[NetBehaviour] “Up for Grabs”: Agency, Praxis, and the Politics of Early Digital Art.

netbehaviour netbehaviour at furtherfield.org
Fri Jun 21 13:22:10 CEST 2013

“Up for Grabs”: Agency, Praxis, and the Politics of Early Digital Art.

By Grant David Taylor.

When Lillian Schwartz made the decision in 1968 to employ computers to 
create art, she was required to enter a field with arguably the 
strongest masculine culture -— engineering. Therefore, we expect 
Schwartz’s experience to be a negative one, reflecting the 
institutionalized sexism that engineering was notorious for. Yet we find 
the opposite to be the case. The artist found early computing to be 
devoid of gender bias. Using this simple paradox as my starting point, 
my essay explores the role of gender in the formation of digital art. 
Informed by personal reflection and anecdote, this case study reveals 
women artists as key agents in the development and propagation of 
digital art in the United States. [1] Although their art is varied in 
form and focus and each started at different moments, these pioneering 
artists, including Lillian Schwartz, Collette Bangert, Joan Truckenbrod, 
Grace Hertlein, Rebecca Allen, Copper Giloth, Barbara Nessim, and 
Cynthia Rubin, shared similar experiences. Compared to the patriarchal 
power structure that defined the mainstream artworld, these women found 
the emergent field of computing to be relatively open. In those 
formative years social norms proved to be more fluid and gender barriers 
remained unconstructed, even though computing would masculinize soon 
after. In its infancy, digital art was, as artist and writer Anne M. 
Spalter enthusiastically put it, “up for grabs.”


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