The VNS Matrix collective are/were/are a group of four artists from Adelaide who invented cyberfeminism. More or less.* I love them. For two reasons. Firstly hometown pride, and secondly, the vast improbability that something as globally influential and necessary would ever issue from Adelaide. Adelaide though.†
On the VNS Matrix website, they describe the appearance of cyberfeminism from the particularly hot summer of 1991. Now, I was six, about to turn seven that summer, and sure, it was hot, but if I am correct about years (which I may or may not be) me and my family spent part of that summer in Melbourne. Anyway. All summers in Adelaide are hot. It’s a desert (that’s not an exaggeration, it’s an accurate description – check out the rainfall statistics), and it’s the kind of place that no one should attempt a town. Let alone a globally influential cyberfeminist movement. Did I mention that I hate hot weather? It makes me catatonic. I could never have survived the furnace of cyberfeminism.
Anyway, so impressive weather-related heritage aside, I have been using the VNS Matrix collective’s work to alarm media and gender studies students more accustomed to Emma Watson-style feminism than they are the “jouissance cunt” of the VNS Matrix. “we make art with our cunt… the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix”. Yay.
The VNS Matrix offers a way of thinking about the body, and the feminised or female body in relation to technology that doesn’t ignore difference. It is a materialism without a reduction to essentialism. It also responds to the production of virtual space, or cyberspace as a public space, that, like most public space is coded as being for male participants. Even in the utopic-thinking, egalitarian days of the “open web” difference was already being articulated, and women excluded, in a way that prefigured the policing and silencing of comment culture today.
Recently, I gave a lecture on gender and media technologies for a course I’m teaching, and I included the VNS Matrix manifesto:
Usually, when I do this, I read it out, as loudly and as clearly as possible, and take great pleasure in doing so. This time, though, I decided to be slightly more innovative, and I recorded Female Australian Accent Siri reading it for me.
I was thoroughly delighted with the results.
*I say “more or less” because the term was also used by philosopher Sadie Plant at around the same time, and also Nancy Paterson wrote this. In other words, it was resistance erupting from multiple locations simultaneously around the globe.
†Actually Sara Ahmed grew up in Adelaide as well, so perhaps the furnace makes good feminism?