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What can feminism do for Digital Humanities, what can Digital Humanities do for feminism?

In recent years digital humanities has been transformed by technology capable of searching, recognising, reading and even creating images. This has prompted numerous questions about the possibilities of digital technology for engaging with art, and for telling art’s histories. But this also raises questions for feminism. How can the close looking enabled by computer vision help us see artworks differently? How can the advanced and fast searches enabled by algorithms alter our search terms, help us view collections holistically but from different perspectives and reveal new points of analysis? But more problematically, how do we bring these technologies to bear on artworks and art histories that are dispersed across collections, or not collected at all? How do we create feminist datasets that disrupt disciplinary or institutional values which remain little changed? What work has already been done? What is yet to do? What radical potentials are there in bringing feminist practice and digital humanities tools together?

This CFP comes from the work of Feminist Art Making Histories, a 3-year oral history, digital humanities project, funded by AHRC and the Irish Research Council (Tina Kinsella, Elspeth Mitchell, Martina Mullaney, Hilary Robinson, Ana Baeza Ruiz, Amy Tobin), which aims to archive testimonies and ephemera of the 1960s-90s, building a new archive-data set. We welcome papers that explore interventions, resistances, reshapings and differencings that might result from feminist digital art histories. We welcome approaches that are intersectional, including transnational, transcultural, and/or decolonial, with feminist thinking.

Session Convenor:

Hilary Robinson, Loughborough University

Speakers:

 Amy Charlesworth, Open University

Charlotte Procter, Cinenova, Open University

A Digital Divide? the history of film and video art as told through the Cinenova feminist archive (1979-2001)

This paper explores the seismic impact that UK women film/video makers had developing moving-image work. The Cinenova feminist film and video archive (1991-; a 1979 amalgamation of feminist film/video distributors: Circles and Cinema of Women) is an unevenly digitised, at-risk, audio-visual and paper repository, key to histories of moving-image art.

Preserving, and widening access to, the leading UK feminist artist film/video archive is integral to expanding knowledge of women artists’ contributions to film/video art; and crucial to understanding their role in the medium’s ascendency, in gallery spaces and in teaching these mediums in British art schools 1990s on (Pollock 2003).

The current Cinenova Working Group have sought to respect the intentions and aims of Circles’ original founders, ensuring the archive retains its original shape, resisting merges with larger distribution networks and archives. Thus the archive offers unique insights into 12 years of collection and distribution practices, and cncurrent political and social landscapes.

Digitisation processes opens questions around mobilisation of this material today (c.f. the Work We Share programme). Appraising contractions within the archive made possible by digitisation, reopens debates around how, e.g., key search terms might enforce connections across (seemingly) different genres. This paper will explore, through this archive, how the decision by women filmmakers to remove their work from the Film as Film exhibition (Hayward, 1979) can be reopened to ensure this act does not remain a mere footnote to film/video history, but rather a transformative process beginning in the 1970s with long-lasting ramifications, yet to be fully realised.

Marlo de Lara, Edinburgh University.

Digital Alchemy: From Origin to Contemporary Liberatory Usage

The promise of the digital humanities to serve minoritized peoples has become more complicated in recent years. If digital technologies serve to articulate and create openings for marginalized subjectivities, what are the ways this shows up today throughout the discipline? Furthermore, how has it fallen short for those who are intersectionally disadvantaged? I would like to explore the use of the concept of digital alchemy as described by Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey. In her 2015 article entitled, “#transform(ing)DH Writing and Research: An Autoethnography of Digital Humanities and Feminist Ethics”, Bailey describes digital alchemy as “the ways that women of color in particular transform everyday digital media into valuable social justice media magic.” Integral to her thesis was the use of Digital Humanist Mark Sample’s concept of ‘collaborative construction’; the building of new knowledges outside of unilateral processes that often rely on hierarchal tiers and gatekeeping of what justifies knowledge. Eight years later, digital humanities has enriched the discussions of social justice holding lived experience across difference and climate justice. This work attempts to track the journey of these concepts and aims to imagine how digital alchemist projects can continue to amplify the work of women of color today.

Ana Baeza Ruiz, Loughborough University

Martina Mullaney, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laóghaire

Museums without walls, again: Feminist Digital Art Histories 

This paper will introduce the work of Feminist Art Making Histories in gathering sixty oral histories of feminist-informed creative practice across the UK and Ireland. It will contextualise the project in relation to Digital Humanities’ methods and specifically Digital Art Histories. We will discuss the limitations of corpus analysis and AI-based “visual search” for engaging with already obscured feminist art histories, and consider the challenges posed by classification and categorisation working within and building new repositories. Thinking with DM Withers (2017), we will address the ways in which we may develop feminist annotation systems that allow for expansive and dynamic histories and enable “greater forms of relational and connective classification that can challenge normativities within information science that are ‘primarily based on … linear, hierarchical structure[s]’” (Withers 2017: 686). 

We suggest Digital Humanities in concert with feminist critique provides opportunities to intervene in the material conditions of museum collections, physical archives and existing classification structures, to create new formations for feminist knowledge. We are interested in the potential for creating datasets from the grassroots, and in the ways, we might map and connect this data in different forms that complicate teleological histories, hierarchies of value and material inequities. The paper will end by speculating on the possibilities for feminist digital art histories. 

Louise Wallace, Belfast School of Art, Ulster University

Trouble in the Troubles Archive: Picturing the Northern Irish Conflict Through a Digital Collection

Institutionally supported digital art collections may be considered part of the canonical narrativizing of art history. In Northern Ireland, Troubles Art occupies a prime position within our art histories. Its privileged status is underscored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI)’s creation and maintenance of an online Troubles Archive and Troubles Art collection. The Archive is described by ACNI as ‘a web-based inclusive resource that reflects the relevant work of all parts of the arts community in Northern Ireland during the years of the conflict’. Within the Troubles Art subsection there are 194 artworks by men and 32 artworks by women. This digital curation of artwork reflects the gendering of the Northern Ireland conflict politically and socially across public and private space, extending gender exclusions into cyberspace. In addition to the collection’s under-representation of women artists, there are problematic sexualised images of women in artworks made by men.

This paper proposes a feminist intervention within the Troubles Archive which necessarily reflects intervention strategies within bricks-and-mortar canonical structures. It is not a matter of simply adding women’s names to a digital dataset. It is necessary to first unravel the contexts around the production and management of digital resources as they relate to collecting, curation and classification.

Julia Polyck-O’Neill, University of Guelph

Feminist Futurities and Archival Subjectivities: Digital Humanities and Relationality in the Feminist Archive

Feminist archival scholars identify two interrelated contentions underlying current approaches to artists’ archives within the academic/archival milieu: systemic issues fundamental to archival conventions and practices; and shortcomings of formal organizational strategies within such practices. Michelle Caswell (2021) indicates broader ways archival studies have shifted to acknowledge and ground themselves in their subjects’ humanity, and the very subjectivities of those groups and/or individuals implicated in memory work. While these shifts signal interest in the effects of archives on archival users, the lived realities, individual and collective bodies and voices of the subjects, are also of primary importance.

This presentation takes the archival collections of Joyce Wieland (Canada; 1930-1998) as a case study. It considers ways the breadth of Wieland’s creative output in her fonds (Clara Thomas Archives, York University) has been necessarily remediated by text and other documentation; and considers ways that collaborative, networked, archival methods could benefit both the collection and its users. I speculate how adding (auto)biographical, narrative, networked data and digital media, using feminist ethical logics, potentially increases access and transforms relationships between artist, archival institution(s), and user(s), effectively opening Wieland’s work to bespoke engagements. Reflecting how such methodologies might promote critical, insightful forms of research that better reflect the subjectivities of both Wieland as archival subject, and the user, I consider how such encounters might shift understandings of how archives assist in (re)constructions of the past, and help generate speculative archival futurities in emergent art historical contexts, where the primary concern is the archival subject’s humanity.

Micol Hebron, Chapman University CA USA

Fuck, Marry, Kill: How AI Represents Women

Artist Micol Hebron’s paper explores the pervasive misogyny in the aesthetics of AI-generated content and its implications for representations of women in art and digital spaces. Hebron explores the cis-hetero, patriarchal dynamics shaping relationships between prompt language and the aesthetics of AI-generated images. She spotlights sexist implications of AI aesthetics which perpetuate distortions, erasures and censorship of women’s bodies, women’s experiences, and feminist histories online.

Over a year, Hebron engaged with AI, generating >25,000 images, and demonstrating that AI functions as a mirror, reflecting generations of gender bias in art and history. Using strategically neutral, non-descriptive prompt language, Hebron asked AI to decide how to represent sociocultural tropes like ‘feminism’; ‘political ideology’; ‘gender’; ‘equity’; ‘power’; and representations of feminist histories, slogans and actions: consciousness-raising sessions, pro-choice marches, birth scenes, etc. The resulting images reveal exaggerated gender clichés, often containing explicitly violent or sexual depictions, permeated by aesthetics of video game characters, anime, sex dolls, and pornography. Highlighting that AI sources its image ‘ideas’ from algorithms and large data corps predominantly constructed by male programmers, Hebron identifies the urgent need for increased diversity (and feminism!) in DH among computer scientists, researchers, artists, and online content providers.

Hebron concludes with a call to action, proposing feminist strategies for engaging AI and populating digital archives and datasets with more feminist research and images in order to counterbalance gender bias, correct existing distortions, and cultivate a more inclusive and equitable digital landscape.

Examples of works discussed are in the AI Portfolio at www.micolhebron.com 

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