This is a complex and difficult post to begin, because the issue requires a certain precision, the context needs to be described in order to understand what’s at issue, a lot of false rhetorical traps need to be avoided, and yet meanwhile it is very late and I need to get some sleep before doing some more work
tomorrow this morning on a work I’m presenting at Villette Emergences. As you can see, I’m already at my second sentence and I haven’t even told you what the debate is about.
So it all started for me three days ago when I received an email from a colleague at The University of Paris 8 (Nathalie Fougeras) who was more or less pulling me into a debate about the lack of women at the very same Villette Emergences I was getting ready for. As a consequence of this absence, several women were calling for a boycott of the festival in protest of consistent sexism in the choice of artists represented in digital arts festivals in France. And while this might seem to some an extreme reaction, or an overly simplistic reduction of the complexity of putting together a festival, it is still a position I wholly defend — even if I’m one of the artists involved. I don’t take it personally, as this is ultimately not an issue of so-and-so (contrary to what some believe) and instead is really about the field as a whole, about the community as a whole, and how the ecology of creation ultimately suffers when a male-centric viewpoint takes over any subject.
Apparently, after quite a bit of debate on the Art Sensitif forum, very few men wanted to take a position on the subject. Although this is not the first time I have encountered this reaction in France, it always surprises me, especially given that in other parts of the world, and in other contexts, the question is such a non-issue. At least no one is going out of their way to deny iit.
For example, coming back from ISEA/ZeroOne, I can very well report that women are — gasp! — indeed existent and productive the field of digital arts — and that’s ranging from robotics, hacktivism, experimental interfaces, games, biotechnlogies, programing, and so on. Every single issue that is apparently a guy-centric one “by nature” — take electronics for example — had some of the most interresting work coming from women. Now, that is not to say that there are not more men than women programming in my experimental programming lab. Yes, I work more with young male artists than I do with young female artists. I am not going to defend this, or try to prove the contrary, because it is simply not the issue here. The issue is one of what sort of work is being defended, supported, generated, presented, and yes, financed — and might I add that this last ingredient is far less indicitive than people make it out to be.
There are a lot of messy ideas you have to wade to when talking to people about this issue. But there’s one that’s so recurrent, no matter how idiotic. So let’s be clear: no, you do not have to dumb-down the selection in order to get “quality” work from women into art festivals and museums. But you do in some cases have to go out and look for it. However, I only see this as a temporary problem. Little by little you don’t even have to really look for it anymore, because you then realize that this work has been there all along. You don’t need to do much work to find women when you know the field pretty well. But apparently this is a hard one to understand for a lot of people over here in France. Hmmm, that’s funny. I wonder if that has anything to do with my recent complaints about about many french festival curators not even knowing the major players in the field, let alone important historial figures. Now, I myself don’t have the time, like everyone else, to follow everything — but there are limits.
This is clearly a subject that will require further blogging. But I have to stop here, because I’m literally falling alseep at the keyboarddddddddddddddddddd
*Update: I forgot to mention. There is now an
overcrowded website (under construction) dedicated to this debate.
Update++: For those that have suggested that the subject “art + videogames” made it more difficult than usual to find women, take note: as I mentioned in a post a while back on Videogames and their Artistic Reappropriations, I was asked by a festival to build a short list for them of artists and artworks working with games critically; and as testimony to what I have just suggested, without even looking for women many quite naturally found themselves in the list: Alison Mealy, Joan Heemskerk (yes, Joan is an example of a woman programmer/hacker, yes they exist), Nathalie Bookchin, along with women as part of collectives such as C-Level. Why? Because I actually tried to give a fairly obvious summary of interresting, let’s say near-canonical, work in this domain. Women will almost always find themselves in such lists. So let’s cut out the bullshit about no women in the field.