truth is still the truth when the veil is torn away. In this instance, the folds of water fit and reveal the body better than nudity does. Thus the folds of air can sketch an invented being but the wet ones become only a screen of protections to show the more real and obscene reality. In these folds that envelop we find samples of net.art such as Parthenia, a work about the mistreatment of women, where the simulation of the real is abject like truth, yet truer than the true (that is the height of the simulacrum) reminding us, as Baudrillard would say, that the real in general is the abolished and disenchanted form of the world.
On the Internet the world (we) exists through our temporary representatives, in e-mail, in chat groups, in the WWW, ...in the concluded interaction. The world on the internet may be splashing about, kicking sand, a trail that self-destructs when the communication is over or, also, an intermittence that is present even when there is only absence. On the Internet that idea of Deleuze with regard to Leibnizian thought that suggests a perception through textures rather than structures, would have a reference point. Textures are what configure multiple possible forms of being and doing on the net, and are what liberates the unconscious (just as people in disguise can give vent to their most hidden and liberating facets). Textures and fold that become autonomous and exceed the body, to destroy it, re-establish it or elevate it, but also turn it over and mould its interior.
In a networked society the interface is our new home, the walls determined by the data-processing machine. The machine which increasingly remember Deleuze and Guattariis not only technical but a social machine. In this sense, we should think about how the system of information supply mediated by machines changes and this brings about changes in the public sphere attending to the traditional configuration of spaces of actions. Let us not forget that until not so long ago mens and womens habits were conditioned by routines that obliged them to leave their homes to shop, work, learn, and make contact with other persons. Now we have digital networks with a huge capacity to transfer information and to facilitate different types of relations when and where we wish. Lets think that the old social fabric, joined by the obligatory union of place and time, is no longer coherent. . All this reconfigures public spaces and private spaces, and it suggests a dispersion and fragmentation of the structures which have situated women in domestic environments.
Meanwhile, the Diaspora of company employees to private spaces (thanks to the dislocation of the workplace and the economy and efficiency of teleworking) is already a reality and its continuation will obliges the rethinking of mens and womens family and labour relations. This new situation calls for women who are receptive to the new technologies and prepared to confront them critically and creatively. The new schools and the new jobs are behind the computer screens and they mean not that women will leave their homes but that men will join them there since it is the job (which until recently required travel) which will allow both to remain at home. This is just the beginning of a synaesthesic zone , which will reach public places, museums, universities, companies, administrations, but also and very especially domestic and private spaces to which women were traditionally relegated. The domestic space and its consideration as something feminine has been the object of criticism and debate by broad sectors of feminists in recent years, and it should be taken into account when we speak of the relation of artists to a technology like the Internet. Lets think that in on the net there conjugate public spaces (of social relations and interactions virtual ones- and of production) with private spaces (the interconnected cells of the net), as was done by the first feminists who organised their actions in private environments where they planned their public campaigns of criticism and political protest. This link now started by communications networks should be utilised for creative emancipation and not to accentuate the gender classification and location that condemns women to private spaces.
Theoretical activity on the net cannot be ignored in this reflection on the restructuring of work in the new market economy. On the Internet not only campaigns to denounce these situations and promote co-ordinated actions can be launched, but also training campaigns about the new policies of the global economy and their implementation, in which women are invited to participate and to join in digital projects, conceiving new ways of reconciling the woman with the machine.
Since the early 1990s these new possibilities have engendered a particularly active consciousness among the artists working with the Internet. Indeed, the cyberfeminist manifesto originated with an artists collective (VNSMatrix) that encompasses the culture of high technology, exploring the construction of social space, identity and sexuality in cyberspace, and that attempts to surmount the conceptions that would alienate women from technological devices and their cultural products. This was the idea behind cyberfeminism, for which it is not acceptable to consent that political and economic systems should regard the imprisonment of women as eternally invisible in their domestic economies as and exclusively private problem. In this respect, it proposes visible resistance to all political consequences that are regressive for women, as well as an analysis of the division of labour by gender, as sustained and nourished from hegemonic structures. With this policy of action it was hoped to overcome the idea that feminism and technology are an odd couple, and to recognise that the new technological devices have an important potential whose personal and political impact speaks to us of new opportunities for womens dissidence from traditionally assigned roles.
Far from the implicit theories and the myths about the artists isolated and distant from society, feminist artists practice a deliberately incisive art in the social context, often from collective positions. Their artistic (political) practices have aimed at transcending symbolic action to reach an effective action where they can dissolve the barrier between art and life. Back in the 1970s performance artists used strategies of visibilisation of womens working and living conditions, and to do so they based their projects on the exhibition of domestic tasks, which they repeated monotonously in real time. With this purpose of impacting on the social context it turns out to be inevitable for them to begin to use the communications media to be able to reach wider audiences. We think that the media force things to happen, record what is happening, drive public opinion, engender affinities and disconformities, and, above all, lead to changes.
Thus is it that the link between woman-artist and woman-activists has been a common one in recent years. In this respect we can verify, moving on the frontier that unites (and separates) the political from the aesthetic, that the majority of the cyberfeminists develop their proposals from artistic positions, so it is only logical to consider many of their projects and devices for encounters and actions on the net (OBN, VNSMatrix, etc.) as examples of the most meaningful net.art made by women. It is not for nothing that cyberfeminism, as with other forms of political action on the Internet, suggests an image of activism as art and of the operating principles converted into complex forms of symbolic and poetic production, and was also proposed by the Theatre of Electronic Resistance in its actions of political support and criticism. It included projects like the ingenious and ironic (in its forms) Old Boys Network, the first space dedicated to cyberfeminism, or like Face Setting by Kathy Rae Huffman and Eva Wolghemuth, both of them created in Europe, and which propose a space for meeting and the creating of devices of communication and activism (social or/and artistic) on-line amongst women.
The discourses generated with regard to this form of inhabiting the net speak to us of the first steps of a promise of post-feminist thought and practise, as materialised in the work on the net by women net.activists, as Faith Wilding and Critical Art Ensemble indicate. In this sense, the definition of cyberfeminism would be essentially subversive insofar as it continues to pursue the feminist cause and is strengthened and activated especially by the ways in which the socialisation of the media is carried out which still reflect political and sexual stereotypes, and is particularly critical of the manipulation and definition of our experiences with technology. According to Wilding and CAE cyberfeminism is no different from the other feminisms and matters such as feminine subjectivity, separatism, and maintenance of the limits and of territorial identification are destined to rise again, even though in other feminist territories they seem to be dead.
Dan Cameron suggests that the relation between
womens liberation and information technologies is not new and
in this regard we can view cyberfeminism as one of the materialisations
of co-operation between woman, machine, and new technologies.
At the same time Paterson poses that cyberfeminism as a philosophy
has the power to create a poetics, passion, political identity
and unity without falling into a logic and a language of exclusion or
appropriation. In this way and by means of the theory and practice
a diversity of fields of action and opinion arise to the detriment of
divisive factors, as well as the reconstruction of feminist policies
that defend co-operation between technologies and women. In this context,
and far from the simplifying notions that would situate cyberfeminism
exclusively on the net, it must be pointed out that the territories
in which this acts encompasses the industries and physical social structures
where technology is conceived and manufactured (software and hardware
industries, education centres and technological policy, etc.), in addition
to the places where it is consumed not for nothing, although until
recently women were not significantly represented within the process
of manufacture and use of complex technology, but they were and
increasingly areconsumers of it. Indeed, we cannot forget that
the importance of the media is meaningful always in relation to the
interactions with the real world that they suggest. In this respect,
we observe that several works of net.art are conceived and developed
in both contexts. Siberian Deal, for instance, takes place outside and
inside the net, supplanting the earlier imaginings having to do with
the place (physical) with exact projections (now virtual) of real space
and experience, also extrapolating from the of physical
territorial exploration to that of the early years of colonisation of
the virtual uncultivated terrain. Brandon also relies on
numerous off-line activities such as forums and debates on gender in
several cities. Dora Garcías Insertos is also conceived
as a integrative project between a real space and another virtual one;
it need both and feeds on both. And naturally, the eminently political
and socially critical projects normally address personal activities
and encounters which are also aspects of net.art works.
In conclusion, and taking care not to fall into an excessive optimism by viewing the Internet as a panacea for the emancipation of women and liberating artistic projects, but also distancing ourselves from critical sceptics who hold that we have seen this all before, we must acknowledge that for women the Internet is a place we must be, especially to produce and organise a new inhabited space and to appropriate it for ourselves in our artistic proposals as women, and above all as human beings. Without forgetting that only political will and adaptation to the new technological changes can render concrete and effective the possibilities of social change afforded by the new devices. Indeed, we @ll have an immediate and vital interest in the Internet, not only due to its instrumental nature but also because of the social and political questions derived from it for our daily lives (on-line and off-line). At the end of the day the reading inferred from the intersection of Women, Art and the Internet address the great problem of human beings: to live in the world, the interior world (full of desires, fears, and dreams) and the exterior world (mediated by its relation with others and capable of being multiplied, made simultaneous and complex in an on-line society). Moving from one to the other are the female artists who work on the net, in a nomadology, adrift, crossing borders and inhabiting. Always in a reversible manner, conceiving ways to adapt our politics to new changes (in the majority of cases, and Braidotti would say, with ironic force, scarcely repressed violence and vitriolic ingenuity), entering into intersection with an infinity of others, and portraying themselves as new desiring subjects.
concept of becoming is an adaptation taken from Nietzsche. Thus it is
NOT posed as the dynamic opposition of opposites nor as the development
of an essence that leads to a synthesising identity. Rather, it is the
affirmation of the positive nature of difference (as a constant and
multiple process of transformation). DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. (1987): A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schipzophrenia, University
of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.