Women in new media

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Tina LaPorta
(spanish)

For the past decade I have been investigating the circuitry of cultural perceptions regarding gender and subjectivity often times integrating the spectator in this exploration through the Internet, Installation and Video Art. I am constantly finding correlations between the way we speak about emerging technology and its effect on women’s bodies and the governing bodies who seek to control them. These metaphors have become my primary materials and by using them in the context of art, I seek to facilitate an encounter that operates in the immediate, within the motherboard of the viewer.

As Donna Haraway stated in her 1991 Cyborg Manifesto, “To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled…”; drawn and erased. In 1994 I completed a project entitled
Translate {} Expression, integrating the instructional code for generating image with the image itself. This program features a wire-frame female model, devoid of any distinguishing characteristic, who is formulated in real-time by the system’s internal rendering process. This is a neutralized situation in which the software operates on autopilot while the observer waits for her avatar to be formed. And yet she remains unfinished; a work in-progress. She is naked yet desexualized, a body with out organs. She speaks with an inflection of electronically produced reverb, echoing the vacant state in which she exists, beckoning the viewer: “Come to me… Program me…” As the programming code scrolls up the screen, the lines of the body are drawn and then dissolve into a surface of symbols, engulfing the figure and subsuming the viewer.

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Medical imaging technologies paved the way for a view of the body as infinitely permeable and virtually skinless. Without trepidation or considerable caution, the body’s interior may now be viewed by way of ultrasound, fiber optics and magnetic imaging. As a society, it is no longer necessary to regard boundaries – between interior and exterior, between cultures or countries, between “here” and “there.” This is the consequence and the reality of a thoroughly virtualized landscape and globalized world, one that has eliminated “naturalism” as we once knew it. Valerie Hartoumi (In her essay Fetal Exposures: Abortion Politics and the Optics of Allusion) regards this technological “peering” as that which brings our sight out of ourselves and into a “benign, impartial, disinterested, or disembodied” realm of activity. Without boundary there is no identity, and with no identity at stake, subjectivity is effectively leveled.

The image of the fetus pictured in against nature and persp_view is made possible by imaging technologies that surreptitiously undermines the identity of the woman carrying it. While maternal space has been simplified for the sake of medical and governmental “clarity,” this charged and glowing womb acts as beacon for future assailants. The work depicts the modalities of the inherent struggle for woman’s autonomy within an embattled socio- technological environment. The most fundamental question I ask: is it possible to express a feminine voice, or femininity itself, within the construct of a virtual environment?

future_body version 1.0 (1999) is a web-specific piece that takes look at these questions within the context of the distributed network environment. Entering the site, the viewer is faced, again, with a wire-form virtual woman’s body. The user is invited to select a part of her body by clicking on it and is then shown a screen that displays images representing the woman’s virtual interior: an animated line drawing depicting the point of view of a body moving through cyberspace, or a sequence in which her body parts become detached and float through space. A layered and glitchy voice narrates these interior scenes. This is the subconscious voice of the woman, a being so integrated into her (virtual) environment that there is no distinguishing between her identity and her environment. She is the map that describes her and the code that designs her. She is a truly a body “browsed,” engaged only by symbolic, preprogrammed interaction.

The tension inherent in my work is indicative of the societal space in which it manifests. I believe that, by embracing the breakdowns experienced in the technological realm, we may better understand the fractured state of our own consciousness in this era of displacement and alienation. While altering the scope of individual subjectivity, technology replaces the material with the immaterial – exchanging the image for its code or the real for its symbol. As a populace, we are a series of lenses and a large part of my work is to study the lens, itself. My technologically based works are consciously chosen to offset their predominant usages. When I set out as a young art student into the computer art discipline, female mentors were few and far between. I viewed the web as uncharted territory, free from the reigns of the market-driven gallery system, establishing a new paradigm for artists’ to engage directly with our audience. As these lines, too, have blurred, it has become all the more essential to investigate the means, and refocus our refractive gaze.

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Tina LaPorta
Is a media artist who has been creating web-specific artwork since 1997. LaPorta has been an Artist-in-Resident at Ars Electronica’s FutureLab (Linz, Austria) where she created her first web-specific work entitled Traces.
Traces has been included in many international festivals.
Her work has been included in many international festivals.
Has been invited to participate in several on-line symposia including “Shock of the View,” sponsored by the Walker Art Center. Tina LaPorta has organized and moderated several symposia including “Women in New Media” LaPorta has also been an Artist-in-Resident at the Experimental Television Center (Owego), New York.