Dissolving boundaries

Ned Rossiter witnesses Women on the Verge of New Technology

Thinking I’d arrived late to the opening address by Zoë Sofoulis for the conference of the multi-component event Women on the Verge of New Technology (hereafter WoVNT), I took a back seat at Kulcha, scanned the room, as one does, and quickly came to the realisation that it was not women but men who were ‘on the verge’ of this cultural-technological situation. I was one of perhaps five men in a venue otherwise filled with women, maybe 60. An audience this size, regardless of sex, translates as a successful event for a critical arts happening in Perth.

In the terms suggested by Sofoulis in her paper which drew on “actor-network theory” (ANT) by Bruno Latour and Daniel Stern’s psychoanalytic notions of ‘inter-subjectivity’, male or female positionality shouldn’t make a difference based on binary distinctions. With ANT, the space of culture and society and everything else in the world is no longer defined through core-periphery, interior-exterior models; humans are no longer defined as subjects negotiating a field of objects, or by their gender identity or biological sex, but rather as elements of varying intensity performing strategic connections within networks that might include artworks, institutions and new technologies. (See Zoë Sofoulis, “Interactivity, Intersubjectivity and the Artwork/Network”, Mesh 10, Spring, 1996. See also Bruno Latour, On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications, http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/stt/stt/ant/latour.htm [expired]) However, the problematic of consciousness, and hence human agency, still lingers with Latour’s notion of strategic connections: without consciousness, how can either a human or non-human actant have a strategic capacity? We start heading down the path of proto-subjectivity here…and I don’t wish to go there, just yet.

The relationship between women and technology can be thought of in terms of the extent to which artworks produced by women, among others, are commodified, and the effect this has in terms of institutional-market cooptation. This prompts the question, what becomes marginalised as some artworks, artists, curators, administrators and academics ascend the ladder in the emergent culture industry of all things digital? Despite the deification of the internet and, by association, computer generated art, for its capacity to abolish the banality of geographic distance and almost overcome the download weariness of time-lag, the traditional Melbourne-Sydney cultural-economic nexus maintains its monopoly on who and what gets a guernsey. That is to say, cultural forms and practices still take place, constituting a verge beyond which a different culture happens as a provincial one. Herein lies the apparent incommensurability of the time of new communication technologies with the dreck of everydayness.

On paper, WoVNT appeared as a diverse, comprehensive and ambitious event. Along with its central act—a two day conference with speakers from academic, administrative, performance, and ‘Digitart’ practitioner backgrounds—WoVNT included a web design workshop; demonstrations on the use of digital technologies in Yamaji and Nyoongar historiography, biomedical research, and stock marketeer entertainment; and Leah Irving’s video installation whose representation of Millias’ ‘Ophelia’ engaged wistfully with but didn’t exactly challenge the ‘gaze’ of this viewer as he circumambulated her outer electro-sensory reaches. Unfortunately the ‘virtual component’, TechnoLust: Desire and Technology, never virtualised. Computers were stolen from Antwerp’s MCA a few days prior to transmission, preventing big-name lectures by the likes of Constance Penley, Rosi Braidotti, Linda Dement, Vivian Sobchack, and Claudia Springer, and video and CD-ROM programs from coming on-line.

Domestic Disturbances did its Perth leg of a national tour, with a selection of digital art and films, some of which had made an appearance at PICA last year in the techné exhibition, and a number of which have been commented on in previous issues of RealTime (see also Mesh #10, 1996). A ‘video lounge’ featuring work by Perth-based artists was supposed to be there for the sitting, but on the two occasions I made the trip to Kulcha and the Film and Television Institute (FTI) this wasn’t to be. At Kulcha, Fremantle’s mayor had booked the venue for a ‘VIP only’ elevated viewing position of the Fremantle Festival parade. I was able to get in the front door as some pretty inebriated and sunburnt VIP folk staggered out, only to discover that removalists had beat me to whatever was the video lounge. And, for whatever reason, Domestic Disturbances and the video lounge were not to be found at the FTI.

What is a reviewer to do? Obtain a partial show-reel copy, of course. Brigitte Priestley’s CARNA l/ge ISM is a sound-image loop that is kind of like Yoko Ono’s orgasm piece overlaid on images of metal more twisted than Cronenberg’s meditation on Ballard’s Crash. Vikki Wilson and Rick Mason of Retarded Eye contributed The Only Machine, a complex foray into the cul-de-sac of aesthetics. While Kim McGlynn’s Lip exemplifies a central theme taken up in the conference: ‘women’ have a stronger investment in the experiences to be had in the processes of production, rather than in the end product itself. McGlynn takes the trope of liquid identity and puts it to work, scanning her ‘menstrual cunt’ into the computer, then composing a flower shape which is swallowed up by a mouth with a digi-prosthetic tongue.

Rather than being preoccupied with issues of positionality, Isabelle Delmotte concurred with a kind of liquid-machinic-becoming in her conference paper: “To me women are more likely to allow time to grow and pulse without having an urge to expel the fruits of their patience for no other reason than the ephemeral approval of others”. Nonetheless, the dominant criterion of most funding bodies is the delivery of end products. Performer and composer Cathy Travers hinted at the special position performance art may have in its synthesis of processes of production with the product itself. As Travers spoke about and performed extracts from her composition work for the performance group skadada, the following refrain persisted in no other place than my head: does the movement of the performer determine the placement of sound, or does the movement of sound determine the place of the performer? No doubt those working in sound composition and performance art have a ready and possibly dismissive answer to this, but it seemed to me to be a wonderful example of locating a dialogical communication whose expression occurs in the dissolve of boundaries.

Women on the Verge of New Technology; Event Director, Colleen Cruise with Cinematrix, Kulcha and FTI, November 20-December 14, 1997. http://www.imago.com.au/WOV [expired]

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 22

© Ned Rossiter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 1998