Impressions from HACK.Fem.EAST
Wednesday June 04th 2008, 8:38 am
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by Erika Katalina Pasztor

Erika Katalina Pasztor, who participated in HACK.Fem.EAST with the project Network of Thoughts [NoT], wrote a very interesting report of the exhibition. We consider these impressions and suggestions an important starting point for a collective reflection on our experience and we hope many more writings like this will follow.
Thank you very much, Erika!

Tatiana Bazzichelli and Gaia Novati

Dear hackfemeasts,

Let me add some personal note, before we sink irreversibly into our regular lives.

The concept of HACK.Fem.EAST was born in Tatiana Bazzichelli’s and Gaia Novati’s mind, and first I wondered why these Italian minds in Berlin started to think about the term of ‘women and technology’ in connection with the ‘less trendy’ issue of East-European art and culture. We are far more over the early 1990s when the West was – or it seemed to be – interested in East, when the War and the harsh political and economical changes grabbed curator’s and institution’s attention towards this part of Europe. At first, feminism combined with East Europe is not a cutting edge subject, I thought, since western feminism has not got roots in East, the majority of female artists – like in Hungary, working with technologies – refuse to be connected by feminism. Hence the world – and the art world – became much larger, much more complex and much less traceable; East Europe lost its special features. Later I thought, well; why not refresh the East resembling the good old times of Ostranenie and Videomedeja?

Than Tatiana and Gaia put lots of energy and effort to gather us by negotiating the concept, writing applications for financial and material support, setting up the operative team, and finally execute an exhibition in the Kunstraum Bethanien, in this internationally recognized, a leftist oriented cultural icon of the Berlin scene. This made me think of their decision, their achievement in relation with my personal impressions and of course with my local/global past experiences. There are several thoughts ‘had risen’ in my head and I would like to share some of them with you in a form of a ‘thank you letter’.

We – artist, curators, organisers – spent several days together: we were working on the exhibition, participated on panels, enjoyed performances, smoked on the terrace and had meals together while we had talked about several issues. There are some sentences remained very sharply in my mind, although they were not supposed to be significant. One little remark of Tatiana remained: “Several female artists who answered our open call replied that “I am not a feminist artist, is it a problem?” Later, at the end of the symposium, in the last panel, representing the new generation of activists setting up the technological background of the indymedia in Bratislava, Ana Filip had a small remark – something like that – ‘she does not consider herself being feminist’.

I have to confess, that at the first reading of the HACK.Fem.EAST call, I was also very ambivalent since I did not consider myself as an activist or feminist artist as well. It was not part of my identity. I passed the application, but Nina Czegledy sent me the call again. She and Ana Peraica initiated a discussion on the Yasmin list last year with a title “Technology and woman’s liberation around the MedRim”. Nina’s attentiveness turned off my aversions what origin basically from taking over the general East-European male opinion about feminism. Actually many women in our region took over this patriarchal point of view without even noticing it. We – and it seems that I share this with many female artists – regretted to be feminists. Why?

Allow me to go in advance, I tell – since meeting with you – I do not regret it any more, and let’s say, I will follow the footprints of Jasmina Tesanovic:-) to inherit feminism – but a revised feminism – into my identity. This is the end of the story, my basic conclusion.

But let’s turn back: why East-European female artists working with technology share a common aversion regarding the notion of feminism? I can not give a correct scientific explanation since I’m not educated and harnessed with fancy ideas in relation to gender studies. Probably many dedicated people in East Europe and even in Hungary had researches on this strange aversion what is most likely a symptom of a certain cognitive dissonance in my interpretation. I only can add some personal notes to the subject.

Being a feminist is still a stigma both from the male and female side of the society. In spite of that in the formal communist countries women rights were – in a certain ways – established and women actively participated in the wide range of the world of work, contemporary post-socialist societies are became very conservative and strongly retrained by world-wide media messages. There are several different tricky injections of dominant patriarchal aspects of genders in mass communication, but the most tensions regarding feminism are even not visible. It is hidden in the way how the whole dynamic structure of our social world is built concerning communication, methods and processes, peoples and networks, or even individual preferences, hopes or successes.

I understood this clearly while being with you in Berlin. We are living in a very sneaking and insidious cultural context of endlessly competing ‘whatever’ markets of private and public resources, harmed with fast-perishable technologies and knowledge, where efficiency – the most popular world in our currant devotions – is in the centre of propaganda to produce profit and even more profit in a wider meaning. It is not only the direct effect of the neo-liberal cash economy of globalization on local/regional social lives what creates this ethically dreggy and smashed cultural context, but count on our heritage of nepotism strongly linked to traditional ‘offline’ social networks distributing resources, methods and processes to conserve and to insure territories (lands) of power and influence.

Global and local impacts on social changes are strengthening each others. Both of them demonstrate visible characteristics of a transformed and updated – a much more sophisticated – patriarchate, or as Marina Grzinic explains in the ‘reartikulacija’ paper, it is a “shifting patriarchate”. In this world, science and technology established as one of the main source of power, so women who related to these fields were easily sniffed in. Actually female artists (scientists, technologists, etc.) working with technology are unconscious feminists by default; surely they are active on the playground of technology, on a very sophisticatedly manipulated territory in the heart of the patriarchal influence. However they had to pay a price for being in charge. They had to become assimilated and take over the dominant (male) attitudes in many different ways not only concerning feminism. Feminism as a notion was made empty; we did not know what to sign with it.

Since western feminism is an abbreviation of an (often radical) political engagement in the eyes of a patriarchal society, the conscious feminist became an unsaid ‘persona non grata’, someone whom the euphemist legal system embraces but whom the social world slowly eliminates with stigmas like inconsonance, aggressiveness or just by lacking of diplomatic skills, the person is squeezed out to the peripheries. The process of segregation of those who have harder critics is developed parallel with the social-economical changes in East-Europe, but it was a slow process and not sense-able sharply in everywhere, especially in the fields of innovations related to art, technology and science.

While witnessing the collapse of the whole social welfare system; the several unpredicted social traumas caused by capitalism and wars; the disappearance of the division between good and bad practice, West and East, dreams and reality; soon we had to face with a drastic shortage of resources, with the dictate of ‘efficiency’. Companying this, the territorial behaviour of social players obviously became more careful and sophisticated applying mixed strategies to win or just to survive. Competition for territories became much stronger, comparable the social world and the communication within it became a highly complex, sensitive and adaptive system where mutual interconnectedness freezes unkind critical attitudes. Glossing over the issues seems to be a solution. The glossing over of the notion of feminism, activism, hacktivism or any globalization critique civil movements – you name it – is clearly caught in the very act of the mainstream media retraining the mass’s mind just by ignoring relevant discourses. Of course, it is slowly changing now with the rising influence of several civil movements. A small step ahead initiated by such organizations, Hungary has an ‘ombudsman for future generations’ since yesterday.

In 2008, sad to say, but we are far back than we were 20 years ago, regarding feminism. We are more dependent and far more bounded; there is neither escape nor space for fight if we stay untamed and peripheral within our own social world. We desperately need networking in the sense of strengthening our self and our self-confident, to share and exchange ideas, thoughts, methods, tricks, strategies, models, etc. Traditional feminism is a discourse about the changing social roles of females, but the notion as a signifier, necessarily grew out of its container. Evidently it extended to the self-conscious and socially responsible role of females representing those values what seems to be ignored by the ruling power of our contemporary societies. The ruling power is not visible and articulated directly all in its forms and appearances; thus representational fight became a tactical war against it, using a wide variety of strategies.

So being a feminist is – at least – a way of being activist, active in demolishing certain mental and physical borders, pro-active in thinking, concept building and organising.

Tatiana’s and Gaia’s curatorial smell is very sensitive. If I look back, suddenly it is clear, that they redrew the meaning of feminism, adding new values and initiate a wider discourse. They started at East, defining a geographical frame putting all of us together to talk and discover that we are more or less in the same environment, with slightly different opportunities and with highly customized and personalized strategies. They knew that East works with a different meaning and context of feminism. They put their fingers on an important issue to suggest new directions; they involved people to participate in this “re-articulation” of the merging world of activism and feminism to create a new extended space for us, let say, mixing up unconscious feminists with the hard cores to think about the social world of the 21 century.

The wide range of art works, themes and approaches showed me diversity; the relaxed aura of the panels, meetings and talks made me comfortable and feel home. Neither stars nor push for a better positions or fishing for valuable contacts but WE were present. There were few guests at the symposium, one of them, a guy noticed that if this would be an average technology related symposium than probably almost every participants would have an open notebook on his lap. Here people listened to each other and the notebooks slept in the bags.

I’m happy to have the opportunity to meet you. It strengthened me a lot, and now I will start my new life as a conscious feminist artist. As you probably saw, I’m less engaged with body and sexuality in my works, so I will continue to build structures and concepts in the future, but with a definite “hackfemeast” mind. Tatiana and Gaia introduced this new mosaic word hackfemizm, what may become the sign of a new female consciousness.

Thank you and it is much more ‘thank you’ than it sounds. It is the ‘thank you’ of an open mind being fertilized by hackfemeasts. Hopefully we stay tuned in each others works and lives.


Budapest May 28, 2008

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