Catalogue essay of the Internet and CD-ROM part of the show »double life. Identity and transformation in contemporary art. Generali Foundation, Vienna 2001
More than any other medium, even more than television, the Internet nourishes and fabricates the fantasy of a having a double of oneself. The person we phantasmagorically identify with in a film is always someone completely different, someone fictional. On television we see people like you and me, and the possibility of even appearing on TV grows with programs like "Big Brother." The possibility of playing oneself is inherent to the Internet. I am the avatar 1, my representative on the net, haunting virtual space, communicating, telling strangers who I am. I am the agent, and in order to even exist there, I must provide representations of myself, whether using language, images or actions. I can replicate myself many times over and communicate with myself or meet my friends as avatars. Cyberspace is a hotbed of fantasies and phantasms, especially the fantasy of inhabiting strange territory. The particular pleasure involved in this is not based on the notion that everything is completely different there - namely utopian and egalitarian - as was naively assumed and idealistically propagated in the beginning, but rather on its semi-fictive aspect. Identification, and consequently a feeling of being moved and a sense of emotional intensity happen primarily on the net because of the fact that it is not possible to simply separate parts of bodily existence and transform them into a new identity, even if it seems that you can be someone entirely different there.
Although it makes sense to distinguish between Real Life and Virtual Life, because the Internet is definitively a different place from the one where one is physically located, this strict separation is still part of the conventional two-world ideology, or even its construction. In principle, the levels of reconstruction and performance of the real and virtual self cannot be clearly separated from one another. Everything is construction, especially identity and subjectivity. Identity is feeling-at-one with the image that one has of oneself. And although this image can be consciously constructed, it still contains just as many unconscious moments.
The women's studies theorist Rosi Braidotti wrote: "Identity for me is a play of multiple, fractured aspects of the self; it is relational, in that it requires a bond to the `other'; it is retrospective, in that it is fixed through memories and recollections, in a genealogical process. Last, but not least, identity is made of successive identifications, that is to say unconscious internalized images that escape rational control. This fundamental non-coincidence of identity with consciousness implies also that one entertains an imaginary relationship to one's history, genealogy, and material conditions." 2
In other words, it is not just since the emergence of the Internet and its double aspects, or since the construction of the Internet as cyberspace, that the design of the self is based on fictive moments and one projects oneself to certain places. It is far more the case that fiction is always involved, whenever it is a matter of worlds and identities. The World Wide Web is the medium that visualizes this moment on a grand scale, not only popularizing it, but also raising awareness of it in a highly techno-determinist manner. The Internet has not triggered a change of paradigms in the construction of multiple personalities, but rather this is a primary condition of present human existence, to the extent that the human being is a verbal being, constituting him/herself through and in language. As the exhibition "Double Life" demonstrates, however, certain media influence this in a very specific way.
For this reason, network and interactive CD-ROM works seem to come especially close to the basic thesis of the exhibition "Double Life. Identity and Transformation in Contemporary Art." The pleasure of constructing, shifting and mutating is virtually inherent to the media. However, art is generally expected not only to act, but also to understand its agency as reflection and contextualization as well. This means that what is practiced daily in chatrooms and other sections of the Internet is to undergo aesthetic differentiation and perhaps even an expansion. Not every one of the the works presented here addresses the net in the same way, or the hybrid or homogenizing possibilities of digital media, or even their specific conditions for the construction of identity. Some of the pieces are "simply" attempts to encircle the question of identity and its manifestations with and in the so-called new media.
In this way, though, they not only make an essential contribution to the research and expansion of these media, but also to the discourse on the extent, to which new media newly construct identities. It may then become evident that the net doubles are not really all that different from video doubles. Naturally, this does not abate the issue at all, but instead poses the euphorically expounded identity-forming character of the new technologies as a subject of debate. Anyone who expects a completely new aesthetic, is bound to be disappointed. It is true here as well: there is nothing that is completely new. The pioneering opportunities of cyberspace are a myth, even if it is a productive one, on which all the participants are working. As the media theorist and artist Lev Manovich aptly pointed out: "How should culture change, if the economy doesn't change. Net.capitalism is still capitalism."3
In terms of how they function and of their visualization, net art and CD-ROM works are highly dependent on their software and hardware technology, which is still relatively limited and thus often has an aesthetically very one-dimensional effect. Our perception is construed just as much by the practice of mouse clicks and surfing, waiting times, error messages and computer crashes, as by the (homogeneous) surfaces of conventional Internet browsers, software and plug-ins. The fact that the net activist group 0100101110101101.ORG works with non-commercial GNU software is not evident in a web site that looks completely different, but rather because the source of the software used is listed at the end of the file. The decision to use only an Apple G3 in the exhibition also limits the selection of the works. Multi-user projects, PC projects with complex VRML plug-ins, or those with real life components were therefore unfortunately not possible. On the other hand, though, as it is now, the selection of artistic projects is highly representative, not only in terms of their exploration of identity, but also in the progressive way that they have been dealing with the net and digital media in general for many years. All the participants have been working with digital media for years and have made a name for themselves in the global media art scene. Yet it is almost alarming to realize that there is hardly another artistic medium, to which so much that is temporary, provisional, unstable and limited adheres, as new media art, whose myth lives from the exact opposite. This makes it seem all the more congenial to me, because it means that there is still quite a lot of experimenting to do.
To start the discussion of selected works, I would like to go into detail on the VRML net project "I/O 2.0" (IN/OUT 2.0) by Eva Wohlgemuth, who has been circling the theme of herself as a double for years. In 1997 she had the surface of her body scanned and translated this into a wireframe with polygons. This data set of herself as a purely homogeneous surface has since then been the starting point of all her works and presumes that once the body has been digitally coded, it is available and disposable at will.
"Her" golden brown body lies horizontally in a black star space, a so-called starfield, with the result that you realize spatial changes by navigating in it. You fly around in cyberspace, reading texts on star clusters, encircling the figure from all sides or perceiving it, if you go very close, as a desert landscape. At a certain point marked "IN", you are hurled into it and arrive in an empty cave landscape, the inverted body, which can be explored from the inside. Your avatar is so small that it cannot even be seen, so it can go to even the tiniest spots.
Wohlgemuth's doppelganger body of bits lies there completely passive in the magical starfield. This territory permits entry and thus signifies the digital dataspace, cyberspace, that wants to be explored. Inhabiting the dataspace here is a gender-specific act, even though it is not explicitly sexual. For the body openings that usually mark a body sexually, are missing here. The "IN" is a linguistic code, not a hole, and you do not take it, but rather are hurled into it. You are yourself invisible. This piece questions whether interactive 3D environments do not also generate structural gender relations and gender-specific user identities, as they have been discussed in film theory: What "I" is this, that is whirled around and sucked up in empty space? Why does it elude representation? Why is the data body so passive? How and by whom is this space structured and arranged?
Communication as a Factor of Identity
One of the essential aspects of the Internet is the communicative aspect. Many net art projects have followed from this. The net and hypertext-specific ghost-fiction dollspace by the Australian artist Francesca da Rimini with a soundtrack by Michael Grimm, for example, is from the LambdaMOO 4 adventures of Gashgirl aka Francesca da Rimini. The protagonist Dollyoko is the fictionalized and evolved figure of the net identity Gashgirl, whose (sexual) adventures and fantasies are sprinkled chapter by chapter through dollspace and are thus available for reading. At the beginning of the work, we read in hypertext form about the origins of Dollyoko from a Japanese swamp, in which unwanted female children were drowned. She is the murdered victim and ghost, "as all women are ghosts and should rightly be feared." She has monstrous sexual desires for extremely young men, whom she kills and by whom she herself wants to be killed. Her names are many - Doll/Gashgirl/Ghost/Puppetmistress/I - because she does not exist as an authentic single unit. She is not a "naturally" born woman, but rather the "natural" effect of a patriarchal, inhuman, capitalist world that gives birth to monsters. Wounded, killed, humiliated and filled with fantasies of power and violence, she is cruelly alive. Her home is the paradoxical in-between space, "deep dollspace zero", behind the close lids that one clicks into at the start. Dollspace is a complex, labyrinthine web environment of images, hypertext fiction, excerpts from LambdaMOO and Marquis de Sade. Links lead to the pages and narratives of the Zapatistas, where Dollyoko's identity undergoes a further convergence with that of Commandante Ramona, an authentic figure. Although every page is illuminated with one or more pictures and an intense electronic sound, Dollyoko is primarily a textual construction that explodes simple patterns of identification. Central to this is the use of the personal pronoun "I", which is equally a placeholder for the author, protagonist and the net user, thus traversing persons, and also forces an identification with the wild desires. The ostensible coherence of a possible virtual-digital figure dissolves in the diffusing streams of polyvocal desiring, of which one becomes a part in clicking. Dollyoko is the Other, that one does not become through empathy or projection, but rather because she, like us, says "I", and one must impel the story in the I-form, if one wants to experience it.
The significance of communication, especially communication on the net, for the dissolution of boundaries, of fictional figures and for the construction of fluid identities, is further intensified in Diane Ludin's web project idrunners_reflesh the body through the introduction of three net identities. This involves a complex hypertext project, which Ludin has been conducting in collaboration with Francesca da Rimini and the Roman net/activist Agnese Trocchi for several months. It is currently found in different stages on two different servers. In my description, I use a version (http://www.2.sva.edu/~dianel/idrunr) that is older, but in which the fictive aspect is more prominent. The newer web site is more documentary and also integrates joint performances and video translations of the net works and ascii streaming.
The three net characters are allegorically called efemera (Diane Ludin), liquid-nation (Francesca da Rimini) and discordia (Agnese Trocchi). Entering the start page of the work, you see three parallel sectors corresponding to these names with picture, running text structure and hypertext structure. In the lower part, the name Metrophage is repeated by all of them. If you click on this, you find yourself in a kind of microcell structure. If you read the texts with their similar poetry and click through the hypertexts and image architecture, you become increasingly lost in this labyrinth and forget which texts belong to whom. Everything seems to be the output of a single identity, despite the different names, images and texts. The entire web architecture is polyvocal, furnished with excerpts from various contexts: scientific (e.g. pictures from genetic engineering laboratories), theoretical (e.g. sentences from Donna Haraway), activist, and all the diverse text material that the three have exchanged in chats, e-mails, telephone conferences, real life performances, etc. They also speak in the first person, although the content is not clearly intelligible, is outside the realm of what may be narrated. One understands a kind of body-speaking, reads of tears, touching, feelings, cells and bodies of information. These sequences are mixed with others from biotechnology discourse. In its entirety, it is a kind of production of biotech bodies and identities with the tools of poetry and alienating contexts. Even though it is suggested by the allegorical avatars, they do not form representative net characters any more, not even one as broken and fluid as Dollyoko. The impression is rather one of a diffusive flow of biotech body suggestions, more a dissolving into tropes and micro-images (Metrophase). Re_Flesh the Body evokes the re-articulation of the female body and its desires in the digital era. However, this body is no longer a female entity or even an organism, but more of a "stammering" of intensities, wishes, streams and fragments. Female is a suggestion, not an essence.
The network piece [carrier] by Melinda Rackham also works with seductive suggestions of (female) identity and molecular biology, without being essentialist. On the contrary, it is a matter of profoundly contrasting scientific language and visualization with images from personal experience and recoding hierarchical body images. One learns that Rackham is herself a carrier of the Herpes C virus, someone infected by a foreign body according to conventional understanding. In [carrier], the virus is an intelligent agent that infects us, as it greets us with an embrace and leads us through the web site speaking erotically and tenderly. The virus addresses us personally, in the same way that many web sites on the Internet address us personally. This moment of being "individually" recognized and greeted by another is always highly pleasurable 5 That is the reason why so many commercial and artistic web sites rely on this communicative exchange. Here it is at the service of an identity transfer, in which one assumes the position of a "sick person." Along the journey, we encounter altered models of viral symbiosis, leading us into the inner world of immunology. You click into e-mail reports from other infected people, who tell of their daily experiences, limitations and fears. A strangely paradoxical state results, which is located in between the amorous discourse with the virus, the fluid images and the shocking statements of those affected. Questions arise, such as: What does it mean to be a carrier? What does it mean to enter into a symbiosis with something that is part of you and simultaneously works against you, against the others? Unlike conventional representations of the infected body as a battlefield and the virus as a hostile attacker, it is evident in [carrier] that what is presumed to be one's "own" body has always been open and full of foreign bodies. Consequently, it is not a fixed entity, but rather a mutating, communicating data stream. Being sick, in this case, means intensively experiencing the openness and the mutations of the body and one's own bodily identity. It means affirming this state as a vital one, allowing oneself to be embraced and finding pleasure in it. This is paradoxical and painful. Being a carrier means permanently communicating with one's many "foreign"/own selves.
This work, like the others discussed before, shows that identity is not only an unstable structure that constantly has to be newly constructed, but also that communication with various entities, networking, and consequently working on and with the "Internet" in the most clear and bodily sense of the word, are fundamental to the construction of identity. The US theorist N. Katherine Hayles makes a similar statement about the concept of subjectivity: "Speaking for myself, I now find myself saying things like, `Well my sleep agent wants to rest, but my food agent says I should go to the the store'. Each person who thinks this way begins to envision herself or himself as a posthuman collectivity, an `I' transformed into the `we' of autonomous agents operating together to make a self. The infectious power of this way of thinking gives `we' a performative dimension." 6
Communication, although in a different form, is also a central factor in Andreja Kulunicic's multi-user work Closed Reality - Embryo. The main action consists of making a child together with another net user according to given determinants. The situation is typical for the Internet, namely maneuvering oneself into an intimate situation charged with many associations together with an unknown (or perhaps known) person and forming something together. First you enter name, gender, age, profession, country of origin, then you can either start "cloning" right away, or you can browse through the "gallery of newborns." The gallery consists of serially numbered squares, which contain a kind of undefined, colorful cell soup. You can view the selected characteristics by clicking on a square. The characteristics are ordered according to gender, age, skin color, illnesses, organic system (e.g. thinker type), aggression, size, eye color, appearance, immunity, intelligence, faculties, special genes (here some "parents" have "invented" wings, feelers, etc., sometimes referring explicitly to science fiction films as a source of inspiration). Consequently, the determinants correspond more or less to criteria of perception that are highly relevant in our social reality. Thus they may not be chosen freely, but people can justify and explain their choices. Every month, Kuluncic evaluated the data entered, made it into statistics, which she compared with data from Real Life, evaluated this and made it accessible on the web site.
As the title suggests, in Closed Reality virtual space is not a completely new space, but rather a "closed" one, a mirror of a reality that does not consist of exciting embryo image worlds, but rather of data and numbers, pure information, just like every intrauterine controlled embryo. Although the project itself is fictional, it hardly provides tools for newly designing utopian human beings. It is more a matter of finding out how existing constructions of perception influence our identity and how these could be reflected. Kuluncic provides the possibility of a mailing list (see web archive). What is discussed there involves new developments in and problems of bio-engineering, which Kuluncic says was new at this time in Croatia, but also reflections on the experiences and emotions that the project triggered. People talk a lot about themselves in this context and reveal not only the social, historical and other backgrounds of their momentary identity, but also recognize these as the conditions that form them. In other words, communication in Closed Reality - Embryo means jointly reproducing and analyzing existing determinants and recognizing collective moments in the individual, intimate act of self-construction.
The project life_sharing by the group 0100101110101101.ORG exaggerates the assumption that our life and our identities are based on purely determined and determining accumulations of information. The web site life_sharing starts with an error message, which you first have to click all the way through saying okay. "Now you're in my computer", "okay" is the start of a game that might have been invented by a renegade Internet accountant. The entire e-mail correspondence of the group is publicly accessible, older projects can be viewed, such as the fake with Darko Maver, a Serbian artist they invented; innumerable copies of the name of the sponsor of the work mechanically race up and down, files are listed in the cryptic language that only programmers can decode immediately, and scroll by endlessly and unordered before your eyes. The only way to stop all this is with the aforementioned error index, which you have to repeat dozens of times, if you want the page displayed correctly. Here too, the site addresses you directly: now you're in my computer. This does not mean in a merely naive, fictional manner that you are being held captive and incorporated by a computer, but rather that it is the computer, or information technology with its whole data overkill, its info-aesthetics, and its ideological, technological limitations, that determines my life. And there is no escape from this, for as the name of the group suggests, it is a matter of zeros and ones, the fundamental matrix, on which the entire computer language is based, and which claims to be able to cover everything and make it codable and thus signifiable. Anyone who wants meaning, who wants an identity or more than one in our society, is inevitably a computer system of zeros and ones, just as trivial and complex, as limited and determined as life_sharing exemplifies it as a model case. Life_sharing shows that there is nothing outside the computer matrix, which is why everything on the site is made transparent and publicly accessible. They show that even people, who have no idea about computers, are always already inside it, because its range, its coded universalism, is greater than any one person. Whereas psychoanalysis still presumed the universality of language, which conditions the subject, 0100101110101101.ORG provide us with the grotesque experience that you have to click your way in saying yes, in order to become a subject.
Identity as Wound
The compulsive, inescapable constructional character of identity, in this case national identity, is also the theme of Milica Tomic's web site i am milica tomic. Her faces looks at us openly and directly. In the background we see the same statement in various languages, almost meaninglessly strung together: I am Milica Tomic. Different white dots on her face and shoulders correspond to links, which respectively bring one of these statements forward. It then covers her face like a blindfold. If you continue to click, blood begins to flow out of these dots, and the wounds condense to form a red close-up. Later you see little symbols on her face, which reveal, when clicked, further identity-constructing statements: I am a pedophile, I am a Maoist, etc. It all seems to revolve entirely around saying and seeing, who one is.
With our perpetual clicking, on the one hand we "whip" these arbitrary sentences into her face and wound her. On the other hand, in a mechanical act of permanent repetition, we drive their contents to the point of absurdity. Tomic's status as a passive image is conspicuous, her iconicity, in which she offers sensitive parts of her body (dots) to be used. Sometimes the image diffuses, becomes an outline and shadow, and then seems to reappear infull. By clicking and "penetrating" into her, we become torturers, in a way, but all that we can draw out of her is paradoxical. The wounds that well up from the dots and the sentence that binds her eyes reveal that each of her performative acts of obsessively stating her identity is an act of misapprehension and injury. The articulation of a wish for national identity that we impose on her, forces her to identify with a national identity that she would rather not have, but she is not able to deny its subject-constituting mechanisms, as we see in her "bio." i am milica tomic also exists as a video piece, but where we identify with her there as a wounded person, we ourselves wound her in the web piece.
In Natalie Bookchin's Internet game The Intruder, it is also the case that the web user becomes a perpetrator against others. It tells a story by Jorge Luis Borges "in ten games." The story involves two brothers, Cristian and Eduardo, who live together. When Cristian falls in love with a woman and takes her home, Eduardo falls in love with her, too. Later they share her, but they constantly fight. Subsequently, they send her to a brothel, but visit her secretly. Peace and quiet do not return, until Cristian murders her. Mourning together over the woman they want to forget unites them even more, it says in the end, as "game over" is declared.
Bookchin reactualizes an archaic male scenario, in which one has to lend a hand. It seems as though the story would only continue, if one does what is needed: e.g. catching falling words, shooting down spaceships, shooting at one another in a duel, tossing the woman back and forth like a ball, playing football, placing a pail under her bottom and catching objects with it that fall out of her vagina, or pursuing her in the end with a helicopter and shooting her. The story is told by a woman's voice, and the text can also partly be followed in the form of captions or sentence fragments.
The violence that is inscribed into most computer games is here given a special density. This is because, on the one hand, it is directed against the woman, of whom we know nothing except that both men take her: "If you want her, use her." Yet on the other hand, also because it is an old story. Just as the woman becomes a toy ball in the hands of these men, we repeat the violence against her in the interactive game. If we did not, we would risk sacrificing the story. The competitive motto of Cristian and Eduardo - me or you - is repeated in the game.
Even Borges presented this story as a mythical one. Its origins are unclear, it was heard from a third party, it says in the beginning. The woman is the intruder, the poison, the wound, which disturbs the narcissist unity of the two men and therefore must be removed. Having the story told by a woman's voice with a South American timbre doubles her position of absence and simultaneous presence, yet at the same time, it also gives voice to the woman as a commentator on a game that only men play. The identity of the two brothers can only be a "homophile" one of blood relations, compulsively organized and negating the subject status of others. One repeats this identity game in playing. The Intruder is thus also a reflection on the aspect of computer games that constitutes identity and gender.
Linda Dement's CD-ROM work IN MY GASH, even more than in Tomic and Bookchin's pieces, concerns the identity of woman as a hole, as a gaping wound, and as a victim: "This is the story of Lying Ugly Mess Bitch," it says at the start. Through four wounds, a kind of vagina dentata, one enters into the inside of the woman. Digital body landscapes spread out here, describing violence, rape, power, drugs and death in ever new versions. By clicking through, one obtains fragments of her existence: cigarette butts emerge from a blood-red ground, reminiscent of penises, and one reads sentences like: "She goes to bad places", "fucks herself up with them", "violence has its rhythm." One can continue right or left, but everywhere one encounters new variants of brain masses, ulcers, open and stitched wounds, vaginas. If you click on a beautiful white flower, it reveals its interior, full of knives and syringes. There are various videos, one showing, for example, how a policeman brutally degrades her. A series of short video segments displays various types of suicide.
IN MY GASH is a dark, ominous scenario, in which there are only victims and perpetrators, and one is oneself a kind of voyeur, who has to click on veiled secrets and watch horrific things. What makes the whole piece all the stranger, is that it seems so artificial. Even though the story is completely non-digital, the uncannily enlarged and constantly transforming digital landscapes and masses of flesh evoke a cruelly biomorphous techno-dystopia. Linda Dement's cyborg world has nothing to do with a pleasurable, ironic myth, as was propagated following Donna Haraway. In light of so much premature euphoria, it is not a bad strategy to show in and with the aesthetics of new technologies that victim-perpetrator constellations continue to exist in reality and, most of all, mentally. For Dement's "reduction" to this kind of a stereotype social and gender drama can also serve to mobilize repressed and non-conformist feelings.
The CD-ROM CYBERFLESH GIRLMONSTER (1995), in which Dement scanned in skin from different women and transformed it into little monsters, also deals with violence, especially the components of sex and desire. Unlike IN MY GASH, though, the power relationships are represented more complexly, and a certain irony results in a change of perspectives.
Dystopia and Pseudo-Utopia
Jane Prophet's CD-ROM the internal organs of a cyborg also deals with gender-specific and social power relationships. The CD-ROM plays two stories in the first person in parallel. The first story involves a woman, who has been taking part in biotechnological experiments since her childhood. Someone shoots her, and in the hospital they find that she has no proper medical insurance and let her die. Her heart is taken for organ transplantations. This story plays in the upper sector. In the lower sector of the CD, you can read the story of a successful businessman, who has a heart attack. A heart transplantation is done in the hospital, and he survives. Yet he has the feeling that he has ended up in a different life. In the upper sector, we read that the woman had an implantation done, which loaded her personality into her heart when she died.
This story is laid out like a photo novel, where one can read the two stories simultaneously or one after another. The scenario is like one from a cyberpunk novel: a dystopian, two-class high-tech society based on the exploitation of the poor. The crux of this story is that the supposed victim is the secret victor. She is ultimately able to profit from these biotech experiments, in which she has been a guinea pig. What remains open is how she will deal with the fact that she is now living in a strange, male body, how she will make it her own, how she will identify with it. These questions, which already occupy many people who have to go through transplantations, do not interest Prophet. Her work deals more with the disturbing attitudes produced by a society that does not use high-tech possibilities for the good of all. She shows that new technologies are not only utilized differently in a capitalist society, but also create different identities. The young woman, for example, was already subjected to these tests as a child, without having a choice. Her presumed foresight in investing in black market implants as an escape from her controlled situation, has possibly made her even more dependent (the murderer is a trader). If we read the story like this, namely not as the success story of an outcast, then she was not able to transform biotech and capitalist interests for her own freedom. She merely met the end that she was inevitably headed for from the beginning. Then her fate of having to identify with someone else's body is simply the next logical step in an unfree cyborg life, which she was able to seize as an opportunity.
In the CD-ROM her.space, Mare Tralla ironically deconstructs her socialization as a woman in a communist country, in which feminism was apparently not necessary, because it was purported to be the realization of utopia. Her.space refers, on the one hand, to the traditional role of woman in the family and work, but on the other hand, it also evokes the pink space she dreamed of longingly as a little girl. The Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana was one of her childhood heroines: "She was sent to space to see if ... However, this is a bad joke: to see if a woman can get pregnant in space. Truly, I didn't know that this was her mission. ... I do remember myself looking at space and thinking: What would it be like to be Svetlana? In space."
Despite the discriminatory interests that Svetlana ultimately served, the girl was able to interpret her representation as a cosmonaut as a pioneering act and take it for her own disposal. Tralla develops paradoxes of identity formation like this again and again. She impressively demonstrates that there were many strong types of women in communism, who articulately served as identification models, but these women were ultimately not a factor of authority. In the section Heroines of Socialist Labor, an award that was actually given, various heroines of this type are named and displayed with a picture that you can click into: milkmaids, tractor drivers, all of them weighing at least 120 kg in Tralla's imagination: "We love tractors. Tractors are our dream and our reality."
Tralla prefaces the beginning of this section with a written introduction briefly summarizing the gender situation in Estonia. After 1991, women were permitted to devote themselves to the household again, they no longer had to be heroines: "Now she is a Barbie doll," "she has been raped by consumer ideology," it was said. "She doesn't want to be a Barbie doll, she becomes a feminist." Yet the quintessence remains simple: "After all, it's good to have tampons and computers and cyberspace! Maybe she will become happier!" Every system claims to make people happier, and each one has its own promise for this and produces system immanence. There is no solution for this aporia, one can only turn it into amusing episodes and enjoy the incompatibility, as the CD delightfully illustrates. At one point, for instance, one shoots a lipstick between the legs of a Barbie doll and is rewarded: "Congratulations! You have become pregnant." Another time, one organizes a Kalishnikov. The interactivity of her.space acts as though feminine socialization were an amusing game that one could click into and join in at will, until one has had enough and wants to do something else. Since the exits are not always very clearly marked, though, sometimes you suddenly get stuck too long in something and really get tired of it. Aesthetically, the suggestion of something hand-painted with lots of pink obviously contradicts the technology of the medium. The formation of female identity seems to be an arbitrary, system-dependent line-up of various, significant episodes, which have common structures despite their differences. Her.space. What does it mean to create a space for oneself within these revolving determinants? What can this space be like? Probably only paradoxical ... for the CD makes it clear that every identity is a sequence of ideological constructions, from which there is no escape. Except irony.
Connected to the World
The extent to which the World Wide Web is a "technology of gender" (Teresa de Lauretis) and ethnicity, is entertainingly presented by Prema Murthy with her Internet project Bindi Girl. The work is arranged like one of the many amateur porno sites on the net: "Hello, my name is Bindi," it says in the "bio", illustrated with a peep photo of the dark-skinned Asian artist, although there is no indication that she is the one portrayed. The site mixes porno pictures of South Asian women with sentences from the Kamasutra about courtesans: the ways of enjoyment, remaining silent, doing everything, not acting ... You can see Bindi Girl live, read an off-putting, revealing chat with an old loser, or take a look at Bindi's harem, which is furnished with pictures from the Internet. The issue is the sell-out of exotic women on the net and consequently that the "harems" have kept pace with the Internet, and that the net has not automatically led to the promised freedom that was dreamed of, even though it often had - like the Kamasutra texts - a magical, glorifying tone. Murthy's site is not only an example of commercialization on the net and the growing significance of trafficking with women from South-East Asia, but also that the Internet became a central place, where images (of women) have resulted in thoroughly concrete reality effects, and where communication serves stereotype intentions of exploitation.
The Internet as a place that emphatically suggests global networking and an expansion of perception is also the theme of Lynn Hershman's Tillie, the telerobotic doll and CybeRoberta. For each of these projects, Hershman constructed dolls (Tillie and CybeRoberta), who take part in exhibitions and transmit their perspectives to the net. As a net user, you can turn Tillie's head by clicking in her eyes. The doll may be seen as an allusion to the many female androids that characterize our history, and they make it clear that human-machine connections have always been/are still thought of in gender-specific terms. Tillie is the virtual female object, that can be penetrated, moved and instrumentalized, and then even awards the user for doing so: "Tillie's eyes can extend YOUR vision." Later: "By looking through Tillie's eyes, you've become ... a cyborg!" Consequently, Tillie's view affects one's own identity. You start to perceive reality the way she does. Yet this reality is one that is entirely determined by new technologies: "If she does not react quickly, it may not be her fault ... your connection may be sluggish." Possible disappointments and reproaches about the obvious limitations of the images are thus rejected a priori and declared to be one's own (technical) limitations. However, statements like this repeatedly conceal the fact that Tillie's origins are as technical as one's own equipment at home. Tillie's explicit virtuality ("She is virtual, you are real.") is thus naturalized, "humanized" and "feminized." Sentences like "life is a moving target," on the other hand, naturalize a universalizing technologization.
Lynn Hershman's Tillie, the telerobotic doll has completely mastered the ideological promotional language of new media and plays it ironically. Tillie's feminine doll identity is intended to sweeten ideological language and make it appear harmless: technology in a feminine form appears innocuous and nice.
Femininity as a Suggestion
The virtual Channels of the group "love28" (Basicray and friends) manifest themselves in a completely feminine form, but one that is fluid, polyvocal, and auratically obscured and transformed. Love28 uses the net as a site of streaming media and dispenses with any form of interactivity. The net is the place, where total television will be possible in the future, netTV as a bio-active drug, television that drones out our senses, brains and bodies with sensual, psycho-effective images. Hikaru is the name of the virtual protagonist of their virtual television; Channels is the broadcast that love28 has conceived for the exhibition. This work has sampled ten different identities and compressed them into the net identity Hikaru. The individual identities can no longer be clearly distinguished, you only see that Hikaru morphs into slightly different faces over the course of the program, although she consistently retains her female form. Occasionally, when a new identity enters, her face is briefly effaced or overexposed. In the end, she vanishes; the voices can still be heard, but only the Basicray logo can still be seen: an accumulation of cryptical data.
Hikaru is a data set full of seductive images, her identity is fabricated and highly artificial. She speaks dreamy, hypnotic sentences strung together, which may be interpreted as dream sequences or drug trips. They make no sense, but they convey atmospheres, the conditions of various "I's", who see one another in different places: "Running in a field in the countryside, they came down to me, I actually was little", or "I climbed the ladder to go back to the surface I was like i keep sinking and i saw this laser go down", etc. Much of it revolves around metaphors of the fluid; there is talk of liquids, light, being in the water, diving, coming to the surface, swimming, etc. An aesthetic of permanent transformation and diffusion, of becoming the other, being the other, being many, is produced using images, words and sounds. So much is clear: total cyborg immersion will not be dreadful or demonic, but rather pure bliss, hypnotic sleep, eternal flowing, the welcome death of subjectivity.
What does it mean that virtual hypnosis lulls us to sleep in a female form? What does it mean that ten male and female identities are found in one female identity? Will the future be female? It is conspicuous that transgressive, mediatory and fluid moments are central in many works. Metaphors like this suggest characteristics that could be summarized as "feminine." 7 Sadie Plant's 8 theory that women are particularly predestined for cyberspace, because they have been historically drilled to weave nets (as craftswomen, telephone operators, or as communication managers in the information age) is only one example for this discourse. Another could be to point out that masquerade and role-playing, the bases of life on the net, have traditionally been ascribed to women. Last but not least, the fact that the Internet, unlike film, television and video, is a virtual place that one enters and inhabits, consequently making it a refuge for immaterial bodies, connotes femininity, specifically in the sense that "body" frequently marks femininity.
This type of virtual, immaterial, paradoxical and not specifically articulated femininity may well be a new phenomenon. However, it would be too extensive to go into that in more detail here. 9 It should be noted, though, that female identity is flourishing in the virtual age. In Closed Reality - Embryo, for example, not only are more of the visitors women than men, or at least say they are women, they also make far more female babies than male.
It is conspicuous that net and CD-ROM works dealing with the topic of identity are more often made by women than by men. For this reason, it is not a coincidence that the majority of participants in this selection that I have made for Double Life are female and that their issues revolve largely around female identity. New media, like video in the seventies, have challenged many female artists to take action. The openness of the medium suggests networking outside the traditional art scene occupied by men and attempting new forms of working. Net art is supported by the same emancipatory tendency that supported art in the seventies and encouraged women, most of all, to become pioneers of a new medium. Media art demands complex new working situations, in which many participants are involved, in which much money has to be found, and in which the production times are relatively long. The euphoria and goldrush atmosphere are probably over, but not the profound wish to reflect on and transform the construction of our world, bodies, genders and identities in and with the new media.
1 An avatar is the virtual representative self that one has on the net, in order to be present at all. Symbolic icons are often used to represent it intelligibly. A veritable avatar culture has developed in the meantime, which indicates that the double on the net represents an important signifier.
2Braidotti, Rosi: Nomadic Subjects. Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. Columbia University Press, New York 1994
3 Manovich, Lev, in: Cosic, Vuc: Contemporary Ascii, Ljubljana 2000 (catalogue, 2nd Edition)
4 MOO and MUD: A MOO is a so-called object-oriented MUD, which stands for Multi User Dimension (or Dungeon). This is a database that allows net users to feel that they are together with others in a virtual space. In fact, though, all the impressions are communicated through language. See Julian Dibbel, who wrote a notable book about his experiences with LambdaMOO: Dibbell, Julian: My Tiny Life. Crime and Passion in a Virtual World. New York 1998, p. 14.
5 The media theorist Margaret Morse says being recognized by another is a fundamental human need in communication: "There is a human need for and pleasure in being recognized as a partner in discourse, even when the relation is based on a simulation that is mediated by or exchanged with machines." Margaret Morse
, Virtualities. Television, Media Art and Cyberculture
, University of Indiana Press, Bloomington 1998, p. 14.
6 N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman. Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1999, p. 6.
7The term feminine here denotes a symbolic, arbitrary construction, and not the realities of being a woman.
8 Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones. Digital Women + the New Technoculture, Doubleday, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland 1997.
9 My dissertation, on which I am currently working, addresses this topic, among others.