Women + Media Art

Berlin’s media art community: a female


Tuesday 9th April, 2013 // SUPERMARKT

Photo: © Ars Electronica | Susi Rogenhofer, Flickr CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license
Photo: © Ars Electronica | Susi Rogenhofer, Flickr CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license

Berlin has a rich and long-standing tradition of women engaged in the fields of media arts, media activism and digital culture. Today over half of Berlin’s independent project spaces and initiatives revolving around the themes of tech, media and digital culture are run by women. A broad range of female curators and activists continue to shape net politics – initiating independent programmes, hosting events and leading research at Berlin’s universities.

Despite this large female contingent, and in a city where the workforce is generally evenly distributed, it is at odds that the theoretical discourse on media art and net activism, executive roles and directorships, as well panelists and participants at events and festivals, are still male-dominated. In a forward-thinking city like Berlin, this ongoing gap should be addressed so that the wider fields of media arts and activism are fully inclusive of the multitude of female skills and viewpoints on offer.

At this event, SUPERMARKT highlights and showcases some of the women who have played an important role in shaping the profile of Berlin as a digital culture city. We will learn more about their history, career paths, and the narratives of their work and life. Ten inspiring women in the field will join us, and answer questions against the backdrop of their own lives and careers, including what drives them to continue the work they do, what have been the crucial moments of their careers, and who are their professional mentors, support networks, and inspirations.” Ela Kagel & Michelle O’Brien

Media Fem Panel Photo: Helena Lingor @ Supermarkt
Media Fem Panel Photo: Helena Lingor @ Supermarkt

I was thrilled to see and hear ten amazing women take the stage at SUPERMARKT last week to share their perspective on working in the media and culture sector. The event had a great buzz and drew a wide audience, as diverse and happening as the women speaking. Ela Kagel and Michelle O’Brien curated the evening with a deft touch, having provided the framework for each speaker to contextualise their own practice by thinking through questions of motivation and key moments. The responses to this provocation ranged from the necessary historical contextualisation of career highlights to intriguing, poetic and subtle approaches, exploring personal stories and reflections through a selection of quotes.

Tatiana Bazzichelli spoke about her varied professional facets, being too radical for the academics, too artistic for the radicals, and too academic for the artists, while Kathy Rae Huffman enumerated her significant and internationally influential career highlights in curating video and media art from the 70s up until today, offering an insight into her practice through the excellent reading list that she discussed (in follow-up discussion a member of the audience has requested that this also be made available). One of the key points made by speakers in many of the talks was the necessity to jump in and figure things out for yourself, or to “learn by doing”, not wait to become an expert.

Tatiana Bazzichelli & Ela Kagel Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt.
Tatiana Bazzichelli & Ela Kagel Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt.

There was no discernible antagonism towards the male dominated world, as this was the case with many of the speakers who had often been the only woman in the room at work or speaking on stage at professional events – but rather all highlighted their strategy of responding to challenges and getting on with the job to hand as the most effective form of action. Michelle Thorne spoke about her love of soccer, and how the sport gave her physical confidence and a different understanding of her body, operating from a position of strength and power. The celebration of their peers and support network was also a positive influence at Mount Holyoke, all-women university. Her mission statement was to figure it out and do it – don’t wait until you have the answers or training. Don’t be afraid to fail! (“Fail more, fail better” – called out someone in the audience. “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett”)

All three initiators of the Faces mailing list (Kathy Rae Huffman, Diana McCarty, Valie Djordjevic) spoke about their experiences in the 90’s and how the need for the women focused list became apparent, both sharing and creating opportunities, network and exchange of ideas, information and resources for women working with art and media. It can definitely be a boys club, and every one of the women speaking and in the room is testament to how much that has changed, and how far it still needs to go before there is gender equality. The discussion was agile and lively without falling into the murky waters of complaining about the situation but finding ways to address the needs and roles that women can play in creating and theorising and promoting and facilitating all forms of media and culture. The evening also raised an interesting question of the distinction between a “female perspective” and a “feminist” one, as while some of the women identified as feminist, not all did. This gave the conversation a interesting take, as the speakers and audience maintained a broad spectrum of interests, which was not mainly focused on issues of gender but on the desire to meet and explore the challenges of creating satisfying work in a richly diverse range of contexts.

In this event, it made sense to talk about the personal experiences behind these voices, however I hope this is a stepping stone to taking the conversation further and deeper into their actual work. This critique is not directed at the organisers per se but is a wider cultural concern, is that while it’s amazing to see so many incredible women in one place talking about their work, I would love to have this taking place simply because the work they do is powerful, important, fantastic, relevant and highly influential… not because they are women. A comment by one of the men present was that in his 25 years of experience, even with gender equality on a panel or in an exhibition, it was still the male voices that tend to dominate. I think the evening provided an excellent opportunity for women’s experiences to be heard and discussed, but this needs to become a far more “normal” enterprise, without having the framing as “women’s experience” but as experiences, from a range of professional and personal perspectives. 

Audience Media Fem Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt
Audience Media Fem Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt

Ela Kagel responded to this point: “I can understand your critique, that we referred to our presenters as being female as the prime criteria for showcasing them. But of course we selected them for being brilliant, inspiring and influential in the first place. And yes, we wanted to present women, because the public image of Berlin as a digital culture city is still much more tied to the men working in that field. I think it’s really about time to reassess this image! And as much as we wish for a world in which we don’t need events like ours, we just have to acknowledge the fact that there is still a huge gender imbalance out there – and this is a structural problem. I think we can’t address this often enough.

We have been working quite a while to get this invitation text together and to frame everything in an interesting and challenging way. And we knew that it would still raise questions – but questions and comments are of course very welcome in that context.”

Michelle O’Brien comments:  “I would also reverse this point and say it was a specific and intentional celebration of powerful and influential females in the industry. We could have removed the ‘female perspective’ part of the title, simply calling it a showcase of prominent figures within Berlin’s Media Art Community and inviting the same 10 female speakers, and perhaps this would have attracted a different audience (with possibly more males!), but I feel this would not adequately represent the topic at hand. The  focus highlighted the specific achievements these individuals have made, as women in a male-dominated industry, and the powers and social/political structures they have overcome, and continue to push against on a daily basis to do their work, whether or not they specifically identify as ‘feminists’.”

Andrea Goetzke, Diana McCarty, Lisa Lang PPhoto: Gretchen Blegen @ Supermarkt.
Andrea Goetzke, Diana McCarty, Lisa Lang PPhoto: Gretchen Blegen @ Supermarkt.

Diana McCarty talked with great passion and humour about the revolutionary aspects of women working in radio & media, particular focus on the film program that she curated in New Mexico. Playing excerpts while she spoke of the 1983 feminist science fiction classic “Born in Flames”, directed by Lizzie Borden which explores a hypothetical New York society, ten years after the successful socialist revolution. Radio plays a large part in both the film plot and in Diana’s work significantly with reboot fm. If there was ever a women’s army, I would sign up if Diana will lead it!

“Think Big” are the words Lisa Lang wrote in her notebook while studying – and she made a point of showing her process through the exploration of ideas (and lists) in her notebooks. “I wrote it down and it echoed inside me, and I owned it” she explained, and I understood completely the conviction with which she expressed this concept. The act of writing does both ingrain something inside you, and invoke a power with those words, allowing you to live their fullest expression.

Lisa Lang Photo: Helena Lingor @Supemarkt
Lisa Lang Photo: Helena Lingor @Supemarkt

Having fallen in love with Australia while studying there, Lisa wanted to stay longer and was discouraged to find that it wasn’t officially possible – until someone suggested that she didn’t need to play by the rules. “Hack the system” became another maxim to live by, and in the event she did manage to wrangle another six months of her studies, which turned into five years living in OZ. The evangelista for Berlin Geekettes, a collective of women talking tech, she gave for me what was absolutely the most inspiring moment of the night with the following advice. Talking about her attempts to find work after she finished studying, and realising that whatever she was doing just wasn’t working, this affirmative wisdom is taken from“What Colour is your Parachute?” the job hunting manual she read in a more desperate time: “Define yourself. Decide what you want to do and with whom you want to do it.” Excellent, don’t wait for someone else to choose you or tell you what you are capable of – make it up, get out there and make it happen!

Finally, Andrea Goetzke of newthinking, gave us her summary with ten key quotes. She apologised for all but one of them being by men “so beat me up for that later” – a squeamish moment when the tension between the feminist principles and their lived experience was played out, although with no violent repercussions. “It’s about creating a space that wouldn’t really exist otherwise!” is the first, and she discussed the moment of realising the value of creating spaces where people gather around shared interests. The second memorable quote concerned the value of coming to things with a fresh eye, to learn while doing and take and open approach – be naïve and a beginner.

Andrea Goetzke Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt
Andrea Goetzke Photo: Gretchen Blegen @Supermarkt

“Enjoy life and create and enjoyable moment for others,” Andrea concluded, and that is exactly what the SUPERMARKT and all the women who spoke and attended have done and will continue to do….

Jodi Rose

Inside Media Fem Photo: Helena Lingor @Supermarkt
Inside Media Fem Photo: Helena Lingor @Supermarkt

Images courtesy of SUPERMARKT

Speaker Biographies

Tatiana Bazzichelli is a researcher, networker and curator, working in the field of hacktivism and net culture. She is part of the transmediale festival team, where she develops the year-round project ‘reSource transmedial culture berlin’. She is Postdoc researcher at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, as part of the Innovation Incubator / Centre for Digital Cultures, and the Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media, Faculty of Cultural Studies. She is Affiliated Researcher at Aarhus University (DK), where she received a PhD in Information and Media Studies (2011), conducting research on disruptive art in the business of social media, published with the title: “Networked Disruption. Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking” (2013). She wrote the book “Networking. La rete come arte | The Net as Artwork” (2006). In 2001, Tatiana founded the AHA:Activism-Hacking-Artivism networking platform. She organised exhibitions and events such as Hack.it.art (2005), HackMit! (2007), CUM2CUT (2006-2008), and HACK.Fem.EAST (2008) in Berlin, Rome, and other European cities.
networkingart.eu | disruptiv.biz | transmediale.de

Valie Djordjevic is an editor at iRights.info, a website about copyright in the digital age, and lecturer on the topics of digital writing, social media and copyright for private and public institutions. She is active in the digital world since 1996, e.g. as member of Internationale Stadt Berlin, one of the first net culture projects in Germany or mikro e.V., a Berlin based association examining the different facets of media culture. She is a co-moderator and administrator (together with Diana McCarty, Kathy Rae Huffman and Ushi Reiter) of the mailing list Faces, one of the first lists for women working with art and media.
valid.de | irights.info | mikro.org | faces-l.net

Andrea Goetzke is a Berlin-based cultural producer, curator and organizer. For many years, she has worked in different contexts on issues of free culture, open source, digital and music culture, ranging from projects supporting open source software in African countries to initiating the openeverything Berlin events. With all2gethernow, she organizes activities looking for new strategies in music culture and business. She is part of newthinking, an agency that works at the interfaces of open source and digital technologies with culture and society. Andrea organizes music events, and hosts a regular radio show on free culture on reboot.fm.
all2gethernow.de | newthinking.de | reboot.fm

Kathy Rae Huffman is a freelance curator, networker and media art collector currently based in Berlin. She has held curatorial posts at the Long Beach Museum of Art, The ICA Boston, and Cornerhouse, Manchester. She has written about, consulted for, presented special programs and coordinated events for a variety of international festivals and organisations. Her research focuses around issues of female environments in the Internet, and the history of artists’ television. Kathy co-founded the international online community for women media artists FACES: Gender/Technology/Art (with Diana McCarty and Valie Djordjevic) in 1997. Her current curatorial project is an exhibition of the late Nan Hoover’s video, performance and photography. She curated Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach, 1974-1999, a retrospective exhibition of international video, for the Long Beach Museum of Art, (in 2011). The exhibition and research was supported by the Getty Research Institute as part of Pacific Standard Time. She was international curator for ISEA2009, Belfast; and project curator for Transitland: Video art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009. Huffman received an MFA in Exhibition Design from California State University Long Beach in 1980, where she also completed the graduate course in Museum Studies.

Claudia Kefer works as an innovation intermediary and strategic consultant in the field of art, culture and educational contexts. She holds a MA degree in Communication in Social and Economic Contexts from the UdK Berlin. During the mid nineties she graduated in Communication Design at the GSO University of Applied Science in Nürnberg, at a time when Germany was a pre-web market, the ambiguity between a analogue and a digital world became a core issue of her work. During her early nineties experience of “Zwischennutzkultur” in Germany, Kefer began freelancing, co-working and co-thinking before it became a facet of a broader lifestyle or an educated instrument of urban and economic development. She is a team member of the SLEEPING GIRL JOINT VENTURE, an independent art-house film reflecting the early days of video art in Germany, told through the lens of a ‘boy meets girl’ story. Currently she is focused on a research project titled MESHING-BERLIN which will be introduced at re:publica 13.
claudiakefer.de | dasschlafendemaedchen.de

Julia Kloiber is currently working as a project lead for the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, an NGO working within the field of transparency and open data. She holds a Bachelors degree in Information Design and a Masters in New Media and Digital Culture from Utrecht University. She has worked for Women Make Movies in New York City and for Platoon Cultural Development in Berlin. Julia’s main fields of interest are netpolitics, open data, interactive design and art.

Lisa Lang is a born networker and problem solver. Some also use the word “whip-cracker” in the same sentence with her name but she prefers the description “traffic light”. She’s the head of products Sourcefabric, an independent organisation promoting quality journalism and providing open source tools, including Newscoop, Booktype, Airtime and Superdesk; Evangelista for BerlinGeekettes collective of women talking tech, and is finishing off her MBA in the coming year.
linkedin.com/in/lilaworks | berlingeekettes.com | sourcefabric.org

Tina Mariane Krogh Madsen holds a Master of Arts in Art History (Aarhus University, Denmark) with a focus on internet art, digital media and performance studies, where she wrote her Master Thesis with the title “Keeping Ephemerality Alive – Preserving the Dynamic Materiality of Net Art”. Tina works as an independent curator on projects in the field of internet art, live art practices, interactive media and online performance. During 2012 she curated and coordinated the online exhibition website for internet art: Net.Specific, for Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, Denmark and Net.Specific’s first exhibition Communication Paths that was launched in October 2012.
tmkm.dk/about.html | netspecific.net/en

Diana McCarty was born and raised in New Mexico and has lived in Europe since 1993 – Budapest in 90’s and Berlin in the 2000s. Her work revolves around art, politics and new/old media. Currently, Diana is working with radio and revolutionaries: mostly reboot.fm, radia.fm, Bolshevik women, and experimental film. A long time ago, she was part of the International Women’s University server development team (with Seda Gürses, Barbara Schelkle, Prof. Heidi Schelhowe, and Heiki Pfisch), and also worked to develop feminist pedagogical approaches to learning technology. In the mid-nineties, she co-founded Nettime (with Geert Lovink, Pit Schultz, a.o.) and the Faces Mailing list (with Kathy Rae Huffman, Valie Djordjevic & Ushi Reiter), and as part of the Media Research Foundation, co-organized the MetaForum Conference Series in Budapest (with Janos Sugar and Geert Lovink). Diana was a co-founder of Mikro e.V. and the now defunct bootlab. Her main interests are exploiting social and technological systems for culture and real life.
reboot.fm | radia.fm | faces-l.net

Michelle Thorne is an American-born, Berlin-based Creative Commons activist. She holds a BA in Critical Social Thought and German Studies from Mount Holyoke College, USA, where she wrote an honors thesis on authorship, originality, and American copyright law. Michelle grew up in Heidelberg, Germany. She worked as the international project manager for Creative Commons from 2007 to 2011 and joined the Mozilla Foundation as Global Event Strategist in 2011. She is a founding member of the Awesome Foundation Berlin.
mozilla.org | awesomefoundation.org

Supermarkt Media Fem Photo: Helena Lingor @Supermarkt
Supermarkt Media Fem Photo: Helena Lingor @Supermarkt

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