in Women, Art and Technology, edited by Judy Malloy (MIT Press).
© 2001 Anna Couey
Telecommunications art is the art of electronic communication networks. Its medium is communication: the structure of the distribution of ideas and meaning in a networked world. Emerging from critiques of centralized mass media (radio, television, newspapers, not to mention the historic role of select "visionary" artists to define our contemporary consciousness), telecommunications art often takes the form of non-hierarchical many-to-many communications conversation.
To engage in the construction of communication structures is an ancient cultural and political practice. Communications theorist Armand Mattelart writes, "Who should control the circulation of information, the installation and functioning of long-distance communication networks the state or the private sector? Who should be authorized to use the new services? These questions predate the arrival of the manual telegraph. They were posed during the long history of postal institutions." (2) The answers to these questions in any particular period of time reveal the power structures at the core of human relationships and cultural identity.
In the twentieth century, network communications technologies have had a tremendous influence in shaping individual and cultural perceptions across the planet. Each new technology has engaged social, cultural and economic forces in all countries to establish (or not) "appropriate" mass communication structures. According to media historian and critic Robert McChesney (3), corporations have, over the course of the century, increasingly seized control of new communications technologies and in the process eroded the potential for a democratic electronic public sphere. Furthermore, the costs of implementing new communications technologies have encouraged disparities of access between rich and poor nations and rich and poor people, with resulting increases in economic inequity and cultural domination by the wealthy.
Artists have engaged in questioning, envisioning, building and using telecommunication structures since at least the early days of radio. In 1932, Bertolt Brecht proposed a restructuring of radio: to "change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life...if it knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him." (4) Ironically, radio was initially a send/receive communications system. The proliferation of television too, has unleashed a multitude of artistic critique and experimentation since the 1960s, including video art, television art, satellite art, public access broadcasting, and alternative networks. A vibrant international art exchange has developed through the fax network. The international mail art network, known as the Eternal Network, utilizes one of the most accessible and global communications networks the postal system to engage in democratic cultural communication.
For women artists, new communications technologies pose a particular set of issues. Mass media has firmly established itself as an immense seat of power, dominated by corporations run by men. Not surprisingly, "information" disseminated over corporate mass media networks reinforces oppressive female stereotypes, encouraging women to find liberation through consumption: "The mass media molds everyone into more passive roles, into roles of more frantic consuming, into human beings with fragmented views of society. But what it does to everyone, it does to women even more. The traditional societal role of women is already a passive one, already one of a consumer, already one of an emotional nonintellectual who isn't supposed to think or act beyond the confines of her home. The mass media reinforces all these traits....Women are said to make 75% of all family consumption decisions. For advertisers, that is why women exist." (5)
Even though (in the US at least) we now see more "professional" women on television programs than we did in 1970, women in the 1990s are still disproportionately exploited by electronic communications technologies. Interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco makes the connection between the rhetoric of the Internet as a technology of liberation, and the abusive production system that creates the tools that enable connectivity: "...I have been conducting research on women maquiladora workers in the US-Mexico border and the Caribbean. Though these women have virtually no access to the Internet, they are a crucial component of the global information circuit. Not only do they assemble much of the digital revolution's hardware, but their low wages maximize multinational profits and facilitate accelerated consumption of electronic media for the virtual class. In Tijuana alone, they produce more televisions than anywhere else in the world." (6)
Feminist art practice is grounded in issues of voice: talking among ourselves to understand what gender oppression is and how to transcend it; voicing our identities to destroy stereotypes that destroy us; and bringing our experience and perspectives into the fabric of our communities as authentic voices in shaping our cultures. Women artists who build electronic communication environments, connect people to each other, share stories, and develop communications tools, are taking steps towards altering social communication at a systemic level as art. In so doing, our work not only provides a platform for our own voices, but opens channels of communication for others who have been denied their voices: bringing disparate worlds together to create a world that reflects and respects all of 'us.'
A few notes about this paper. Women's telecommunications art practice takes a variety of forms, drawing from diverse influences. Access to tools has impacted the demographics of practitioners and despite our networked communications, the "field" is fragmented and poorly documented. I am indebted to the women who have written about their work, to the women I have collaborated with over the years, and to the women who found time to respond to my questions for this paper, including: Sherrie Rabinowitz (United States), Sarah Dickenson (United States), Judy Malloy (United States), Nancy Buchanan (United States), Heidi Grundmann (Austria), Sue Harris (Australia), Anne Fallis (United States), Anne Focke (United States), Lucia Grossberger Morales (United States), Eva Wohlgemuth and Kathy Rae Huffman (Austria/United States), Jennifer Hall (United States), Aida Mancillas (United States), Isabella Bordoni (Italy), Andrea Sodomka (Austria), Karen O'Rourke (France), Janet Silk (United States), Carol Stakenas (United States), Elisabeth Schimana (Austria), Lorri Ann Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota), Jacalyn Lopez Garcia (United States), Nina Sobell and Emily Hartzell (United States), Carolyn Guyer (United States), VNS Matrix (Australia), Cathy Marshall (United States). Still, this story is not complete. I hope that you, who know a different herstory than I, will add your story to this narrative.
In 1980, Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway used technology to punch a Hole in Space, employing a satellite feed and large scale projections to open a portal between pedestrians walking past the Lincoln Center in New York and the Broadway department store in Century City in Los Angeles. "People would be walking by and they'd look up and they'd see this screen and these images and they discovered that the people that they were seeing and hearing were in fact 3000 miles away." (7) Hole in Space was unannounced to the public and lasted three days. "There was the first evening of surprise discovery; the second evening was populated by word-of-mouth and long distance telephone calls; and after the television coverage of the second evening, the third was like a mass televisual migration of families and trans-continental loved ones, some of which had not seen each other for over twenty years." (8) Hole in Space collapsed geographical distance, bringing into being a window between two physical places, through which passers-by at each site could encounter each other visually in real time. The project was an expression of Sherrie and Kit's concept of "image as place" using technology to meld the artistic practice of image creation with the architectural practice of creating an environment for human contact. As a functional and public media space, Hole in Space articulated the connections between dispersed people in a mass media culture and significantly, brought people together in a shared media space. The shift from artist as producer of content to artist as producer of an "image" in which the public produced content, was profound.
Other early experiments with visual telecommunications technologies involving women artists include: Satellites Art Project (1977), Sherrie Rabinowitz' and Kit Galloway's investigation into "the image as place" in which dancers physically located in Maryland and California danced together in the space created by the technology (9); Send/Receive Satellite Network (1977), a bi-coastal program of artists' performances organized by Lisa Bear, Keith Sonnier and Carl Loeffler that was cable-cast in New York and San Francisco extending artists' works not only across the country but into a mass media system; Red Burns' two-way television project for senior citizens during the 1970s-80s; Sarah Dickenson's work with the Communicationsphere Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1977-1985) that utilized slow-scan television, two-way cable TV and computer networking to enable artists in Japan, Amsterdam, New York, Australia, British Columbia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, to "exchange across cultures their ideas, concepts and work" (10); and Electronic Café (1984), an interactive communications link between diverse cultural communities in Los Angeles set in local eateries developed by Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway.
While specific investigations that these artists undertook were quite different, each focused on the creation and use of electronic communication structures to connect people to each other across physical distance, rather than utilizing new media to create visual images. As Sarah Dickenson describes it, "Because of this interaction among artists, over the electronic media channels, a specific form of art began to emerge, rooted in the fine arts but shaped by the electronic media themselves. In effect, we began to see the development of a new visual and spatial language that bridged the arts and technology, for it was not concerned with the art object but rather with art as communication." (11) Another concept that formed a cornerstone of many subsequent telecommunications arts projects was the involvement of the public as collaborators in making art.
While communications arts experiments investigate the potential of horizontal communications as a social construct, women artists have also invented alternative models for the production and dissemination of information through telecommunication networks.
In 1986, Judy Malloy began to gather information for Bad Information Base no. 2, a collaboratively produced information art work "which was conceived as a database of wrong, misleading, inappropriate information and was meant to question our reliance on the veracity of computer-delivered information." (12). She opened a discussion topic on the Art Com Electronic Network on the WELL, a computer-based conferencing system, inviting users to post bad information for the Bad Information database. The information collection stage lasted for well over a year, as artists, computer programmers, futurists and other members of the WELL community shared over 400 pieces of bad information on such topics as advice, health, relationships, football, politics, religion, technology, body odor, sex, computers, foreigners, television, some horoscopes, miracle cures, the WELL, happiness, music, toilet paper, environment, pets, transportation, food, success, salt, work. Judy catalogued and organized the information "in a definitive database" (13) which is today accessible on the Web, complete with bad technical support (14). As an art project, Bad Information engaged people who do not consider themselves artists in consciously creating art content. As an information project, it redefined the public as experts in information production.
Nancy Buchanan organizes evidence to develop actionable "portraits" of social conditions that are carefully kept out of corporatedominated mass media. "I hope to counter the passivity of television and also to use video to challenge the accepted status quo 'truths' of various social clichés. I also want to demystify the media, challenging the notion that important work can only be done by (industry) 'experts'." (15) Nancy's work draws from community information sources and experiences to weave a portrait of current events, often involving community members themselves in the production of information art works. Working in and with communities in Los Angeles since the mid 1980s, Nancy has utilized video art, public access broadcasting, computer-based information technologies, including the Internet, as well as art galleries as vehicles for disseminating her work. Her recent CD-ROM/Web work, Developing: The Idea of Home (16), expands the idea of home as a traditionally domestic/female territory into its broader social context: "As a resident of Southern California, my own home area carries with it many other considerations such as water procurement and use, destruction of fast-disappearing habitat, covenants prohibiting certain lifestyle choices within an area, location of toxic waste (and "greenwashing" campaigns to hide them), inflated values and risky bank practices, tenant organizing techniques and alternative home ownership schemes, etc." (17) Using associative reading techniques, Developing: The Idea of Home incorporates the Web as a means of maintaining an updated information resource on the issues and groups contained in the CD-ROM linking living information and real world activism into an art work that evolves as the issues it presents change over time.
Constructing Communication Networks
The construction of communication networks perpetual communication systems as art, is an extension of the idea that telecommunication events are communication sculptures. As a sculptural form, communication networks address issues of dissemination of ideas and of community building (for networks exist only to the extent of their use). When successful, communication networks blend into daily living, becoming a part of the social landscape: organic sculpture that takes on a life of its own. Similar ideas have been applied in the artist space movement and art publishing. Artists working with a variety of new media and mass media technologies have developed continuous communications networks.
Following Electronic Café, Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway realized they needed to establish a continuous telearts venue to continue their investigation of "image as place." Their early works, says Sherrie, stand as "models of what is possible. After Electronic Café '84, we realized that we needed to create a permanent facility... We wanted to build a permanent public telecommunications lab where we could connect with other people and build an international network." (18) By 1995, Electronic Cafe International, based in Los Angeles, had approximately 30 network affiliates in Brazil, Denmark, Israel, New York, Toronto, and other locations around the world. Since its founding, Electronic Café International has produced an extensive range of live multi-point performances, involving virtual reality technology, 3D multi-user navigable online worlds, telerobotic devices, the Internet, and hybrids such as mapping the movements of a live performer over the Internet to activate an avatar that performed with a video rendered performer (1997).
Kunstradio-Radiokunst (19), established by Heidi Grundmann in Vienna, Austria, in 1987, as a forum for original artworks for radio, continues more than a decade later as a vital space for networked sound projects that travel both radio networks and the Internet. As producer and curator of the program, Heidi's work included the production of Realtime (1993), a live interactive work for radio and television, and Horizontal Radio, a live 24-hour multi-media radio project. In 1999, she curated Sound Drifting, an interdependent temporary system of international remote sub-projects, which used a wide range of methods and approaches to the generation, processing and presentation of data/sounds/images to form an innovative nine-day long continuous online on site on air sound installation. Currently, Elisabeth Zimmerman is the producer for Kunstradio, and Heidi's role is to consult on projects and developments. While Heidi does not consider herself an artist, she has established a space for art communication experiments within mass media systems.
Nancy Buchanan's collaboration with community activist Michael Zinzun to produce the monthly cable show Message to the Grass Roots at Pasadena Community Access Corporation is one example of artists' efforts to build an alternative, community-based voice using mass media systems. The fact that the program was produced continuously (1988-1998), rather than as a one-time event, established it as a forum for community empowerment within a social structure that overwhelmingly disempowers community experience. Message to the Grass Roots still airs on PCAC; its programs on police brutality, racism, South African liberation and other issues remain relevant. Community-based media production workshops, also a component of Nancy and Michael's collaboration, continue as well through the Coalition Against Police Abuse and Community in Support of the Gang Truce, further strengthening connections between local, national and international communities and issues.
Prior to widespread Internet access in First World countries, a number of women artists and cultural workers actively participated in the construction of computer-based communication networks. These include the Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN), launched on the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) conferencing system in 1986 as an online art publishing venue, and quickly transforming into a "virtual artists' space" for creative collaborations between artists and the cyberspace public. While conceived by men, Carl Eugene Loeffler and Fred Truck, ACEN was designed and implemented with the assistance of myself, Nancy Frank, Donna Hall, Darlene Tong, and Lorna Truck. Artists Judy Malloy and Abbe Don also played active roles as ACEN community members. In the early 1990s, Sue Harris and Phillip Bannigan formed ArtsNet on Pegasus, the Australian node of the Association for Progressive Communications (an international network of conferencing systems for the social justice community). In South Dakota, Anne Fallis operated the Dakota BBS, a project of American Indian Telecommunications that provided online information services to rural and tribal communities, and served as a distribution medium for Native American clip art. Anne Focke took the lead in laying the groundwork for Arts Wire (20), and I was the program's first Network Coordinator, continuing to build Arts Wire's culturally diverse community base. Arts Wire, a US-based online system for artists and arts organizations, began in 1992 on The Meta Network.
ArtsNet and Arts Wire were designed as broad-based networks to connect artists and arts organizations across cultural, race, class, institutional roles and discipline barriers. The idea was to construct a democratic communication system that would enable the arts community (both were conceptualized as national networks) to share ideas, exchange information and facilitate arts advocacy (particularly crucial for the US arts community struggling against the Christian right-instigated Culture Wars in the early 90s). American Indian Telecommunications focused on addressing the cultural and economic implications of new communications technologies for Native Americans. As Jim May (Cherokee) pointed out in testimony to Congress: "Not only are we not publishing materials about ourselves, but also we do not have adequate access to reliable information from the outside world. This is a serious problem since it affects our health, our economic development, our education, and almost all those aspects of our daily lives which we have in common with all people. We miss out on opportunities to improve our lot by not being connected to electronic resources." (21)
As Internet access has become more commonplace in the First World, the methodology for building cultural communications systems has changed. Rather than connecting computers and telephone networks to build a network, artists tend to use existing Internet infrastructure. Specialized electronic mailing lists and listservs serving all kinds of cultural communities and communities of interest proliferate, and are often so active that their members often lack the time to participate in more general communication systems. The vision of a new mass communications paradigm horizontal communications among millions of people has in practice become more focused, and exists alongside the commercial, broadcast models that mass media and other corporations have brought to the World Wide Web.
Initiated by Kathy Rae Huffman and Eva Wohlgemuth in 1996, Face Settings (22) is a network project that combines dinner performances with offline and online communication and community building, connecting women in Belgrade, St. Petersberg, Bilbao, Glasgow and Vienna. The project grew out of Eva and Kathy's observations about the status of women in Russia, women's communication styles, and the lack of support for European women to work with new communication technologies. "The objective was to join real groups of women in Network strategies to expand female connectivity, and to engage women in discussions of importance on local, regional, national and international levels." (23) Over several years' of dinner performances in different cities, Face Settings explored how communication practices differ across cultures, how women communicate differently than men on and offline; and sought to encourage women to participate in the formation of "online culture." FACES (24), an online mailing list that grew out of the project, has become a community building mechanism of its own that "connects women from areas that border on the fringe territories (and concerns) of the European media centers." (25)
Communication networks form an invisible geography that intersects the geography of physical place, but is defined by political, economic and cultural systems. The interconnections between communication networks and places enables a kind of conceptual weaving: the opportunity to map the world according to different sensibilities, to form reciprocal communications across geographic and political borders, as well as perceptual and temporal borders. These net weavings are steps towards an art that connects diverse modalities of living into a language and experience that begins to articulate the whole; a kind of cubism of social space, that not only reflects simultaneous diversities, but initiates relationships between them in an art/life process.
Jennifer Hall, Susan Imholtz and Joan Shafran conceived Netdrama in 1985, as a "telecommunications project that develops the conceptual parameters of electronic spaces for artistic use, defines the performance aspects of creating online theatre, and tracks and documents the electronic lives of characters created within the electronic networking environment." (26) Written and performed on bulletin board systems (BBS) across the east coast of North America in collaboration with online communities, Netdrama flattened the hierarchy between audience and artist, and enabled a theatre work to play a daily role in the lives of online communities. Although framed as art Netdrama producers posted announcements on participating BBS' the characters performed on the same virtual stages as community members. "The audience becomes gradually less aware that this character is simply part of a performance, and begins to treat her more like a real member of their electronic community," Jennifer writes about the character Mindy (27). The art/life hybrid took on a life of its own, independent of its initial creators: two years after the event appeared to have ended, the producer discovered that "characters are now self-propelled personas. Without the aid of designers, writers or producers, the actors keep their characters alive by establishing them on additional networks and inviting more people to participate in the drama. Designers are found setting up scenarios for active audiences on four separate networking systems. The two characters in love have gone on to begin a new event where they now live the electronic lives of their choice." (28)
Cultures in Cyberspace, a project I organized in 1992, took the structural form of an open panel developing within five online communities and exchanged between them, to create a grassroots conversation across communities on an issue that affected each of them. The panel was to discuss the impact of cyberspace on cultural development:
I asked community members at each online system to introduce and facilitate "local" discussion: George Baldwin, Anne Fallis and Randy Ross on Dakota BBS (a project of American Indian Telecommunications, South Dakota), Sue Harris and Phillip Bannigan on ArtsNet (Australia), Joe Matuzak on Arts Wire (US), John Quarterman on alt.cyberspace (USENET), and Judy Malloy and Eric Theise in the Virtual Communities conference on the WELL. The participating communities were culturally and geographically diverse, as well as representing different types of online communities: local, national, and international, communities of place and/or culture, as well as distributed communities of interest. In realizing the project, we ran into cultural differences and technical difficulties our proposed USENET newsgroup to carry cross-system discussion threads was denied distribution; one of the coordinators could not get online from Italy to facilitate the alt.cyberspace discussion; discussion on several systems was quite active, while on other systems there was little to no activity, reflecting either the nature of the online communities, the coordinator's available time, or the degree of relevance the project had for the communities it sought to engage. The work itself revealed very real social and technical borders in developing cross cultural communications for discussion of communication policy issues at the grassroots.
In 1993, Aida Mancillas created a digital manifestation of Project Artnet in the form of an electronic artists' book. Developed in collaboration with Lynn Susholtz, "Project Artnet was designed to bring together artists, community members, social service agencies and local arts organizations as part of a collaborative effort to foster neighborhood pride and cross cultural respect." (30) The project engaged children living in an ethnically diverse inner city San Diego neighborhood in learning about, documenting, and sharing their family histories through interviews, drawing, and writing poetry. The telecommunications component of Project Artnet connected children with people outside their immediate neighborhood. Using an interactive conference on Arts Wire, Project Artnet displayed poems and stories written by the children. An interactive discussion item enabled Arts Wire members and attendees of SIGGRAPH 1993 in Anaheim, California, to share their own stories with the children. (Project Artnet was exhibited at SIGGRAPH 1993 as part of "Matrix: Women Networking," organized by Lucia Grossberger Morales and myself.). As part of the project, the children went online still a rarity in 1993. Aida described the impact of the children's online experience as expanding their sense of space the world outside their immediate neighborhood became alive, something they could participate in. (31)
Isabella Bordoni weaves communication systems and perceptual structures. In 1985 she co-founded Giardini Pensili in Rimini, Italy, with Roberto Paci Dalò as a theatrical ensemble that focuses on "investigation of acoustical and visual perception, of language and communication systems, new technologies and their relationships with memory and history." (32) For the collaborative work Realtime (1993), a Kunstradio-Radiokunst performance, Bordoni took care of the text and its dramaturgy. The entire group of artists involved in Realtime were both authors and performers; together they developed a shared telematic stage for actors and the public in three Austrian radio and television stations. As images, sounds and Internet data transmissions fed into the network, robots and sound generators enabled artists in multiple locations to modify and reciprocally control the development of events in real time. For Isabella, who brings to telecommunications art a background in writing and theatre, "...media art offers the possibility of activating perceptual structures, and exploring models of associations across disciplines, across diverse areas of knowledge." (33)
Like many telecommunications artists, Andrea Sodomka prefers a collaborative approach to making art in any medium. "Many of the structures of telecommunications art, like the question of authorship or simultaneous events, existed in my work long before I started to deal with new communication technologies." (34) State of Transition (1994), a project conceived by Andrea Sodomka, Martin Breindl, Norbert Mather and Gerfried Stocker, utilized radio and the World Wide Web to explore "forms of migration, highways, immigration rates, transit spaces, crossing borderlines, transitional stages of all kinds [that] were subject and structure of this live event." (35) The virtual paths of the audience through the work wove into the fabric of the event: when a visitor accessed the project's web server, a traceroute routine began to analyse the route of that individual connection, resulting in an "acoustical map" that marked their journey. Andrea views the Web as having "different aesthetic and conceptual structures than known before. A new language had to be learned. And creating this new language was my main interest." (36)
Karen O'Rourke started the project Paris-Réseau in collaboration with the art group Art-Réseaux in 1994 "to realize an imaginary portrait of Paris using the combined experiences of people who live there and others elsewhere, who picture, each from his own particular vantage point, travel in that city." (37) In gathering data to map the portrait, Art-Réseaux "characters" described former habitual itineraries, which were then documented by "implacable photographers" who re-traced the routes. With their bodies, travelling from the center of Paris outward, six "reporters" left the Vidéotheque de Paris, taking photographs and making videorecordings of their journey. On the Internet, Art-Réseaux posted an information request, asking "informers" who believed that they have met one of the "characters" to describe the encounter. Making connections through history, the artists recorded the itineraries of "the ancestors" of Paris from the time of Saint Denis to Andre Breton. The resulting data was meticulously catalogued on an initial CD-ROM in a parody of a guidebook, for public perusal. "The would-be traveler will be taken aback by the sheer quantity of all this rather useless information catalogued with such precision...Nowhere will the traveler find the history of the Louvre, or even the price of a decent hotel room." (38)
Paris-Réseau maps the city as an overlapping accumulation of physical networks (streets, subway routes, telephone lines), temporal networks (linkages across generations that have lived in the same place), and memory (lived experience, memories of lived experience, inventions, news).
Over several years, Paris-Réseau has continued to expand and shift. The artists' initial concern with process developed into a desire to connect the fragments of collected data into a whole. Karen developed a Paris-Réseau Web site that organized the data in juxtaposed fragments, with linkages that at times seemed significant and sometimes not. Paris-Réseau was redesigned and released in 2000 as a CD-ROM that provides four points of view from which to explore the city, four different systems of navigation: perceiving, imagining, exploring and transforming the objects on the screen. Data fragments may reappear in different contexts, changing their meaning. The project continues, as Karen describes it, as a "(net)work in progress," with a concurrent investigation into how to meaningfully archive or represent a living information system. (39)
In Local 411, Janet Silk and Ian Pollock used San Francisco's public phone system to expose the impact of a new downtown arts center on the lives of the members of the community displaced by it. "We want to talk about histories that can exist in the present and the psychological dimension of the telephone network that speaks of vanished spaces that remain in memory." (40) The artists used several strategies to gather together the scattered memories of the vanished neighborhood. They constructed fictional vignettes based on research about the area and its former residents, recorded them in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Tagalog, and made them accessible on a voice mail system. "...one might start by hearing a story in English and then be exposed to another language, much like how one might come across different languages while walking down a busy street in San Francisco."(41) The voice mail system also solicited listeners' stories, which were added to the pool of memories and presented to subsequent callers. Lastly, the artists gathered a group of performers to develop characters created from the history of the place: "...people looking for friends or lovers, individuals looking for buildings that were no longer there, and ghosts haunting the phones." (42) The characters placed calls to public telephones in the Yerba Buena area, and engaged the person who answered in a conversation about the changes in the neighborhood. "For example, one of the performers would ask to speak to a specific person by name ('Is Jeff there?'). Then when the person who answered the call would report that the person was not there ('Hey man, this is a park'), the response was a lead into conversation about the neighborhood and people that used to live there." (43) Janet and Ian report that these one-on-one performances enabled audience/participants to explore the issues of dislocation and gentrification in depth. Local 411 reveals the multiple layers of an urban place and the complex issues of urban development the destruction of one neighborhood for another, particularly questioning the role of art in the gentrification process.
Day Without Art Web Action (44) engages artists and AIDS activists together in shaping a public place on the Web for people to mourn the people who have died, to find critical medical information, to "seek out services, find community, to become an electronic activist..." (45) Organized annually by Carol Stakenas at Creative Time in New York since 1995, DWA Web Action coincides with the Day Without Art held on December 1. Carol works with artists to design Web works for each year's event, and has accumulated an extensive collection of links to AIDS information resources and activist web sites. One recent art project, The Wish Machine, developed by Chrysanne Stathacos, invites the public to "submit a wish to activate the powerful energy of imagination and hope." (46) The wishes are posted to the site, articulations of a communal ritual that brings people together and encourages action. "To wish, or desire, becomes especially resonant against the broad continuum of how the HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to effect our lives and our culture from the promising news of a possible vaccine to the ominous certainty that this fatal virus is continuing to spread." (47) The project also facilitates political action across the Web Carol invites other Web site producers to participate in the Day Without Art by adding the Day Without Art logo and link to their home pages for the day. "Several sites employed a more radical approach which echoed the classic DWA shrouding ritual. They disabled entry to their web site and simply displayed the linked DWA logo on a black background for the day. Other sites opted for an elegant solution that didn't deny access to their site by placing the DWA logo on a special buffer page for the user to 'pass through', yet held their attention for a moment to consider the special focus of the day." (48)
In 1996, Austrian sound artist Elisabeth Schimana (49) created the fugue, a score for four remote conductors whose commands are interpreted live in a concert that occurs simultaneously on air, online and on-site, with collaborators Michael Moser (musical concept and violoncello), Ludwig Zeininger (sampler), Peter Machajdik (electric guitar), Fuchs/Eckermann, Andrew Bentley, Karl Petermichl and Paul Modler (conductors), Martin Leitner (technical director), August Black (web design), and Martin Schitter (score programming).
The performance is a dialogue between the sounds of the place and the musicians' response. Schimana writes, "Each voice in this piece has its own theme. These sounds are taken live from the acoustic environment of the place of our performance via microphones. There are sounds from the ship (engine room), the AU (birds, trees, wind), the water (the river March), and Devin (the audience). The musicians had to find an instrumental answer to the place: the five models. These complex sound structures are together with the themes the basic sound materials of the piece." (51)
In a networked, mediated world, what happens to the identities that we have formed across history, identities shaped by our physical, local communities and cultures? While broadcast media, controlled by powerful corporate interests, reflects a narrow spectrum of human experience and perspectives, the relatively open territory of the Internet has held a promise for expanding that spectrum. Conversely, as a media environment in which identity is often articulated through language, rather than physical presence, the Internet has also provided a place to explore new identities and to expose the ways in which identity is constructed. Relationship to identity, historically rooted in physical place, defined by physical appearance, and politically impacted by physical manifestations of power and aggression, is a cultural battlefield in cyberspace. Will cyberspace simply mirror our "real world" legacy of identity marginalization, or can it be made a place to transform culture erasure and ensure a way of viewing that embraces diverse histories and systems of knowledge?
"I am Oglala Lakota and come from a culture that is rich in philosophy and thought and I was raised up in the 'old way' where women are considered to be the backbone of the family. My work simply reflects my life and self expression. I consider this feminist movement as belonging more to the white man," writes Lorri Ann Two Bulls. (52) In 1993, she created over 100 digital drawings using NAPLPS, a computer graphics program designed for the videotext industry. At that time, NAPLPS was perhaps the only graphics tool that allowed for images to be viewed online, and was not widely used: English text was the dominant communications medium on computer networks. Lorri Ann's digital drawings depicted Native American themes "drums, dancers, bead work, traditional costumes" (53) and were produced to be sold, as part of a Native American clip art catalog that Anne Fallis was developing. The drawings were distributed as share art (view for free, download for $25) on Dakota BBS. While other image formats of the time allowed computer graphics to be transported over computer networks, for downloading and viewing offline, NAPLPS viewing software (distributed as shareware), allowed people to see the digital images drawn online right before their eyes, establishing an immediacy of visual communication. The drawings by Lorri Ann and other Native American artists not only explored new methodologies of cultural exchange, but established a culturally appropriate communications system emphasizing visual rather than textbased communications. (54) As Lorri Ann points out, "In hindsight, Anne was probably at the cutting edge of what was to come in computer clip art and saw ahead of her time because now Native American clip art is widely sought after." (55) Unfortunately, Lorri Ann experienced the down side of online art distribution: her works were copied and sold by others without permission and with no remuneration to her. In 1993, the digital medium was too new for her to mount an effective legal battle against copyright infringement, and since then, she has focused on creating computer art offline (protected under traditional copyright law) and her handmade painted jewelry business.
Jacalyn Lopez Garcia writes, "As we crossed the Mexican border the border patrol would ask me my citizenship. I would reply, 'American' because my parents taught me to say that. But in California, people would ask me 'What are you?' I guess they didn't quite know how to ask 'Are you American?' I would proudly reply, 'Mexican'. It wasn't until I became a teenager that I claimed I was Mexican-American...it wasn't until I became a reentry student at UC Riverside (in the 90s) that I developed a Chicana consciousness." (56) Jacalyn developed her work Glass Houses (57) in 1997 as a self-portrait that would tie her personal experiences and issues of identity with broader issues of "race, class, acculturation and nationalism." (58) Yet she struggled with doubts about using her family history as the basis of the work: the ethics of revealing painful family memories for public viewing. Ultimately deciding to proceed with the work, Jacalyn designed a Web environment that is mapped from the floor plan of her own home. By leaving a house key under the doormat, and inviting the public to enter as house guests who are free to wander through her home, Jacalyn creates a friendly and intimate space in which to experience her stories. Glass Houses is also a conversation space: in the kitchen, house guests can leave their own comments for Jacalyn and other visitors to read. The power of the work becomes clear in the comments from house guests, many of whom reveal their own struggles with similar issues. For Jacalyn, the decision to tell her own stories publicly is validated in these messages, which she reads with her mother "out loud as tears roll down our faces." (59)
Mother Millennia (60) is a collaborative work conceived by Carolyn Guyer that weaves personal stories into a communal, planetary portrait of mother. "Remembering our mothers," Carolyn writes, "or hearing older relatives remember their mothers, is a human commonality that will never sound the same twice, but will always resonate with the memory and desire we all use to create ourselves." (61) For Carolyn, an important key to the work as a successful cross-cultural experiment is that it holds two viewpoints simultaneously: that of specific individual experiences, as well as a vast composite that forms the whole our global conception of mother. To underscore this point, she uses NASA photographs of earth viewed from space as the visual context for the work, a reminder "of that process of combining two viewpoints, and that, in an ancient sense, we all share the same mother." (62) Mother Millennia invites visitors to the web site to contribute stories about their mothers images, texts, multi-media, multi-lingual, essays, fictions, poems; the form limited only by the Web itself. But the project also links to the earth; Carolyn seeks stories from people who do not have access to the Internet. The portrait of Mother has multiple points of entry. One may find a story by going to the story index, where each story is alphabetized and listed with author, language, medium, type (essay, poem, etc); or by looking up the list of authors. Alternatively one might meander through the stories thematically or geographically, or by following what Carolyn calls "idiosyncratic" links of her own choosing. Started in 1997, the project continues. While Carolyn serves as project editor, participants also shape editorial direction. For example, Mother Millennia includes a thematic thread of stories about fathers because contributors not only wrote stories about their fathers, but insisted that fathers be included.
In 1994, Nina Sobell and Emily Hartzell created a virtual ParkBench (63) that provides people in New York City with open access to the Internet as well as the ability to see and communicate with each other using videoconferencing and a collaborative drawing space. "In a city where strangers rarely talk to one another on real park benches, ParkBench would be a safe place to congregate in cyberspace." (64) ParkBench also provides a platform for the public to remotely access an online performance series called ArTisTheater. With the use of a telerobotic video camera, Nina and Emily have developed a number of performances that explore identity, voyeurism, and power in digital space. In Alice Sat Here (1995), a telerobotic video camera engages on site and online audiences in riding a wireless vehicle named VirtuAlice. The online audience, using remote control, determines the direction the vehicle will take. The onsite audience drives the vehicle, acting as "chauffeur" for the remote user. During a Web performance in 1997, Web viewers watched Nina and Emily through an active female gaze: "The camera moves from our eyes to our mouths to our hands to the work, as Nina sculpts Emily drawing Nina. The female gaze is perceived as observation in the art making process. The cameras establish a rhythm with their movement; they record the physical process of perception and representation. Eyes move to observe and record, mouths move involuntarily, hands move to coax form out of media, and the work records the materialization of the process. Through observing one another we discover ourselves, and as the piece progresses each artist appears on the opposite screen, in the hands of the other." (65)
VNS Matrix was a group of Australian cyberfeminist artists that was active from 1991-1997. Group members were Virginia Barratt, Francesca da Rimini, Julianne Pierce and Josephine Starrs. VNS Matrix presented several installations, events and public art works, involving new media, photography, sound and video. The impetus of the group was to "investigate and decipher the narratives of domination and control which surround high technological culture, and explore the construction of social space, identity and sexuality in cyberspace." (66) The project which they pursued was one of debunking the masculinist myths which might alienate women from technological devices and their cultural products. They believed that women who hijack the tools of domination and control introduce a rupture into a highly systematized culture by infecting the machines with radical thought, diverting them from their inherent purpose of linear topdown mastery.
VNS Matrix' "Cybermanifesto for the 21st Century" articulates a cyberfeminist identity and subverts the language of capitalist technoculture:
Along with Sadie Plant, VNS Matrix coined the term "cyberfeminism" in the early 1990s. Their Internet-based works include "c o r p u s f a n t a s t i c a M O O," an interactive text-based environment designed as the interior of a body. Visitors enter and traverse the body at will, using it as a locus point for engaging in discussion about gender and cyberspace. "'c o r p u s f a n t a s t i c a M O O' is a colonized body, where entities without number meet. You may not understand some of the language you encounter in this body, and it would be advisable to familiarize yourself with other methods of constructing meaning. Never assume that you are speaking to a member of a privileged class, race, gender or species. We provide mindnet access for entities with particular needs. What resident or guest entities say or do may not always be to your liking. Beware there is no moral code in this 'place'." (68)
Telecommunication systems are designed environments. While many of the tools are conceptualized with utility in mind, they reflect the cultural and political biases of their designers and developers. The Internet of the late 1990s is an information/communications space that is deterritorialized in the sense that it is non-physical and crosses geographic borders. Yet the concept of deterritorialization obscures the Internet's extreme territoriality: access is heavily dependent on wealth, class, and technical literacy. Furthermore, the structure of the system is very consciously driven by corporations seeking to build new methodologies of gathering and using demographic information to target product sales, to entertain and seize "eyeballs" as they disparagingly describe visitors to their Web sites, and to be more "efficient" by developing information delivery systems that displace workers. The communication exchange that evolves from such goals is often manipulative and frequently covert, a linguistic structure that turns people into consumption targets. While women's telecommunication works in general challenge the structure of corporate-designed communications systems, some women artists work in particular on designing new media tools and linguistic systems that have a non-hierarchical agenda.
Judy Malloy's work extends from developing text-based art works that mimic human thought processes to developing linguistic structures for the Web in collaboration with Cathy Marshall. "For many years, I had been working on a series of artists books which attempted to simulate our fragmented, random, repetitious, non-sequential human memory patterns using card catalog containers or electromechanical address books. I saw that in tandem with interactive, community-based publication computer-mediated telecommunications made possible these nonsequential or simultaneously parallel narrative structures which I sought. Uncle Roger, begun on ACEN in 1986, used a database linking structure similar to what is now called hyperfiction," writes Judy Malloy.(69) Uncle Roger (70) is a narrative told by Jenny, who views the technoculture of Silicon Valley from her experience as a baby sitter and clerical worker. The narrative is comprised of three "files," each a compilation of story fragments. Files 1 and 2 are accessible by keywords Jenny's experience with particular characters or places. The reader thus chooses a path through the story, at times, like Jenny's memory, calling up a repeated fragment. File 3 uses a random number generator to recall Jenny's memories much as she remembers them herself. This method of storytelling is for Judy a consciously feminist approach toward writing: "[My] hypernarratives Uncle Roger, Its Name Was Penelope, The Yellow Bowl, Forward Anywhere (with Cathy Marshall), L0VE0NE and The Roar of Destiny Emanated from the Refrigerator are based on the feminist approaches of making the woman the subject rather than the object of the work, of connecting the reader with woman's lives and thoughts; of validating daily and personal experience as a way of understanding and expressing a culture; of creating a collaborative and/or interactive environment." (71)
Forward/Anywhere (72), a collaboration between Judy Malloy and Cathy Marshall, began as a communication exchange between an artist and a researcher who had just become acquainted. The project was a response to Xerox PARC's Artist-In-Residence program, which was designed to build bridges between artists and research scientists. Judy and Cathy's exchange of "lexia" or screens, which transpired via email over two and a half years, drew from each participant's life experiences, "with new content arising through association." (73) When they sought to design the exchange for a Web environment, they looked for ways to represent for the reader their own experience of the stories unfolding, as well as to offer a more active role for reading the text than typical Web hypertext links. The Web implementation that Judy and Cathy designed uses a "Forward" link to enable the reader to follow the associative process that the authors employed. An "Anywhere" link employs a random number generator to allow the reader to jump around in the text, providing a reading experience that approximates the repetitive way that memory works. "Lines" gives the reader the option of entering a term of their own choice, and retrieving all references to that term as one line text fragments, links to the stories in which they appear. As Cathy Marshall writes, "Clicking, changing channels, and in a most unholy appropriation of verbs surfing have, then, become the common modes of interaction with texts. Choice equates with interaction: 'I click, therefore I am' may well be the slogan of the Pepsi Generation. But link following can be (and often is) a very passive form of engagement." (74) Forward/Anywhere, however, shapes an active reading methodology that restructures the power dynamics between reader and writer.
Do While Studio, directed by Jennifer Hall in collaboration with Blyth Hazen, Education Coordinator, Joan Shafran, Principal, and others, provides an organizational framework to nurture artist-industry collaborations as a way of shaping communications tools and providing artists a means of financial sustainability. "Do While Studio is a small and focused community offering an alternative to the way technology is assimilated in day-to-day art practice," write Jennifer and Blyth. (75) Rather than exploiting new technological tools for their artistic potential, Do While takes the tactic of consciously designing the tools that will define how we communicate online. One artist-industry collaboration involved the development of video conferencing tools to create a World Wide Simultaneous Dance on the Internet. Laura Knott, the coordinating artist-in-residence at Do While Studio worked with Tim Dorcey of BoxTop Interactive, who was leading the development of iVisit a videoconferencing package. With the software still in beta, Laura and Tim were able to discuss and reconstruct the underlying values and philosophies built into the tool. In describing the framework for Do While Studio's work, Jennifer Hall writes about the social role of artists in an information age: "Participation in the new global dialog demands the ability to navigate through massive quantities of information while reassessing notions of space and time. We find ourselves immersed in a tremendous volume of disconnected ideas. Artists have responded to the information complex by developing a new working paradigm: connecting chunks of data. We have become concerned not with a specific piece of information, or a particular image, but with the changing relationships of elements within an overall structure, with customized views, and with the coherent transmission of ideas from one place and time to another. The data that is collected, as well as the information systems that explore and reveal the data, shape our social perception." (76) In the context of current global Internet technology and policy developments, Do While's work represents an important strategy for constructing a socially beneficial communications system from a creative, culturally grounded perspective.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
The women artists who are shaping the undefined and shifting territory that comprises our contemporary media landscape have taken significant steps in redefining ways that mass communication systems can be designed, as well as redefining the hierarchical standard in Western art production. Their works embody reciprocity with communities and people, charting an important model for cultural and political power one that relies on inclusion, on multiple parts forming a whole. In developing this work, women artists often step outside the traditional territories of art-making, collaborating with community-based organizations, social justice activists, scientific researchers, industry, the education system. Their art is frequently woven into the fabric of daily living. While one can look at these works as being feminist in their approach to voice and power, not all of the artists define their work as feminist in content or intent. Some identify more closely with their culture than with gender, viewing feminism as a "white" influence. Others explore non-hierarchical communications concepts collaboration, networked communication, dispersed authorship, public art without attaching a feminist significance to their work. And there are still others who consider their work feminist, whether or not its content specifically explores gender issues.
Telecommunications art has been accused, with some validity, of being an elite art form, due to the cost of tools and access to cyberspace. Our work, open as the Internet is today, is still not open to all. Those of us who work with electronic telecommunications tools wrestle with the tension of trying to shape democratic communication systems in an environment that excludes on the basis of wealth, knowing that women are the majority of the poor. Our work has not yet impeded the increasing centralization of media corporations or the privatization of communication networks; the advance, as VNS Matrix calls it, of Big Daddy Mainframe.
As Karen O'Rourke points out (77), there remains a tension in collaborative telecommunications works they still often have an individual artist's name attached to them (whether initiated by men or women). What is the role of the public that we invite to be artists with us? Lorri Ann Two Bulls' experience with her online work being sold without remuneration is a painful reminder that we have not moved beyond cultural exploitation. As artists seek ways to restructure power and to collaborate with others in the creative process, we must be mindful of the rights of our collaborators.
What women telecommunications
artists have achieved is to create spaces for horizontal communication,
understanding that this implies a new language and a new set of relationships.
We have connected our work to other people, extending beyond our selves,
drawing from many individuals' lived experiences as the basis for making
art that authentically reflects the multiplicity of all of us.
Anna Devere Smith quoted in "Enter, The Audience: Trying to Gather
Everyone In," by Sarah Boxer, New York Times, August 29,