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ThemesCyborg BodiesUnruly Bodies
Unruly Bodies.
The Effect Body As a Place of Resistance. [1]
Yvonne Volkart

This essay assumes that the cyborg body is an unruly body. Donna Haraway appropriated this term, which stems from the history of outer space and is used in science fiction to describe cybernetic organisms, and recoded it for feminist interests. Cyborgs are both war machines as well as subservient humans who have been feminized by the current economy of housework. They are fictions of both a techno-capitalistic as well as a feminist provenance. And they are real humans of the age of information or the «informatics of domination.» [2] The cyborg body is always an effect and symptom body of the neoliberal information society. It is its product and its symbol, its sabotaging traversal and alternative conception of the subject.

In the following I would like to demonstrate that the feminist cyborg fantasy is essentially generated through the notion that resistance is something localized in the body. This is nothing new when one considers that feminists in the seventies already started out from the assumption that the body is a battlefield. In recent years, however, the focus has turned towards the notion of a fundamental development into a hybrid or cyborg beyond puretechnological fortification.

Running wild: «The Office Killer»

In the film «The Office Killer» from 1996 American artist Cindy Sherman shows a woman whose job is transformed to part-time work from home. She’s on call as a result of the deregulation, feminization and flexibilization of work. Left alone with a computer and a modem, she first responds by falling into a state of deep depression before she takes revenge and kills her boss. In a further act of selfempowerment, she radically appropriates the widely propagated potentials of digital technology, which in reality served as a means to oppress her: via e-mail she camouflages the murder as suicide and takes off in a smashing convertible. The last frame shows the previously ugly duckling is now a self-asserted blonde sporting sexy sunglasses who heads towards a bright and well-prepared future in superior style.

The film shows a tamed girl running wild. First, she tries to settle into her new miserable situation as best as she can but it makes her all the more desperate. Then she gets her act together, secretly arranging things in such a way that she can live well and happily again—all by herself and in privacy. The protagonist does not instigate a political revolt of the workforce, it is highly probable that she does not even think about her position in society. All she does is fight for her own survival, and she does it in a radical and unadjusted way. Unruliness is an act of self-empowerment, the‹female,› subordinate kind of resistance against discriminating conditions. It is not a way of working through existing circumstances or politically articulate action: it is individual riot, a radical gesture of survival by a minority, by the female class—a class that is discriminated against, that feels deep down inside that they cannot change unfavorable conditions but have to find ways to live with them and in them without succumbing to them. It is pure flexibility and has nothing to do with opportunism or fatalism. Contrary to (open) resistance, unruliness is pure nihilism coupled with the will to survive, and hence libidinous and destructive.

«Unruly is what does not obey, what cannot be straightened out. A silly strand of hair or an undesired fold that can only be subdued by special means,technical expenditure or disinterest. Or it takes a sense of humor. Something is unruly. Unruliness has a physical, an erotic dimension. Whether this is desired or not, the term echoes something that for centuries was supposed to mark a feminine quality: lack of knowledge, unawareness—and obstinacy. A childish, almost touching disobedience to what asserts itself as unchangeable and rigid. However, it is also disobedience without a target, thoughtless, unplanned, anarchic, something that cannot be tolerated for long by that which exists. All measures taken against unruliness derive their legitimacy from this. Unruliness is threatened with being broken by violence or disinterest. Even laughter can kill it if it fails to recognize its serious motivation.» This is what the art historian Ute Vorkoeper wrote about the exhibition «Widerspenstige Praktiken im Zeitalter von Bio- und Informationstechnologien» which I curated in the spring and summer of 2000. [3]

These comments about the erotic-feminine-physical dimension of unruliness describe precisely what prompted me to use the word once again in the context of ‹Cyborg Bodies›: it is associated with‹femininity› in all its manifestations, and it strikes a balance between (patriarchal) ascription and feminist self-articulation. My title was inspired by the German version of Shakespeare's «The Taming of the Shrew,» in which I played the lead 20 years ago; like so many other feminists, I have not been able to ever forget the other, suppressed message of the play. [4] Another reference is Donna Haraway's cyborg figure/figuration which I always pictured as an ageless naughty girl. Her «Cyborg Manifesto» [5] , which she considered to be an «ironic myth» as she propagated the cyborg figure and trope as a feminist fantasy of transgression, is one of the most important junctures in (post-)feminist theory. Committed to a policy of selfempowerment and articulation, these theories again and again called for the figuration of female subjects beyond simple policies of identity. Haraway as well as Rosi Braidotti and others [6] have pleaded in favor of enjoying the blurring of boundaries and the state of hybridity, to take the new conditions and their «informatics of domination» (Haraway) as an opportunity to shape subjects and identities in a new way, to form alliances—which is what the protagonist of «The OfficeKiller» does in an exemplary fashion. To my mind, the important point in these ideas is that the elements of pleasure and enjoyment come to the fore very clearly—in a process that could have a lot to do with loss, dissolution and a wellfounded fear of new forms of oppression. I think that this productive reinterpretation of conditions that are bad on one level but are turned into a chance on a different level is a decisive aspect in (post-) feminist approaches which also conforms with my idea of unruliness.

«The Office Killer,» Cindy Sherman's first feature film—the flagship of a feminist reading of art, as it were—also shows something else: female contemporary (video) artists can be in sync with the mainstream. The movie addresses a mass audience, and, judging by the simple structure of the plot, the female figure to identify with and the idea of‹female power,› it could well be a Hollywood production. Unruly women are popular—just think of the successful movie «Thelma and Louise,» to which «The Office Killer» bears a certain likeness while it is much more critical of capitalism and more feminist. The latter is particularly true because the revolting protagonist does not drive off to meet death but possible freedom. But this need is nothing new. In the seventies, feminists already appropriated the female superhero Wonder Woman for their own purposes. Dara Birnbaum's pioneering video «Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman» (1978?) can be regarded as a precursor to our discussion.

In other words: there is great need for unruly girls—a potential of wishes which Hollywood, television, independent films and video art evoke and satisfy to the same extent, albeit with different aesthetics and degrees of complexity. Even though Hollywood movies and soap operas tend to prefer simpler structures, we must not jump to the conclusion that female artists would in general create more complex, off-beat or critical products or unrulier wild girls.

Cracking the Bases of the Information Age

A figure that stands for a strong representation of the wild and unruly girl and her image is the female hacker operating in secrecy. In 1998 the American video artist Toni Dove produced the first part of a trilogy involving interactive video and sound installations, «Artificial Changelings,» which links the stories of two unrulywomen from two centuries. One is Arathusa, an upper-class lady from 19th-century Paris who—like many other female members of the upper crust at the time—is unable to resist the temptations of the beautiful articles on sale in the newly opened department stores and becomes a passionate kleptomaniac. The thrill of the danger, the prohibited act involved in stealing trifling little things makes her life exciting, enable her to transcend the every-day order of a bourgeois woman's life. Being a product of the capitalistic and bourgeois economy, she stealthily undermines its laws without publicly denouncing them. The other woman is Zilith, the hacker, who breaks into databases and retrieves information. The only thing we learn about the reasons why the hacker engages in her activities is that she wants to explore the diffuse movements of the new decentralized apparatuses of power. In both women, the artistic message seems to lie in the facets of their transgressive acts, Dove is not interested in their motivation. This aspect is reinforced by the interactive installation which—to put it in a nutshell—is designed in such a way that the viewer more or less determines the course of the action and various insights into the characters by walking up and down in front of the screen and by moving his/her hands and arms. The common and connecting element in this tripartite constellation is the aspect of movement, of penetrating the realm of the others, of networking with them. This causes the viewer to approach physically, to seek, grope, not know, in analogy to the excesses of the characters in the film. The interactive installation offers a setting calling for the (symbolic) identification with the two unruly women where it is not primarily political content that is at stake but the sabotaging policies (in the sense of "practices") of unconscious drives and desires of women in capitalism.

For quite some time the Hamburg artist Cornelia Sollfrank has been researching female hackers and found that hacking is a field completely under male domination. Nonetheless she was able to produce a series of several videos in which she interviewed female hackers. In December 1999 she came to know an American hacker who attended the annual hackers' convention held by the Chaos Computer Club. She did the video interview «Have Script, Will Destroy» with heron condition that the woman code-named Clara G. Sopht remained anonymous and did not provide specific information about her work. The result is a highly theoretical interview about current forms of political resistance, undermined by seductively beautiful and enigmatically diffuse pictures of a women wearing sunglasses and a cap, moving around in a low-tech scenario. Again, what is missing here is the woman's concrete message; her representation as a reflexive agent involved in obscure political connections, claiming to hack the ideological bases of the information age, is more important. In her video project «Involuntary Reception», Kristin Lucas created the third type of female hacker mentality. In it Lucas plays a woman who is filmed from the front while she talks about herself and her life with a body surrounded by a huge electromagnetic power field (EPF). On the video, the field can be seen as a flashing jagged stripe in constant motion, and she is surrounded by some kind of a halo marking the power field. Wherever she is, she causes disturbances and interference in electronic equipment, which means that she cannot go anywhere without disrupting activities or destroying things. She can move around most inconspicuously in open-floor office spaces or crowds because there is always something going on and she can vanish among the masses of people. She talks about how she involuntarily killed somebody who had a pacemaker and her beloved cat. Moreover, she is afraid of swimming in water. «The scary part is that I can't predict—what I'm going to do … I'm like a freak, I don't know». It's her body, somehow mutated, that does all those things because she seems and tries to be a nice normal girl who refuses to be hired for‹terrorist acts› such as deliberately erasing hard disks. Due to her strong power field, she cannot be recorded on electronic media as all recordings are promptly erased again. This gives her a certain privacy which she hardly gets otherwise because she always comes to notice in a negative sense and because she is hunted by a lot of people who would like to explore her strange body. Of course, she is under constant surveillance by the FBI or CIA, and of course, she does not explain why the meta-reflexive position is not hers. She plays the symptom, the product of a thoroughly technology-pervaded (control) society where all tracescan be recorded and decoded, where the value of the body is solely based on its function as an information carrier, where there is no more privacy for anybody, where data protection and cryptography are political issues, and where there is no intimacy and little love. Lucas's protagonist is a female super-hero and recognized specialist looking for cover in inconspicuousness. Her own body embodies and perverts the ideologies and conditions of our times: «I'm my own sub-subculture.» Authenticity is suggested by constant noises and beeping sounds or picture breakdowns—with her picture being replaced by prerecorded video material—but at the same time, it is clear that «Involuntary Reception» is the artificial low-tech performance of a fictitious character. We only learn about her abilities from her narrative which is halting, sometimes confused and highly contradictory. Sometimes, we are no longer sure if it is really her talking. This contributes to the illusionary quality of the video while at the same time relativizing its claim to truth. Her origins seem mythical, all she can say about it is that it is surrounded by a lot of rumors and that there has always been great love between herself and her parents, who presumably are not her biological progenitors.

Much like the characters discussed earlier, she does not convey any message about how to improve the world. Her unruliness results from her inability to be different, from the way she is, which constantly collides with her environment—and hence, from the‹way in which she is biologically determined.› This biologism is ironically refracted by her cyborg-like nature which has lost all its naturalness. Her body is a risk to her environment to the extent that the effect of technology are doubled and reinforced in such a way that they do not seem bearable any longer because they are uncontrolled and uncontrollable and emanate from an individual outside the dominating power apparatus.

In the video «Host» (1997), she is a young woman seeking help for her computer problems. «As the participant indulges in a virtual conversation about a troublesome relationship, the session instantly becomes an amalgamation of daytime television and tabloid, wherein the surveillance camera becomes the eye of the media». [7] Although the computer voice isvery nice in the beginning and promises help if she enters her personal code, there is no help for her and she has to leave, remaining frustrated and lonely. Lucas writes: «The ending mimics the mundane routine of a bank transaction, yet with the seriousness of religious propaganda, ‹if you would like to save your life…›, ‹please enter initials…›‚ ‹To exit this program, please use the escape button›.»

The woman/artist/cyborg/worker is located on both sides: She is a user and a system operator at the same time. What we see here is not a new homogeneous and closed techno-body with new abilities. We see the performing of a body, the female body, as one which is overwhelmed, intruded and completely constructed by new technologies and media. But not in the sense of an upgrade or enhancement of possibilities. It's rather a new body condition of total fluidity and porosity. For such a body it makes no difference on which side of the system it is positioned: The borders are blurred, subjectivity is lost, agency is drawn into a machine-like play of interactivity. So the sysop, though she seems to have the more active role, is performed by the flows and streams of the technologies like the user, too.

The unruly woman as a reflection in the mirror, a copy and product of her times was also the theme of «Artificial Changelings.» The title seems to imply that the two women are interchangeable but it also leaves leeway for the reading that the two are unnatural reproductions, products of their times. Lucas's character might also be a changeling or a foundling, a cyborg from outer space or a mutation. At least, her origin seems somehow‹unnatural.›

Biological Warfare

As I suggested earlier, the idea that unruliness is quasi genetic because resistance as something unconscious is localized in the body itself and initially defies discursivity, is the specific, or rather the specifically female about the notion of unruliness. The examples I have given so far clearly show that I do not intend to naïvely perpetuate this line of associations; I rather want to use them in a strategic and aggressive way because such hypertrophic fiction is powerful, something we might forget or underestimate.

The character «White Trash Girl» from the trilogyof the same title (1995–1997) created by the American video artist Jennifer Reeder is a magnificent and true incarnation of the garbage of our day and age. Like Lucas, the artist plays the protagonist herself; her name is derived from an abusive expression denoting the white lower classes. The opening credits of the first part, «The Devil Inside Me,» starts with the sounds of cars driving and a picture in which an embryo becomes ever more clearly discernible. Text reminiscent of a fairy-tale is added: «Once upon a time there was a little girl who was raped by her uncle. She got pregnant and flushed the baby down the toilet, then killed her uncle and herself. The baby wiggled around in the sewer sludge for a long time. The ooze fed and nourished the baby, it made the baby strong—super strong. Her tiny baby body became more toxic with every tiny baby breath and every tiny baby heartbeat. None knew that this weren't no ordinary baby. This was a super baby. This was WHITE TRASH GIRL. Now, she's all grown up and she's waging biological warfare on any dumb fuck who asks for it. White Trash Girl is turbo charged and she's coming at you faster than you can scream. HATCHET WOUND. » The next shot shows a cool blonde wearing black sunglasses who is driving a van. A patrol car is chasing her and she has an accident as a result. The policeman draws his gun and breaks the window, then we see her run and hide. When the policeman comes near her, she beats him up in a violent and cruel way one would hardly ever expect from a woman. She has spit dribble out of her mouth and sucks it back in, a picture we know from biology follows, showing the act of impregnation, sperms moving around, an almond-shaped ovum, a cyborglike body, then she spits and we see a policeman being placed in an ambulance, his face horribly disfigured. After this, «The Devil Inside Me» starts, the story of her procreation and life.

White Trash Girl owes her existence to several acts of violence which not only made her tough enough to face the cruelty of life, but actually make her the legitimate bastard of a‹dirty› society. To use Donna Haraway's words, she literally came «from the belly of the monster,» from the underground (in both senses of the word), the abyss and outhouse of this city, and hence she can never be innocent, even though her kind-hearted foster mother had her christened«Angel.» Procreation through rape by a male family member is a literary topos of underground literature, found, for instance, in Jean Genet or Kathy Acker; it clearly identifies violence in the oedipal system, the constant feeling of insecurity and discomfort women are faced with, especially in the home. For this reason, White Trash Girl's true home is a rather dystopic urban landscape. Again and again, we see her wearing miniskirts, either shocking pink or glistening, cowboy boots—in the second part of the trilogy, «Law of Desire,» she sometimes also sports a cowboy hat—as she walks through the streets and over debris and garbage in her resolute gait. With her tall and strong build, monumentally, she poses on a heap of stone, a beauty and super heroine of a different kind. If someone pinches her behind, she turns into a railing «shrew,» in case of other acts of sexual transgression, she spits ropy liquids or mercilessly beats up the perpetrators.

The ghetto-like city is her realm, her body is part of it, city and body are inseparable. This is not only evoked by Trash Girl's origin in the sewer and sludge but also by the opening credits where the picture of the embryo is accompanied by car noises off-screen and turns into the shot of Trash Girl driving. Throughout the entire series, pictures of the digestive tract fade in regularly, anatomy-book illustrations with specially marked intestines. The camera enters the esophagus like a tunnel, chyme rolls down like the liquids that Trash Girls spits at attackers, or the sludge which she comes from, teeth shine where there used to be a heap of stones. Liquids and flesh, mire and rubble mix and mingle.

«White Trash Girl» shows a state of war; in «Law of Desire» this is underscored by war scenes rhythmically cut in. To live means to survive here, and White Trash Girl can only manage to survive because she takes her life into her own hands in a radical way, using a network of friends to create a wide safety zone around her body, a toxic chemical weapon. That much is clear: police would not do anything for her safety, they guard the white middle class and violently persecute minorities.

Female unruliness in the context of streets, cars, and the police is also the subject of the video «Ever is Over All» by Pipilotti Rist, even though incontrast to the projects discussed up to now, this video is less influenced by the aspect of the hybrid and cyborg-like composite. And yet the artist's pseudonym Pipilotti makes reference to the cheeky and independent Pippi Longstocking—a model for several generations of girls. It starts with a woman in a bright blue dress and red shoes strolling down a street. She is armed with a huge phalluslike flower which she uses to smash car windows as she saunters along laughingly. A policewoman approaches her but there is no fighting. The policewoman extends a friendly greeting to her and the racket continues happily. In contrast to Reeder's Angel, Rist's hooligan in the bright blue dress really seems to be heaven-sent, an angel with quite some potential for violence. However, the scene remains nice and innocuous. The impression is not only created by the seeming lightness of what she does and the lack of a really dangerous weapon, but also because of the obvious sisterhood that unites the hooligan and the law. The world is on the right track to becoming paradise—this is what it means. Away with the stinking vehicles, let's have flower-powerful sisterhood, ruling the world with charm. The protagonist's motivation, if it can be identified at all, is most likely to have fun and make the world more beautiful, or even better. This is a role transfer to female subjects that is more unmistakable than anything we have considered in our discussion so far. (Of course, it need not be accepted, everything is left open.) Here, unruliness is not dystopic and characterized by the need to survive, but utopian, thriving on the abundance and beauty of life. Life offers many pleasurable opportunities of transgression which can be savored to the full. Rist's criticism of waves of cars seems somewhat naive and conciliatory when—which is what the philosophies of survival in other works teach us—there can be no reconciliation. On the other hand, this video is also an exciting attempt to localize female unruliness in the apparent harmlessness and goodness of young women.

Monstrous Desire

Like White Trash Girl, Doll Yoko, the protagonist of the net and hypertext-specific ghost fiction «Dollspace,» literally comes out of the marsh. This work by the Australian artist Francesca da Rimini originated fromthe LambdaMOO adventures Gashgirls a k a Francesca da Rimini. Doll Yoko is a figure who developed out of the net identity Gashgirl, whose (sexual) adventures and fantasies are sprinkled into the chapters of «Dollspace.» «Dollspace» is a complex, labyrinth-like web environment of images, hypertext fiction, extracts from the LamboMOOs and Marquis de Sade. Links lead to the pages and tales of the Zapitastas, where Doll Yoko's identity is given a further cover—Commandant Ramona, an authentic figure.

At the very beginning we read that Doll Yoko is really dead, drowned in a marsh in Japan in which unwanted female children are immersed. She is a «ghost,» as «all women are ghosts and should rightly be feared». She has monstrous sexual desires for young boys. As doll/gashgirl/ghost, she is—like all of the discussed figurations—not a natural born woman, but a posthuman copy/essence, evolving from the dark abysses of patriarchal capitalism. She is gashed, killed, violated, full of fantasies of power and losing control, of cum, of fucking and killing, of getting fucked and killed. Doll Yoko who is at the same time dead and alive, wants to destroy and to be destroyed herself, she is a deeply paradoxical figure, situated in an in-between space called «deep dollspace zero»—a space behind the closed eye through which the visitors have to enter in the beginning.

Doll Yoko's/the narrator's/the author's (the sentences are often articulated with ‹I›) wild feelings and emotions, circulating between activity and passivity, focus on the topic of losing boundaries in digital space: of sex, gender, subjectivity, agency, of the writer and the reader, of the figuration and the user. Who is this ‹I› in the end who says: «genderfuckmebaby»? This ‹I› is splitting into various agents and we, the readers, participate in this dissolution. What does this sentence and all the other sentences in this piece imply? They talk of experiences, of enjoying loss and the violation of boundaries. These sentences and their images become figurations of many voices and embodiments of Doll Yoko, gender dichotomies is completely deconstructed. It is far beyond any relief; it is «haunting» and allows us to fall into the depths of psychic streams and desires.

Doll Yoko is the other, whom one does not becomeby way of sensitivity or projection, but rather because she—as do we—says ‹I›. And if one wants to immerse oneself in her marsh/cyberspace, then one has to drive the story on in the first person.

Death and Life in the Cyborg Society

In a laconically absurd way, the protagonists in Jane Prophet's CD-ROM « The Internal Organs of a Cyborg» embody the gender-specific and social power relations in a world of cyborgs. The CD-ROM plays two stories in the first person in parallel. The first story involves a woman who has been taking part in biotechnological experiments since her childhood. Someone shoots her, and in the hospital they find that she has no proper medial insurance and they let her die. Her heart is taken to be used for an organ transplant. This story plays in the upper sector. In the lower sector of the CD, you can read the story of a successful businessman who has a heart attack. A heart transplant is performed in the hospital, and he survives. Yet he has the feeling that he has ended up in a different life. In the upper sector, we read that the woman had an implantation done, which would load her personality into her heart when she died.

This story is laid out like a photo novel, where one can read the two stories simultaneously or one after another. The scenario is like one from a cyberpunk novel: a dystopian, two-class high-tech society based on the exploitation of the poor. The crux of this story is that the supposed victim is the secret victor. She is ultimately able to profit from these biotech experiments, in which she has been a guinea pig. What remains open is how she will deal with the fact that she is now living in a strange, male body, how she will make it her own, how she will identify with it. These questions, which already occupy many people who have to go through transplants, do interest Prophet. Her work deals more with the disturbing attitudes produced by a society that does not use high-tech possibilities for the good of all. She shows that new technologies are not only utilized differently in a capitalist society, but also create different identities. The young woman, for example, was already subjected to these tests as a child, without having a choice. Her presumed foresight in investing in black market implants as an escape form her controlled situation,has possibly made her even more dependent (the murderer is a trader). If we read the story like this, namely not as the success story of an outcast, the she was not able to transform biotech and capitalist interests for her own freedom. She merely met the end that she was inevitably headed for from the beginning. Then her fate of having to identify with someone else's body is simply the next logical step in an unfree cyborg life, which she was able to perceive, at best, as an opportunity, rather than her destiny.

Mobile Bodies

The artistic conceptions of unruly cyborg bodies discussed up to this point are based on fiction. However, they always produce a reference to reality in the sense of: It could be like that. In conclusion, by example of the work by the Swiss artist Ursula Biemann, an aesthetic strategy will be discussed which proceeds in a semi-documentary or essayistic way. Biemann invariably deals with the question of what role territorial boundaries, new technologies and female bodies play within the context of the new international division of labor. In her videoessays «Performing the Border,» «Writing Desire» and «Remote Sensing » she shows, to use Saskia Sassen's words, women as the users of the transnational bridges built by international capital, she shows female bodies as mobile bodies, as bodies in movement in two senses of word: As bodies that are being exploited in a new way due to their new mobility, as well as bodies that are capable of discovering new avenues.

Using the example of the strategic significance of the Mexican border town of Ciuad Juarez, in «Performing the Border» Biemann discusses the fact that this town with its maquiladoras [8] is both a place where women are exploited in an age of transnational high-tech concerns, as well as a space in general for the construction of bodies, genders, identities, nations and borders. Maps, fences, digitalized border landscapes and monitoring technologies visualize the territorial North-South construct and draw parallels between it and Biemann's verbal implication of the body monitoring and surveillance the women are subjected to at their workplaces. An aesthetics of mobility and fluctuation—concepts which characterize thediscourse on migration, transnational capital, and industrialization—sets the video's visual rhythm, which is slackened only by intercutting of theoreticians and activists seated and speaking before the camera. The video begins with the camera's view out the window of a moving car; it ends with dancing bodies. In between we see the flux of the female masses streaming into the maquiladora, the morning bus rides, the cars and horsemen in the desert, the exhumation of corpses, the flickering television images, the virtual detonations of mine fields, the ride along the 5000-mile border, the drifting inflatable boat, the captions, the woman washing clothes by hand, the little girl walking down the street: «She is still a girl. Can she find a way to steer through these cultural ruptures?» asks the off-camera female voice. The movement of the camera, film montage, and people can be seen as the aesthetic choreographing of a discourse of migration and capital flow, a discourse that with the help of this common element manages to coordinate the different spheres and thus structurally synchronize them: the rhythm of the assembly line; the flow of the financing capital from the North; the people from the South; the foot-stomping, hand-clapping girls at the beauty contest; the female desire as it is articulated in the love songs we hear sung on the morning bus ride or in the disco; the blows and stabs delivered to the female victims. Everything is affected by these circumstances of movement and the shift of boundaries, circumstances full of contradictions. «Gender matters to capital,» a caption reads. Biemann doesn't stop at revealing life on the border as a set permeated completely by sexualization—as Sidén did—but also goes on to show that the (re-)stabilization of gender is still and continually being used as a means of control, i.e. for the production of people. In other words, she makes it clear that the multis, by creating jobs for women and empowering them as consumers of an entertainment industry built especially for them, are, on the one hand, initiating a process of destruction of patriarchal structures, but, on the other hand, they are bringing this process back under control through reterritorialization. Biemann also reveals similar power structures forced by globalization in two further videos: «Remote Sensing» (19XX?), which is devoted to the trafficking of women for sex work, or «WritingDesire» (2001?), which on the one hand is on the trail of the variety of erotic desire, and on the trail of the commercialization of the body and desires in the age of the computer on the other hand.

Biemann shows women—primarily women from the poor countries of the South and the East—as exploited cyborgs, as the embodied effects and symptoms of global capitalism today and its technologies, which are not the same for everyone. However, despite these dismal findings, Biemann also shows the effects that change identities and present other life opportunities. At the beginning of «Performing the Border,» while the camera is showing a woman driving through the desert a voice off camera says: «I've known Concha for five years. She knows all the ways to cross the border. Her strategies are multiple and variable.» Like Sherman's «The Office Killer,» Biemann's videos are supported by the hope that their primary agents turn out to be flexible in this cyborgization and are able to take paths different than those intended for them.

From a Cyborg to a Cyborg

In all of the works discussed here, the cyborg body is presented as an effect and symptom body: as a body that is no longer a fixed unit cut off from the outside world, but rather a body that is permeable, flexible, hybrid and mobile. These unruly cyborgs are primarily women because the female artists who show them are concerned with thinking about the role of women and gender in the information society and suggesting new conceptions of the subject for women. These unruly girls have been feminized, exploited, are posthuman. They are all struggling for life in a world that does not want to allow them space to be human, but rather that forces them to become cyborgs and to behave like cyborgs.

Translation by Camilla Nielsen, Aileen Derieg and Rebecca van Dyck

© Media Art Net 2004