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