Netscape Navigators

I went to 2 new things at Whitechapel Gallery.

First, the new exhibition The House Of Le Bas.

Second was the launch event for Cyberfeminism Index, edited by Mindy Seu. Please use the links as I did go to the bother of finding them for you.

Seetal Solanki couldn’t make it, but otherwise the Zilkha Auditorium was full. First of all Mindy Seu described the project of a chronological source book (“70% crowd-sourced”) of material made in a cyberfeminist mode over the past 30 or so years. The term “cyberfeminist” was deliberately given no precise definition, and could include online activism, though the format of the book was more suited to referencing art works presented via the internet. It is an “index of indexes”, that includes “technocritical” work.

The earliest uses of the term were attributed to Sadie Plant, and also the VNS Matrix, an Australian feminist art collective. Ideas of cyberspace had been popularised by William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but that had persisted cliched fictional roles for females as submissive or decorative or generally subsidiary. The Old Boys Network had been the first avowedly CF grouping. Not mentioned tonight, but there was also “On The Internet” by Essential Logic. The idea of literature reusing some language of computer programming was first used by Christine Brooke-Rose in her novels Xorandor and Verbivore.

The new book is a physical snapshot of the growing virtual object that is being contributed to all the time, so the hyperlink connections have been reversed into concrete page cross-references. Of course “interactive books” are a fairly old genre, not mentioned here, that have also had a revival as a new critical form, for example in Rosie Šnajdr’s work. Mindy read out some passages which were mostly descriptions of sexual experiences either related over technology or mediated by it. I don’t know how typical the selection is of the collection in general. Whilst the readings went on, an image of the book was relayed on the large screen and some animations overlaid on it. Mindy also explained the design choices in making the physical book.

Joanna Walsh and Ruth Catlow joined her to talk about how they’d moved in to online work and been involved in AI-driven projects for the opportunities for wider collaboration and networking around the world. A topic not mentioned at all, but relevant to commercial artists and musicians, is the one of ownership and royalties, and the fact that the historic chance to finally avoid using the established record industry for distribution, has instead lead to the collapsed earnings available from Spotify. Plenty of unusual recording artists can’t afford to work without other sources of income. Maria Minerva had to go away for a few years.

There was discussion of the archaeology of the internet, as it has now existed long enough for the early forms such as Geocities sites and amateur personal websites written solely in HTML represent a distinct Early epoch. Some of that static style is now coming back into favour. Online culture also still represents a chance for the DIY punk ethic, though no one mentioned MySpace or LiveJournal and how or why they fell away in the rise and now decline of Facebook and Twitter. Ruth admitted to having been previously a “tech-utopian” and naive about the material power of infrastructure owners despite promises of “net neutrality”. Which is hardly surprising since it all grew out of military and Big Science projects in the first place.

Altogether, the world of the net involves cultural “border patrols” and perhaps some of the “linguistic engineering” that Le Bas warned about in their physical art works.

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