Fast feminist art: HTMlles’ Speed Show

Interactive Speed Show exhibit brings new media politics and feminism to a Mile Ex internet café as part of HTMlles festival.

Image by Jim Bell, presented as part of HTMlles’ Open Process.

In 2010, German artist Aram Bartholl created the Speed Show format to unite his two passions: digital art and the DIY movement. His premise? Rent all the computers in an internet café and showcase digital art for a proscribed time period. The rules were simple: all pieces had to make use of what was available at the café and its computers. No new software. No alternations to the space.

Montreal’s artist-run collective Studio XX adds one more passion to its take on the Speed Show: feminism. This Feminist Speed Show, held in conjunction with Eastern Bloc, is part of the two-week long HTMlles festival. The annual festival generally features discussions, performances, workshops, screenings and other events celebrating technological creativity by women and trans-gender persons.

Taking over Zone Internet, an internet café in Parc Ex, the Feminist Speed Show is a UN of internationally celebrated digital artists, with works coming from Canada, America, Germany, Denmark and Yugoslavia. Eastern Bloc’s artistic director and co-curator of the Speed Show Eliane Ellbogen explains the impetus for the event: “We wanted to reinterpret the Speed Show concept a bit. Feminist net art is not a well-exposed genre. We looked for works that have a mandate to be online art projects, not just dissemination points for an artist’s general art practice.”

A number of pieces in the curated show take the format of video games. Toronto-based Hannah Leja Epstein offers up McMickey and Air Jordan Hyperspace Safari!, an online game that employs copyright infringement to question the line between copyright property protection and individual freedom. Yugoslavian artist and researcher Violeta Vojvodic-Balaz brings an art-game-simulation of the socio-economic cycle using data from stock exchanges. “Revolve the wheel of Casino Capitalism,” she beckons. German writer and performer Susanne Berkenheger’s piece Augmented Bombings lets the viewer “bomb away all virtual trash in their surroundings.” Amen to that. Please start with the crap from Groupon that clutters my inbox each morning.

Other pieces, while still interactive, offer criticism and commentary on gender. American artist Prema Murthy probably clicked on some of those sexxxy personal invitations from her junk mail. Her piece, Bindi Girl, is a porn site parody with a Hindu twist. See Lakshmi without her panties or chat with a woman who is inspired by the teachings of the Baghavad Gita. Professor and digital art master Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself could be a tool for some personal psychotherapy. The user collects images and sounds from familiar environments and drops them on a metaphoric body.

Some works have been online since the 1990s, while others are more recently produced. In particular, Département des Nuisances Publiques (D.N.P.) offers up Constitution Pro, a digital constitution maker inspired by the Occupy movements and the Quebec strike. The program asks the user what rights a person can reasonably expect from their society. Users are allowed to voice their ideals anonymously or openly. As one anonymous member says, “We aim to give voice to people who aren’t heard because of how others perceive them.”

“The Parc Ex location was ideal,” says Ellbogen of the exhibit’s location. “Parc Ex has a lack of art spaces. There are almost no art venues there that reach out to the residential community west of Parc Avenue. The internet café was the perfect place for showing artwork that doesn’t have a wide circulation, even though the works live online and can be viewed at any time. You don’t encounter these types of works on a regular basis.” ■

The Feminist Speed Show, co-hosted by Studio XX and Eastern Bloc, takes place Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Zone Internet (680 Jean Talon), 6 p.m.-12 a.m. Works are also on display at Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark), 8 p.m., $5-10

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