FACES: 20 Years of Interactions, Connections and Collaborations

Report from the symposium FACES: 20 Years from Oct 13–15, 2017 by Marina Gržinić

The online mailing list FACES was launched in 1997 by women that represent shifting political geographies: Kathy Rae Huffman (US citizen in Vienna), Diana McCarty (US citizen in Budapest), Valie Djordjevic (German citizen of Yugoslav descendent, based in Berlin). As Diana McCarty states this provided an important East/West geographical linkage. Finally the project was inaugurated in Vienna at a Face Settings dinner in 1997 (participants included Diana McCarty, Kathy Rae Huffman and Margarete Jahrmann).

The email list and platform bring together and connect media artists, activists, digital researchers and cyber-entities identifying as women. In 2017 we celebrated FACES’ 20th anniversary from 13 to 15 October 2017 at Schaumbad, a self-organized collective with ateliers and an exhibition space, in Graz, Austria. We (approx. 50 of us in person) celebrated FACES with an exhibition, performances, screenings and a symposium: on art, gender and technology. The gathering in Graz was largely a self-organized event, made possible by Eva Ursprung, a member of Schaumbad and also one of the core members of FACES. Ursprung worked closely with another key figure and founder of FACES, Kathy Rae Huffman. Together they curated the exhibition and envisioned the whole event with support from three other key figures of FACES: Valie Djordjevic, Diana McCarty, and Ushi Reiter.

FACES as a mailing list is not merely a way of networking, but also a digital method of documenting information, events, controversies, and calls for mobilization. It allows for a certain conscious activation and empowerment or the reconfiguration of access. Through FACES important documents and facts about media art and cultural productions have been preserved, memorialized and digitally cataloged.

The mailing list consists of hundreds of online positions that declare themselves as women, and are interested in being part of the network of women in media arts who connect in person and through the mailing list documented on the website www.faces-l.net. The hosting of the online platform and email list is done by servus.at – a small, independent internet service provider from Linz, Austria, where Ushi Reiter took on the co-moderating of the list.

Acceptance to the list is therefore determined by a declaration of a gender position that is not a biological condition, but rather a moment of positioning. In a way, it is determined by the definition of a certain political and also pragmatic condition, and therefore opens up a debate about what art and media practices of and for women are, what gender means as constructed category, and how we establish a relation to feminism as a political movement with a long history. It has become clear that the umbrella term “woman” is not solely a women’s issue, or a sexual or gender issue, and that gender is not a binary, nor is sex free from social and cultural construction. One of the questions that appeared immediately was the discussion on feminism, its white lineage and western history.

One possible response to the conflicting histories and agencies of feminism is the analysis put forward by the activist and theoretician Luzenir Caixeta, who works at and with maiz, a self-organized association of and for migrant women established in Linz, Austria, 25 years ago to help, educate and counsel migrants in Austria. In reference to another position taken by Beatriz Preciado, a transgender theoretician who has meanwhile transitioned and is today Paul Preciado, Caixeta talks of minoritized women, including immigrants, transgender people, sex workers, lesbians, etc., who all effect a transformation in and of feminism. In her essay “Minoritized Women Effect a Transformation in Feminism” from 2011 (reprinted 2013), Luzenir Caixeta talks of dissident movements within feminism that transform its white, heterosexual, essentialized perception (based on features that are seen as natural elements of a category called “woman”) into dissident feminisms (that is, feminism in plural!). Or, we can talk of the proletariat of feminisms in order to address today’s terminal relations between labor and capital regulated by hyper-precarity and the constant exploitation of those seen as non-citizens, or second-grade citizens in neoliberal global capitalism. The proletariat of feminisms resonates clearly with the relation of labor and capital in neoliberalism that installs the dictate of a constantly underfunded situation and persistent marginalization.

The meeting in Graz demonstrated that the members of FACES are not at all only the privileged white western majority women coming solely from the center of the imperial neoliberal capitalist world, but that we also come from the margins of the forgotten East of Europe and as well from the global South. Geopolitics strongly impacts FACES.

This is a point to emphasize that the many histories of feminisms and media works by women are formed along a geopolitical differentiation that runs along both sides of what is named the colonial/ racial divide of neoliberal global capitalism and supported by class differences.

At the end of the event at the plenary of FACES on 15 October 2017, we also discussed the old maladies of the European and global system of institutional, structural power that again tried to heavily marginalize the event. Though FACES has grown through networking for the last 20 years, the celebration of its 20th anniversary was underfunded and its historical importance under a pressure to be made less significant.

Therefore, at the plenary we set up a line of mobilization.

It consists of three areas of activation.

The first that was the most evident is an unequal condition of accessing public space in connection with the persistent marginalization of FACES. 20 years of interactions, connections and collaborations proved to be not enough to get full visibility, space and funds. Before Graz 2017, it was Ars Electronica in Linz, where one of the core groups of FACES presented the anniversary with a panel session. FACES fought for a central place of confrontation at Ars Electronica, rather than a separately organized (a room of one’s own) place of encounter, as offered by the festival. The demand for visibility means access to equal conditions of production, distribution and intervention, and not to be a separate agenda that is discriminated against on the basis of gender.

Though the material for the FACES panel was provided on time, the event was not published and therefore not documented in the main Ars Electronica catalogue. Situations like this testify again and again that women’s productions and talks are relegated to a section outside of the regular program. The 20th anniversary in Graz, the outcome of a 20-year process of empowerment, was also only given crumbs of financial support by those who should generally support events like this.

The proposal for mobilization consists of preparing a manifesto for the 21th century, with which to expose the constant process of marginalization, while calling for a transformation and radical change in the possibilities for working, presenting and networking. With the manifesto, which we will publish in 2018, we will demand a radical change in the possibilities we have within and against the neoliberal relation of labor and capital, which is only and solely a constant production of those who are seen as “less.”

FACES exposed a constant method of silencing, ghettoizing and diminishing the work done by the networking community of women named FACES. The mailing list accomplished a very important work of the re/construction of contested terrains. Re/construction is needed here to fight the absence of conditions for work, visibility and intervention.

The second line of activation that was brought up after the meeting in Graz is the question of the institutions and media of power. FACES has been confronted with cases of harassment and abuse of women that show how the center of western capitalist machinery has worked for decades. But it is clear to us that, before it leaked from the center of capitalism, we knew that harassment like this has been going on for decades in other parts of the world that were and are occupied by colonial powers, controlled by militia, and where human rights are just dead declarations on paper. Abuse and violent harassment have also been present in the last 30 years in (Western) Europe in many camps for refugees and post-war reconstruction community sites (especially in the Balkans).

The third line of activation is connected with visibility and history. As FACES makes a productive effort to be part of the Wikipedia project, this is about more than just being seen; it is an opportunity to reflect on a proper history. This was very well understood by many women artists, theoreticians, activists, and others, who immediately decided to give a face (a name and site connection) to FACES to be presented online. The other huge sub-topic that came out of the numerous presentations was the question of multiple histories and then the status of technology and media technology today.
From here it is also possible to generalize two strategies of mobilization: first, the body, technology and gender in connection with sexuality and with the social and historical corpus, and second, history in connection with politics and the archive. The interest in Wikipedia is also important because it emphasizes epistemology and methodology.

Finally, FACES in Graz and after Graz opened up questions of how we may continue to work, what the possible new artistic and social agendas of such a vast community may be, and also how it is possible for us to organize ourselves in the very near future and in the years to come, so that we can have events in real spaces with new vocabularies, counter-histories and agencies.

Special thanks to Aileen Derieg and Helen Varley Jamieson – without them this text will never appear.

Photo: Melissa Bertrand.