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Monstrous Agents: cyberfeminist media and activism

Version of Record: Barnett, Tully (2014). Monstrous agents: Cyberfeminist media and activism. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.5. doi:10.7264/N3445JSD

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Tully Barnett
Research Fellow
Flinders University, South Australia

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 3 Australia produced a number of influential new media artworks by feminist artists in the 1990s. This activity stemmed from video art undertaken in the 1980s and complemented the material turn in feminism led by Australians such as Elizabeth Grosz, Susan Hawthorne, Zoe Sofoulis, and Dale Spender inspired by theoretical works such as Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” (1985). Artworks by artists such as Linda Dement, Jill Scott, mez breeze, VNS Matrix, Melinda Rackham, and Francesca Da Rimini were created during a time of exuberance for the opportunities promised by online culture for changing society, its structures, and perhaps even the human itself in ways that would bolster prospects for women’s equality. It was a moment of sharp interest in the intersection of new technologies with notions of gender, sexuality, the body and social organisation. “Cyberfeminism” became a term associated with this trend. The artworks produced in this period tend to reflect an optimism about a transition to a networked world that might hold promises for overcoming boundaries and binaries, and providing a means for advancing the feminist agenda into the new millennium. They also tend to highlight the body as a key site for negotiating new media theories and practices.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 However, the term cyberfeminism dissipated somewhat in the first decade of the new millennium, although a thread of continued usage can be drawn throughout the decade from Sarah Kember’s Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life (2003) to the more contemplative approaches at the end of the decade in Looui and Flanagan’s “Rethinking the F word: A review of activist art on the Internet” (2007) and Jessie Daniels’ “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, gender, and embodiment” (2009). Recently initiatives such as Fembot and FemTechNet have sought to provide a locus for the return of a cohesive agency around gender and technology, picking up on the continued interest of scholars such as Anne Balsamo and Teresa de Lauretis. Radhika Gajjala and Yeon Ju Oh’s 2012 collection Cyberfeminism 2.0 provides a platform for exploring the multivalent ways that the agency of cyberfeminism continues beyond the ascendency of the term.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 This paper considers two exemplary artworks of the cyberfeminist moment of the 1990s as markers of that moment. “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” (1991) by VNS Matrix and carrier (1996) by Melinda Rackham are key examples of early texts that contributed productively to the discourse around women and new technologies. In these works, viruses and techno-tools are mobilized as game-changing forces that cross boundaries and binaries. “We are the virus of the new world disorder rupturing the symbolic from within / Saboteurs of big daddy mainframe / the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix” proclaim VNS Matrix, establishing their work’s subversive agenda. Meanwhile, carrier is a web-based multimedia installation using biopolitical themes to undermine conventional ideas about the body, infection, borders and boundaries, and agency.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 2 Considering the historical place of these texts only fifteen to twenty years after their creation raises issues about how to appropriately contextualise these important works. In the scheme of art history, this is a blink of an eye. But in terms of the maturation of the digital format and the obsolescence of its technical substrata, this is a much longer time.[i] Therefore, developing a way of thinking both historically and immediately about the works is crucial, especially because of the rapidly changing theoretical frameworks that arose to complement quickly changing technologies and the everyday practices that changed with them. Changing styles in web design and graphics capabilities mean that some early works of internet art bear the hallmarks of early web design and thus appear dated and irrelevant, for many this is not the case. The time-sensitive nature of the discussion is evident in Sarah Kember’s 2002 article “Reinventing cyberfeminism: cyberfeminism and the new biology.” Published just 11 years after VNS Matrix first used the term “cyberfeminist” in their manifesto, five years after the First Cyberfeminist International was hosted in Germany in September 1997, five years after Sadie Plant’s book Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women + the New Technoculture, and three years after Susan Hawthorne and Renata Klen’s Cyberfeminism: Connectivity, Critique and Creativity (1999), Kember discusses the idea of reinventing the notion of cyberfeminism in a manner more consistent with reinventing a praxis decades or centuries in the past. If cyberfeminism is a term with declining relevance, as a result of many factors including, I contend, the dot.com bubble bursts that bruised the utopian bent of digital culture, then the question arises whether the monstrous promises of cyberfeminists, including the dangerous act of carrier’s viral infectious agent sHe and the clitorially-jacked VNS team, are fading as well. Where this unique brand of energy is to be recaptured, I argue, is in the semiotic spitfire of bio-textual intimacies. These texts continue to demonstrate use? the subversive and progressive possibilities of language and the opportunities for forging meaningful understandings through the appropriation and combination of digital signifiers.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Australia in the 1990s was primed to be a hotbed of cyberfeminist art expression. The Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) traces its history to a 1984 event sponsored by the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, South Australia. Since then, ANAT has supported the development, creation, curation and communication of artworks that intersect with technology in some way. Julianne Pierce, a member of VNS Matrix, was the director of ANAT from 2000−2005. The Australia Council also convened a Hybrid Arts Board which became New Media Arts Fund until 2004 when it was disbanded. Since then the Australia Council has convened various bodies that serve the needs of new media artists such as the Inter-Arts Board and Emerging and Experimental Arts. National support engendered an environment where Australia was alive with ideas about what the new information technology revolution was going to bring to art and culture. Magazines like 21C expounded the opportunities of the changing landscape. Dale Spender published Nattering on the New: Women, Power and Cyberspace in 1994. Spender writes:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 There are literally thousands of women’s groups now on-line: everything from a women’s Web Site and Women’s Resources on the Internet, through to Jane Austen, Women’s Health Hotline, The Ada Project (a collection of resources for women in computing) and a Women Artists’ Archive. Everything you could dream of wanting. And more “exchange” than books could ever provide, which is why it is so exciting and gratifying (Spender 1994, p. 237).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Spender focussed on the opportunities for access and networking growing on the Internet. In 1999, Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, Australian scholars and writers, published their edited collection Cyberfeminism: Connectivity, Critique and Creativity, bringing together a range of international perspectives and taking a more critical approach than what?.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Before this material was published, however, VNS Matrix was creating and distributing, both on and offline, a manifesto for women entering the new age of connectivity. They were also making digital artworks that were exhibited at a range of international new media / digital arts venues and festivals globally including the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) 1994. The group is credited throughout the scholarship of cyberfeminism and women’s digital art for their role in advancing the field in the early 1990s. According to the Medienkunstnetz website,

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In the sense of having an aggressive confrontation with the constructions of identity and gender in cyberspace, VNS Matrix tried to redefine the role and image of women in art and technology. One of the group’s principal strategies was to unmask and debilitate androcentric, mythical images and to hold up against them the newly-created representations of a stronger and active femininity (Medienkunstnetz, n.d.).

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 VNS Matrix PieceFigure 1 VNS Matrix, “A Cyber Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century”

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 VNS Matrix (pronounced Venus Matrix) was formed in 1991 by four artists – Francesca da Rimini, Josephine Starrs, Julianne Pierce, and Virginia Barratt – in Adelaide, South Australia. VNS Matrix’s “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” (1991) is one of the first recorded usages of the term “cyberfeminist” and the group is frequently credited with creating the term (Rosser 2005; Hawthorne 1999, p. 2). “Our manifesto reproduced itself virally, and has been translated into Japanese, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Finnish” writes Francesca da Rimini on the website she maintains to discuss the work of the collective (VNS Matrix, n.d.).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 VNS Matrix worked in a variety of different artistic media with an emphasis on themes inspired by and founded on feminism, cultural theories, postmodernism and technoculture. Their work shows an interest in themes such as women’s use of technological tools, sexuality in virtual environments, and identity formulation. The works of VNS Matrix all challenge patriarchal notions of women’s engagement with technology and offer a space for “… women who hijack the tools of domination and control and introduce a rupture into highly systematised culture by infecting the machines with radical thought, diverting them from their inherent purpose of linear topdown mastery” (VNS Matrix, n.d.). The use of viral symbology presents a means of emphasising the biological over the technological, a disruptive organism that can slip through the defences of the “big daddy mainframe.”

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” is an artwork consisting of image and text that includes a short statement designed to be both printed and distributed in poster format and to be distributed digitally. Inspired, like most others active in cyberfeminist praxis by Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” and by new works of art integrating screens of various kinds, VNS Matrix used bold language to mark cyberspace as a space of agency for women. The 17-line manifesto contains the famous phrase “we are the virus of the new world disorder / rupturing the symbolic from within / saboteurs of the big daddy mainframe / the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix.” Positing the merging of not only the female body but the most sensitive female genitalia to new technologies, which were so frequently seen as objects of masculine ownership, destabilised the discourse.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 At the centre of their billboard-shaped rectangle is a sphere containing the text of the manifesto, the 17 lines that begin and end with “cunt” (the work opens with the line “We are the modern cunt” and concludes with the line “We are the future cunt”)[i], emphasising the extent to which the embodiment of female sexuality is at the core of considerations of women and cyberspace. The textual sphere rests on the crooked neck of a naked female seen from the waist up, fist pressed to her downward facing forehead, taking up a stance reminiscent of both images of the mythical Atlas and Rodin’s The Thinker. On both sides of this figure there floats a woman, the same woman, whose torso tapers off into a shape reminiscent of a shell, a bug and a machine. Molecular structures float in space behind the figures.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The Manifesto was printed and posted in physical spaces around their hometown of Adelaide,. It was printed as a billboard and displayed for a short time locally in that format. The 17 lines of the text are:

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 We are the modern cunt

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 positive anti reason

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 unbounded unleashed unforgiving

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 we see art with our cunt we make art with our cunt

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 we believe in jouissance madness holiness and poetry

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 we are the virus of the new world disorder

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 rupturing the symbolic from within

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 saboteurs of big daddy mainframe

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 VNS MATRIX

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 terminators of the moral code

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 mercenaries of slime

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 go down on the altar of abjection

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 probing the visceral temple we speak in tongues

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 infiltrating disrupting disseminating

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 corrupting the discourse

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 we are the future cunt

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The playful and strategic use of language and terminology within these 17 lines serves VNS Matrix’s agenda of “rupturing the symbolic.” Of particular note is their construction of their personae as “saboteurs of big daddy mainframe.” Gendering the mainframe in this way and investing it with patriarchal connotations indicates that hardware, and in particular the big hardware of the early computer era, is associated with the military-industrial complex, the conservative capitalist agenda of IBM and so on. By disrupting the “big daddy mainframe,” VNS Matrix posit the tools of new media art in opposition to mainframe technology whilst also establishing the tools of the patriarchal tech culture as open and accessible for all, including women, and for a multiplicity of purposes. Moreover, in contending that “the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix,” VNS Matrix rally artists to take control of the metaphors used to describe human-technology interactions in ways that emphasise the power of female sexuality, transcending the usual phallic boys and toys descriptors. VNS Matrix use motifs of freedom and liberation, as seen in lines like “Unbound  unleashed  unforgiving,” tapping into previous feminist agendas such as suffrage and the struggle for equal employment conditions and contrasting previous suffering and constraint with the newfound freedom of representation and expression offered by new technologies of information and communication. In referring to “terminators of the moral code,” VNS Matrix denote both Haraway’s cyborg and the militaristic and apocalyptic cyborgs of phallocentric action movies of the era. But these cyborgs are put to new use, rupturing the status quo by becoming “terminators of the moral code.” By promising to “go down on the altar of abjection,” VNS Matrix are invoking both the sacred and the profane as well as Kristeva’s theoretical work about abjection. The sacred and the sexual are resurrected in the next lines “probing the visceral temple we speak in tongues / infiltrating disrupting disseminating”

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 1 A key trope of this work is the virus. “We are the virus of the new world disorder,” write VNS Matrix. Computer viruses date back to the early 1980s and began to gain concern and notoriety into the 1990s. Jussi Parikka notes that in the 1990s discourses about computer viruses caused hysteria, linked to that “key sexed disease of the previous fin de siècle. Viruses became a sign of the fin de millennium” (2007 p. 2). In this way, Parikka indicates a pathology of the computer virus, perhaps even a teratology.  VNS Matrix alters the metaphor of the virus as instead an agent of change, corruption and opportunity. Here “corrupting the discourse” is achieved by both theme and technology. Parikka notes that the “virus is also an expression of the media ecology” that is intimately connected with the biological, drawing together the notions of biology and technology at a time when the internet promised to help people leave their bodies behind (2007, p. 3). Melinda Rackham would pick up this understanding of virus in carrier.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Marking the end of the decade that opened with “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century,” carrier (1999) is a biopolitical web-based multimedia installation created during a moment of cyberfeminist activity and enthusiasm. It won numerous awards and was exhibited in virtual and physical galleries and festivals around the world. It sets out to destabilise the user’s traditional or conventional notions of the body and instead invites its audience to rethink the boundaries between humans and their bodies, between bodies and the foreign agents that inhabit them, and between humans and their technologies. It posits the relationship between humans and viruses as symbiotic and exciting, and dramatizes that relationship, questioning the boundaries between flesh, virus and machine by creating an interactive textual experience inviting dialogue between the reader/viewer and a seductive “infectious agent” known as “sHe.”  carrier uses shockwave vrml and java programming beneath a haunting visual and auditory landscape to combine hypertextual links with the insistent and infectious agent “sHe.” The work is an immersive experience that invites the user to enter into its multimodal narratives.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Rackham uses her net.art to provide information about Hepatitis C (HCV) and to work against the social stigma of the disease by questioning misunderstandings about viral infection. carrier also communicates the stories and experiences of people suffering from the health complications of the virus, from death and devastation to an array of positive outcomes and emotional growth. The work breaks down the binary of the infected and the uninfected by enticing the user into an infected state through the process of the narrative. As I have argued elsewhere, Rackham incriminates the reader in the process of infection (Barnett 2012). The reader becomes a carrier of a viral agent and must experience, if only virtually, the consequences of becoming infected. The reader is invited to enter a name into the work and is thereafter addressed by that name in a chilling dissolution of the lines between reader and text, between virus and the human body that hosts it. As the reader progresses further into the text, the interaction becomes more intimate. The reader is asked “melt with me?” By clicking yes, the reader permits the virus entry. By clicking no, the reader is infected against his or her will; the reader is told “the boundaries of separate identity / collapsed long ago / come with me now.” If the reader continues to refuse entry, the agent addresses the reader by whatever name they entered previously

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Tully, you are carrier 12645

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Your most intimate sequences

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Are subordinated to my needs

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 You are forever bound

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 In tactical alliance

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 With the contagious others

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Nameless

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Faceless

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Genotypes

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 The infectious agent, the protagonist of the piece, presents contagion as equivalent to evolution.  In carrier, the infecting virus is literally the Hepatitis C virus, but it also represents metaphorical and technological forms of infection, seductive and infectious ideas, and new paradigms. The virus is both a biological virus causing illness and suffering amongst millions of people globally and a computer virus, reminding the user of the connections between the body and the technological even as it collapses them.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Like “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century”, carrier reminds us of the changing role of viruses in the new world order. What the atomic “bomb represented for the previous wave of SF, the Virus has come to represent for the contemporary period: the promise of both total destruction and total change, grounds for a kind of apocalyptic fantasy (or “post-holocaust” fiction)” (Cohn 2001, online). Jesse Cohn writes that “In a world run on microchips, viruses naturally stand for the new order of things: capillary power, made invisible” (2001, online). The subversive nature of the virus makes it an attractive metaphor. Rackham’s work belongs firmly in this genealogy and she uses biological and viral metaphors to interrogate society’s relationship to information, machines, viruses and bodies and to critique traditional binaries of male/female, human/nonhuman/inhuman, sick/well, and self/Other. At the same time, Rackham is performing a textual infection and symbiosis with her multimodal net.art, in that the cyber can be seen as itself a virus entering and replicating within literature as Rackham plays with notions of storytelling in a changing world. This is reflected in the language of textuality Rackham employs to discuss DNA and the processes of infection – for example, Rackham juxtaposes DNA with language by pitting against each other two statements: “genetic information is expressed in terms of a sequence of chemicals -DNA – nucleotides by the letters C, G, A, T – the human genome, our specific code is a string of letters 3 billion characters long.” Comparing DNA to language, Rackham writes: “human experience is represented by words, sentences, paragraphs – stories –  by sequences of letters and characters codes, our individual text is an infinite string which intersects, imitates and splices with others.” If, as Baudrillard argues, viruses “contain within them the whole logic of our system” (2003, p. 67), how do we conceptualize the gender dimension of viral infection as performed in Melinda Rackham’s carrier?

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 1 Figure 2 Melinda Rackham’s carrierFigure 2 Melinda Rackham’s carrier

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Wan-shuan Lin (2009), in her analysis of the “cultural responses to infectious disease,” discovers a progression from the quarantine/sanitation model that sought to separate clean from dirty towards a contagion/vaccination model of understanding disease that used military metaphors of invasion. She proposes a new, alternative view of the body “as conglomerate consisting of diverse elements” (2009, p. 185). This is Rackham’s symbiosis model. Lin concludes that “Instead of being victimized by viruses, the human body, by developing certain cellular mechanisms to exert effects on the virus, thereby triggers corporeal becomings, in a sense actively engages in the process of making connections with the most hetereogeneous elements” (p. 192). The duality of the co-opted meaning of the term virus represents another conflation between the mechanical/digital and the biological.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Rackham’s labelling of her viral agent as “sHe” indicates another form of symbiosis, one that emphasises both male and female, giving the male pronoun a capital but encapsulating it within the female pronoun. This evolution is consistent with carrier’s motif of contagion as a transformative evolutionary force and the idea of the virus as a force that destroys boundaries and binaries. In an interview with Eugene Thacker, Rackham observes:

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Viruses are cross-dressers — they mimic others protoplasmic signatures to slip into places where the immune system would rather they not go — with the resulting viral cross-species merging being sex in its rawest form — the virus inserts its genetic material inside our cells, using our proteins to make an offspring, an almost perfect copy of itself.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 This is an incredibly smart way to reproduce, to use a host/ess body whose gender is irrelevant. Viruses already know how to speak the language of the body, how to utilise it for their own purposes, while bio-medical science still struggles with its limited genetic alphabet of C A G T (Thacker, 2001).

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 As Rackham plays with notions of storytelling, so too does “sHe” both gendered and androgynous, by dismantling stable gender binaries and holding a mirror up to the possibilities of gender transformation in the cyber world.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 2 These two works present bodies that have become monstrous in some fashion. The Infectious Agent of carrier and VNS Matrix’s “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” both use the motif of slime in their invasion narratives. “Her gentle slime envelops you / penetrating your essence,” sHe tells you. The Manifesto, meanwhile, represents VNS Matrix as “mercenaries of slime.” Zoe Sofoulis identifies VNS Matrix’s use of slime as “the phenomena of exchange, friction, lubrication, of traffic at the borders of categories, entities, and meaning systems” (1994, p. 102). In carrier the gendered and mostly female viral agent sHe is seductive and erotic and deadly, consciously inviting the reader to “melt with me,” to evolve through infection, through a transformation into a symbiotic being no longer human in quite the same way. In “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century,” VNS Matrix articulate a game-changing approach to art and cyberculture that sees women developing new modes of subjectivity associated with female genitalia and identifying with violent actions such as rupture and sabotage. In this way, these texts reflect the feminist theory that underpins early cyberfeminism. Donna Haraway talks about the promises of monsters in reconfiguring the other as a positive agent (1992), while Rosi Braidotti writes that “monsters lend themselves to a layering of discourses” (1996, p.  135). Following these theorists, Rackham and VNS Matrix posit monstrosity, viral transformation and otherness as agents of change, of positive transformation. According to Haraway, networked cultures of technology provide an “inescapable possibility for changing maps of the world, for building new collectives out of what is not quite a plethora of human and unhuman actors” (1992, p. 355).

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 1 These works are important not only in and of themselves but also as markers for the tidal shifts in thinking about women and technological spaces. As iconic texts of the cyberfeminist moment of the 1990s, these two works help establish not only the context of that moment – one that sought desperately not to be defined – but also go some way towards recovering an understanding of that genre and that term. Now as the use of the prefix ‘cyber’ has declined in Humanities disciplines in favour of ‘digital,’ we see a complementary return to the word “cyberfeminism.” Radhika Gajjala and Yeon Ju Oh’s 2012 edited collection titled Cyberfeminism 2.0 pointedly uses the term in its title over others like  “internet scholar” – as they discuss in an interview (2013, online) –or other descriptors as a way of holding onto the agency of the term and drawing attention to the content of their work.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 In Cyberfeminism 2.0, editors Gajjala and Oh ask “Where have all the cyberfeminists gone?” (2012, p.1). Their collection is, of course, an attempt to answer that question and is predicated on the idea of locating the power and monstrosity of the cyberfeminist movement in the contemporary moment. Their answer is diverse. They find cyberfeminists in women’s blogging networks and their conferences, in women’s gaming, in fandom, in social media, in online mothers’ groups performing pro-breastfeeding activism, and in online spaces developed and populated by marginal networks of women in non-Western countries.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 And yet what precisely constitutes the modern cyberfeminist remains elusive and amorphous. Gajjala and Oh were interviewed about their book and explain how the very different vantage points they construct are generational. For Gajjala:

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 I felt there was a huge gap in terms of how cyberfeminism was being talked about right from when I first started my career … cyberfeminism celebrates particular kinds of women-centred activities but doesn’t acknowledge some of the problems … They all graze the issues but the actual concrete understanding of how these are problematic doesn’t come through all the time (Reynolds 2013).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Gajjala says she became aware that contemporary deployments of feminism in digital environments were “replaying the same problematics” as the previous era’s. The younger Oh, a postgraduate student, had another point of view:

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 I had a little bit of a different perspective when I started to do this project … When she [Gajjala] talked about cyberfeminism, I wasn’t really sure about what cyberfeminism was …  because I hadn’t really used the word cyberfeminism before and because I am a different generation to her … Even though I don’t say I am a cyberfeminist I constantly research about all the things, people’s empowerment, women’s empowerment towards cyberspaces (Reynolds 2013).

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 1 Oh, then, indicates that she does not identify with or use the term “cyberfeminism” even though her research revolves around issues of women’s empowerment in online spaces. Later in the interview she says “In a few years we will not need to use the term cyberfeminism at all” (Reynolds 2013).

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Rather than defining cyberfeminism, Gajjala wants to move beyond the definitional phase. She says “It was no longer a question of having a definition of what cyberfeminism is.” Rather, she says, she wanted to “put the whole question of cyberfeminism in doubt”; Oh points out that “by not defining cyberfeminism we showed, even though we did not intend it, how people define cyberfeminism in different ways.” For Oh there is a sense of unease with the term cyberfeminism.  For Gajjala, meanwhile, there is a frustration about the “amnesia about the early days” of the Internet and cyberfeminism.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 From this productive and illuminating dialogue between the two editors, each from a different generation, there is a sense that perhaps the term cyberfeminism has become hopelessly conflated with its earliest incarnation during the utopian moment of the early to mid-1990s – where new technologies were inflected with an optimism about information and communications technologies as instruments for overcoming disadvantage – and is no longer a term of particular relevance to young women researchers, activists and artists in online spaces because this utopia never came to pass. For those active in the first articulations of cyberfeminism, there may now be frustration that certain groups of women remained marginal or oblivious to the vision and agency of cyberfeminism, while for younger groups of women there is a sense that cyberfeminism is passé, with many sitting somewhere in between. Looking back at the early cyberfeminist net.art assists in resolving the tension between the “amnesia” concerning the achievements of the early era of cyberfeminism and a residual interest in its issues without ownership of its movement. Like the term “cyberfeminist,” these works continue to prompt as many questions as they answer, demonstrating that the clitoris’s direct line to the matrix is as robust, if complex as ever.  I suggest that much of the power of cyberfeminism has found its way into schools of thought such as media archaeology and media history that have a strong emphasis on new materialism. However, while this goes some way towards answering Gajjala and Oh’s question of “where have all the cyberfeminists gone?” perhaps a more pertinent question might be where have all the monstrous women gone?

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 2 The domestication of the Internet into a censored, commercialised, commodified tool made mainstream in the lead up to the new millennium has had an impact. The phallocentric hierarchies of old tech have replicated themselves in era 2.0, as demonstrated by the origin stories of the new platforms of Web 2.0 and its social media moment. The male founders of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and so on continue to dominate the space. In addition, the pragmatics of creating net art remain problematic for women. Suyin Looui and Mary Flanagan in 2007 considered the fate of cyberfeminism in “Rethinking the F Word: A Review of Activist Art on the Internet,” They argue that “cyberfeminism as a liberatory ideal has not yet achieved its potential, in part because of larger societal pressures surrounding the information technology fields” (p.181).  In acknowledging the lack of women in computer science, they look to art to find women engaging with technology. Even there, according to Flanagan and Looui, it is difficult to locate “women artists who are producing theoretically challenging and technologically ‘cutting-edge’ websites that are also explicitly feminist” (p. 182).

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Yet works like Melinda Rackham’s carrier and VNS Matrix’s “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” remain exemplary and provide viable examples to follow. These artworks were created by young female Australians for whom the internet served as a means of collapsing the “tyranny of distance” between the former colony and the rest of the world, to make it easier to operate on the world stage of art and feminist praxis. This collapse brought with it a concomitant degree of enthusiasm and optimism inflecting the cyberfeminist hope for the collapse of gender inequality through new technologies.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Moreover, these artworks testify that the possibilities of cyberfeminism lie not just in technological experiments but with language itself, and the strategic harnessing of language to subvert, transgress, play with and dismantle signifiers. This semiotic spitfire of language and technology, subjectivity and gender, evident in “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” and carrier, progressed our view of gender in the cyberage and on the cyberstage.

Notes

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [[1]] Preservation concerns are rising here. Archive.org and Australia’s Pandora service do important work in capturing the key new media texts that are available on the world wide web. However, the functionalities of these preservation spaces require more work to ensure that not only the text is preserved but also the playability of the interfaces. A resource for web.art preservation similar to Melanie Swalwell’s Play it Again project preserving Australia’s software heritage is crucial.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [[2]] Kay Shaffer reports that the public billboard version of the manifesto had to use ‘kunst’ instead of cunt to satisfy censors (1999, p. 154).

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [[3]] Kay Shaffer reports tat the public billboard version of the manifesto had to use ‘kunst’ instead of cunt to satisfy censors.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0  

Bibliography

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73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 Balsamo, Anne. 2000. ‘The Virtual Body in Cyberspace’ in The Cybercultures Reader  D Bell and B Kennedy (eds). London and New York: Routledge pp. 489–503..

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75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 Baudrillard, Jean. 1985 Simulations and Simulacra. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor,.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 —————– 2003 The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 Braidotti, Rosi. 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 ———- 1996. ‘Cyberfeminism with a Difference’ in New Formations, Vol. 29, pp. 9–25. Also available online at http://www.let.uu.nl/womens_studies/rosi/cyberfem.htm

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 ———- 2002 “Meta(l)morphoses: The Becoming-Machine”, in Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Polity, pp. 212-263.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong  “Othering space” in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed) The Visual Culture Reader, London, New York: Routledge, second edition 2002, pp 243-254.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 Cohn, Jesse. 2001. “Believing in the Disease: Virologies and Memetics as Models of Power Relations in Contemporary Science Fiction”, Culture Machine. Vol 3. 2001. Online. Available: http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/289/274 Accessed 19 September 2013.

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 Daniels, Jessie. 2009. “Rethinking cyberfeminism (s): Race, gender, and embodiment.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 37.1: 101-124.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 Gajjala, Radhika. 1999, ”Third World’ perspectives on cyberfeminism’, Development in Practice, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 616-9.

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 Gajjala, Radhika and Yeon Ju Oh, eds. (2012). Cyberfeminism 2.0. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 Hall, Kira. 1996, ‘Cyberfeminism’, in S. Herring (ed.), Computer-mediated communication: linguistic, social, and cross-cultural perspectives, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp. 147-70.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 Haraway, Donna. (1985) 1991. ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London and New York: Routledge, pp.149-181..

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 ———-1988. ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives’, in Feminist Studies, (pp. 575–599).

89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 ———-1991. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London and New York: Routledge.

90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 ———-1992. “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” in  Grossberg, Nelson,  Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies (New York; Routledge, 1992) , pp. 295-337.

91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 Hawthorne, S. (1999). ‘Cyborgs, Virtual Bodies, and Organic Bodies: Theoretical Feminist Responses’ in Cyberfeminism: Creativity, Critique Connectivity,  Hawthorne, S. & Klein, R. eds. pp. 213-249. Melbourne: Spinifex.

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96 Leave a comment on paragraph 96 0 Lin, Wan-Shuan, 2009 ‘Transforming Public Health Discourses in Relation to Infectious Diseases and the Corresponding Ideas of Selfhood” http://aca.web2.nhcue.edu.tw/ezfiles/6/1006/attach/75/pta_4828_8552463_24084.pdf

97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 Looui, Suyin, and Mary Flanagan. 2007. “Rethinking the F word: A review of activist art on the Internet.” NWSA Journal 19.1: 181-200.

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99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 Parikka, Jussi2007. Digital contagions: a media archaeology of computer viruses.. Peter Lang, New York.

100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0 Plant, Sadie 2000 “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist simulations”, in Gill Kirkup, Linda Janes, Kath Woodward & Fiona Hovenden (eds) The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader  pp. 265-275.

101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 Price, Janet and Margrit Shildrick. 1999, “Alter/ed Bodies” in Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader  (Price and Shildrick eds) New York: Routledge, pp.

102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0 Rackham, Melinda. 1996. carrier

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104 Leave a comment on paragraph 104 0 Reynolds, Kate.2013 “Books aren’t dead – Cyberfeminism”, a video interview with Radhika Gajjala and Yeon Ju Oh Fembot Collective. April. http://vimeo.com/69504034 Accessed 21 November 2013.

105 Leave a comment on paragraph 105 0 Rosser, Sue Vilhaue. 2005. “Through the lenses of feminist theory: Focus on women and information technology.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 26.1, pp. 1-23.

106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0 Schaffer, Kay (1999). The Game Girls of VNS Matrix: Challenging Gendered Identities in Cyberspace. In: Virtual Gender: Fantasies of Subjectivity and Embodiment, eds. Anne O’Farrell and Lynne Vallone. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 147-168.

107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 Shildrick, Margaret. 2001 “Vulnerable bodies and ontological contamination” in Bashford and Hooker (eds) Contagion: Historical and Cultural Studies. London, Routledge. pp. 140-156.

108 Leave a comment on paragraph 108 0 Spender, Dale 1995 Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace, Spinifex Press, Melbourne.

109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0 Sofoulis, Zoe. “Slime in the Matrix: Post-phallic Formations in Women’s Art in New Media” in Jane Gallop Seminar Papers ed Jill Jillius Matthews. Canberra, Australian National University, Humanities Research Centre, pp. 91-112.

110 Leave a comment on paragraph 110 0 ———– 2007. ‘Cyberquake: Haraway’s Manifesto’ in The Cybercultures Reader Second Edition Bell, D. & Kennedy, B. eds. pp. 365-385. London and New York: Routledge.

111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0 Stuckey, Helen, Melanie Swalwell and Angela Ndalianis 2013. “The Popular Memory Archive: Collecting and Exhibiting Player Culture from the 1980s” Making the History of Computing Relevant. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2013. 215-225.

112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0 Thacker, Eugene. 2001 “Tech Flesh 6: An Interview with Melinda Rackham”, c.theory. Online. Available: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=28 Accessed 14 September.

113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0 —————–2003. ‘Data Made Flesh: Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman’ in Cultural Critique, No. 53, Posthumanism, pp. 72-97.

114 Leave a comment on paragraph 114 0 Wilding, Faith & SubRosa group. 1996. ‘Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism?’ in NeMe, available online at http://www.neme.org/392/cyberfeminism

115 Leave a comment on paragraph 115 0 Wilding, Faith and Critical Art Ensemble. 1998. “Notes on the Political Condition of Cyberfeminism” Art Journal, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 46-59

116 Leave a comment on paragraph 116 0 VNS Matrix (n.d. [1991]) “Cyber Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” Online. Available: http://www.sysx.org/gashgirl/VNS/TEXT/PINKMANI.HTM Acessed 21 September 2013.

117 Leave a comment on paragraph 117 0 ———- Pinkmani.htm http://www.sysx.org/gashgirl/VNS/TEXT/PINKMANI.HTM

118 Leave a comment on paragraph 118 0  

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