[Intro Music Plays]
Marina Isgro: There's this incredible counter-narrative that can be written. often we have seen that female artists are among the first to work with new technologies as they come out. For example, in the late sixties and early seventies, some of the first artists working with, portable video cameras were women.
So these are cameras like the Sony Portapack, and they allowed women to actually make work without a ton of equipment, without a studio, outside of institutions. and they also didn't necessarily have to engage with kind of this weighty history or canon of male artists working in the medium because the medium was so new.
Michelle Herman: Hello and welcome to Articulated. I'm Michelle Herman, Head of Digital Experience
Jennifer Snyder: And I'm Jennifer Snyder, I work as the Oral History Archivist
Support for this podcast comes from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
Jennifer Snyder: The rise of computers and digital technology is often described as a disruption of humanity, irrevocably altering our social and political dynamics as well as our fundamental relationship with the world. But the history of technology as we know it today is a bit more complicated. As human tools, knowledge, and expression have evolved together, artists have been at the forefront of experimentation, and in this episode, we will explore how women have advanced and nuanced our conceptions of art and technology.
We will also discuss the issues of visibility, representation, and accessibility that women continue to face in these areas.
Michelle Herman: From mavericks in programming, software, and coding, to vanguard video artists, women’s work has always been creating the future. In 1843, English mathematician Ada Lovelace translated a paper on a theoretical computational machine called the Analytical Engine, which was designed by the English mathematician Charles Babbage.
During the translation process, Lovelace added her own ideas via annotations, seeing the potential for the device beyond simple calculations to complex sequencing and even musical composition. Though only a small portion of the machine was ever built, Lovelace’s forethought resulted in what is considered the first complete computer program, making her the first computer programmer.
We spoke about this history with Christiane Paul, Professor of Media Studies at the New School and Adjunct Curator of Digital Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Christiane Paul: just have to jump back in time, centuries. And of course point to Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and Countess of Lovelace, born in 1815, who really was a pioneer in mathematics and computing. The computer language, AIDA, is actually named after her.
And I always found it funny that it was ultimately her mother, Lady Byron, who wanted to prevent that she would turn out like her dad and become a romantic poet who encouraged her study of mathematics because she thought that would counteract the poetic impulse.
Jennifer Snyder: While Lovelace’s work would change everything that came after, her knowledge and insight were rooted in the technology of her time. In her notes on Luigi Menebrea’s article, she wrote “The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.” The Jacquard loom used a punch card system to enable sophisticated designs with less human intervention, and that punch card system inspired computing designs for centuries to come. The thread from weaving and textiles to computer programming has not been missed by artists.
Anne Wilson, a Chicago-based fiber artist known for her conceptual approach to craft, touches on this connection between computers and weaving in her 2012 oral history:
Anne Wilson: I also was myself weaving, and that seemed really integral to who I was as a teacher and the emerging connections between technologies, the emergence of the computer and working on the computer, and its connection–its zeros and ones–to weaving...woven structure.
Jennifer Snyder: This interplay between weaving and technology animates Senga Nengudi’s 2007 video installation “Warp Trance.” Nengudi, an artist who uses sculpture, video, and performance to examine womanhood and Blackness, describes installing the work at the Fabric Workshop in her 2013 oral history.
We had Rayna Andrews, who works as the archivist for the Luce Collecting Initiative read the following excerpt from Nengudi's oral history:
Senga Nengudi read by Rayna Andrews: In addition to shooting footage of the machines at work, I also collected old Jacquards that I sewed together to use as projection screens because I wanted to add something sculptural and three-dimensional to the piece. Their addition brings the piece off the flat screen and creates two realities. There is the video projected on the screens, which is spirited and fast-moving, and as the video footage seeps through the open patterns of the jacquards, another, more muted, the otherworld-like atmosphere is projected onto the back walls. The installation is structured so that participants may walk and dance in front of and then behind the screens, to have both experiences.
The title Warp is related to the weaving process, and Trance comes from my experience of feeling like I was in a trance, as in mesmerized, while standing before the loom machines as they performed their daily tasks. I wanted to create a piece for others to be so enthralled, to be taken with the color, rhythm, and sense of ritual-like I was when I was touring the mills. As usual, I wanted people to interact with this piece. I wanted them to be taken with the color and rhythm of it and use the installation space as a place to move and dance in concert with the piece.
Michelle Herman: In weaving, the warp is the name for the strings threaded through the length of the loom that the perpendicular strings, or weft, are woven through. Artists working with textiles have long considered the ways their work encodes, stores, and transmits information—just like computers do. Can we think of this work as an expanded form of programming and processing?
Carolyn Mazloomi, a quiltmaker and fiber artist known for her narrative work that records Black heritage in the United States, even earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering while expanding the horizons of textile arts. In her 2002 oral history, Mazloomi discusses women’s communal tradition of quilting and what she aims to convey in her work:
Carolyn Mazloomi: When you think in terms of quilt-making, it is basically thought of as woman’s art, because this was a way we sat down and communicated with each other over the quilt frame and it is the needle that unites us. It’s the needle that unites the women of the network. It’s that quilting needle that unites the women of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network with other quilters here in the United States. That’s a powerful bond: that art that we share together is a powerful, powerful bond to unite women.
I don’t want to forget...the special significance of women on the planet is a recurring theme because I feel that women should be celebrated in all facets of our lives. I don’t care whether it’s the art or politics, religion, or whatever. Women have to be celebrated and lifted up because they have the most important job on the planet, the most influential job on the planet.
And you see these recurring themes in my work because I like for young people, young women, to see that work, to know that they have power. Because a lot of times they don’t know it, okay. And they have to be reminded of it. I have this power. Older women have to be reminded that they have this power of influence over all humanity because we, as first teachers, influence all human beings, and every human being on the planet comes through us regardless.
It can be the teacher, it can be the president, it can be the doctor, it can be the maid, it’s everybody. So that’s awesome when you think about influencing all of humanity with your teaching your children. That’s power.
So they have to be reminded, and what better way than to remind them through these quilts. With this woman surrounded by fire and water, the life sign and the sign of so many trials and tribulations. Women walk through fire every day. Every day. Every day they walk through fire, every day by virtue of being women and not having so many things.
Not being privy to education in so many countries.
Being a part of a workforce that makes or creates 70% of all working hours but yet owning only a fifth of the world’s wealth. And being the most undereducated. The world’s refugees are mostly women. But yet they have the most important job. So sometimes in the weight of living on this planet as a woman we have to be reminded of who we are. So quilts help to serve that purpose of reminding women about their power.
Jennifer Snyder: The term “computer” entered the English language in the first half of the 17th century in reference to one who performs calculations, particularly as a profession. Some of the most famous “computers” include the all-women team of Harvard Computers, who calculated astronomical data from the Harvard Observatory from the 1880s to the 1950s, of whom many went on to be significant astronomers and to make major discoveries.
During World War II and beyond, women stepped in and up to fill computing positions that covered everything from projectile trajectories to data analyses of potential weaknesses in electric power lines.
Michelle Herman: In the 1950s and 60s, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan made tremendous contributions to NASA through their work in engineering, computer science, and mathematics, which was recently depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Their breakthroughs in spite of the racist and sexist systems they confronted are part of a larger story of women's roles in science. Christiane Paul told us about this history:
Christiane Paul: There obviously has been the film Hidden Figures which brought more attention to the great contributions that Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson have really made to the history of mathematics and the field of science and technology. The fact was of course that many of the computing pioneers and the ones who programmed the first digital computers were women and for decades the number of women in computer science was growing. I'm thinking of women such as Grace Hopper who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark One computer and then Jean Jennings Bartik who worked on the ENIAC.
And then in I think 1984–or that's what most researchers say–is something really changed. Because the number of women in computer science really, flattened and then plunged. And in the early days, the stereotype was “hardware are men, software are women.” Women were the ones really involved in the coding of software.
And then the nature of computer science departments really began to change for various reasons. I think that was the systematic creation of a specific kind of culture that pushed women out and, ultimately, made them not want to be part of it anymore. I think that is one of the problems that computer science is still facing now, you know, they actually need more women.
Michelle Herman: One cause of the decline of women entering computer science was a wave of discouragement against women entering at the corporate or university level. In the rapidly evolving postwar knowledge economy, companies sought to streamline and optimize their hiring practices through new screening processes. In 1966, System Development Corporation, the first software development company, hired psychologists William Cannon and Dallis Perry to develop a vocational interest scale based on approximately 1300 interviews they had conducted with engineers—87% of whom were men.
Unsurprisingly, this poor data sampling led to skewed results, but they published their findings with the suggestion that computer programmers were marked by three traits: love of problem-solving, love of varied activities, and a disinterest in human contact.
Michelle Herman: The Cannon Perry results created a bottleneck at the entryway of the computer sciences, with results that linger today. Eager to guide students towards majors, universities also relied on the aptitude test and similar versions that guided women, or anyone who expressed an interest in human contact, towards other vocations.
Jennifer Snyder: Despite systematic efforts to deter women from careers in technology, women artists have continued to innovate, experiment,
and assert themselves.
Nancy Burson has been a leader in digital art since the 1980s, notably with her breakthrough Composites, a series of photographic-based portraits that Burson manipulated with software she developed. This computer image morphing software not only anticipated today’s image-generation machines and the ubiquity of image-altering software, but it was also a tool for forensic investigations and age-up software.
In her later work, such as Age Machine, Burson developed software that could digitally age a person’s face. In her 2017 oral history, Martha Wilson, a feminist artist and gallery director based in New York, walked through the evolution of Burson's work and its real-world applications:
Martha Wilson: I know Nancy Burson, who's the artist who developed software to show what Etan Patz, who disappeared in Soho, would look like the next year.
Michelle Herman: He disappeared and we couldn't find his body and nobody knew what had happened, so she created software so we could see what he would look like at the age of 7, the age of 8, the age of 9. And then she developed it further so that we could turn ourselves into Andy Warhol or into Elvis Presley, and then she further developed the software so that she could create a composite portrait of every woman in the world based on racial numbers. Christiane Paul told us more about Burson’s legacy in both the history of art and the history of technology:
Christiane Paul: Nancy Burson was among the pioneers in the field of computer-generated composite photographs, and she made a major contribution to the development of a technique that is known as morphing. So the transformation of an image into another through composite imagery, and this is now commonly used by law enforcement agencies to age or alter, facial structures of missing persons or suspects. Nancy Burson actually patented in 1981, something called the Method and Apparatus for Producing an Image of a Person's Face at a Different Age. And that patent became the basis for morphing technology for the entire computer graphics industry.
And it is very important and interesting that you bring up GANs in this context, Generative Adversarial Networks, which artists use so much in digital art focusing on artificial intelligence right now. So process being, you basically feed the algorithm or the AI this data set, then task it with something, and then it tries to achieve that task by processing, imagery. And, actually, it's being judged in that process. Yeah. and has to generate always better results. And what is interesting here is that the aesthetics of what GANS are producing are very close to the composites that Nancy Berson or Lillian Schwartz did in the eighties.
Michelle Herman: Those Generative Adversarial Networks, or GANS, that Paul described, are a machine learning method for generating new content based on and in line with existing data. They can even be the basis for deep fake videos.
Michelle Herman: New experiments in videography build on the foundations laid by trailblazers like Joan Jonas, a video pioneer who described her entry into the field in her 2017 oral history:
Joan Jonas: Well, I bought a Portapack in Japan. I brought the Portapack back with me. And I didn’t perform with it for another two years, but I immediately set it up in my loft and began to work with the closed-circuit system—the camera, the monitor, myself—and looking at myself, seeing myself. For many artists, that was a major breakthrough experience, and a major point of transition.
And I immediately began to work with it in my loft. So all the time that I was doing these outdoor pieces and Choreomania, I had that camera in my studio, and I was often sitting in front of the camera, looking at myself on the monitor.
That space was the space of the monitor, the space in which I was sitting immediately around the monitor, myself, the camera. Do you see what I mean? And the small props. So it became the frame of the—the way the camera framed my actions.
So I was looking at the monitor and seeing what it looked like to hold up a piece of lace in front of the camera, like over my face, for instance. I don’t think I did that, actually. So that was very much–and it continued to be–about the space of the camera, what it framed, the space of the monitor, what is that, the space of the projection, and those relationships. And the movement all had to do with that...all the movement. So the movement was very concrete. It was moving in the frame. It was moving in relation to the camera, moving in relation to the projection.
So I set up the video camera in my loft in 1970 when I came back, and I didn’t do a piece in public for two years, until two years later, when I figured out what to do. Because I had to figure out how to use it in a performance.
So as I remember, I had the idea for my first, quote, video performance. Actually, Sol LeWitt—I made a performance in my loft for Sol LeWitt’s class. He asked if he could bring his class to my loft, and I did. I made a little performance for him. But my idea for the performance was...I had read someplace that somebody was watching Marilyn Monroe being filmed, and they were very interested in the fact that it looked one way when they were watching her being filmed, and then it looked completely different in the film, which they could see later or they could see, I don’t know, somehow. But that interested me, that it would look one way live and then, as it was being filmed by the camera, it would look another way. So that’s how I got the idea of working with video in my performances. So the camera would pick up my actions, and the audience would see everything that was going on, and then they would see the result in either the projection or the monitor.
When I first got the video camera, my main idea of dealing with it was to always compare it to a film camera, to the technology of film. So everything I thought of in relation to the video, I thought, What is the difference? What is peculiar to video and different from film? One of which is the light meters, the space, the vertical roll. All these ideas came out of thinking in that way: What can I do with a video camera? And so in general, and this slowly developed in this way, I thought of—the first manifestation was this performance. I just got two sawhorses, a big four-by-eight-foot piece of plywood, and I made a table. And I had objects that belonged to me, a little collection of things that belonged to my grandmother. A little woolen French doll, a set of fans. She had a collection of fans. Rocks, mirrors. Of course, I continued to think in terms of the mirror, and I thought of the video—the whole setup being an ongoing mirror. That’s what I called it. It was a mirror of my activities. And then of course I thought how to frame and how to make images for the camera. So there was the performance.
Jennifer Snyder: The Sony Portapak was the first portable video camera and one of the most impactful innovations for contemporary art. Its size enabled artists to experiment with the medium in new, unexpected ways and spaces, and its affordability meant that many more artists could make use of it.
We spoke with Marina Isgro, Associate Curator of Media and Performance art at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, about what this innovation meant:
Marina Isgro: There's this incredible counter-narrative that can be written. often we have seen that female artists are among the first to work with new technologies as they come out. For example, in the late sixties and early seventies, some of the first artists working with, portable video cameras were women.
So these are cameras like the Sony Portapack, and they allowed women to actually make work without a ton of equipment, without a studio, outside of institutions. And they also didn't necessarily have to engage with kind of this weighty history or canon of male artists working in the medium because the medium was so new.
Michelle Herman: Another early innovator of video art, Dara Birnbaum challenged depictions of women in popular culture through the young medium. Her iconic work, Technology/ Transformation: Wonder Woman, was painstakingly edited on the first video editing machines, known as linear editors. These machines hardly resemble the drag-and-drop interfaces of today’s video software, as they required the editor to record small segment by small segment from start to finish, one videotape to another.
If the editor slipped up and discovered they recorded something out of sequence, the process had to begin all over again.
In her 2017 oral history, Dara Birnbaum tells interviewer Linda Yablonsky about how she edited Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman while she was teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design:
Dara Birnbaum: I was teaching media. It was the first time they were teaching media.
Linda Yablonsky: What did that mean then?
Dara Birnbaum: A new course is what it meant. [They laugh.] Something new to look at that wasn’t being taught yet. But Dan did a year for Nova Scotia. He didn’t want to be up there a year. They asked him to. And so he divided that year into something like five different people would cover. Michael Asher was one person; Jenny Holzer was another; Martha Rosler—I’m not sure of Jenny, actually. I brought Jenny up. Martha Rosler came in, and I came in, and I—they liked me. I had a lot of energy.
And they said, would you like to take over next year and reformulate, or formulate, a media [program] and a guest lecture series that would go with that?" The agreement was that I could stitch this class and structure together, and I was up there let’s say three weeks, and back up there three weeks, and up there five, et cetera. During that time, I could use the equipment up there after hours, and that’s where I edited Wonder Woman.
I’m actually not sure if that was already cassette or open reel. Whatever it was, we had no time-based code, time code that was going on, so making seven-frame edits for the explosions, that are like, pa-pa-pa-PUM, I almost put my hand through the wall one night. It was so hard to do, and yet I was obsessed to do it. Or getting her just to twist and turn, back and forth and back and forth was hard.
And one night, when I was working, I did all the picture work, and then I thought, It needs something else; it needs something else, but I don’t know what that is. Coming through the radio was the song, “Wonder Woman in Discoland," by the Wonder Woman in Discoland Band. At that time, clubs were doing disco. So I searched all over to get this one record, the only record ever brought out by the Wonder Woman in Discoland Band, and it had an A and a B side. The A side was the American version, and the B side was the European version. And I mixed the two and made the soundtrack, and that’s the soundtrack to it. And then I did the character-generator down here in New York, but if it says, “I’m your Wonder Woman, I’ll take you down,” when it goes like, “Ooh-ahh,” that’s the European version.
Linda Yablonsky: Oh, I see. So that wasn’t on the American version.
Dara Birnbaum: No, that wasn’t on the American version.
Linda Yablonsky: Oh, interesting.
Dara Birnbaum: Yeah, like that "I’ll make the axis fall," I didn’t use that; that was our version. I didn’t use our version for that. “Take it back to rule the world,” didn’t use that, but, “I’ll take you down, I’ll show you all the power I possess” and “ooh-ahh, make sweet music to you,” a lot of that "ooh" and "ahh" was the European version. And I just thought, I’ve got it. Now I’ve got it.
Jennifer Snyder: Some artists, like early video artist Mary Lucier, found the methodical process of "tape to tape" editing to be a powerful way to focus on the storytelling aspects of the work. Lucier reflects on this process with Judith Richards in her 2011 oral history:
Mary Lucier I have found there to be minuses in that when I learned to edit—and I taught myself, of course, basically—I was using tape, and I would have to log every minute of that tape. I would look at it. I'd draw a little picture—I don't have any of that material here. I'd draw a little picture, describe it, write down the time code, if I was working with a time code—if I was so fortunate, at that time—describe it, the sound, and do that for every piece, every scene that was shot. So I would have logs for some pieces that were a few inches thick. But then I would take those and I'd put them onto index cards. And then I'd start shuffling the index cards around, and I was able to get rid of a lot of material. This is without even touching the tape again.
Then, finally, one day came when I would have all these cards lined up. It's like a three-channel piece—boom, boom, boom, you know, synchronized in three rows down a page or down a big piece of cardboard
where I would attach these index cards with pictures.
And then I would start actually making the edit. And of course, the linear form of editing—it's so hard to find your way around in a tape. You know, you might want to put something that's at the very end of a tape next to something that's at the very beginning of the tape, and that's 30 minutes of fast-forwarding or rewinding.
So that—but what that did was to really make you think really hard about the process and what you wanted to follow what—the storytelling aspect. Even if it's not a literal story, the construction of the narrative, if you want to call it that. And so I would have it first on paper, and I could run through that and review it in my head, so I could see what the edit was going to be. I could pre-visualize it.
Jennifer Snyder: Throughout the digital revolution, collectives and organizations have grown around the use of new technologies. Experiments in Art and Technology–or EAT–formed in New York City in 1967 with the goal of connecting artists and engineers to explore the potential of art and technology. Julie Martin was a co-founder and director of EAT. In her 2018 oral history interview with Liza Zapol, she recounts the formation of EAT and her leadership role. She also describes the struggles with equity and recognition she experienced, especially alongside her then partner and fellow co-founder of EAT, Billy Kluver:
Julie Martin: My name is Julie Martin. Currently, I'm officially a director of Experiments in Art and Technology, which in fact is a virtual organization.
I remember a conversation with Billy, and I remember coming back just extraordinarily excited about the idea that not only would engineers help artists, but artists would help engineering and make a change in society.
So it was this totally idealistic, now I realize totally utopian...but that's what did it. I mean I really believed and I was excited about the possibility of not just making art with technology, but effecting change, the artist as an individual being able to effect change, and I was hooked. And I think it came from a conversation with Billy, maybe I came out there and we talked about E.A.T. and the ideas, because I think one of the first—or one of the newsletters, is a real statement of the ideas and ideology, and I mean I loved it...a sucker for philosophy, right? Once a philosopher, always, even if you're a flawed philosopher. But anyway.
And I was probably very backward. I was living with Billy and working together, and Billy was very much not chauvinist in the sense of working with women. Maybe other things, but you didn't get a sense that he would only give things to the man, for example. so, that wasn't something, I didn't, I wasn't feeling a kind of "I'm being oppressed." Maybe I was, who knows?
Liza Zapol: Not for me to say—
Julie Martin: Not for us to say.
Liza Zapol: Not for us to say, right.
Julie Martin: You're asking me how I felt.
Liza Zapol: Yes, I'm asking you how you felt. It's interesting right, because now, like the Art and Technology show at LACMA, where it was solely men, and that sort of—
Julie Martin: That was really–
Liza Zapol: I mean I know that that wasn't E.A.T., but yeah—
Julie Martin: No but it's interesting, why Maurice Tuchman didn't choose women. I know, for example, this is silly, but when Pontus did Art in Motion, and they did it at Stedelijk and then it came to Moderna Museet, Billy added two women. Now they were kind of lost because there's no pictures, but he added Marisol and a woman named Gloria Graves, and their pieces were added to the show. He wasn't a crusader for women's rights by any means, but I think he was sort of gender-neutral somewhat, in looking at the world.
Jennifer Snyder: Christiane Paul weighed in on how lack of recognition acutely affects women artists working with technology:
Christiane Paul: Once again, there have been so many pioneers. The issue to me mostly is that women still tend to be under-recognized.
Even if you're looking at artist duos today, it's very often the women who are the programmers.
I think one of the problems is that women, particularly if there are working in collectives or, in collaboration with others, tend not to be recognized as much, although they are the programmers and not the man. So there are a few examples of that such as the net artist or digital media artists, Jodi and Uber Morgan in both cases, it's actually the female part of the duel who is the programmer.
Julie Martin, of course, was also very influential. And once again, it's the fact that I think her work with Billy Kluver and the fact that they were a couple also contributed maybe a little bit to her dropping out. And he's the one who is mostly associated with our E.A.T. at this point.
Michelle Herman: Emerging technologies like Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence systems are providing new tools for artistic experimentation. One artist who works in these nascent mediums is Laurie Anderson, whose work continually pushes the boundaries of art, performance, music, and film.
We spoke to Marina Isgro, curator of the Laurie Anderson exhibition The Weather, on view at the Hirshhorn Museum from September 24, 2021, to July 31, 2022, about Anderson’s work:
Marina Isgro: I'm the curator of the show, Laurie Anderson: The Weather which is Laurie's largest US exhibition to date. It includes more than 50 works of art, including over a dozen of which are new and being shown for the first time at the Hirshhorn.
Laurie Anderson is a multimedia artist. She really captured the world's attention in the 1970s and eighties with these live performances where she was combining storytelling with really innovative uses of technology to produce sound and images. She's always been at the forefront when it comes to working with new technology. She helped popularize the use of synthesizers and vocoders in music starting in the 1980s. She was one of the first artists to work with CD ROM, and then with the internet and virtual reality, and most recently she's been working with artificial intelligence.
So a couple of years ago Laurie started working with a group called the Australian Institute for Machine Learning. and she worked with them to create an AI, that was trained on her own writing and on the Bible. And what this AI did was output a book that is sort of the Bible as spoken in Laurie Anderson's voice. And it's really funny. It's sort of nonsensical, but there are sections that just really do make sense. And so we've excerpted some parts of this book, which she called Scroll in the exhibition. I think it turned out to be a thousand-page book or something like that. It's very long.
Jennifer Snyder: While digital and post-digital work might seem removed from touch, artists continue to examine technology as an extension of embodied experience. Even at growing distances and speeds, telecommunication prompts questions about intimacy and bodily presence, and artists like Anderson attune their work to technology’s connective and reflexive powers.
Here's Marina Isgro again:
Marina Isgro: You know, I've talked about some of the different instruments that Laurie has designed that make digital music into a bodily phenomenon. There’s another work in the show called the Handphone Table It's an early work from the 1970s that Laurie made for an exhibition at MoMA, and the way this works is it's a wooden table with one chair on either end. There are little divots on either end and you're meant to sit at the table, put your elbows in the divots and then cover your ears with your hands.
And when you do that, you actually hear a sound that is being conducted through the table, into your body. And so the two people seated at the table are the only ones who can hear it. so I think she's doing something really interesting there, both with the body as a conductor of sound. and also with this sort of shared experience between two people in a public space. So a lot of her work is like that it's, it's relational. It's about, you know, social relations or about the body.
Jennifer Snyder: Lesbian feminist film pioneer Barbara Hammer elaborated the importance of tactility
throughout her films in her 2018 oral history with Svetlana Kitto:
Barbara Hammer: I was studying Jung—maybe a few years later but very close to this time—when I realized he identified four areas of intelligence: intuitive, the intellect, emotional, and sensational. Well, sensational—he didn't mean like a Broadway play. He meant the way sensation can be the leading form of intelligence to a person's own being. Each person has all those forms in them, but each one has a dominant one. Mine was sensation. That means that when I look at something in the world, I feel it in my body.
But in this case, it was touching a woman, looking at a woman's skin, and seeing a hand caress it. I can feel it in the audience in my own body.
A more abstract situation might be—and I speak about this with audiences often, describing the sensational—in driving in a car, looking out, and seeing a plowed field, a farmer's field, nothing growing in it, I can feel that earth and those furrows in my body. I can look at a puff of cotton and feel it, the sharp edges around it. It's very visceral for me. And so, I wanted to bring a haptic cinema to the audience
Michelle Herman: As technology integrates itself into our lives in new ways and new forms, the histories that we trace will grow and change as well. Here’s what Marina Isgro had to say about the gender dynamics of institutions and visibility:
Marina Isgro: So I think sort of the continuation of the "tech guy" myth...the reasons for that are often more social than they are actually artistic. These large scale technology-based products, the kinds of things that would capture a lot of media attention or critical attention are often very costly and they require institutional buy-in. So historically I think men have had more access to those institutions, to museums, galleries, universities, you know, wealthy collectors, and so on, which has allowed them to obtain greater visibility. I also think it's a question of who's telling the story, you know, the academics and the critics who are actually writing about the art of their time.
Michelle Herman: And here’s Christiane Paul on how we can continue to honor women trailblazers in art, technology, and history:
Christiane Paul: There is such a rich history of women and technology that I would say the continuation of the tech guy myth is really the result of complex cultural systems that are very difficult to rewrite and we have to make a concerted effort to do so. So when it comes to both the tech world and the art world, leading positions are often held by men and we need to put more emphasis on to diversity equity inclusion in general, and get more women into these roles so that they really. Highlight the accomplishment right now, I would say it's on us telling the history and giving these women credits rather than getting more women into the profession because we are there, they are working and they have always been working, but they haven't been acknowledged enough.
So right now I would say it's really on us to rewrite history, create the archives and highlight the accomplishments of all of these women who have been there. And in general, I also think that women artists are very good at trying to rewrite that history and also bringing more attention to their predecessors and the pioneers of the medium.
[Outro Music Plays]
Michelle Herman: For show notes, works cited, and additional resources visit aaa.si.edu/articulated.
This podcast is produced by Ben Gillespie and Michelle Herman from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. It was edited by Hannah Hethmon of BetterLemon Creative Audio.
Our music comes from Sound and Smoke composed by Viet Cuong and performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble with Harlan Parker conducting.
Special thanks to Jennifer Snyder for her narration and Marjorie Justine Antonio for her research contributions.
The Archives of American art at the Smithsonian Institution is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from individuals like you to sustain our ongoing operations and special programs like Articulated. To support our work, please visit our website aaa.si.edu/support. Thank you.