|Hello, I'm Laura and I'll be your tour guide through
tonight's fleshy hypermedia journey . I think the metaphor of travel is
apt one, because hypermedia projects - Web sites, CD-ROMs, hypertext webs
- are about movement, from space to space, page to page, layer to layer,
via the click of a mouse. With its ability to combine text, sound, still
and moving images, hypermedia offers a rich and imaginative terrain for
artists to map the aesthetic, political and theoretical of implications
of new media technologies.
The tour I'm about to take you on is very specific. We'll be visiting locations produced by an unaffiliated group of women artists who I'm claiming occupy the same aesthetic territory within the growing landscape of hyperspace. My interest in their work is part of an on-going research project into feminist art production and new technology that I've engaged in over the past five years.
Before we begin our journey, I want to offer a few travel tips that will help you to recognize certain signposts that we'll encounter along the virtual landscape:
1. The projects we will be looking at this evening go against the grain of current trends or ways of conceptualizing technology and cyberspace. They reject the cyberpunk model that posits cyberspace as "bodiless exaltation," a place of the mind where the body is obsolete. Instead of leaving their bodies behind, these artists are dragging their bodies along with them into hyperspace, sometimes almost literally as in the case of Linda Dement who digitized her own flesh and various body parts of other women for her most recent CD-ROM, CyberFlesh GirlMonster.
The result of these artists' insistence on inserting the (female) body into cyberspace makes for some very fleshy and messy work. There is a lot of electronic blood, guts and fluid flowing through the spaces they create. Skin is incised and laid open; there are numerous references to medicine, biomedicine and surgery. Real blood and guts sort of issues - rape, drug use, sexual abuse, sex and death are also introduced and grappled with.
2. The spaces we are about to visit are also what I would call highly performative: the artists are spinning narratives, weaving all sorts of scenarios, creating characters and often asking the audience to play along and participate in these fictions by creating their own characters. There seems to be an almost strategic return to narrative operating here.
3. Some of the work you will see tonight is aggressive, even violent. It is not a new phenomenon for women to deal with anger and rage in their artwork, but it is interesting to see such a strong presence of violence in hypermedia projects. What is it about the medium that encourages or allows for this practice?
4. The work may be aggressive, but it is also extremely
humorous. This is a dark and deliciously wicked humor which is sometimes
at the expense of men in general and patriarchy in specific, but there
is still a certain playfulness and sophisticated parody operating here.
What is interesting to me about this manifesto is how aggressively it inserts the female body into the Web. VNS Matrix's use of language, their style of appropriating and reclaiming words usually used to insult or demean women, and adopting these words as part of their personas -- calling themselves cunts -- quickly became a characteristic of cyberfeminist work. As we go on tonight we will meet a series of technowhores, ambitious bitches and girlmonsters who can trace their lineage back to VNS Matrix.
Just to demonstrate how influential VNS Matrix's brand of techno-terrorism was we'll now make a brief stop at the Whorehouse, a site maintained by the UK-based artist collective, The Technowhores. Like VNS Matrix the Technowhores were concerned with deconstructing the conventions and the cliches of cyberpunk fiction, fighting against the impulse to characterize the Web as bodiless exaltation:
Welcome to the Whore House
Did you come to work or play?
You'll notice that Dement is primarily working with collages of still images or what amounts to a flat 2-Dimensional screen in Typhoid Mary. Every once and a while you'll see subtle pulsating movements within a collage, but this piece is not full of the typical zooms and movements that mark commercial CD-ROMs or video games.
The subtle movement within each collage or screen image also demands some patience from the user. It defeats the sort of "click and move" on mentality that I think has developed around hypermedia -- the demand for instant gratification, quick loading web sites, etc. Instead, Dement is demanding users to spend time with the piece, to understand the narrative, to explore the many layers and to digest the information she's providing.
Like Typhoid Mary, CyberFlesh GirlMonster demands a certain patience from the user. Dragging the mouse over the screen, rather than clicking, may activate sounds or animate movements.
Unlike Typhoid Mary, Cyberflesh GirlMonster
operates on a more sophisticated a grid system. You begin your journey
by selecting a monster. Within the various layers, three lips serve as
navigating buttons that help users maneuver within the space the monster
inhabits and also tempt the user by bidding her to "touch here" or "press
Ambitious Bitch -- a persona developed by Liulia -- is a take-off on Madonna's Ambitious Blonde character. As you can see, the Web site is incredibly slick and technosavvy -- quite a bit more than other sites we have seen, -- but content-wise Ambitious Bitch is just as subversive in its wit and humor as other cyberfeminist projects.
Liulia somewhat shamelessly describes the project as " a new way to approach women through self-irony, randy wit and quirky brilliance" (geekgirl issue 6). I think there is some truth to this statement. Liulia subverts language by celebrating the traits of bitchiness and ambition and embracing them as a persona.
Liulia frames the project as an adventure into the world of women, exploring how gender, language and power are connected and constructed through various topics such as: body and the art of existence; female perversion; sex or gender; erotic tales; waves of feminism; ambitious blonde.
Liulia expands her conversation on gender and sexuality
with a new project entitled The Son of the Bitch which explores issues
of homophobia. This site features an extensive quiz visitors can take to
measure their homophobia as well as a "male of the month" desktop pattern
that can be downloaded and used on your computer.
The artists see this site as a metaphor for "a new way of looking at ambitions, sex, love and reproduction" (Anita de Waard, "Gender Tweaking"), but the calendar is also a parody or send-up of on-line sites like babe.com that offer more traditional pin-ups calendars to (mostly) male visitors. At Women with Beards, a new bearded babe is presented each month. Anyone searching the Web using keywords like "babe" or "calendar" could easily stumble upon this site, which makes for an interesting subversion.
While the choice of the bearded ladies is varied -- there are young women as well as some senior babes -- my favorite remains the very first bearded lady -- Ms January 1997, writer Natasha Gerson, who comes complete with a beard and nursing her baby Sophie. The site serves as much as a way to promote work by women as a parody. Natasha's entry comes complete with a link to her new book and a listing of her likes/dislikes (or turn-ons/turn-offs). Other babes featured include a member of Dutch parliament, a musician, a physicist and a newspaper editor.
The Women with Beards is an incredibly user friendly
site. Visitors can download a high-resolution calendar to their hard drive
or get monthly email announcements alerting them that a new babe is being
As we click through the site, I'll read a bit of the story
from a section entitled Blood: