Earlier in the year NEoN proposed an idea to Masters students in Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins. Under the theme, Wired Women* NEoN asked how can we reimagine digital and hybrid spaces to address the digital gender divide, with the aim of taking positive and meaningful action.
The students responded, and we are very pleased to introduce them and their project - The School of Cyborg
'The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, post-modern collective and personal self.'
'The cyborg is a creature in a postgender world.'
Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
I have the great pleasure of introducing The School of Cyborg, a curatorial and cultural project formed through the collaboration between NEoN Digital Arts and a collective of International MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students from Central Saint Martins the University of the Arts London.
The School of Cyborg (SoC) is inspired by NEoN's 2020\21 theme "Wired Women*" co-curated with Scottish artist/curator Ailie Rutherford after the 1996 anthology "Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace". The SoC program looks at women*, technology and digital art in a post-gendered world, coding an identity that lies at the intersection between the individual and the collective. The SoC considers gender to be beyond the binary male / female definitions. Therefore, we understand the term women* to be inclusive of Trans and Intersex women and those who identify as non-binary and gender, ultimately promoting the freedom of identity and expression.
Highlighted in our choice of name, the School of Cyborg is an exciting space for learning and exploration. It is fundamental to the program that local groups witness our exposed curatorial process and research. We do so through hosting an open discussion with the community, publishing and sharing our developments and research via our fortnightly blog.
During the research phase, we used visual thinking methods supported by state-of-the-art technologies that permitted us to work from a distance. As a result, the group has been dislocated in different countries worldwide, and our ideas gathered on a Miro board, open to the public, will be present in our Dundee Headquarters.
Research spun over various themes, from local to global issues, from scientific research to artistic practices, in a cumulative process that conserved the heart of the project, despite the noise.
We take the term 'cyborg' from Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto (1985), defined as "a kind of disassembled and reassembled, post-modern collective and personal self … a creature in a postgender world.' (p33, p3). The concept of the cyborg in the post gendered world that Haraway presents has become synonymous with the project. The SoC’s research has and continues to explore the challenges women* face due to the digital gender divide through reduced access to financial resources, education, and time. These are just a few examples of the barriers that women* face when engaging with technology.
UNESCO’s 2019 research ‘Closing the gender divide in digital skills’ shows that the more sophisticated the technology, the wider the gender gap grows, ultimately leaving women* with underdeveloped digital skills. Similarly, these barriers are faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. Following the European Digital Rights (EDRi) claims, we see the creation of safe online spaces as fundamental for both groups. Too often, powerful platforms operate the monopoly on expression policies, causing censorship or, worse, endorsing sexist and homo/bi/transphobic groups through the lack of moderation. EDRi also recognises how those digital dynamics of power have endorsed hate crime offline. At the same time, the intrusive nature of data gathering remains an open issue for apps designed for women* and LGBTQIA+ individuals. To meet positive standards of digital practice, the SoC interacts with the LGBTQIA+ Community in Dundee through non-traditional yet transformative participatory methods and open discussions.
To facilitate these practices, the SoC have invited artists, performers, and academics from across the globe to engage with Dundee's LGBTQIA+ community and question what we understand women* to mean: what does it mean to be a woman* engaging with online communities? How do we form our online identities, and how do we get recognised? What does it mean to create a safe space online? How do digital technologies influence identity constructs? What's the relationship between technological imagination and gender identity? These questions form the foundation of a 2-day programme performed with local needs in mind. These necessities will be shared in the participative process of the event design.
From the 10-13 November 2021 NEoN Digital Arts Festival will be active in Dundee and on its newly developed online festival platform. The School of Cyborg proposes events to take place on the 6-7 November 2021. The programme will be delivered both online and offline at our Dundee base at Kathryn Rattray Gallery. The scope of the programme is double: on the one hand, it aims to create a debate around digital gender gaps, facing the themes of digital literacy, infrastructure access and online safety; on the other hand, the programme tackles through talks and workshops the notion of woman*, focusing on digital and internet-based spaces and identities.
The talk with scholar Shannon McRae is central to the Dundee SoC's programme. McRae's essay "Coming Apart at the Seams: Sex, Text and the Virtual Body" has been an inspiration and a point of reference for the SoC. In her essay, McRae presents online roleplay platforms as places where one's sexual identity(ies) can be explored, and boundaries of male/female tradition can be blurred. Focusing on early text-based online roleplaying games, McRae conducts interviews with role players and performs critical research demonstrating how the fictional universe provides a space to discover the limits and possibilities of identity and identification.
No longer limited by the physical body and traditional gender roles, users of these platforms are granted the freedom to change and explore identities. Who can one be online? Furthermore, the platforms provide spaces free of the cultural stigma that characterises gender issues in the contemporary age. Through an increased understanding of these benefits of digital presences and platforms, SoC's programme addresses and raises awareness of computer literacy and access issues within the LGBTQIA+ community in Dundee. The SoC has created a schedule of classes and workshops through the lens of digital art to address how we read technology and digital art through collaborative processes. The curators invited renowned digital artists to perform, propose and participate in a number of playful workshops. The workshops will also give tools to understand digital art and its peculiarities.
With SoC’s model of care and empathy to the community, this partnership asks for a specific ethos in the design and production of these workshops: it is key that the physical and virtual spaces we use are safe spaces for those involved. To do so, we use tool kits developed by organisations such as LGBT health. In addition to the transparency of the project, we encourage the direct involvement of audiences in this programme. We hope to support, with this activity, (small) social changes oriented towards digital empathy, accessibility, and literacy.
We want to thank NEoN and our tutor Lee Weinberg for their continued support and enthusiasm for the project and our development.
Stay Safe and well,
Franki - on behalf of The School of Cyborg
* Following NEoN's statement, this includes Trans and Intersex women, non-binary, and gender-fluid people.
School of Cyborg is active from 6–7 November Online and at Kathryn Rattray Galley, Unit 3a, Meadow Mill, West Hendersons Wynd, Dundee, DD1 5BY.
Complete programme coming soon …
The School of Cyborg team are –