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Cyberfeminist Discussion in Berlin. Comments welcome.

Rebooting cyberfeminism
A Roundtable for "re:place: Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology conference, Berlin, November 18, 2007.
Facilitated by Irina Aristarkhova (ixa10@psu.edu) and Faith Wilding (faithwilding@cs.com)
Please send your ideas / responses directly to one of the above e-mail addresses.

10am 18 November, Conference Hall 2, House of World Cultures, Berlin.

Rebooting Cyberfeminism, a Roundtable discussion, will address ways of evaluating the histories and impact of cyberfeminism on current and future contributions to media art, technology practices, and activism in electronic (and Real) spaces. We invite virtual and/or physical participation and comments from all those interested. We are initiating an open discussion on a variety of topics including "Histories of Cyberfeminism," and "Genealogy of Art Groups".

Histories of Cyberfeminism (Please address your ideas / comments to Irina Aristarkhova at ixa10@psu.edu)

One might argue that cyberfeminism has been slow in incorporating non-Western conceptions of gender/sexual difference and science/technology, both in art and in theory, and when it does incorporate them, both art works and theory have the “West” as standard and “other” as alternative (exotic) or subaltern (exploited) modes of relation to technology. Even if it is true, this situation is not different from the field as a whole, where Western genealogies are often presented as separate in origin from the rest of the world (starting from a point in Greek, or Roman, or Renaissance, or Film history), and often serve as a standard in the development of this new field. This panel (like a conference as a whole) is also an attempt to come to terms with such “history” and present the methodological and aesthetic problems of this limited approach.

First of all, one would need to clarify why we discuss the issue of “histories” and not one history. Just as in the case of “women’s histories,” which are still to be written and being written, cyberfeminist histories would acknowledge that often Western European-based history of art, science and technology, consciously or unconsciously confuses the lack of information on and communication with non-Western European sources with their absence, or even unimportance for its own methodology and, hence, - conclusions.

Second, this “ignorance” of sources leads – as we hope - to an attitude of curiosity and learning, coming from an understanding that indeed, attitudes to technology, science and the machine are not simply “born” from the Western origins and sources, but “made” within a complex set of colonial, imperial, trading, linguistic and other global histories. A simple gap in our mutual knowledges of each other’s contexts might be a fruitful resource for research and collaborative work. Thus, this panel invites explorations into our cyberfeminist ‘gaps’.

In the West, cyberfeminism has often been influenced by the ideas of socialist feminism and post-modernism. Some focused more on the critique of women’s disempowerment in relation to new media and technologies, particularly reproductive and bio-technologies, and use of female labor and female body in the “new technological” age; while others celebrated technological possibilities of morphing hybrid identities, with introduction of playful subjectivity, when male-female, machine-human, West/East, North/South, straight and homosexual binaries become porous, fluid and deliberately confused. And a tension between these two approaches often works as a catalyst for cyberfeminist debate and discussion: when one blames another for not being activist or “decentered” enough in their creative and theoretical engagements with new media. While these debates are useful in interrogating various theoretical methodologies and artistic practices, within this panel we will try to critically explore specific cases of media art, scientific and medical technologies, communications technologies (Internet, web, blog, email networking, etc.), food production and distribution technologies, farming knowledge etc. to excavate more histories of women’s development and uses of such technologies in art, community and science. We hope that looking at these examples will foster our discussion on the development of aesthetics and politics of cyberfeminist histories we can learn from.

Examples of such case studies might include, but not be limited, to:
- Sarai “Cybermohalla” Project (http://www.sarai.net/practices/cybermohalla)
- Vandana Shiva’s farm (http://www.navdanya.org/about/founder-message.htm)
- Emily Jacir’s video installation “Crossing Surda (A Record of Going to and from Work)” (http://www.daratalfunun.org/main/activit/curentl/febo6/emily/emily06.html)
- the Zapatista Women’s brigades (http://www.caferebelion.com/newlinks.html)
- Women on Waves (www.womenonwaves.org)
- Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices. A subRosa anthology, Autonomedia, 2003 (http://www.refugia.net/domainerrors/index.html)
- Soviet histories of women artists working with technology

"Genealogy of Art Groups" (Please address your ideas / comments to Faith Wilding at faithwilding@cs.com)

Genealogy of Artist/Activist Collaborations
and Art Groups

A recent exhibition “Cyberfem. Feminisms on the Electronic Landscape,” (Espai d’Art Contemporani, Castellon, Spain, 20 October–21 January, 2006/07, curated by Ana Martinez-Collado), brought together a diverse group of works by cyberfeminist artists from many parts of the world (including artists Dora Garcia, Ana Navarette, Olia Lialina, Kristin Lucas, Eva Wohlgemut, Lynn Hershmann, Shu Lea Cheang, Dora Garcia, Prema Murthy, OBN, Deb King, Salome Cuesta, Coco Fusco, subRosa and many others). According to the curator, the exhibition was “conceived as an expanded territory, a hybrid space of creation and activism constructed using new digital technologies. …Speaking of (cyber) feminism today—feminism, Internet, art and activism—is to speak of experimental creation, communication, interactivity, research and association. Internet is now consolidated as a space of visibilisation of women from a multifaceted plurality of directions.” It would be interesting to discuss and examine this statement.

Since the utopian (and specifically Western) moment of CF’s founding, it has been critiqued for tending to separate itself from earlier (Western) histories of feminism, and especially from the feminist activism and theory that fueled the second wave women’s liberation movement and the feminist art movement. Cyberfeminism, many tech-savvy women hoped, could perhaps leave behind the vexing feminist concerns with female essentialism, sexism, racism, and crippling gender roles, to explore a new world of post-human bodies without borders, digital machines, virtual networking, and pleasurable play with communications and imaging technologies. CF has also been criticized for its neglect of concerns about racism, sexism, and difference on the Internet. (See for example, “Surfing the Waves of Feminism: Cyberfeminism and its others” Susanna Paasonen, labrys, estudos feministas / études féministes janeiro / julho 2005 - janvier /juillet 2005; and “Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism?” Faith Wilding,

Ironically, while an important part of Haraway’s cyborg manifesto concerns itself with women’s lives in “the integrated circuit of global production,” and discusses the painful effects of the “feminization of labor,” and the contingent and precarious nature of the lives of millions of female and male workers in the global factories and border zones all over the world, this has not been the focus of much cyberfeminist theorizing and activism among (Western) artists and academic feminists to date.
So it is important to ask: What possibilities for “thinking (and doing) things differently” have been opened up by cyberfeminism and women in net culture? Maria Fernandez has written: “A starting point for developing change could be the revaluation of the old dictum: ‘The personal is political.’ It is now necessary to become aware of how we deal with differences in our most intimate spheres. At the same time we need to strengthen our presence in the greatly contested digital domain as technology has been an integral part of the construction and positioning of identities. In the current state of technologically facilitated global capitalism it becomes imperative to find new ways of interacting in and out of cyberspace.” (See Introduction, Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices. A subRosa anthology, Autonomedia, 2003)

It would be interesting to learn how feminist activists and artists have made use of ICT. Worldwide, women’s and people’s movements practicing self-organized and grass-roots (feminist) activism use the expanded territory of cyberspace. Examples include RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan); Cindy Sheehan organizing US military mothers to bring their children home; and Pink Bloc, Women on Waves, Women in Black, Soldier’s Mothers, the Zapatista Women’s brigades, the Mothers of Juarez, the Atalantis Project, to name but a few. The Zapatistas and many of the landless people’s movements rely on their Web presence as an organizing base, to give them visibility and credibility and to communicate with similar movements worldwide. They are spreading many hands-on technologies via the internet, and building coalitions with many different constituencies.

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