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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 (fvda.co.uk) – Founder, Editor-in-Chief

Contributing Editors
Greg J. Smith (serialconsign.com)
Alexander Scholz (alexanderscholz.com)

Amnon Owed (amnonp5.wordpress.com)
Joshua Noble (thefactoryfactory.com)
Mike Tucker (mike-tucker.com)

Guest Writers
Casey Reas (reas.com)
Paul Prudence (dataisnature.com)
Matt Pearson (zenbullets.com)
Emilio Gomariz (triangulationblog.com)
Andreas Zecher (pixelate.de)
Jer Thorp (blprnt.com)
David Wallin (whitenoiseaudio.com)
Nial Giacomelli (nial.me)
Jason Franzen (formationalliance.com)
Richard Almond (rafolio.co.uk)

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

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





Accountabilities of crowds

Cross-posted to HASTAC blog. I’m posting a lot lately. It must be finals week.

Google Image Result for http://sselblog.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/wisdom-of.jpg I’ve been worrying about the wisdom of the wisdom of crowds lately, as evidenced by my Mechanical Turk post. “Wisdom of crowds” is a Silicon Valley religion, like libertarianism and market liberalism. (I’m going off of participant-observation from 10 years of being a valley citizen myself*, but Fred Turner documents these threads carefully.) I find “wisdom of crowds” to have a dark side to “wisdom” that comes from slivers of contributions made by people who don’t know what they’re contributing to and likely don’t have a chance to profit from their participation. Amazon Mechanical Turk, where many people make about a dollar an hour making extra cash to make ends meet, is an example of this dark side. What are ethical conditions under which crowds should labor? (I asked 67 Mechanical Turk workers this very question myself: 67 Turkers Bills of Rights.)

Not only do conditions of work become difficult to account for when the workers are millions of microtime workers. Emergent genderings, racializations, and other modes of differential injustice also are hard to track down. Wikipedia’s story of open participation and user agency becomes a cover story for not worrying about how power and authority gets distributed. For example, I strongly suspect there’s a bias against women in who is considered notable enough to have a biography. I’ve known several women who have had the appropriateness of having wikipedia biographies challenged (danah boyd, for example) while less notable men go unchallenged. Like with the liberal politics of individual choice markets, lots of people get a vote but the powerful often set the agenda and win. And like neoliberal racial politics, when everything is about individual choices and agency — when practically anyone can edit an article — we don’t have to talk about race and gender, right?

Both Wikipedia and wisdom of crowds logic generally have a commitment to emergence and a commitment to getting the right answer — the neutral, objective truth. And in their attention to outcome and mass, the people get blurred.


*I heard one Silicon Valley CEO rationalize cooperating with Chinese censorship laws by explaining that doing business with China bolsters its middle class, which leads to democracy. I’m not saying “omg how could you do business with that regime” — no government is perfect, so it is about what kinds of business. But markets and democracy are well-yoked in Silicon Valley entrepreneurial do-gooding.