The Digital Art World’s (Secret) Feminism

by Corinna Kirsch on October 4, 2013 · 2 comments Feature

Still from Bunny Rogers’s “9years” blog.

Femininity Versus Feminism

Several respondents spoke up to express concern about a type of overly feminine net art that’s grown increasingly popular over the last four or five years.

This can include glossy skinned, 3-D rendered self-portraits; sentimental teenage girl selfies and webcam vids; and cutesy anime girl posturing, all which seem devoid of a critical position—or a stance of any kind—just replicating what we already see and know around the web.

This “online-feminine” can be found just about all over the web, and in some male and female artists’ practice. Based on the popularity of this genre, it is no surprise that galleries have taken notice; Martos Gallery opened up its fall season with an all-women show called Lonely Girl, which predominantly focused on this type of “feminine” work.

Maggie Lee, “Hookups Endorsement Diploma,” 2013. Courtesy Martos Gallery.

Ché Zara Blomfield wonders if “young female artists, or perhaps young girls on the internet, believe feminism means being ‘openly’ feminine.” Jennifer Chan, too, echoed a concern about overall “misconceptions of feminism.” What’s feminine isn’t exactly feminist, surely, but more worrisome about the net-feminine trend is that it’s not historically grounded. “There’s a lack of dialogue [right now] around the historical female position, i.e. the role of the mother, the caretaker,” Blomfield mentioned.

This lack of historicity isn’t just a problem common to this overly feminine art; “dude net art” suffers from the same short-sighted-ness. Typical dude art stereotypes like pizza screengrabs, crying tweens, squirting penises in MS Paint, and Axe body spray may very well have a relationship to more than just the present, but most times, it’s hard to tell if these works, or their artists, have a position. It’s become so easy to appropriate and reblog images, that indifference seems to be the norm. The problem with both forms, is that they present an image without reference—an image only about itself.

All this points to a problem larger than what constitutes good or bad art. Digital artists, or artists taking the Internet as a reference point, end up merely reproducing online culture. And since so much of what’s online is about women and women’s bodies, this content has naturally created a touchstone for many digital artists.

In her own work, Ann Hirsch explores her self-created online persona, in all its problematized sexual versions. She, too, says there’s a difficulty in feeling the need to present sexualized work, but without falling into the trap of online stereotype:

People love consuming female imagery online. Porn is so dominant. So I think a lot of women want to just hide themselves, to not deal with having their bodies be scrutinized. While on the other hand, other women play to this romanticized online version of themselves to get attention and often find themselves giving off this stereotypical sexy female vibe in order to do so. So it is just tricky figuring out how you, as a female artist, fit into that landscape. I’m constantly battling with that.

“Annie,” Hirsch’s online character, references an Internet with a history of AOL chat rooms, and the complexities of communication with your peers, strangers, and others. It’s smart work, proving that web-based about female sexuality can be done, and it can be grounded in larger concerns.


Jennifer Chan October 5, 2013 at 8:38 am

^doesn’t care how second wave that sounded. Afterall theyre still teaching picasso and breugel and michelangelo and warhol and duchamp in intro to art history–nothing has changed.

Jennifer Chan October 5, 2013 at 8:46 am

Didn’t mean to breathe fire either~ I think this article needed to appear for a long time as there are so many complexities to representing female artists that curators and artists themselves need to be vigilant about (as seen in clamorous communal deliberations of what an “all girl” show would mean, or even the representation of young white women as “Lonely girls”) tbh I don’t get the fuss about the all-girl format; since when were women afforded this “privilege” and why do people question that as distinctly feminist when there have been so many male-heavy shows?

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