A Conversation with Nancy Paterson

on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire
October 1996

Nancy Paterson's works frequently illuminate the relationships of women and technology, particularly those that are socially manufactured through mass media and advertising. Her interactive works are usually highly participatory in a physical sense, requiring direct and conscious action on the part of the particpant to experience the installation. For example, her 1991 installation, Bicycle TV, required one to actually ride an excercise bike to "see" the work - among other things, a nice challenge to the "don't touch the art" mentality in many art exhibition spaces.

You may wish to take a look at Nancy's website -

http://www.bccc.com/nancy/nancy.html

The site includes a current bio, and documentation of a number of Nancy's installations; including a VRML version of her 1996 installation THE MEADOW.

- Anna Couey

Nancy Paterson is a Toronto based electronic media artist working primarily in the field of interactive media installations. She is currently Associate Artist at the Bell Centre for Creative Communications in Toronto. She is also an Instructor at the Ontario College of Art & Design, and Facilities Manager at Charles Street Video in Toronto.

The SIGGRAPH 96 Art Show 'The Bridge' in New Orleans (Aug. 1996) included the premiere exhibition of an interactive installation titled THE MEADOW. In this installation the viewer is surrounded by four large colour monitors. Displayed on each monitor is real-time, full motion video of a different view - the four edges or corners of a meadow as seen from a central vantage point. It is winter in the meadow, then suddenly the season shifts. The views remain the same, but a certain motion or sequence of movements has triggered a transformation. Suddenly it is spring. The viewer discovers, as they move within the installation space, how to trigger these changes (slow dissolves between seasons) and also trigger numerous special effects such as a child whispering on their right, being answered by another child whispering on their left.

THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN, selected for exhibition at ARS ELECTRONICA in Linz, Austria (Sept. 1996) is a custom designed casino slot machine. In imitation of the action of a slot machine, video displayed on the three LCD's on the face of the machine display scrolling video imagery when the viewer pulls the slot machine arm. The 'jackpot' image is a buddhist motif - numerous combinations of a woman's face - with hands covering her eyes, ears or mouth (See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil).

In a new installation titled STOCK MARKET SKIRT, the hemline of a woman's dress (displayed on a dressmaker's mannequin or 'judy') is controlled through a system of cables, pulley and motors which raise or lower the skirt's hemline. The computer analyzes and compares the rising and falling values of stocks and she is currently researching having the skirt respond to online data. Postmodern culture seems to be shaped and driven by three key components: capitalism, technology and narcissism. STOCK MARKET SKIRT reveals how fashion reconciles these elements of postmodern culture.

Other recent exhibitions include NET@WORKS at the Centro Nacional de las Artes, Mexico City (October 1995), the INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRONIC ART, Montreal Canada (Sept. 1995), and THE PROCESSING OF PERCEPTION at the Wexner/King Centre/COSI, Columbus, Ohio (April 1995), 'Machine Culture' at SIGGRAPH 93 in Anaheim, California, the THIRD INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRONIC ART in Sydney, Australia (Nov. 1992), the Canada Pavilion at EXPO 92 in Seville Spain, and the EUROPEAN MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL in Osnabruk, Germany (September 1990).

A paper titled 'Cyberfeminism' which she presented at ISEA in Montreal is available at:

gopher://echonyc.com/00/Cul/Cyber/paterson

- Nancy Paterson


Anna Couey

Welcome, Nancy! Really enjoyed seeing the chronology of works on your website. I had forgotten that Hair Salon TV was not an interactive installation - the image of the salon chairs with the tv screens under the hair dryers has stayed so strongly in my mind! What led you to start making interactive installations?

Judy Malloy

Welcome Nancy. I have followed your work for many years and am really looking forward to tthis opportunity to talk to you!

Nancy Paterson

Anna/Judy,
Glad to be here!
Anna, I'm tempted to call it a natural progression (the development of my work as increasingly interactive) but the language gets a little tricky here - what is 'natural' about new electronic technology, after all?
My main focus, whether the work I've been doing has been interactive or not, is on the issues which I choose to address - incorporating interactivity has proven a most effective way to address issues dealing with women/technology...

Nancy Paterson

I suppose what I'm trying to describe is my increasing awareness of interactivity as an essential element of new electronic media art. I don't necessarily agree with the perception that interactivity is the antithesis of a passive culture which has developed out of new electronic technologies. I think we've moved past that very quickly. 'Surfing' the web, for example (although it can be a lot like surfing on concrete at times) clearly relies on an interest in intraction. A lot like playing 'Jeopardy,' it's true, a wealth of superficial information and trivia interspersed with some really valuable insights and opportunities for communication...but at whatever level people are accessing the web, they are moving out of their armchairs. People are tired of feeling manipulated - by technology, religion, politics - maybe it's the approaching millenium - maybe it's the legacy of post-modernism. My work (I hope) is accessible on several levels. For some people THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN is a game - and they can't quite get past the idea of needing to win. For others there is the buddhist motif of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' - and I hope this work speaks to people (perhaps on a subconscious level) about gambling and spirituality - and how they meet and merge in the culture of new electronic technologies. The use of the slot machine as the interface may seem very straightforward - but on the other hand it has been described as a very powerful means of engagement. At SIGGRAPH where I premiered THE MEADOW, is was interesting to notice how people moved through this interactive installation. What they got out of it was what they put into it. For some people it was enough for them to get a sense of how they could trigger the changing of the seasons. Others who were a little more patient experienced a very different installation. Just a few thoughts on 'interactivity' - essentially, though, what I'm interested in exploring is the changing role of new electronic technologies - particularly with regard to women, and specifically feminism.

Judy Malloy

> My main focus, whether the work I've been doing has been
> interactive or not, is on the issues which I choose to address
> - incorporating interactivity has proven a most effective way
> to address issues dealing with women/technology...

Yes, these are issues you have consistently dealt with in a wide range of interesting and explorative ways. Do you have any ideas about why interactivity (and/or electronic media) is so effective in dealing with women/technology?

> At SIGGRAPH where I premiered THE MEADOW, is was interesting to
> notice how people moved through this interactive installation.
> What they got out of it was what they put into it.

Elsewhere in this conference (Item 4) we have been discussing ways of testing interactive art and the observation was made that the idea of "testing" would be very alien to many visual artists who work in more traditional media. Being able to observe how people interact with one's work in an installation situation is of great interest. I am often very surprised because my ways of interacting with my work, what I had envisioned are not always the ways others choose.

Do you have any thoughts about this? Do you sometimes change your works after observing how they work in installation situations.

Anna Couey

Nancy, I'm also interested in the work you've done on the relationship of feminism and technology. Several of your earlier works incorporate the imagery of 1950s technology and women. How would you describe the relationship between women and technology in the 1950s? & how has it changed over time?

Nancy Paterson

Anna, you referred to a couple of early installations that I did - HAIR SALON TV, WRINGER/WASHER TV - video installations which were not interactive - but which were nevertheless very satisfying (for myself) in terms of addressing feminist issues. For example, HAIR SALON TV deals with the changing and varied relationships between women and technology - video switching on three monitors set under the helmets of three 1950's hairstyling chairs - between the themes of women and domestic technology (housework, fashion), technology and the workforce/workplace and the role of women in science/technology. I recently added another installation to this series - which is very interactive, in fact - EX(OR)CISER. The interface for this installation is a vibrating belt machine which the viewer may step into, strap the belt around their hips, flipping the switch to activate the vibrator. The audio (which runs continuously) is an instructional narrative for learning the rumba (the dance). Switching the machine on activates video, a montage of exercise programs, imagery of men and women admiring each other (but primarily themselves!) and footage of the hourglass shape of the hyperbolic cooling towers A lot of women have internalized the passivity which is taught with respect to new electronic technologies, and this attitude has become virtually pathological. If it was imperative, in the 1950's, that women gain some understanding of how and why new technologies emerge, are promoted (or not promoted) and succeed or fail, and their subsequent effect on women's lives - then I don't know what to call it now! If one thinks technology is totally out of control - then what is one doing about it? On the other hand, I am somewhat more ambivalent about the success of my installation BICYCLE TV. Coming after these earlier video installations, BICYCLE TV represented a new direction for me, and one which I was never completely comfortable with. Although critics have tried, there is not much 'content' in this installation to sink your teeth into. Although it was not designed exclusively as a means of showcasing interactive laserdisc technology, it served that purpose very well. I should explain that I had reached a point in my career at which I felt it was essential to produce an installation which was a prime example of 'interaction' in order to be included in the international symposiums and festivals which comprise the 'circuit' of the electronic art world, that my male colleagues were being invited to. I expected BICYCLE TV to earn me a place in these exhibitions. I produced this work as an independent artist - and it was thrown into competition (or comparison) with projects like ASPEN, done at M.I.T. or Jeffrey Shaw's Legible City which also utilizes a bicycle interface. Needless to say, despite the fact that there was a shortage of qualified women to include in these types of exhibitions in the late 80's, early 90's - BICYCLE TV was never exhibited in Europe. Its international premiere was at the THIRD INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRONIC ART in Sydney, Australia (a very long way from home). Apparently BICYCLE TV also got a lot of attention in Japan, and was featured in a prominent Inter-Communication Centre publication on a facing page to Legible City (suggesting that it was an important work for the time that it was constructed). Obviously, there are a myriad of subtle forces at play in the politics of the electronic art world - and I don't begin to kid myself that I've figured them all out yet.
Judy, I liked your observation that interactive installations allow the artist the possibility of testing and reformulating their work. It is certainly much easier to make adjustments to an artwork that is not carved in stone, as it were. On the other hand, what I consider to be a less positive aspect of this opportunity for adjusting the work, is that a number of electronic media artists wil maintain the interface and system that they've developed, change the imagery slightly, for example, and call it a new work. And it's hard to fault them - because a lot of time, energy and resources are invested in the development of a new electronic media work. And, you can usually fool a lot of curators and people, because new media technology is hard to educate oneself about.
In designing THE MEADOW I started out with an idea of how I expected the installation to work - how I expected people would interact with it. I immersed myself in the project, and when I emerged I looked at it objectively one last time. It wasn't publicly exhibited until I was satisfied that I'd achieved what I had set out to do. I've seen too many interactive installations (in important exhibitions!) with 'out of order' signs on them - or artists standing around with screwdrivers, explaining how their installations are supposed to work... In fact, changing your work to suit an audience is always a matter of changing it to sut the last audience or viewer. There's really not much point.
In my more recent works, THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN and THE MEADOW, I feel I've achieved a certain balance. I've made a decision that content (what I want to say) must not be compromised by producing work which might appeal to curators and viewers who are always looking for something new. I also feel that I have reached a point where I can 'return' to work which I consider to be feminist. I feel very strongly that THE MEADOW is a 'cyberfeminist' mediawork. Exhibiting it at SIGGRAPH in New Orleans was a terrific opportunity - I had the chance to show it to a lot of important people, including Laurie Anderson and Brenda Laurel - who seemed to like it very much!

Judy Malloy

> I should explain that I had reached a point
> in my career at which I felt it was essential to produce an
> installation which was a prime example of 'interaction' in
> order to be included in the international symposiums and
> festivals which comprise the 'circuit' of the electronic art

Ahh. This is a reoccurring subject of discussion for many of us. The validity of installationizing electronic art was actually somewhat hotly debated in the course of Lucia Grossberger's interview. The focus on "big art" leaves those of us who work with disc-based artworks with the choice of making something "big" around our work if we wish to be included in Ars ELectronica or SIGGRAPH. ISEA has traditionally been more welcoming towards work of depth that is not on a large scale. But, on the whole, the art work exhibited at ISEA this year seemed regrettably focused on a few big things, from what I've read. Do I recall that you were there? What was your impression of the actual art exhibited?

However, it seems to me that your work can fit naturally into the installation category because it was an integral part of your roots. BICYCLE TV (perhaps you would be willing to post a brief description for those who aren't familiar with this work) seemed to me to be a simple but very elegant conception. I also particualry like your new stock market skirt piece. It too uses a deceptively simple, powerful concept. Can you talk a little more about this piece? I'm particularly interested in the Internet component.

>In fact, changing your work to suit an audience is always a matter
>of changing it to suit the last audience or viewer. There's
>really not much point.

For me the changing is within the overall framework of how I want a user to interact with my work. So when I change an interface as a result of audience observation, it is because viewers are not experiencing the work as I want them to experience it. So, it is really not that I am trying to suit the audience but rather that the audience is "using" the work in a way that is limiting - ie they are only seeing a small part of it or they are constantly following the same channels. etc.

But there might be times when I would observe what was happening and still stick to my original interface. Some kind of key, for instance would certainly make Brown House Kitchen more approachable, but the act of providing this key would be contrary to the idea of stumbling into the environment and exploring it naturally that was at the heart of my vision for this work. So, I'm not providing the key even tho it means most readers won't get very far into the work.

Additionally I think that we are talking about very different kinds of work. Electronic art has definitely come of age and is no longer one thing or another!

re >the politics of electronic art< , yeah, stuff like Roger Malina being the head of the jury for Interactive art at Ars Electronica for 4 or 5 years in a row. This is nothing personal against Roger whose vision has been important in giving electronic art work validity. But he isn't very interested in content, complexity, subtility or in contemporary art world concerns and tends to favor men who do large scale work, what I call push-me-pull you interactivity with lots of (:-)) hardware.

Meanwhile, the museums are entering the field and institutionalizing a very static and formal kind of electronic art. I've just been reading the catalog for the Mediascape show at the Guggenheim. With the exception of Jeffrey Shaw, the works are mainly lots of monitors video. I like multiple monitor video installation but it is a very narrow segment of what is happening in the art/tech field. Perhaps we need to think about a new international electronic art forum/show.

Anna Couey

(I got email from Nancy that she's out of town until Oct 20. She may be able to log in from where she is, but if we don't hear from her for a bit, don't worry, she'll be back)

Nancy, in Salon TV the feminist content is very explicit as a critique of technology enforcing the role of women as housewives. With the Meadow (I don't have a vrml browser on this machine yet), the feminist content is much less obvious - what do you mean by cyberfeminism?

Your honesty about the pressure you felt to create Bicycle TV is refreshing. Once that work was presented at TISEA, and contextualized with Jeffrey Shaw's work & the project from MIT, did it make the rest of your work -- that in which the content dictates the form -- acceptable in e-art circles? Or do you think that as soon as you make a work that doesn't have the correct quotient of cutting edge technical investigation, that you'll be unacceptable to the scene? Or do you think the world of electronic art festivals has become more responsive to your content?

I've been struggling with this one, because I'm much more interested in social applications of interactive communications technologies as organic sculpture than I am about cutting edge technical advance. And since social change happens more slowly than technical change, there is a dislocation between how I want my work to function, and the e-art circuit -- partly in terms of exhibition issues, but partly in terms of, is this the best place for the work.

I wrote the above offline..your response reminded me Judy, that I may be unfairly oversimplifying the tech imperative and lumping SIGGRAPH with ISEA with etc. But what has seemed to happen, in my experience is that getting in to one gets you into the other (or vice versa). When Lucia & I organized the Matrix: Women Networking show for SIGGRAPH, one attendee was very dismayed that we had deigned to use street level technology rather than cutting edge tech. The idea that we purposefully chose currently available technology was not something he was willing to understand. Museums that are exhibiting electronic art also seem to focus on technology -- I suppose it's electronic formalism.

Timothy Collins

Electronic formalism or control? (maybe there is no difference) It seems to me that as long as the creative content-producers focus on the cutting edge then the herd has to follow.

......In a lot of ways aren't these electronic-fests simply industry funded demo-ops. And the artists with the most technology......wins?

------

I'd love to hear cyber-feminism defined in the context of this conference. Particularly in the context of Anna's intersts in "social applications of interactive technologies".

Another question: Where are the hotbeds of socialy motivated technology research these days?

Fred Truck

Judy is raising very important issues--installations and disk based work in particular. I think museums are comfortable with electronic art as installations because they have been doing installations for some time, and their patrons are familiar with the form. Everyone in museums that I have given disks to always asks the same thing--how do I show this?

Nancy Paterson

Judy et.al.,

I should start by reminding everyone that detailed descriptions of my mediaworks are available on my website (It is a very quick look because all the graphics are in b&w and load up really fast) - www.bccc.com/nancy/nancy.html

I wasn't at ISEA this year - too much, too close to both SIGGRAPH and ARS ELECTRONICA, where I was exhibiting. But I did hear that ISEA this year seemed focused on a 'few big things.' DEAF and R96 were taking place at the same time - and could be similarly characterized. ISEA 95 in Montreal, on the other hand, was more balanced in terms of the type of work shown and the discourse that it generated. They had a huge selection of artists exhibiting and did not focus on a few big things. I suppose it changes from year to year - and depending on who the organizers are, what the budget is, etc. (And, of course, what their personal/collective aesthetic is).

Nancy Paterson

Anna,

Since both you and Timothy referred to 'cyberfeminism' I'd like to address that next. There is a link on my website to an essay on ECHO by the title of 'Cyberfeminism' (I'd love to have feedback on the whole thing) - but my thoughts can basically be summarized by the idea that 'cyberfemmes are everywhere, but cyberfeminists are few and far between.' It would be a mistake to assume that women using technology are somehow automatically or necessarily empowered by technology, that they understand what they are doing in the context of the evolving relationship between women and high-tech. Cyberfeminism is very much an emerging philosophy, characterized (in my opinion) by a focus on cultural diversity, trans-gender politics and recognition of the ubiquity of technology.

I describe THE MEADOW as cyberfeminist because I made a deliberate effort to incorporate the sensibility of discovery, intuition, and wonder into this installation, in how the interactivity is manifested, and the use of the childrens' voices. The text that I have them reciting - references to the seasons (of course) but also the more subtle passages - 'A generation comes, and a generation goes, but the earth remains forever.' - their laughter and joy - I hope - points towards a future in which technology will no longer be so obstinately and dangerously opposed to nature and things natural.

Electronic formalism is exactly what is happening in the electronic art world, Timothy. I commented at ARS, when a panel was discussing the role of WIRED magazine and its relationship to art/artists - that "As a cyberfeminist I can only suggest to you that WIRED is the Penthouse of the electronic art world" - and what I mean is that exactly. We have, in our hands, some very powerful and quite fascinating tools - let's not do exactly what they expect of us - let's use them differently, let's show them differently. That hasn't happened so far. Electronic media artists are sacrificing their aesthetic credibility and integrity for the occasional carrots that traditional venues hold out. Who wouldn't like to show at the Guggenheim?

Nancy Paterson

Timothy, your point about industry-funded demo ops is also very well taken. But, I don't think the artists are exclusively to blame. Corporate sponsorship, combined with the success of what I call the 'wow' factor - and the fact that many artists are under the pressure of educational and research institutions and facilities with which they are affiliated - does influence what kind of art they are inclined to make. Adrian Piper's concept of meta-art - looking at who makes art and under what conditions - makes this point also.

The social applications of interactive technology which you mentioned, Anna, have particular implications for cyberfeminism. Because womens' experiences have traditionally been undermined and invalidated, we have learned to live in freefall (sometimes like Alice down the rabbit-hole). The non-linearity of interactive media suits us perfectly.

Empowerment through new media is really a by-product of the rapid technological growth (for feminists) - if you can distance yourself from the white, western history of technology - and that has pretty much been done for us...

Judy Malloy

(Nancy, as an aside, I know that the descriptions of your works are on your website but we do have folks here on Arts Wire who only have text- based access and in addtion I was hoping to get some context within this discussion but when it goes on our web site, we can link directly to your descriptions so it is no big deal.)

>We have, in our hands, some very powerful and quite fascinating tools -
>let's not do exactly what they expect of us - let's use them
>differently, let's show them differently. That hasn't happened so far.

I definately agree with the first part of this statement but "That hasn't happened so far" is way off base and it is also what disturbs me about your cyberfeminism paper.

The fact is that women were at the forefront of multimedia and interactive art. We are already doing this and were pioneers in this field. Many women. You were certainly one of them! I think it is very important to acknowledge this. Otherwise we are detracting from the work of our sisters.

I've just been putting together a possible list for the women art and technology book. I'f like to call it Frontiers in Multimedia and than list all the women's names on the cover. Here's what the tentative contents looks like:

FRONTIERS IN MULTIMEDIA

FROM FILM AND VIDEO TO INTERACTIVE FILM AND VIDEO

Steina Vasulka
My love affair with Art: Video and Installation Work

Lynn Hershman (WOW)
The Electronic Diary

Beryl Korot
Language as Still Life: From Video to Painting

Nancy Paterson
Hair Salon TV: A computer-controlled video installation

Sarah Roberts (WOW)
Early Programming: AN interactive installation

Madelein Hoyskas (sp?) (a WOW that I can't remember the details for- dutch video installation)

Deborah Whitman

Valerie Soe (WOW)
Diversity

Abbe Don
We Make Memories

MUSIC AND SOUND

Pauline Oliveros
Acoustic and Virtual Spaced as A Dynamic Element of Music

Frances Dyson
Radio Art

Andrea McCartney
Inventing Images: Constructing and Contesting Gender in Thinking About Electroacoustic Music (has lots of Canadians)

THE BODY

Carolee Schneemann
The Blood Link: Fresh Blood- A Dream Morphology and Venus Vectors

Lutz Bacher (WOW)
Huge Uterus

Joyce Cutler Shaw
The Anatomy Lesson: The Body, Technology and Empathy
(Leonardo 27:1( pp 29-39), 1994

Nancy Paterson (WOW)
Wringer/Washer TV

INTERACTIVE INSTALLATION

Lynn Hershman
Touch-Sensitivity and Other Forms of Subversion: Interactive Artwork

Sonya Rapoport
Process(ing) Interactive Art: Using people as Paint, Computer as Brush and Installation Site as Canvas

Jill Scott (abstract)
Machine Dreams

Christian Geoffrey (sp? WOW -don't have the details)
Geo-Genetic

Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomdaki
The Feminine, the Hermaphrodite, the Angel: Gender mutation and dream cosmogonies on a multimedia Projection and Installation Practice

NATURE/ENVIRONMENT

Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison (the latter is our "token man" :-))
Shifting Positions Towards the Earth: Art and Environmental Awareness

Aviva Rahmani
Ghost Nets: The Medicine Wheel Garden

Mary Jean Kenton (WOW)
Engineers' Notebooks: The Geometry of Color

Bonnie Sherk
The Creation of a Living Library: an international Network of INteractive LIfe Frames

Reiko Goto (WOW)
Nezumi (Rat)

INFORMATION ART

Nancy Buchanan
Works and Networks: Information Art and the Use of Low-end Electronics of Individual and Community Projects

Judy Malloy
OK Research, OK Genetic Engineering, Bad Information: Information Art Describes Technology

COMPUTER GRAPHICS AND ANIMATION

Sonya Rapoport (WOW)
From Osiris to Sinai

Lillian F. Schwartz
The Staging of Leonardo's Last Supper: A Computer-Based Exploration of its Perspective

Jill Scott (WOW)
Paradise Tossed

Marilyn Waligore
Artist-Sorceress: Photography and Digital Metamorphosis

INTERACTIVE ART DISKS AND CD-ROM'S

Lucia Grossberger-Morales
Sangre Boliviana (WOW need text I think it was 27(4))

Carolyn Guyer
Quibbling: A Hyperfiction

Ann Powers
North Water World, A Virtual Reality Environment (WOW - dont'have details think it was 27(4))

Christine Tamblyn
She Loves it, she loves it not: Women and Technology, an Interactive CD- ROM

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Jennifer Hall
Netdrama: An Online Environmental Scheme

Judy Malloy
Uncle Roger, an online Narrabase

Anna Couey (WOW)
Art Communication Systems

Karen O'Rourke
Paris Reseau: Paris Network

Fred Truck

Pretty comprehensive list, Judy.

Judy Malloy

I should note that (as evidenced for the proposed selections for this book) that I have a predjudice for art over theory am am always inclined to value works of art over theory.

Nancy Paterson

Judy,

I'd like to specially encourage anyone using Lynx to visit my website - the text descriptions of my mediaworks are pretty thorough - the b/w graphics, vrml model, are there for those who have the time...

Regarding your disagreement with my statement that "We have, in our hands, some very powerful and quite fascinating tools - let's not do exactly what they expect of us - let's use them differently, let's show them differently. That hasn't happened so far." I am referring here to the formalism which is increasingly dominating the electronic art world - as I conclude with the statement that "Electronic media artists are sacrificing their aesthetic credibility and integrity for the occasional carrots that traditional venues hold out." I'm not referring to the use of new media by feminists here - I am certainly aware of the accomplishments of women who have been active in these fields from the start. I would say, however, that these women have not received the recognition they deserved, at the time that they were producing some very innovative and important work. Revised versions of art history which finally acknowledge the contributions of these women are no substitute for being included and being recognized the first time around.

Until feminist art critics/curators take an active role in promoting women working with new media - within the field of electronic media art rather than exclusively in the context of feminist art - we will be biting our tongues (or not) at events such as ARS ELECTRONICA where we are passed over for awards, or even basic exhibition opportunities. (The only woman on stage at the prestigious awards at ARS this year was handing out statues and cheques to the male artists).

As a woman and a feminist working in the field of new electronic media art, I am aware that most of my colleagues (and I include myself in this group) find ourselves working without the pressure of success and the resulting intellectual and aesthetic discourse produced by being engaged by (all of) ones peers.

As the millenium approaches we are experiencing the collapse of linear history (I've compiled a substantial list of recent books with titles like "The End of History' - 'The End of Capitalism' - 'The Death of Culture.' Certainly, everyone seems very eager to either wind things up or throw ideologies open to re-interpretation. To this end, Hypertext will come into its proper recognition - and artists who utilize the non-linear nature of new electronic media will play a significant role.

Judy Malloy

>I would say, however,
>that these women have not received the recognition they
>deserved, at the time that they were producing some very
>innovative and important work.

Nancy, I certainly agree with this.

re Ars Electronica, did you see what they did with the web competition this year where they selected pages that hadn't entered -- like Suck Magazine (funded with big bucks by HotWired) over the *artists* who had taken the trouble to enter? David Blair was the foreman of the Jury that did this.

Fred Truck

Who is David Blair?

Anna Couey

David Blair produced the film Wax: or Discovery of Television Among the Bees, and over the past few years developed a collaborative web extension to it. He was an Interactive Guest earlier this year - check out item 68.

I'm just back from an offline trip to the Arizona desert & red rock country. Will read the discussion here & respond shortly!

Fred Truck

Concerning the question of recognition: One factor artists rarely talk about but that I think is extremely important is the factor of demographics. Boomers, and I am one, have really flooded a limited market. There is a lot more competition for very few openings than in the past. With funding shrinking or being eliminated altogether, it appears as though recognition will be even tougher to attain.

Anna Couey

Nancy, I like your characterization of the Meadow as a cyberfeminist work with content that is not explicitly about women's experiences. The strategy of giving voice to personal experience is important for women, and other marginalized groups as a way of claiming and validating identity. But I think we have to do more than speak of ourselves if we are to succeed in any kind of social transformation. Self-ghettoization would seem to reinforce our marginal status. Connecting our stories to what's happening in the world around us is not only part of the story of who we are, but begins to build our active relationship and chosen place for being in the world.

In partial response to your Cyberfeminism article..I do wonder about the role of technology. It is pervasive, and yet, when I look at organizations that are primarily concerned with, say, homelessness, I have to ask myself whether access to technology really is the key issue. There are certainly connections between technological change and economic status, but handing a hungry person an Internet connection instead of a hamburger seems to ignore a crucial reality element of the situation. I end up going back & forth on the work on technology access I do...because I agree with you, it's now, before things have entirely settled, that we have a chance to make change. On the other hand, if it's not relevant to someone's life, is it a tool of their empowerment, or are we all guilty of jumping on the bandwagon?

I'd also love to see examples in your article of cyberfeminist work. Especially in an emerging philosophy or way of working, roadmaps are really important for all of us to learn from each other.

You talked about a "nature"/"technology" divide in the Meadow, and as I look at the chronology of your work, it is a continuous thread. What is the connection between nature/machine duality, body/virtuality, and feminism/patriarchy?

Thinking a little more of the electronic art "formalism," it occurred to me that there is a critical difference between the focus on high tech and formalism in traditional art media - that tech formalism is machine-defined rather than perceptually-defined. That it hands over our potential for discourse to what global capitalism thinks is cool. Not that tools can't be subverted. But it's a disturbing reliance...especially when connected to disappearance of social funding being supplanted by corporate funding in the arts. And, I'm finding after a year of being "independent," survival outside institutions can be time intensive to the point of excluding art making.

I hope you're right that artists who utilize the non-linear nature of new electronic media will play a significant role - & that that role will serve the social ends we seek to serve. But the discourse of telecom artists & others re: increased democracy via online communications systems, seems today to be effectively supplanted by the Information Superhighway paradigm. Not only women's work, but virtually the entire thread of the discourse seems to have escaped the chronicles of art history. Or handed over to spokespeople from outside the arts - which I think compounds the demographics issue Fred raised. Documentation is important, but it takes more than that, I think. Recognition depends on acceptance, and if we're subversive, how likely is it that we'll be accepted? How does nonlinear media solve such issues?

Nancy Paterson

Anna,

I'd like to address a few of the issues which you raised and also describe a new installation which I would characterize as cyberfeminist...in that women working with new electronic media (in a variety of creative capacities) remain conscious of the history and popular perceptions of these technologies but are not paralyzed by these 'facts' or interpretations. Cyberfeminism as a strategy/methodology/means rather than an end.

I learned a lot about myself and the white, western angst which many of us experience (suffer from) in relation to new electronic media through working recently with Shelley Niro, a Native filmmaker/photographer/painter. We collaborted on a video installation titled HOW THE REST WAS WON.

HOW THE REST WAS WON is comprised of several elements: a tipi, a satellite dish and stand, a monitor and VCR for video playback and an imitation bronze Remington sculpture. The satellite dish is positioned on the floor of the gallery next to the tipi. On the monitor appears the constant image of the Indian head TV test pattern. Sitting on top of the TV monitor is the imitation Remington sculpture - 'Bucking Broncho.'

This installation comments on the uneasy and often tenuous relatinship and interplay between Native cultures and the new technological ethos. The 'Indian head' test pattern commonly used in the 1950's and 60's at the end of the television broadcast day, is reproduced here - and typifies the role which Native people were expected to fulfill in modern, popular culture - stereotyped 'cowboy and indian' movies underscored the Native as a particiapant in the brave new world, but only as a moving target - the 'bullseye' of the focusing televsion test pattern.

Over the course of developing this work, Shelley and I talked a lot about technology as potentally alienating vs. empowerment through new electronic media, from the perspective of North American culture and native cultures within North America. It became increasingly clear (to me) that this was an important dichotomy.

Using these tools in constructive ways - refusing to have creative intentions subsumed by the need to justify or regulate our relationship with any given technology, is the dilemma which artists face when we do have access/experience. And, as feminists who use these tools...what is our response to this larger context?

Anna, I'm a big fan of subversive - and yet, maintaining a balance between subversion and the need/desire to be communicate effectively...It isn't that non-linear media present us with the solutions to social issues/problems, but because the parameters of these issues are constantly shifting, non-linear narrative may be our only hope for responding to them appropriately and adequately.

Anna Couey

Good response, Nancy - thanks! As usual, here at the end of the month/ beginning of a new one, much has been said and much remains for discussion. It's been wonderful to have you with us, and to have the opportunity to delve into strategies of cyberfeminism with you. Thanks very much for joining us for the month...& if your steps should take you back to Arts Wire, we'd love to continue the dialogue!

Judy Malloy

Nancy - the time has gone by all too fast. Thank you for visiting us and for sharing your work and raising some interesting issues. Keep us posted about what you are doing!

Transcript of A Conversation with Nancy Paterson, Item 97, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission.


Conversations with Artists