[ISEA94] Paper: Beryl Graham – Choices: Gender Issues for Interactive Art


Hypertext/multimedia/interactive art can provide for polyphony, branching ‘choices’, and an escape from linear logic, but are we getting any ‘real’ choices, or a menu of white male options?

Looking at examples by contemporary artists from North America and Britain, and some samples of commercially produced interactive products, we can explore the positive and negative possibilities of computer-based interactive art in relation to gender politics.
Women artists such as Lynn Hershman (A Room of One’s Own), Toni Dove (Archeology of a Mother Tongue), and Lucia Grossberger (A Mi Abuelita) have been producing works where not only the content but the interface design marks a different knowledge to the mainstream.
Many theorists (including Regina Cornwell, Allucquere Rosanne Stone, Donna Haraway, Ann-Sargent Wooster, Vivian Sobchack and Rosalind Krauss) have been discussing whether the very structure of computer interactivity is inherently male. They have also been exploring the psychological ontology of ‘virtual space’ and its relationship to ‘the body’. Parallels have
been drawn between medical technologies/discourses of disease, and the discourses of computer technologies/cyberpunk. Whilst avoiding biological determinism, it would appear that the male-gendered experiences of interactive computer technology such as VR tend to differ from the female, and that the reasons lie deep in psychology.
Mainstream commercial products such as VR Games (Virtuality Boxing) and interactive pornography (Donna Matrix) reveal a deeply gendered content and structure, but there are also
possibilities for the rewriting of gender (there, for example, many tales of men ‘computer crossdressing’ as women on email systems). Comics and S.F. writing currently show a more truly diverse set of possibilities than the less accessible technologies of CD publishing.
A major pleasure of interactive art is ‘control’ but who’s in control? Real choice is, as ever, controlled by who gets access to the means of production and distribution (held by big galleries
and big business).

  • Beryl Graham is currently researching a Ph.D. concerning interactive art at the University of Sunderland, England. She is a visual arts curator and writer based in San Francisco and Newcastle, and has written widely, including chapters in the forthcoming Fractal Dreams (Lawrence and Wishart) and the Photographic Image in Digital Culture (Routledge).