Feminist Activism/Resistance/Intervention/Globalism
    ___________________________________Yvonne Volkart and Faith Wilding____________

    Faith Wilding and Maria Fernandez
    Feminism, Difference, and Global Capital
This session began with brief statements from Faith and Maria.
Faith Wilding: Reviewed the radical goals of early feminists to bring down the patriarchal institutions of the Church, State, and Family. Subsequent feminist work of the 70's created an inter-national movement with very wide repercussions for women politically, economically, and socially. The movement was created out of local CR and action groups and networked natio-nally and internationally. There were significant achievements in the women's health movement, affirmative action, women's studies and education, legalizing abortion, some sexual rights, more economic and legal parity.

The issues facing women now include: the effects and impact of the new information and communications technologies, bio-technology, genetic research and engineering, and economic and labor issues.
a. Women's health: crucial issues in reproductive technologies,
medicalized pregnancy and birth, gene therapy and engineering; the often adverse impacts of new biotechnologies in third world countries.
b. Affirmative action is being eroded. Women still earn less and work longer. Women still work a double shift. Working conditions for women in third world countries and the global sweatshops are appalling and beyond the garment industries not much is being done.
c.Women's education is strong in certain fields. Women still find it difficult to enter the male culture of many of the sciences and computer sciences and the higher rungs of the technology industries. Women are not yet a full part of the design and implementation of digital technology, and have little power in the debate over its effects and deployment.
d.Women's sexual and reproductive rights are under renewed attack. Issues are very complex in developing countries where protection against AIDS, forcible childbearing, or forcible birth control are almost nil. Global capitalism, and the spread of technologized work and life to even the remotest parts of the world are having far-reaching effects on all populations of women. Changes of identities and subjectivity are taking place rapidly bringing with them new problems of representations of difference in the face of global homogenization. These are all issues for cyberfeminist investigation and action.

Maria Fernandez began by making a statement about the changing focus of her research from critical to theoretical work in electronic
media and post-colonial studies. At present she is exploring the possibility of "an emotional feminist politics" and attempting to formulate supportive feminist practices. The context of feminist activism shows that issues of difference are still problematic and divisive. The desires to form global networks and activism, often conflict with the lived problems of local differences.If successful organization among women is to occur at both the local and the global level we must examine and confront our discomfort with issues of race and class.

A starting point to promote change is the revaluation of the old dictum "the personal is the political." "The personal" has usually been understood as our most intimate relations. Feminists have spent great amounts of energy observing and reevaluation inherited gender roles and attitudes and those efforts eventually resulted in change. It is now necessary to apply comparable energy to becoming aware of how we deal with differences perceived or imagined. Many of our attitudes to difference are also inherited and embodied. In the current state of techno-logically-facilitated global capitalism it becomes imperative for our survival to form practical and politically effective alliances among various groups of women. It is now clear that it is not not only poor, young and uneducated women in areas of the "Third World" who are exploited but also white-collar workers and highly educated women in the "First World" working part-time or at home in exchange for underpayment, longer hours and no benefits. Centers result from the creation of margins. If we believe that we are at the center, we owe our position to the marginalization of other spaces. Unquestioned prejudicial attitudes restrict and weaken our collective possibilities. We may need to let go of our central roles and welcome other ways of interacting in and out of cyberspace.

Points of Discussion from the Conversation:
a.The problems of essentialism. The interconnections of these in feminist and post-colonial discourses. The interconnections of patriarchy and technology: The military, Bio and medi-tech, space industry, labor issues, global economy, women~s bodies.
b.Relationships between issues of reproductive biotech and difference: Homogenization; normalization; reifying differences that exist because of different levels of access; the applications of technology which are employed differently to enforce certain hegemonic power structures; the fascistic implications of bypassing and regulating sexual body processes which can be seen as complicity with certain utopian electronic theories.
c.Building networks around issues of labor, difference, and biotechnology: --the necessity of network building brought about by the conditions of new global capital and technologies. Examples: faces, obn, Zapatistas, nettime, subRosa.

d. Creative strategies: the network as art; Activist art which reframes and embodies the data, and engages people in discussing and discovering the ideologies and mythologies of patriarchal discourses and structures through the "real" mani-pulation of, and engagement with, actual materials, images and actions. In the far too short discussion which followed, the criticism was raised that Maria's and Faith's ideas of activism and tactical strategies, i.e. the study of mainstream issues, building networks etc. - are not direct activist actions, but they may lead to them. Faith and Marias proposals of creative tactics and concepts seem to match much more that which has traditionally been defined as the field of theory or art, in other words, what they proposed seems to be much more in the field of political reflexion or engaged/critical theory, which in its committment to social change is a very important condition for many actions, but it is not the same. Maria and Faith responded that our understanding of activism, and what kinds of activism are possible and effective --particularly in the Internet--needs to be rethought and thoroughly researched.

    Yvonne Volkart
    Art Strategies of the New World Order, or, What do resistant art works look like?
Yvonne Volkart started with the idea that in the current recon-struction of the new world order culture and art became important factors in more or less hidden policy structures. Especially since the intensification of the enhanced scientific and social develop-ment of communications- and biotechnology, the discourses about the blurring of the borders of gender and body are not only overwhelming but even producing and instating these new bodies. She referred to former lectures, in which she despised the main tendency of effecting uncanny feelings, objecting that most of those art works about disgusting or homogeneous future bodies still represent patriarchal views, or function in the traditional way of warning and showing the usually not articulated dark side. She summarized her plea for a nasty, lusty and ironic (=cyberfeminist) cyborg vision (VNS-Matrix), or for art projects which move beyond the current demonisations, the real interests of markets and/or reflect the artists own intertwinement in these processes. As one example she showed Natascha Sadr Hagighians video documentation "Touch the Screen" (1995) in which the interests of the Wellcome Trust in fusing science with art and culture were critically examined. In a short overview she discussed further highly ambivalent art & science-projects like "Posthuman", "Art & Brain","Hybrids", or "Gene Worlds" etc. and pointed out, that the art with its presentations of aberrrant bodies in this framing always seem to function as nonverbal, pure visual criticism. It may be too one-dimensional to conclude that all art works which deal with phantasmatic aspects are only compensations and consolidations in the pancapitalist machine. But examples of work by Mariko Mori, Rosemarie Trockel and others, only adopt or mime the method of redesigning bodies, genders and races in the frame of traditional ideological differences, and cannot claim to be critical for they do not create another virtual space. The pure method of condensation of hegemonial visualisations and concepts, the holding of the so-called place of the symptom, is certainly seductive and ambi-valent, but it is finally both a visual ideological support of cultural stabilisations and a visual control. Volkart ended by presenting the damaged cyborg bodies and monsters of Lee Bull as meta-phors for a female monstrous space. Further, she showed Kristin Lucas' video "Host", in which the future technobody is the actual female body, overwhelmed and invaded by different technologies of survival and control. Volkart affirms that showing the dark side, especially if it includes shifts or breakdowns of ideological systems, can still be important. But unlike many (usually male) works, which were discussed in the beginning and in which the fear of bio- and hightech is represented as fear of losing sexual identity, these critical feminist works make clear that the worst thing which new technologies may cause for women is that they never stop being a woman. Finally, she suggested that the new cyberfeminsms creation of new virtual spaces - the cyber/spaces - has still to be invented, but it is THE issue of the NEW CYBERFEMINISM.

    Caroline Bassett
    A Manifesto Against Manifestoes

Bassett's presentation centered on a critique of the utopian writings of Sadie Plant, who creates a story of origins, of the new (old) Eve--woman, the weaver of all life!--allied with the machines. (By contrast, for example, Haraway~s cyborg does not evolve, she breaks with her origins). Bassett quarrels with Plant because she is the chief public representative of a cyberfeminism which propagates a kind of essentialism (that of women~s natural bonding with machines). Bassett believes cyberfeminism declares itself to have a project: to be feminist and to be critical of a salvationist embrace of digital technologies. Cyberfeminism need not necessarily think of itself as connected to the machine. Is cyberfeminism a politics or a mythology? Bassett suggests that we need a new utopia, a vision towards which to work. Utopia has shifted both geographically and temporally. When utopian dreams are fulfilled by technological change there~s always something else left to be desired (some-thing is missing). Thus new cyberfeminist politics does not harness its utopian visions to machines but rather concentrates on our claims for the new and the now.

    Rachel Baker
    Art of Work, and Cultural Terrorist Agency (CTA)
Rachel Baker discussed and showed her Art of Work Web project in which she advocates swap tactics and shows techniques for "Human Resources Mismanagement", such as temporary office workers misusing work and office resources, wasting company time, appropriating company materials and technology for their own art or pleasure, and in general exploiting the workplace for less productivity and more creativity. While giving useful and amusing suggestions for real life subversions of the workplace, this project also implicitly critiques contemporary workplace speed-up, surveillance, Taylorism, job insecurity, and the isolation and powerlessness of (women) workers in the global assembly line. Rachel's work also raised the question of interactivity provided by the net and effectiveness for a wide public of so-called activist actions if they happen in such a restricted area as she showed, because it seemed that not many persons feel adressed or parti-cipated in the project. What is the efficacy of activism, if the concept is more important than its actual impact? Isn't this really what has traditionally been called "art", rather than activism? Rachel also discussed and showed the Web page of CTA~s first Bioterrorism project, Superweed. This consists of distributing bioengineered weed seeds resistant to any bugs and herbicides now known. Superweed can be used to destroy fields of crops of other bioengineered plants (such as Monsantos bioengineered potatoes or corn), for example. Rachel discussed the structure of CTA which hosts and distributes guest projects.

    Rasa Smite
    NET AUDIO: enlivening Cyberspace
Unfortunately the sound chip from our rented computer was missing so we were not able to hear examples of the work which Rasa has been broadcasting, however if you go to >http://www.re-lab.net< you can both hear and read about the many activities and programs of the e-lab in Riga which Rasa has been working on and with. Rasa gave us a short overview of the goals and high-lights of real-audio programs and we also got an announce-ment of the special women~s programs which are being pioneered by Ieva Auzina, a colleague of Rasa~s. So tune in to find out what's going on.

    Mare Tralla and Pam Skelton
    Private Views: Space Re/Cognized in contemporary art from Estonia and Britain
This last section closed with a dialog presentation and screening of this collaborative project between Estonian and British women artists working with photography, video, film and digital art. The first exhibition took place in Estonia in June 1998, and was followed by an academic publication and an internet project, as well with a touring exhibiton. The communication between artists over the Net has been a crucial aspect of Private Views. One aim was to underscore differences in relation to gender, geography, history, and culture in an exhibition which brings together Eastern and Western European artists, given that culture is always formated through social and intellectual patterns. Pam Skelton stressed that "The exhibition Private Views" acted in principle as a catalyst in underlining the need for studies which address the social and political projects of feminist histories and art practices as they evolve and interact in the spaces of East and West Europe. Estonia is currently reclaiming a national identity within which gender issues are trapped while at the same time the country is attempting to claim its presence in a global culture. This is to ask what does it mean to be a woman and an artist working in new media today in two European countries where different feminisms and diverse traditions intersect?" This is a question which strongly underlies Mare Tralla's "her.space", a very funny, ironic and complex interactive CD-ROM, produced for this exhibition and presented by the artist. "her.space" deconstructs both socialist heroines, new forms of nationalism and western consumer ideologies which took place in post-socialist Estonia. Klicking the seductive images, lushly filled with flowers and pink colors, you are driven in a game where you have to find the right button to quit, meanwhile you read the sentence: "She was the heroine of socialist labor because she pressed the right button". You see images, read sentences and hear voices about the fact that the Estonian big and heavy heroines like tractor driver, cosmonaut, milkmaid etc. become Barbie dolls, that "because she doesn't want to be a Barbie doll, she becomes a feminist", or,"after all, it's good to have tampons and computers and cyberspace. Maybe she will become more happy". Mare Tralla spoke about the situation in Estonia and the reception of the ex-hibition: The independence movement and the rise of national identity in the late eighties provides some insights into the reasons why critical practises such as feminism are not popular in Estonia today; yet paradoxically it also appears that the latter could only have appeared after the events which brought about independence."
Closing comments:
The important topics of this last day of the CI2 and the way they were discussed by the various presenters need a great deal more group discussion. Despite the many lively discussions we had at dinners, in breaks, and in the hotel rooms, it was clear that the implications of the content could have been analysed more and on a deeper level, especially considering the different approaches to esthetic and activist strategies which were proposed and shown. Unfortunately, after this very fully programmed day we all were too tired to summarize the threads for the closing debate: We realized, that we had to come to an end, but that this end was the real starting point for the future in which we truly have to seek and discuss strategies in all their different forms. Many, many works, ideas, analyses and criticisms, and a few hopes and utopias were presented -- in this sense I (Yvonne) agree with Caroline's remark during her lecture. This is all a really good foundation for further investigations. The impression remained that the "new" cyber-feminism as presented in Rotterdam has to do much more with practices and negotiations of theory and feminism in the real world than with strategies or tactial interventions there and in cyberspace - something which obviously has to be developed, researched, invented and supported through the "real" manipulation of, and engagement with, actual materials, images and actions in the future, which means NOW.