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<nettime> What I Saw and Didn’t See at Arse Electronica
lotu5 on Sun, 28 Oct 2007 18:09:11 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> What I Saw and Didn’t See at Arse Electronica

I just posted this review at my new blog: http://technotrannyslut.com

The version there contains links for many of the sites mentioned.


What I saw was Binks on stage, behind a sheet, cumming. What I
didn’t see was any serious discussion of what this kind of voluntary
self exposure means for feminism or for the liberation of people in

A young woman with an awesome mohawk volunteered from the audience
to get fucked on stage by a robot. Or more specifically, by a robot
operated by someone who appeared male and by a “Fucks-all”, a modified
“Saws-all” with a dildo on the end. From the time it took them to
get the stage ready after she volunteered, I think she was a real
volunteer and not a plant or a paid performer. She did all this
onstage behind a sheet, to avoid the USC 18 2257 restrictions on what
can be included in the webcast of the event. She ended by having a
great orgasm, and right when she did, the “Lick-a-Chick” (basically
a tongue chainsaw) on the robot was still running and apparently
threw some of her ejaculation up in the air above the sheet, which
was a pretty awesome sight. It was hot. I was physically hot just
watching her orgasm in the room with all of us. She asked for more and
proceeded to have another orgasm while the DJ began playing music.

While this was surely the height of opening night, and possibly the
height of the conference for some people, it was a bit disconcerting.
Sure, she volunteered to get fucked by a robot. Although, in the
ensuing moments, there was some negotiation about what she was going
to do, while she was already onstage. It seemed like there could be an
important discussion had about safe space in this regard.

She was asked who she thought was hotter, c3po or r2d2 and she said
r2d2. The person who asked the question replied with “don’t you think
r2d2 is a whiny little bitch?”, to which she replied “Don’t you be
messin with my man!” At this point, I felt like there were definitely
people in the audience who had paid to come to see a conference about
porn, who didn’t necessarily have any feminist concerns. I don’t
actually even know how much the volunteer is concerned with feminism,
but the comment made me uncomfortable. I realize that I am approaching
porn from the viewpoint that it empowering to reclaim our sexualities,
which I see as part of third wave feminism. Still, I realized that
not everyone in the room agreed on that point. I stayed, though, and
didn’t give up on the event because I realize that a little discomfort
is good. I know that a lot of my work makes people uncomfortable and
I consider that valuable, challenging people’s accepted notions of
gender, sexuality and desire. Also, I believe that it is valuable to
have a diverse movement, that difference is important and generative,
and that the current pro-porn movement is diverse ideologically. But
did Binks feel safe, or empowered or something else?

One thing definitely left unmentioned at the conference as any
serious critique of the hosts of the space, Kink.com. It appeared
that everyone was so grateful to have such a nice dungeon for the
conference, or maybe so grateful to be in close proximity to the
“real” porn industry, that there was no critique made of Kink.com.
Yet, even in Monochrom’s opening night talk about their punch, there
was a lot of critique made of capitalism and the bourgoisie. Kink.com
is a profit oriented business, fully supporting and benefiting from
capitalism. As a web business they are fully benefiting off of virtual
capitalism, surely making lots of money from international viewers. In
addition, in the videos that I have seen from Kink.com, their “talent
scouts” as they were referred to the first night, seem to think that
talent means fitting within the oppressive beauty standard doled
out in mainstream media and mainstream porn. Anyone who is not very
skinny, with perfect skin and a hairless body will not be chosen by
the Kink.com talent scouts. On opening night, an employee of Kink.com
stated that they hosted the conference because a main part of their
mission is to support people in finding their kink. I would argue that
their mission is currently only supporting a small subset of people
with specific body types, and the people who are attracted to them, to
engage in their kinks.

What I saw was Mark Dery’s coneptually in depth keynote, discussing
commodification of sexuality and the more recent move towards gore
porn and war porn and a critque of Pornotopia. What I didn’t see was
Mark moving beyond what has already been said. While he showed some
interesting examples of particular water fetishes like the guy who got
off on bathing in his business suit, he discussed water bondage as if
it was obscure, while the water bondage tank of Kink.com sat in the
next room. While raising the spectre of warporn, he didn’t go beyond
the descriptions of it I’ve already read from Mateo Pasquinelli.
Still, Mark’s talk was one of the most conceptually rigorous and most
critical of porn as a panacea, which was important as an opening
keynote at this kind of event.

I saw Violet Blue’s talk, which continued to explore some of the
current dangers resulting rom a lack of online sexual privacy. She
said flatly tha the LGBTQ(IA…) community need their online privacy
and that women need their online privacy because they are all targets
of violence. She also went on to explain how USC 18 2257 endangers
people by violating their privacy. Hopefully the recent ruling against
2257 is a beginning of a positive change in that direction. Violet
Blue’s talk was possibly the best example I saw at the conference
of addressing the issues of gender and sexual inequality. Her talk
actually addressed some of the dangers that face queer people and
women specificaly and then went on to discuss how those dangers are
worsened by current laws regarding online pornography. Still, I
don’t think I heard the word feminism or feminist all weekend, which
seems strange to me. There are feminist porn awards, so its not like
there’s some inherent conflict between gender liberation and porn. But
there are no feminist technology awards that I know of. Could some
of the latent mysoginy at the conference be thanks to the high tech
community’s unaddressed gender inequality?

What I didn’t see was Violet Blue seriously challenging Eon McKai
of Vivid Alt. Throughout the interview, he answered questions by
rambling on every direction and name dropping porn industry all stars
constantly. Eon showed a trailer for his film the Doll Underground
which purports to be radical. It shows a radical underground group of
women who make the call to “Don’t buy anything! Don’t sell anything!”
One of the “communiques” in the film talks about how women have been
duped by men into being wives and housekeepers and how this has
to end. But I asked him, “Is this video going to be sold by vivid
alt? Do you think it is radical or transgressive at all?” And yes,
this video with heavily make up’ed skinny white girls pulling up
their skirts while making anti-capitalist communiques will be sold
as a DVD by one of the biggest mainstream porn companies and the
profits will go to the old white men who own it. Eon’s answer to
my question as mainly “as an artist, if you can find an audience
for your work in your lifetime, that’s a big thing,” which I can
understand, but I don’t see why that necessitates totally violating
the principles of your work in the process. As far as I’m concerned,
the Doll Underground is an excellent example of industry co-optation
of radical imagery and discourse for profit. It clearly shows the
limits of radical porn production when the content is the only radical
part but the anti-capitalist or the feminist values are not extended
into production and distribution.

What I saw was Annalee Newitz’s talk about a history of sex and
technology which laid out the clearest question and challenge that I
heard all weekend. She said that the vibrator had introduced a wholy
new sensation into our sexual vocabulary and asked what sex toys of
the future might do to similarly add an entirely new experience.

I saw the talk by Slashdong which introduced me to a few new topics
like DIY electrostim and biosensor technologies. What I didn’t see in
that talk was addressed in a later talk by Amanda Williams. She spoke
of a more holistic approach to sexual technology, thinking beyond
devices that attach to the genitals or other specific parts of the
body. She showed examples of new interfaces, made from wood(!) for
tactile interfaces and other devices like a hugging machine designed
by an autistic woman. Her talk called for interface designers thinking
about sex and technology to approach the problem more holistically,
including the whole body and aspects like breath.

Another thing I didn’t see was much in depth discussion about
transgender relationships to sexual technology, or much in depth
discussion of gender and how it affects sexual technology in general
or how more fluid conceptions of gender might spur new thinking about
sex tech. Annalee did talk about having sex as an octopus, referring
to conceptions of gender identity outside of male and female that are
common in spaces like Second Life.

Overall, my impression was that Arse Electronica was mostly populated
with geeks interested in studying and talking about sex. I didn’t see
all of the talks. The schedule was very difficult in this regard,
with something like 10 hours of talks a day. I think that I was
expecting, or hoping for, more artists and theorists to be there,
engaging in more nuanced discussions of the significance of these
technologies for queer theory, for feminism, for other disciplines
and trans-disciplinary practices working towards what Homi K. Bhabha
calls “liberationist aesthetics”[1] and what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls
“a larger effort to make the world more socially just”[2]. I found
the talks interesting, if not totally satisfying. What was mostly on
display at Arse Electronica were practitioners who are making and
using and writing about sex tech, and that’s not bad. Still, it is
my hope that at the next conference about sex and technology that I
go to, we can all have a more nuanced, informed dialog. As the first
event of its kind in the US, this event was fun and fascinating. My
call to all those who were at the conference or who wish they were
and plan to continue to develop or write about sexual technology
is this: consider the stakes, consider who the intended audience
is and who is excluded from that audience, consider who is being
liberated and empowered by these technologies and who is being left
out of that liberation and consider how to make your discourse of
liberation inform your entire process from research to production to

Annalee Newitz said in the conclusion of her talk that, i’m
paraphrasing here, “we will take these technologies into our own
hands and shape them to increase our own pleasure”. The statement
was empowering, if also consciously ironic and sly, but my question
is who is the “we” that she is talking about and who will get to use
these new technologies? What I’m talking about here is not some simple
reference to a “digital divide”, but a request for us to really look
at the operation of exclusion that happens through jokes and other
levels of operation outside of spoken discourse, like infrastructure,
decision making structures, licensing and access control. Who gets to
play in our new virtual-cyborg-sexual wonderland, who gets invited,
who even knows it exists and what are we challenging?

[1] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, p. 19 [2] Dipesh
Chakrabarty, The Time of History and the Times of Gods, in The
Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, eds. Lisa Lowe and Daivd
Lloyd, p. 35


blog: http://technotrannyslut.com
gpg:  0x5B77079C // encrypted email preferred
gaim/skype: djlotu5 // off the record messaging preferred

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