Women and the Art of Multimedia (WAM) was a two and a half day long
conference in Washington D.C. (May 29-31).
Aiming to explore what the revolution (technological) means for women
who use and produce multimedia, and what opportunities it might offer,
WAM brought together a number of international artists, designers,
producers, critics, curators, writers, engineers, and advocates (women's
advocates, arts advocates, etc.).
Shu Lea Cheang was one of my favorite presenters – she spoke about
BRANDON, a Web site based on the life and death of Teena Brandon.
Brandon, who lived in Falls City, Nebraska, represented and identified
herself as a man. Two local men raped Brandon, and upon finding out she
reported the crime to the police, murdered her, her lover, and others.
The Web project will reincarnate Brandon online – she will have
adventures with Foucault colleague Herculine Barbin, and a virtual MOO
trial of her murderers will be staged. BRANDON, besides exploring
questions of alternative sexual identification and fantasy, will use the
net as an anti-graveyard – Brandon will live on as an interactive agent
of identity play and politics.
Artist team Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfield also presented. The two
have been working in together and in multimedia for more than twenty
five years. Based out of Amsterdam, they premiered their latest video
project "On the Other Side of the Meridien." It was straight out of the
new-age wallpaper tradition: slow motion, natural images… very
Finally, Barbara Nessim spoke about how as a young woman in 1960 with
art not marriage on her mind, it took no small amount of bravery to be
an artist. She moved in with a roommate in New York, none other than
Gloria Steinem, and pursued a career as an illustrator. In the 80s,
Nessim started working with computers and new media, though never
ceasing to have a sketch book by her side. Nessim combines old and new
media by treating her sketch books as databases – in her project
"Random Access Memories," she gives away tiny books of sketches from her
database, chosen at random by a script. Nessim, wanting to give the
audience gifts, made special versions of these books for WAMers –
they're very cool.
What was most disappointing about the conference was the practical
neglect of technology. Artists had to present their work without sound
more than once, and there was no Web access in most demonstrations (the
exception being Linda Stone of Microsoft). Artist Jenny Marketou (of
@Electric Eve and Techno-Seduction) abandoned her presentation out of
frustration. More than once I heard people joking "how many women does
it take to turn on a computer?" Symbolically, this was a big oversight
on the part of organizers – the series of awkward moments undermined a
technological confidence important for women in multimedia.