Monstrous Agents:

Cyberfeminist Media and Activism

Tully Barnett

This paper considers two important artworks of the 1990s as markers of the cyberfeminist moment. “A CyberFeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century” (1991) by VNS Matrix and carrier (1996) by Melinda Rackham are key examples of early artworks that contributed productively to the discourse around women and new technologies. In these works, viruses and techno-tools are mobilized as game-changing forces that cross boundaries and binaries. “We are the virus of the new world disorder rupturing the symbolic from within / Saboteurs of big daddy mainframe / the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix” proclaim VNS Matrix, establishing their work’s subversive agenda, and identifying in technoculture an opportunity and a set of tools to recode social norms.

Meanwhile, carrier is a web-based multimedia installation using biopolitical themes to undermine conventional ideas about the body, infection, borders and boundaries, and agency. It announces infection as an opportunity for symbiosis and posits both gender itself and social change as viral entities that move across boundaries in biotextual ways. Revisiting these texts fifteen to twenty years after their creation illuminates a trajectory of cyberfeminist thought around the affordances of technology for gender work but also the affordances of language for gender play and, ultimately, social change. The monstrous agents unleashed by carrier and VNS Matrix served as flag bearers to an assemblage of writers, artists and scholars concerned with gender in digital and technocultural spaces.

Publication Details

Online Journal
Monstrous Agents: Cyberfeminist Media and Activism
Tully Barnett
Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, Carol Stabile (ed.), no. 5, 2014-07-07, English
Fembot Collective, University of Oregon, OR, USA

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