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<nettime> tandem surfing 3: subRosa
Ryan Griffis on Thu, 14 Aug 2003 02:30:04 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> tandem surfing 3: subRosa


Tandem Surfing the Third Wave: Part 3, interview with
subRosa
Ryan Griffis

This interview was conducted between subRosa and Ryan
Griffis via email correspondence during the first half
of 2003.

subRosa is an artists collective that produces
performative and new media projects that critique the
relationships between digital technologies,
biotechnologies and women’s bodies/lives/work. subRosa
was initiated in the fall of 1998 as a project at the
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, from which it has evolved
into its current form, a collective of five women
dispersed throughout the US. A new book, Domain
Errors: Cyberfeminist Practices, edited by Faith
Wilding, Michelle Wright and Maria Fernandez, was
recently released by the group and published by
Autonomedia Books. subRosa can be found on the Web at
www.cyberfeminism.net.
1.
RG: Could you briefly discuss cyberfeminism and how it
relates to other historical versions of feminism and
critical theory?

sR: The question of how to define cyberfeminism is at
the heart of the often contradictory contemporary
positions of women working with new digital
technologies and feminist politics. (1) Cyberfeminism
(CF) appeared toward the end of the 80's as a
promising new wave of (post)feminist thinking and
practice that  began to contest technologically
complex territories. By 2003 cyberfeminism is still a
controversial and puzzling term--as was made evident
by a recent lively exchange on the Undercurrents
listserve. (Undercurrents is a list-serve discussing
intersections of cyberfeminism, postcoloniality and
technology; it was initiated by Coco Fusco, Maria
Fernandez, Faith Wilding and Irina Aristarkhova in
2002).  In fact, the attempt to avoid defining
cyberfeminism became a central tenet for Old Boys
Network, a cyberfeminist group that is attempting to
create a CF politics and practice of dissent
[dissence] rather than adopt a univocal political
position or program. Not surprisingly though, the
refusal to define a politics grounded in specificity
often ends up reinforcing existing structured
inequities such as those of race and class. 
Members of subRosa differ in our politics, practices,
and everyday life conditions, but we agree that
perhaps the most urgent issue for cyberfeminist and
feminist practice and theory currently is that of
seeking female affiliations that respect difference
and create productive projects in solidarity with
others who are working on similar issues.
 subRosa believes that cyberfeminism is theoretically
and historically grounded in feminist philosophies and
embodied in political, cultural and social practices.
Crucially, CF needs to be informed by postcolonial
theories and critiques of technological culture and
representational politics. Areas of CF intervention
and practice include research on the specific impact
of ICT (Information & Communications Technologies) on
different populations of women globally--including
highly educated professional women in academia, the
sciences, medical, and computer industries, as well as
clerical and factory workers in the just-in-time
telecommunications and home-work industry, and rural
and urban women working in electronic parts factories
and assembly sweat-shops. In order to strategize CF
practices we must examine the impact of the new
technologies on women's sexuality and subjectivities;
the conditions of production and reproduction––always
already linked for women; gender roles, social
relations, and public and private space; and we need
to contest the naturalized value placed on speed and
efficiency when they take no heed of the limits and
needs of the organic body. In the aftermath of
colonialism, there are more migrants, refugees and
exiles than ever before and many of these migrants are
women. As women from developing countries increasingly
become the home-service and child-care labor employed
by wealthier families—as well as the world’s
electronic parts manufacturers, assemblers, and data
maintenance workers--the lives of women are mutually
reliant across divisions of race, class, and
nationality. Far from being subjects irrelevant to
electronic media and cyberfeminism, these migrant
populations are often the result of devastations
caused by the interventions of empire. We must begin
de-colonization in our own networks and embodied
relations. CF must also research, critique and contest
developments in bio-genetic technologies that will
profoundly affect environmental and human futures.
Cyberfeminists could spearhead activism and education
about Advanced Reproductive Technologies (ART),
transgenic crop production, stem cell technologies and
cloning, and new eugenics practices, to expose how
profoundly traditional concepts of women’s bodies and
gender roles are implicated in the deployment of these
technologies. bell hooks' definition of feminism
proposed almost two decades ago remains relevant to
cyberfeminists. In her words, feminism " is not simply
a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to
ensure that women will have equal rights with men; it
is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of
domination that permeates western culture on various
levels--sex, race, and class to name a few- and a
commitment to reorganizing US society so that the
self-development of people can take precedence over
imperialism, economic expansion, and material
desires." (2) 
 
2.
RG: How does subRosa's theory and practice fit into
this schema?

sR: At present (2003) subRosa consists of five new
genre artists who produce our projects. For our book ,
Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices (available from
<www.autonomedia.org>) we collaborated with cultural
theorists and postcolonial scholars Maria Fernandez
and Michelle Wright, and invited the participation of
12 contributors from different countries and fields of
cultural and technological research and practice. We
are currently beginning a new collaborative project
MatriXial Technologies with a group of artists,
scholars, and researchers in Singapore including Irina
Aristarkhova, Margaret Tan, and Adeline Kueh. The
project concerns itself with mapping global flows of
human tissue and bioinformatics, and the varying
meanings and effects these have on different
populations of women. sR practices an embodied "female
affiliation"  of welcoming, solidarity, and inclusion.
For example, when we are invited to do a project,
organize a panel, or speak at a conference, we try to
extend that invitation to include women with different
experiences and views whose voices have not been
heard, or who do not usually travel on the circuits
that we travel in. Our activist art practice is
cyberfeminist because it is based on a contestational
feminist analysis and critique of the effects of
digital (cybernetic) information, communication, and
biotechnologies on women’s material lives, bodies,
work, and social relations. subRosa consciously tries
to embody feminist content, practices, and agency 
within the electronic technologies, virtual systems,
and RL (Real Life) spaces, which we inhabit in our
work and lives. We consciously politicize and
problematize how both the content and form of our work
and social relations are mediated by digital
technologies. 

3.
RG: Since subRosa has been addressing different
aspects of science and technology, which are now
harder to separate than ever, what areas have become
important targets for the group to critique?

sR: One big area is always the language and practices
of science and of commodified biotech. Thus, for
example, we have critiqued the appropriation of the
feminist notion of "choice" to support commodified
development of ART's (Assisted Reproductive
Technologies). We also point to the ways in which the
promissory language of science and of many new medical
and genetic technologies work to naturalize the new
uses of biology in genetic and transgenic food and
medical production. For example in the area of cloning
and stem cell technologies (which is what we are
looking at right now) there is an incredible hype
going on that uses words such as "magic" "immortal"
and "totipotent" to describe various kinds of stem
cells. There is also the promise of "putting death to
death" of "rejuvenating" and "revivifying" organs,
aging bodies, and the like, not to mention "saving
lives" and "extending life indefinitely." Then, we are
also very concerned with capitalist science's
practices of privatization of intellectual property,
knowledge production and life tissues, as well as of
patenting life materials and biological processes. We
have talked with scientists and lab researchers in
both private commercial (corporate supported) and
academic (usually also corporate supported)
institutions and have often heard them complain about
the constraints that privatization and patenting put
on their research and the exchange of knowledge and
materials with other scientists. But for the public
(as guinea pig and eventual consumer) these are
crucial issues of concern that need to be acted on.
However, most people don't really understand what is
involved and have long since given up trying to keep
up with what science is developing. This is where we
can intervene as contestational artists and activists
who are willing to do the necessary research work to
be able to involve the public in a different kind of
understanding and experience of these biotechnologies
than sensationalized or overly technical scientific
reporting can. 
	For sR a central concern is also the ways in which
biotech and various digital technologies affect the
lives, livelihoods, bodies, roles, and subjectivities
of women in different ways than they may for other
sectors of the population. The bodies of women have
literally become parts-supply and production
laboratories for many aspects of the reprotech, stem
cell and cloning biotech industry. For example, lab
culture fluids (also known as matrixes) are sometimes
made to resemble female reproductive tract mucus by
adding cells from women’s fallopian tubes and uteri.
For ART, cloning and stem cell technologies pregnant
women are now routinely being approached and advised
to have their babies’ umbilical cord blood collected
and cryogenically stored as an eventual source of stem
cells that may one day “save the whole family.” Or, as
in ART, asking women to donate super-ovulated eggs or
"excess embryos" for therapeutic stem cell research.
But new biotech and genetic engineering affect women a
lot in other ways too, for example in food production
and subsistence farming, which is still done mostly by
female labor in many countries. Gena Corea, in
Man-made Women, cites the example of the Green
Revolution in India, where new farming technology
deprived millions of women of a living and of their
traditional agricultural work. This led in many cases
to further devaluing of women and consequently to
increased infanticide of female children, or of
sex-selective abortions after amniocentesis.
(Presumably many of these women who lost agricultural
work went into high-tech assembly plants or emigrated
to other countries to become domestic workers). 
In sR’s experience, attitudes and beliefs about sexual
difference are often a suppressed but important
element in scientific research and in the way various
technologies and scientific processes are deployed. We
need to research this much more.
	Then, finally we are also interested in questions of
difference and of the division of labor when it comes
to scientific research and digital technologies. For
example, we did a project for n.paradoxa examining the
"Economies of ART" in which we looked at the
integrated circuit of workers and knowledges that go
into "making a baby" with ART.
subRosa interview part2

4.
RG: subRosa counters the often exploitive aspects of
the “high tech gift economy” with what you called
“embodied ‘female affiliation’.” Some people may find
this essentialist in assigning a gender to the
practice, especially given the residual power of
gender bending cyber-theory, but Critical Art Ensemble
has spoken of the need for “tactical essentialism” in
order to create resistance. Does this become an issue
for the group?

SR: It might be more accurate to say that subRosa
counters the often exploitative aspects of the digital
info-, bio-, agri-, and repro-tech industries, with a
gift economy of embodied female affiliation. In other
words, we hope to challenge the axiomatic of global
pancapital, in which the value of all life--from the
molecular to the macro level--is understood solely in
relation to its potential to maximize profit. It is
rather the instrumental reduction of all of life under
the current order that is the true essentializing
machine. We hope to understand through our practice,
in detail and with specificity, how this is effecting
and affecting every day life. An embodied tactical
practice of female affiliation opens onto fields of
immanent possibility. For example, by asking, who
makes these computers (where are the actual female
bodies within the metaphorized 'matrix')? we
immediately are confronted with a whole series of
important questions. By forming resistant alliances
and networks based on contingent possibility rather
than fixed ideology, and asking "what can we actually
do, here, now, together? can we work together in a way
that avoids crushing difference?" many tactical
artists and activists today are making important steps
in countering the transcendent machines of alienation
and exploitation.
Our use of the strategy of female affiliation derives
in the first place from the important theory and
writings of Luce Irigaray who applies the term to
affective (emotional), political and even spiritual
practices. And of course it is also crucially related
to Gayatri Spivak’s writings about Subaltern Studies,
in which she develops the idea of “strategic
essentialism.”(from which no doubt the term “tactical
essentialism” is derived). In her book, Essentially
Speaking, Diana Fuss explains Spivak’s terms this way:
“Spivak’s simultaneous critique and endorsement of
Subaltern Studies’ essentialism suggests that humanism
can be activated in the service of the subaltern; in
other words, when put into practice by the
dispossessed themselves, essentialism can be
powerfully displacing and disruptive. This, to me,
signals an exciting new way to rethink the problem of
essentialism; it represents an approach which
evaluates the motivations behind the deployment of
essentialism rather than prematurely dismissing it as
an unfortunate vestige of patriarchy (itself an
essentialist category).” (p. 32)
 
sR’s deliberate revival and re-deployment of the
practice (and naming) of  female affiliation is
primarily a strategy of welcoming and hospitality (as
outlined by our friend and collaborator Irina
Aristarkhova), as well as an attempt to address the
ways in which we are consciously trying to discover
and live our differences and the meanings that they
produce--culturally, socially, politically. We suggest
that Irigaray’s important thinking about sexual
difference was often misread in 80’s anti-essentialist
feminist theory (whose denial of essence is quite
essentialist) that was almost phobic on the subject of
essentialism. With the result that complex political,
tactical, and practical ideas of feminists like
Irigaray, Audrey Lorde and others have been condemned
by different groups and often misrepresented or
completely suppressed. Irigaray’s insistence on female
affiliation, of women-among-themselves, addresses the
lived reality that women have had, and still have
almost everywhere in the world, very different subject
positions that men (if they had any at all, that is)
and that they must work from this difference to begin
to establish a sense of what not-male (also not-white,
not-dominant, etc.) might be. What could women be if
they did not constantly think of themselves as either
dependent on, or in competition with, or in opposition
to, men, but rather as different but complete in
themselves and with themselves? Irigaray eschews
“equality feminism” as a false goal, she says: “women
must of course continue to struggle for equal wages
and social rights against discrimination in employment
and education, and so forth. But that is not enough:
women merely “equal” to men would be “like them,”
therefore not women.” (This Sex Which is Not One p.
165-66) The world exists because of difference, not
sameness, and only if difference is recognized and
allowed to unfold fully can we have rich, various,
productive life. The long, deep habits of patriarchy
have seen to it that sexism, racism, and domination
are so deeply embedded in language and culture that
they are invisible and naturalized (they’ve become
guiding mythology). If we do not insist on practicing
and speaking female affiliation it will not exist in
consciousness—and thus also not in every-day life
where it can become productive. It should be noted
that “affiliation” is based on a Latin term derived
from adopting a son or daughter (filius or filia).
Female affiliation in practice means recognizing,
welcoming and acknowledging women in all their
differences in public speech, in all written language,
in embodied space; it is a resistant act that contests
embedded mythologies of human universalism and
sameness.
 
A word on cyber gender-bending: This has been
overcoded as liberatory and transformational. Embodied
gender-bending is usually a lot more risky and often
harshly punished. Cyber gender bending is strongly
associated with early cyberfeminism which contributed
importantly to this genre and opened up vital
discourse. However, it is hard to see how much further
this can be pushed in the virtual media and meanwhile
many difficult problems of unequal access and
repression in digital terrains still remain and need
to be addressed. We agree here with Anna Munster that
these are issues which feminism(s) can address. 

 5. 
RG: What have been the most significant sources of
resistance to the group’s contestational theory and
practice? And where have allies formed in cultural,
scientific, or other sectors?

sR: We have often had criticism from women (often
feminists) and couples considering using (or already
having used) processes of ART (Assisted Reproductive
Technologies) and who believe that sR as a feminist
group has the responsibility to support women’s
choices whatever they may be rather than critiquing
them. To this we respond that we have never taken the
position of judging individual women or their choices.
However, we certainly have critiqued the implied (and
actual) eugenicism of ART along with embedded
assumptions of universal desire for motherhood, and
the utopian and promissory language in which its
(still experimental, often dangerous, very expensive,
and only marginally successful) procedures are
couched. We have critiqued the advertising and
informational ploys of corporate ART that play on
women’s insecurities and desires by appropriating the
feminist rhetoric of “choice.” We have also suggested
that resistance to corporate “solutions” to
infertility can take the form of adoption, child
sharing, low-tech medical and fertility treatments, a
gamete commons, and getting rid of the idea of genetic
essentialism--i.e. parents desiring only offspring
with their own genes or with handpicked purchased
genes. Of course we’ve also encountered skepticism and
even hostility from doctors who see us (amateurs)
undercutting their (expert) markets. One female
gynecologist told us that she thinks it dangerous for
young women to go through super-ovulation in order to
donate eggs, but that the clinic she works for is of
course in dire need of such eggs and therefore
actively encourages young women to consider these
procedures through advertising that for example asks
women to consider giving “the gift of life.”
	We have had a lot of positive responses to our work
both from different publics—including students,
academics, activists and tactical media practitioners,
feminist, and general audiences—as well as from
feminist health workers, doctors, and people from
countries in which these issues are usually not
discussed so frankly, or so critically. Most of the
scientists we have talked to are intrigued and
interested and we have received many offers of help
and collaboration. So far, to our knowledge, we do not
seem to have antagonized  or scared the corporate
sector. So we need to work on that. 
 
6.
RG: Feminist voices often seem missing from
technological debates, or maybe suppressed is more
accurate. Rosalyn Deutsche has pointed out the
authoritarian and masculine desires within the
language of resistance itself that seeks to suppress
the gendered voice in favor of a mythical cohesive
public sphere. Have subRosa’s experiences revealed a
similar tendency within biotech resistance theory?

SR: One must ask: What is the public sphere anyway?
There are so many discourses that are repressed in it.
It is not surprising that feminist and minoritarian
voices continue to be suppressed in technological and
biotech debates since these areas are so intensely
male coded. However, many feminist and minoritarian
voices are critiquing new media art, information and
communication technological theory and applications,
and biotech theory and practice as well - Vandana
Shiva is only one example of these. There is a lot of
resistant work—both practical and theoretical-- going
on in India and Africa for example, that contests
biopiracy, biopatenting, and the production and
consumption of transgenic and genetically modified
crops and animals. Those of us living in the US and
Western Europe need to work much harder to ally
ourselves with these movements and voices because they
are actually resisting much harder--and sometimes more
successfully--than we, the corporate biotech takeover
of their genetic commons and agricultural heritage.
There is a strong Genetic Commons initiative coming
out of Porto Allegre’s World Social Forum and this
needs our active support. Corporate strong arming
techniques being applied in various countries in
Africa and Latin America are of course related to
those happening among farmers right here in the US. US
art activists and biotech tactical media artists are
generally not paying enough heed to what is going on
under our noses in regard to how farmers are being
coerced by agritech conglomerates to adopt exclusive
contracts to grow patented and proprietary biotech
crops or to convert to factory farming of animals.
This puts farmers in impossible positions and is once
again fundamentally changing the nature of all
agriculture and food production in the US-including
organic farming.
	It takes a great deal of research and perseverance to
find out about many of the initiatives and actual
tactical projects of resistance that are going on
locally in different countries—they do not tend to be
presented at new media festivals in Europe or the US.
Many of the people engaged in these activities do not
think of themselves as artists or even activists. They
are struggling for survival. Often they are under
intense threat from the corporate sector they are
contesting, and their resistance to adoption of
biotech or high-tech products or methods may be in
direct opposition to deals their governments are
trying to make in order to get loans and technological
assistance and investment in their countries. Thus,
such resisters are doubly threatened from both within
and without and their work is suppressed and silenced
at every turn.. subRosa is interested in finding out
about the tactics of such resistance, supporting it,
learning from it, and engaging in it ourselves in
whatever way we can through our own projects. We’ve
started a project called Refugia BAZ (Becoming
Autonomous Zones) in which we would like to feature
such resistant projects and to collaborate with people
from whom we could learn, or to whom we could be of
help.
7.
RG: Many in the “New Media” community are aware of the
practice of the Electronic Disturbance Theater and
Ricardo Dominguez’s work with the Zapatista struggle
(see discussion between Coco Fusco & Ricardo Dominguez
http://www.metamute.com/look/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=1&NrIssue=23&NrSection=10&NrArticle=241&ST_max=0)
that desires to expand the uses of technology to
Southern struggles against pancapitalism while also
learning from them. You mentioned the “Refugia BAZ”
project, could you discuss that project and what its
context is?

sR: Our Refugia BAZ (Becoming Autonomous Zones)
differs in many ways from the EDT projects you
mentioned, but we don’t have room to discuss this in
detail here. sR is not so much focused on expanding
uses of technology, as we are on trying to find out
what technologies people already are using, how they
are using them, and what the effects of this usage
are—we focus on a pedagogical and
consciousness-raising approach. So far we have not
focused our projects on a particular activist group or
political campaign, though we are in solidarity with
many such groups and would help them in any way we
could. We often use different—often fairly
low-tech—digital technologies in our projects and we
are very conscious of the ways in which different
groups in different countries use a mixture of
traditional and new technologies extremely inventively
to suit their purposes. This is truly tactical media
at work. For example, the way radio is used in many
Latin American countries is quite different than its
use in the US. Print media like wall posters,
billboards, photo-novelas and street comix also have a
very different status still as important communication
devices.  Refugia—see the BAZ manifesto on our web
page >www.cyberfeminism.net< –– is a series of modular
projects that generate and explore political,
cultural, and ecological aspects of “Refuge.” Modules
can combine participatory live performances,
interactive WEB works/installations, workshops and
residencies in colleges and communities, as well as
radio, video, digital, and print production. REFUGIA*
is an open framework that provides spaces to imagine
and create critical models of cultural contestation
and creative intervention. It comprises a feminist BAZ
'tool-kit' [with material and digital components] for
activist projects and proposals.  (*REFUGIA is: “A
center of relict forms from which a new dispersion and
speciation may take place”; a specific reserve for
non-transgenic crops within biotech agricultural
fields; an asylum for political or dissenting persons;
and a critical space of autonomous social becoming and
practice for contestational action.) The project will
last from approximately March 2002-December 2004. So
far we have done several projects within this
framework, including the “Grade AAA Eggs” and
“Biopower, Unlimited” projects at BGSU, Ohio;
MatriXial Technologies (in progress) in collaboration
with Singapore; “International Markets of Flesh”
Mexico City (July 2003); and U-Gen-A-Chix (provisional
title for performance at Southwest Missouri State
University, October, 2003). 

8.
RG: i’m interested in the mode of production sR
practices, moving the group throughout the US and
various other locales, like the recent collaboration
in Singapore. As someone who is always moving and
making as many (if not more) contacts through online
and “away from home” situations myself, the mobility
of a lot of tactical/contestational media seems
“second-nature”. One of the long-standing dictums of
contestational practice, even before the “Battle for
Seattle,” is that “resistance must be as mobile as
capital,” but this form of work usually requires
substantial capital itself. How does sR relate to this
global mobility and distribution of cultural activity?


sR: You bring up a somewhat sore point with which we
wrestle daily. On the one hand, we are committed to
local, embodied work and action. On the other hand the
reality is that (as of Fall 2003) we are living in 4
different cities and are doing our projects wherever
we are invited to do them. It is important to note
that for many people—refugees, migrant workers,
historically nomadic people, for example—mobility is a
necessity, while for others (Euro and US activists,
artists, academics, CEO’s, etc.) it is a privilege:
For example, not everyone can afford to fly to Cancun
or Porto Alegre to “resist.”  So far our projects have
ranged from Singapore, to Europe, Mexico, and many
places in the US. We are interested in expanding our
audience and also in working in non-Western countries
because we learn so much more and we are dealing with
subject matter—such as biotech, women’s health, labor
issues––that are burning issues everywhere and that
connect women all over the world in very new ways. The
MatriXial Technologies project for example, is about
tracking and mapping the global flows of human tissue
in the form of stem cell lines and cloned embryos, and
looking at what the implications of these new
distributed global bodies are. So we are looking at
these other forms of globally distributed bodies and
body parts. In our Mexico project, International
Markets of Flesh (IMF) we are looking at the same
issue through the example of organ procurement and
transplantation, and connecting it to exchanges of
laboring and reproductive bodies across borders. These
are very big and complex subjects and require a great
deal of research. 
MatriXial Technologies is a good example of our
working process. We started with a two-week subRosa
residency in Singapore where we worked every day with
our collaborators, Irina Aristarkhova, Margaret Tan
and Adeline Kueh. We visited umbilical cord-blood
banks and embryonic stem cell cloning labs and
interviewed doctors and scientists about their work.
We also visited the largest women’s hospital in
Singapore, met with gynecologists and obstetricians
there, and were informed about the different ways in
which women from different ethnicities are treated
when they give birth. We also were toured around the
intensely technologized environment of the ICU for
premature babies and were able to discuss the uses of
these “life-saving” technologies with nurses and
interns. We conducted workshops on “Cloning Cultures”
in the art school and also took part in a symposium on
art and science at the National University of
Singapore.  Subsequently, we have conducted workshops
in Chicago at Version>3 Festival and plan one in
Amsterdam for the Next Five Minutes Festival. This
project is going slowly because of the necessity of
collaborating across such huge geographical divides,
and because we need to take a lot of time to work out
our differences of opinion and approach to the subject
matter and to production. We are planning eventually
to produce performances, print and graphic material,
videos, maps, and possibly some interactive
installation work. Fortunately, we received a grant
from the Creative Capital Foundation that has been
really helpful toward funding this preliminary work. 
It is clear that sR works situationally and that this
slows us down quite a bit. It also means starting anew
with each different project.  But we are beginning to
pull together as quite an efficient team and are
finding that we can adapt much of what we produce in
one project to other situations. Mostly our funding
comes from the places that invite us and we have
luckily had a few grants. However, we regularly
contribute personal money to projects that interest us
for which there is no, or little, funding.  All of us
have full-time day jobs and some of us cannot afford
to take much unpenalized time off from them for our
work and for our travel to presentations. However, as
you point out, it seems to be our current condition
that in order to be active in the world it requires
travel. In the scope of things we realize that just to
be able to do as much (mostly subsidized) travel as we
do is a real privilege. At the same time, the amount
of money and resources we and the art world in general
use up is quite small when compared to most research
work—especially that in the sciences or marketing. We
hope that the meaning of the work we do compensates
for the expenditure in resources that it requires. 

9.
Going back to what you said before about the
appropriation of “choice” by the reprotech industry,
similar forms of appropriation by other biotech
industries have been criticized by environmental and
agricultural activists as “greenwashing” and “playing
the hunger card.” As Francis Lappe and others have
pointed out, the promise of GMOs to feed “the hungry”
and reduce the use of chemicals are some of the more
insidious and widely used. Despite the vast collection
and publishing of data revealing that hunger results
from lack of distribution, not production, while the
majority of GMO crops are designed to use more
pesticide (Monsanto’s Round-Up product-line being the
most blatant), the discussion has been following the
path of the global warming debate, i.e. an ideological
battle overwhelmed by industry-led organizations
creating massive PR campaigns to misrepresent
criticism. i would imagine that the discussion of
reproductive technologies becomes even more
ideological, when it’s even discussed at all, due to
the history of reproductive rights struggles here.
Many of the activists i know are involved in fighting
transgenic developments, and do not often seriously
consider the ramifications of genetically assisted
reproduction, or how the desire for the technology is
being created. At the same time, the issue seems off
the radar for most pro-choice advocates. Which is one
reason why sR’s work is so vital, in my view. How is
the rhetoric of “choice” shaping reprotech, and how
does Sr, through projects like “Expo Emmagenics,”
attempt to redirect the debate?

SR: As you are probably aware, we wrote a long article
on this subject called “Stolen Rhetoric: The
Appropriation of Choice by ART Industries. It is
included in “Domain Errors!Cyberfeminist Practices”, a
subRosa book now out from Autonomedia Books ( July 1,
2003). Here is a taste of it from the Introduction and
Conclusion:
(Introduction)“Biotech industries currently expanding
globally, but especially in the U.S., have opened new
frontiers for colonizing bodies––and commodifying and
patenting life––at the molecular and genetic level.
Gamete harvesting and freezing, In Vitro Fertilization
(IVF), Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI),
pre-implantation embryo screening, and genetic
manipulation of embryos, are just some of the new
techniques transcending previous limits of
reproductive intervention that have profound
repercussions for human genetic heritage. Under the
guise of optimizing reproduction––and “improving”
human beings––ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies)
are rapidly being naturalized in every day life. As
feminist theorists have pointed out, the new biotech
reproductive order has territorialized the female body
as a pre-eminent laboratory and tissue mine for a
lucrative medical/pharmaceutical industry (1). 

The women’s liberation movement of the early ‘70s
formulated a politics of women’s autonomy and control
over their sexuality and reproduction that included
the right to safe contraception and abortion. By the
late ‘80s, after almost two decades of abortion wars,
the politics of autonomy and liberation had been
transformed into a rhetoric of “choice” typified by
the slogan: “A woman’s right to choose,” which became
identified with the pro-choice movement. Since then,
the rhetoric of “choice” has become firmly associated
with reproductive liberalism. 

Using strategic marketing, a seductive consumer
industry intent on normalizing ART in every-day life
has appropriated the rhetoric of “choice” in order to
appeal to a broad constituency of progressive
consumers ready to produce “children of choice.”
Marketers of new reprogenetic technologies (Reprotech)
were quick to capture this rhetorical territory,
cashing in on the expectation that it would appeal to
liberal, educated, middle class consumers schooled by
feminist activism to be proactive in personal health
care. ART industries, principally driven by profit
making motives and embodying eugenic ideologies, have
recuperated the politicized rhetoric of “choice” only
by concealing a deeply embedded conflict between the
macro politics of rationalized reproduction in late
capital and a micro politics that capitalizes on
individual desires. 

Despite the highly invasive and risky body processes
of ART, many feminists have explicitly welcomed the
development of Reprotech for its promises of an
expanded range of reproductive choices for women.
Others have recognized that Reprotech represents not
only an ultimate form of body colonization, but that
its practices and ideologies reinforce patriarchal
systems of scientific and medical authority, control,
and rationalization of reproduction––contradicting
feminist philosophies of women’s autonomy. …..

(Conclusion) The micro and macro politics of the
public discourse of ART are unbalanced; currently the
forces of market capitalism have won the field with
the consumer friendly appropriated rhetoric of
“choice.” Research in assisted Reprotech is still
advancing rapidly, and increasingly there are
contestatory interests at stake. An ever-growing body
of feminist cultural theory and literature, as well as
new media practices and art works play with concepts
of the cyborg body and recombinations of women and
machines. The ‘80s saw strong feminist activism, both
in the U.S. and internationally (groups such as
FINNRAGE), that critiqued and opposed new Reprotech
using many classic activist feminist arguments and
tactics. But currently there is a wide gap between
academic theory and activist (radical) feminist
practices in the domains of biotech and ART.
(Cyber)feminist artists working with these domains
must expose the ways in which the marketing of ART
promotes the colonizing interests of late capital,
rather than the critical goal of women’s autonomy.

New developments in ART, genetics, and biotechnology,
are constructing new rhetorics and practices. This
places critical artists who desire to counter the
recuperation of political and cultural rhetoric by a
consumer economy in a quandary. On the one hand they
must learn enough about the new biological science to
understand its implications and risks; on the other,
they must maintain a critical stance and create a
non-specialist public discourse that debunks the
capitalist propaganda of corporate biotech. One way to
do this is through cross-disciplinary collaborations
of artists, scientists, doctors, and health
practitioners, in which expertise is shared to create
a participatory discourse. Rather than producing
aestheticized representations or objects celebrating
biotech (as many artists are now doing), such
collaborations involve participants in a critical and
pedagogical process––an information theatre––in which
they can develop informed, critical responses based on
actual learning and experience. 

The challenge for feminist activist/artists is to
create strategies to deterritorialize biotech’s
control of the female body. In Women as Wombs, Janice
Raymond suggests separating science from technology in
order to create a new feminist science of reproduction
that doesn’t depend solely on risky high tech
solutions (9). (This is not because of technophobia,
but because it is the money to be made off
technologizing of science that attracts the interests
of capitalist entrepreneurs). Such a science would
recombine diverse sources of knowledge, and
interdisciplinary practices, to create wholly new
solutions that take into account women’s differing
conditions and desires––and it would be based on a
criteria of what is good for women’s autonomy. New
feminist reproductive science would have to devise a
workable distribution mechanism, perhaps based on a
combination of electronic networking and performative
practices. As in the autonomous method of menstrual
extraction practiced by lay people (and bypassing the
medical authority system), new approaches to
reproductive science could enlist feminist activists
as informed, non-specialist practitioners using
methods that foster principles of autonomy and
embodiment. 

subRosa has activated a resistant cultural practice
based on the goals discussed above. Initially, we have
focused on aspects of ART that have largely been
silenced in public discourse. We hope to disrupt the
current “choice” discourse of ART; to initiate an
interventionist debate and practice among diverse
non-specialist audiences; and to further probe and
expose biotechnologies’ far-reaching repercussions for
women’s health and bodily autonomy worldwide.
Following is a brief listing of subRosa projects on
ART to date: 1) “Does She or Doesn’t She”, “SmartMom”,
and “Vulva De/Reconstructa” expose gender differences
in ART practices, and highlight the effects of high
tech body invasion on women’s health and bodily
autonomy. 2) “Expo EmmaGenics” and “The Economies of
ART” question and challenge the ways in which market
forces drive the research, development and deployment
of Reprotech’s products and ‘services’ through an
analysis of the economies of ART; and 3) “Sex and
Gender Education in the Biotech Century” interrogates
the intersecting ideologies and practices that serve
to normalize and naturalize ART, exposing their
historical connections to eugenics and colonial
ideologies. 

1) Much of this interview contains material from Maria
Fernandez and Faith Wilding, "Situating
Cyberfeminism(s)," the introduction to Domain Errors!
Cyberfeminist Practices, a subRosa project,
Autonomedia Books, 2003.
 See also: "Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism,"
(Faith Wilding, n.paradoxa, No. 3, London, 1999);
"Notes on the Political Condition of Cyberfeminism,"
(Faith Wilding and Critical Art Ensemble, CAA Journal,
NY, Summer 1998).

2) Bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and
Feminism (Boston:South End Press, 1981), p. 194-195.



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