Archive for » May, 2014 «

Proposing a ‘Guerrilla Girls test’

I’m thinking that in the field of techno arts and new media we need a Guerrilla Girls test, formed on the general model of Allison Bechdel’s infamous Bechdel test. Exhibitions, publications, conferences, and other public fora would have to pass the following criteria:

(1) There are more than an obviously token number of women involved. Let’s lowball it and take 25% for now, though obviously the number to shoot for is 50%.

(2) These women are not all chosen from within the organizing group—the editorial team or gallery staff, for instance.

As I write this, I pause to salute the Guerrilla Girls, who started trying to make this problem go away in the mainstream art world three decades ago.

I got to thinking about this because somebody recently pointed me to a newish publication, HOLO, from Creative Applications Network. The CAN website is plugging their first edition of HOLO like crazy:

226 pages, 34 contributors from 8 different countries, 12 months of blood, sweat and tears – the first issue of HOLO magazine, CAN’s exciting print spin-off that is “more a book than a magazine,” is near. And it’s bigger and better than what any of us could have hoped. Kickstarted in late 2012, HOLO set out to go beyond CAN’s daily project feed, step into the artist’s studio and uncover “the things we’re missing from the web: the faces, personalities and anecdotes behind important work”. A year of full-on, globe-spanning production later, we’rewe’re proud to say that HOLO is so much more than that. A unique blend of editorial formats, voices and ideas, HOLO captures what we feel no other print or web publication does: a carefully curated, comprehensive and people-centric snapshot of the creative dynamics at the intersection of art, science, and technology.

Here and on the main magazine page, they name-check 20 of the 34 contributors that make this a “comprehensive” look at “important work”: Philip Beesley, Greg Borenstein, James Bridle, Derivative, Eno Henze, Golan Levin, Wolf Lieser, Tim Maly, Raquel Meyers, NORMALS, David O’Reilly, Chris O’Shea, Ivan Poupyrev, Paul Prudence, Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), Jer Thorp, Mitchell Whitelaw, Will Wiles, and Zimoun. Leaving aside the gender-indeterminate Derivative and NORMALS, 16 of 18 are men and 2 are women, or 11%. Either they’re hiding all the contributors who are women, or they just aren’t there.

This pattern continues elsewhere. Here is the mission statement of CAN itself:

CreativeApplications.Net [CAN] was launched in October 2008 and is one of today’s most authoritative digital art blogs. The site tirelessly beat reports innovation across the field and catalogues projects, tools and platforms relevant to the intersection of art, media and technology. CAN is also known for uncovering and contextualising noteworthy work featured on the festival and gallery circuit, executed within the commercial realm or developed as academic research. Contributions from key artists and theorists such as Casey Reas, Joshua Noble, Jer Thorp, Paul Prudence, Greg J. Smith, Marius Watz, Matt Pearson as well as CAN’s numerous festival involvements and curation engagements are a testament to it’s vital role within the digital arts world today.

Skipping over the grammatical error in the last line, one notices that of 6 people name-checked (presumably due to their importance), 6 are men. Representation of women: 0%.

And here is the masthead of CAN:

Filip Visnjic ( – Founder, Editor-in-Chief

Contributing Editors
Greg J. Smith (
Alexander Scholz (

Amnon Owed (
Joshua Noble (
Mike Tucker (

Guest Writers
Casey Reas (
Paul Prudence (
Matt Pearson (
Emilio Gomariz (
Andreas Zecher (
Jer Thorp (
David Wallin (
Nial Giacomelli (
Jason Franzen (
Richard Almond (

Of this list of 16 names, 16 are men. Representation of women: 0%.

Does not pass the Guerrilla Girls test. Not even close.





other uncanny valleys

It seems that nearly every article on technology and culture I read these days references Masahito Mori’s concept of the uncanny valley at some point. It’s entered the intense late-meme phase which makes me think it’s about to be obliterated by some hot new techno-trope. But I think the underlying idea of the uncanny valley is actually a robust way of looking at other forms of cultural dissonance and estrangement that have nothing whatsoever to do with robots.

For instance, before I even came across the term, I had identified for myself something that looks to me like an uncanny valley of history: the period between the end of living memory—for practical purposes, about 100 years ago—and the beginning of what we are comfortable thinking of as history because there is substantial scholarship on the primary documents—roughly 125 years ago. In that uncanny valley we can’t quite find our familial connection to history any longer, but it’s close enough that it doesn’t yet feel completely autopsied by conflicting lineages of critical scholarship. Right now, that valley falls roughly between 1890 and 1915. Others might place the valley slightly differently, or even disagree that it exists at all, but it certainly exists for me.

I’ve recently identified a second, more culturally bound, uncanny valley pertaining to digital culture. This valley exists in the 70 years between 1923—before which nearly all printed matter is out of copyright in the United States—and roughly 1993—when the generation of early web adopters began putting the documents of their lives online. Although a good deal of writing and other media from this uncanny valley has been uploaded, a lot of it is behind paywalls of one kind or another (including the copyright-driven paywalls of and its ilk). Huge amounts of pre-1923 media have been uploaded through Project Gutenberg, Google Books, YouTube, major libraries and archives, and oddball projects like BiblioOdyssey. At the near end of the valley, you can find important or just interesting writings, artworks, and documentation by all the digerati online for free (as well as some behind paywalls). For a lot of what’s in the uncanny valley itself, you have to buy the materials online, pirate them, or go to a traditional dead-tree library. I’m not saying it’s not worth the effort to do this—far from it!—but that as one reads, skims, surfs, browses, and devours one’s way around the web these days, it can feel as if Rudyard Kipling is closer to us than William Faulkner, R. Austin Freeman than Sara Paretsky, D.W. Griffith than the Marx Brothers, Julia Margaret Cameron than Margaret Bourke-White.

What’s your uncanny valley?

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