Summary of Autumn Research Seminar: Not White & Male

Last Wednesday saw the second Gendered Lives Research Seminar take place with talks from Rachael Grew (Art History, Loughborough) and Zara Dinnen (English, Birmingham). Rachael’s talk started by outlining the three main areas her presentation would seek to cover; androgynous bodies, Leonor Fini’s work on challenging gender binaries and stereotypes and her work on the post-human body. Her talk explored bodies which go against the norm, that have no fixed state or identity but are linked to other bodies. Rachael presented an example by Ernst (1942) of this changeable identity, an image of two birds in one body, she explained how Ernst used this idea of male only procreation through a bird which was an alter ego of himself. Rachael then moved onto the work of Leonor Fini, explaining the background of Fini and highlighting some of her illustrations and theatre costume designs including her designs for the ballet Les Sorcières. Rachael explained how Fini reproduced her own costumes for theatrical designs using the body as a catalyst of change and producing ‘monstrous bodies’ in terms of their hybridity and inability to be defined. Rachael identified that the audiences could be simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by these as they could not categorise them. Rachael then moved onto her resent research looking at the designs for the opera Tannhäuser, here she described how Fini used Fish-human hybrid bodies and encouraged contemplation of alternative bodies through the textiles she used including hologramatic materials. Fini uses various manifestations of monstrous bodies to blur cultural binaries and physical bodies themselves. It is the body and the way we experience the body which is vital for gender identity and it is this link which Rachel concluded her talk on. During the Q&A, Rachael was asked what she thought about the role of theatrical artists nowadays and if it was there was anything significant about that period of time which allowed Fini to have a greater platform than perhaps artists nowadays.

The role of the hacker in popular culture was the subject of Zara’s discussion; in it, she identified stories of hackers and recent popular interest in hackers, explaining how hackers draw on old habits in new contexts. Zara identified that identity is at stake in hacking and the hacker might be a useful figure to be considered when thinking about contemporary identity politics. She expressed that if digital networks are a means for neoliberalism to thrive, hackers are Ur figures of neoliberal identity politics. Zara’s comparison between computing and neoliberalism was thought-provoking; she expressed how networked computing enables society without society, individual and self-governance. Zara showed the audience a clip from David Fincher’s film ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, in this we saw how popular culture presents the computer as an entity that can be mastered by hacker super-users. Zara highlighted how Lisabeth Salander’s character is both controlling of and subjugated by the computer and how her outsider-ness is also being a good neoliberal subject. Zara also made a comparison to this character and the women who operated the switch boards in the 20th century; Zara suggested that the gender politics of Lisabeth’s character and those women are similar. In addition, Zara expressed how the development of computation means history is fixated on technology shrinking and therefore, we haven’t cared for the women who operated programmes. Zara concluded her talk by identifying hacking as a way to think about neoliberalism and identity politics. Zara expressed that in order to explore identity politics; we need to look at figures that sit on the fault lines of networked agency, hackers in popular culture. Questions from the audience included reflections on hacker culture, and in the words of Gabriella Coleman ‘how did we get here?’ with hackers holding so much political power. We thoroughly enjoyed both of the speakers presentations and thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion.

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