Post-Cyber Feminist International 2017

Twenty years after the First Cyberfeminist International at Documenta X, what does Cyberfeminism look like in 2017?

‘The future’s not what it used to be,’ said Eleanor Penny, opening the ‘What Can Post-Cyber Feminism Do For Reproductive Justice?’ panel at the 2017 Post-Cyber Feminist International, held recently at the ICA, London. Programmed by Xenofeminist Helen Hester of Laboria Cuboniks and curator Rosalie Doubal, it comes 20 years after the First Cyberfeminist International took place at Documenta X in Kassel, in 1997.

20 years is a long time in cyberspace; 2017’s International was blessed by the presence of some of the first conference’s participants including Cornelia Sollfrank, co-founder of the Old Boys Network, who mentioned her chagrin at being recently invited to appear as a ‘grandmother of Cyberfeminism’. ‘Even Cyberfeminists grow old,’ admitted Faith Wilding of Sub Rosa as she searched for her glasses. In the opening ‘N Hypotheses’ panel, Diana McCarty of FACES, netzkultur, net.art and nettime offered a detailed rundown on the First International’s influences (‘specific to European net culture of the ’90s … the new East-West dynamic within Europe … coming out of this twisted situation of post-Soviet space’) and practices (working with open-source software to ‘blur the line between user and developer’).

what-can-post-cyber-feminism-do-for-reproductive-justice-photo-mark-blower-no-36.jpg

‘What Can Post Cyber-Feminism Do For Reproductive Justice?’ panel discussion featuring Eleanor Penny, Joni Cohen, Shu Lea Cheang and Mary Maggic. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blowers

‘What Can Post Cyber-Feminism Do For Reproductive Justice?’ panel discussion featuring Eleanor Penny, Joni Cohen, Shu Lea Cheang and Mary Maggic, part of Post Cyber Feminism International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

If that was Cyberfeminism, what might Post-Cyber Feminism be? This was #postcyberfem’s abiding question. It’s ‘not about being post-feminist,’ nor is the xeno in Xenofeminism anything to do with xenophobia – rather, Xenofeminism is about ‘productive alienation’ (Diann Bauer of Laboria Cuboniks). So what’s changed?

tabita-rezaire-peaceful-warrior-2015.jpg

Tabita Rezaire, Peaceful Warrior, 2015, film still. Courtesy: the artist

Tabita Rezaire, Peaceful Warrior, 2015, film still. Courtesy: the artist

‘We make art with our cunt,’ wrote ’90s cyberfeminists, VNS Matrix. ‘Gender abolitionism’ (Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 2015) has marked a shift in rhetoric, and Cornelia Sollfrank was the only 2017 delegate I remember to use the c-word. ‘The womb should be deemed obsolete,’ said artist and filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang in the ‘What Can Post-Cyber Feminism Do For Reproductive Justice?’ panel, where biohacker Mary Maggic pointed up the ‘fuzzy biological sabotage’ of our already ‘biopolitically … colonized’ semi-human, non-binary bodies. Unapologetic ‘womb power’ (for example, Tabita Rezaire’s ‘radical self-love kit’ in her 2016 film Peaceful Warrior) came largely from BAME delegates. E. Jane’s musical persona MHYSA (‘she’s real because I put her on the internet’) celebrates ‘black femme’ identity. These two were part of a number of Friday night film screenings as part of ‘Glitch Shorts’ which were followed by a Glitch@Night music session by SCRAAATCH where, Legacy Russell said, ‘we’ll throw some moves,’ putting bodies at the heart of resistance. 

glitch-night-victoria-sin-photo-mark-blower-no4.jpg

Victoria Sin performing at Glitch @ Night, part of Post Cyber Feminism International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

Saturday’s ‘Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism’ panel was euphorically purposeful, advocating ‘a decolonization of the mind’ and a pressing need to represent non-white experience online in ways that counter the stereotypes offered by traditional media, even as ‘capitalism [is] taking over these protest spaces’ (as Tamar Clarke-Brown mentioned at Friday's Glitch Shorts panel) with marketing companies appropriating black feminists’ creative labour.

black-feminism-and-post-cyber-feminism-photomark-blower-no27.jpg

‘Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism’ panel discussion, featuring: Siana Bangura, Akwugo Emejulu, Kiyémis and Francesca Sobande. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blowers

‘Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism’ panel discussion, featuring: Siana Bangura, Akwugo Emejulu, Kiyémis and Francesca Sobande, part of Post Cyber Feminism International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

Reflecting on the First Cyberfeminist International in 1997, Faith Wilding asked: ‘Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism?’ One might just as well ask: ‘Where is the cyber?’. The answer is is ‘post’, at least post the hopes of the ’90s: ‘Utopia in digital spaces… mostly it didn’t happen,’ said Akwugo Emejulu. Black feminists in particular talked about being AFK (Away From Keyboard): ‘You have to always be visible and productive or else you’re invisible,’ (Siana Bangura). As E. Jane whose ‘primary residence is cyberspace’ commented, ‘you can’t drink water and you can’t breathe air on the internet.’ Sollfrank described how the Old Boys Network began as a strategy for sharing Documenta’s artspace, with the offline organizational labour of social reproduction at its heart. Sollfrank’s primary question remains ‘Where are we?’ Diana McCarty advised practising an ‘invite your neighbours’ principle, designed to enable participation by everyone in your immediate meatspace. Wilding declared: ‘The most important thing is to turn up.’ 

glitch-night-scraaatch-plus-visuals-by-zadie-xa-photo-mark-blower-no22.jpg

SCRAAATCH performing at Glitch @ Night, visuals by Zadie Xa, part of Post-Cyber Feminist International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

Post-Cyber Feminist International provides few definitive answers, but raises urgent questions. Sara Ahmed’s persistently challenging Feminist Killjoy was frequently invoked (many of the attendees were associated with Goldsmiths, Ahmed’s former university). This is appropriate, as Post-Cyber Feminism’s ‘flat-hierarchical’ (Sollfrank) diversity fosters productive tensions, drawing on Sadie Plant’s definition of it as ‘an absolutely post-human insurrection’ in her landmark book which sees its 20th anniversary this year, Zeros and Ones (1997). The zeros in binary code, according to Sollfrank, disturb binaries, the Lacanian take that ‘whatever [woman] knows can only be described as not-knowledge,’ her examination of productive negatives in A la Recherche d’information Perdue echoing The First Cyberfeminist International’s 100 anti-theses's repeated ‘Cyberfeminism is not …’

glitch-night-bbz-london-photo-mark-blower-no24.jpg

BBZ London perfroming at Glitch @ Night, part of Post-Cyber Feminism International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

BBZ London perfroming at Glitch @ Night, part of Post-Cyber Feminist International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

‘You don’t have to nail something down in order to build something,’ said Victoria Sin at the ‘Diagramming Post-Cyber Feminism’ workshop convened by Res. – a mutable project based in a gallery and workspace in Deptford, South East London – perhaps invoking Audre Lorde’s ‘master’s tools,’ also referenced by Diana McCarty in the opening panel. And in case you’d like to know, yes, Cyberfeminists use Macs: even as they consider the possibilities of non-proprietary software, some of the master’s tools have to be employed. Legacy Russell’s ‘Glitch Feminism’, coined in 2013, seizes on ‘the causality of error,’ available in mainstream technology though, as Clarke-Brown pointed out, these practices are also available to Cyberfeminism’s antagonists: ‘Trump … acts through glitching.’ Just as offline oppressions have intensified in their online incarnations, so the fight against a reinforced ‘big daddy mainframe’ (VNS Matrix) has got harder. For Sollfrank ‘the solution is still micropolitics,’ though Hester calls for a response that tackles the politics of scale used by multinationals and government.

But is any of this art? Sollfrank, who regrets that much of the First International’s art wasn’t recorded, maintains the interdependency of activism and aesthetics: ‘Everything I did with Cyberfeminism was as an artist, I was interested in forms of organization as an aesthetic practice.’

The Post-Cyber Feminist International was held at the ICA, London 15 – 19 November 2017.
 
Main image: Victoria Sin performing at Glitch @ Night, part of Post-Cyber Feminist International 2017, ICA, London. Courtesy: ICA, London; photograph: Mark Blower

Joanna Walsh is the author of seven books including the digital novel Seed (2017). She is the Arts Foundation’s 2017 Fellow in Literature, and a PhD research candidate in digital narrative at the University of East Anglia.

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018