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The Computer Grrrls Exhibit Brings Women in Tech Full Circle

Part historical retrospective, park art exhibition, part conference, Computer Grrls takes over La Gaîté Lyrique to put women in tech back in the spotlight. The four month-long exhibit, which concludes July 14, highlights the history of women in tech and offers special events to open up the digital world to more women.

The exhibit centers around the work of twenty-three international artists and collectives, all of which highlight discrimination in computer technology since the 1980s. Surveillance, gender bias in algorithms, anxieties around AI, and the role women have and will continue to play in these issues are all on center stage.

As curator Marie Lechner explains, the name of the exhibit was inspired by a 1967 article that appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine, titled ‘Computer girls’. At the time of the article’s publication, computer technology was largely considered a feminine domain. However, as Nathan Ensmenger chronicled in his book The Computer Boys Take Over, throughout the 1960s, digital technology was slowly and deliberated re-marketed into a masculine field. Today, women make up only 15% of all computer technology jobs.

Visitors take in the Computer Grrrls Exhibit Image via La Gaîté Lyrique.
Visitors take in the Computer Grrrls Exhibit Image via La Gaîté Lyrique.

According to Ensmenger, to attract men to this once-feminized profession, it became necessary to remarket the image of programming into an intellectual and logical art. The process was similar to that of the rebranding of cooking as women’s work into an academically-oriented creative science. Computer programming was plucked from the administrative offices and ushered into the gilded halls of academia, re-inscribed as a complex form of science beyond the intellectual capacities of the very women who had made the field what is was. This historical amnesia is something which the Computer Grrrls exhibition seeks to reverse.

A visitor watches Nadja Buttendorf's installation piece. Image via La Gaîté Lyrique.
A visitor watches Nadja Buttendorf’s installation piece. Image via La Gaîté Lyrique.

The artists present at the exhibition work within a variety of fields. Together, their work develops or continues the existing discourse around technological anxieties and women’s digital art. Some artists, like Lauren Moffatt, imagine new forms using old technologies, such as her recent project for which she made sculptures from distorted 3D renderings of bodies created by scanning moving images from film and television. Others like Darsha Hewittas restore and repurpose dead or thought-to-be obsolete machines (such as vintage telephones and the famous Sideman 5000, the world’s first commercially available drum machine) into art pieces that interrupt and redirect the planned obsolescence of made-to-break tech.

At every turn, these artists offer new perspectives on the potential for good (and bad) that technology poses within various communities and cultural landscapes. They do not, for example, conflate technological advances with progress. They also know that the assumed, innate prowess of AI often conceals the grueling labour of workers plugging away in the global South to create the seamless interfaces we use everyday without remark. Perhaps, in sum, the artists on view at Computer Grrrls explore what is means to be connected, what technology offers in the goal of connectivity, and what women’s perspectives, both past and present, can offer us as we collectively work to answer such questions.

Computer Grrrls is ongoing until July 14, 2019. The exhibit is open at La Gaîté Lyrique from Tuesday to Sunday, opening hours vary by day. For tickets and full schedule visit La Gaîté Lyrique online.

The Computer Grrls exhibited is curated by Inke Arns (HMKV – Hartware MedienKunstVerein) and Marie Lechner (La Gaîté Lyrique). In coproduction with HMKV – Hartware MedienKunstVerein (Dortmund, Germany).

Featured artists include Morehshin Allahyari, Manetta Berends, Nadja Buttendorf, Elisabeth Caravella, Jennifer Chan, Aleksandra Domanovic, Louise Drulhe, Elisa Giardina Dad, Darsha Hewitt, Lauren Huret, Hyphen-Labs, Dasha Ilina, Mary Maggic, Caroline Martel, Lauren Moffatt, Simone C Niquille, Jenny Odell, Tabita Rezaire, Roberte the Redhead, Erica Scourti, Suzanne Treister, Lu Yang, Zach Blas & Jemima Wyman.

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