The internet is our most recent failed utopia. Though seemingly more radical due to the technology employed, the utopian intentions of the early internet were directly in line with those of utopias throughout western history. Like in any utopia, its creators and users wanted to forge a new way of life predicated on universal opportunity and equality.
Yet this utopia was no physical place — it was relational, networked, virtual. Its very utopic potential lay in the new freedoms of anonymity and disembodiment. This virtual utopia would liberate us from bodily constraints, allowing us to re-invent ourselves and fulfill our desires via mental creation. Accordingly, the short 80s/90s era of utopian post-humanism wanted to move “beyond” gender, achieving gender equality (or nixing gender altogether) in digital space.
The internet is still regarded by many today as an equalizing political platform; yet, like utopias throughout history, underlying inequalities remain. If we’re to find a way to enact the “online utopia” (that is, a “topia”), we have to examine the ideals inherent in its architectural systems. Conceptions of gender are integral to any social structure, and therefore utopian systems often try to re-define society through re-defining gender relations. It’s by examining gender relations in past and present utopias that we evaluate the state of the internet utopia today.
The first half of this presentation (Liz Feder) traces zones of gendered inclusion and exclusion through historical case studies. It touches on three major architectural utopian visions with particular emphasis on gender relations: the Parthenon of ancient Greece, the Bauhaus school of 1920s Germany, and the Levittown suburban development of the mid-Century USA. This study approaches the gender of utopia by asking: who builds or constructs utopia? What kinds of labor produce and reproduce utopian societies, and how is this labor gendered?
Examining gender’s historical relationship to architecture through labor provides a foundation for understanding the way we inhabit our increasingly digital/virtual environment. Like physical architecture, virtual architecture reflects and creates contemporary societal attitudes. The second half of this presentation (Elvia Wilk) focuses on the way gender is framed and forged in contemporary internet culture. By looking at our increasing reliance on “immaterial” labor today, this project finds parallels between gendered labor in both physical and virtual worlds.
The ongoing research project Entrance Strategies, a collaboration between Elvia Wilk and Liz Feder, focuses on the historical and contemporary relationship between gender and architecture. So far this work has been presented at Berlin’s Humboldt University in 2013.
Elvia Wilk (1989, EE.UU.)www.elviapw.com
Elvia Wilk (1989, USA) is a writer, editor, and researcher based in Berlin. Her creative projects and her critical writing on art and architecture have been published and exhibited worldwide. She has contributed to publications such as Frieze d/e, ArtSlant, and Domus web. She is currently an editor at the Berlin-based online architecture magazine uncube. In 2013 she was a writer-in-residence at the Banff Center in Canada.
Liz Feder (1987, EE.UU.) www.elizabethfeder.com
Liz Feder (1987, USA) is a designer and writer focused in the architectural, social and cultural implications of the intersection between the built and digital landscapes. Her writings on architecture and art have been published in uncube, The Polis Blog, and Berlin Art Link. She researched postwar spatial tensions in Berlin with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). She is currently based in San Francisco as a graphic, web, and user experience designer for Silicon Valley startups.