Female Extension, 1997
Technologies: HTML, e-mail servers, Perl
Keywords: cyberfeminism, hacktivism, intervention, tactical media
"Cyberfeminism is not just a rhetorical strategy, but also a political method."
In 1997 -- the year Vuk Cosic coined the term "net.art" and Documenta, the highly regarded exhibition of contemporary art, included Internet-based work for the first time -- the Hamburg Art Museum's Gallery of Contemporary Art announced that it would be "the "first museum in the world" to host an international Net art competition. The museum called the project "Extension," suggesting that online presence for the institution constituted a virtual wing in cyberspace. The competition's organizers made it clear that only works created specifically for the Internet (as opposed to work in other media presented on the Web) would be considered. Despite their evident curatorial sophistication, the organizers failed to realize that more than 200 of the 280 entries they received were submitted by faux female Net artists, all produced by a single piece of software as part of a tactical intervention by the cyberfeminist artist Cornelia Sollfrank. She dubbed her act of deception Female Extension, a play on the term for an electrical receptacle.
For Female Extension, Sollfrank fabricated names, nationalities, and phone numbers for women from seven different countries, ?and provided working e-mail accounts with various Internet service providers to cover her tracks. She registered each of these artists as a competitor for the Extension prize, prompting the Hamburg Art Museum to issue a press release announcing that 280 applications had been received, two-thirds of them from women. To create individual works of Net art for each of her spurious entries, Sollfrank's software scanned the Web for existing HTML material and remixed the data and imagery to fashion ersatz works that vaguely resemble the HTML deconstructions of Jodi.
Although Sollfrank flooded the competition with phony female entrants, none of her alter-egos won. In fact, although thanks to Sollfrank the majority of the contestants were female, all three prize winners were male -- a result Sollfrank attributes to the widespread sexism that biases the selection of artists for exhibitions. It is this discrimination that Sollfrank intended to critique in Female Extension, a key work in the history of Cyberfeminism, a movement that emerged in the mid-1990s to address the dominance of men in the online world and the technology industries as a whole. According to Sollfrank, Cyberfeminism is characterized by its use of irony to join humor and seriousness as political and artistic strategy. In an appropriately ironic twist, one of the judges for "Extension" was the 1970s Feminist artist Valie Export.
When the three winners of "Extension" were made public, Sollfrank sent out a press release exposing her previously covert actions. Expanding on Female Extension, Sollfrank later developed the program used to create each submission as its own, independent art work consisting of random elements culled from existing sites. Bluntly titled Net Art Generator, this art making machine functions in a manner that recalls Jean Arp's Dada collages, created by throwing torn paper onto a surface to make compositions that conveyed the aesthetics of chance.