“Chicago has a thriving club scene, and the first time I heard about Bitcoin was when I was in college and people were talking about buying ecstasy from Silk Road,” Gabriella Hileman told me. “I was like, how could you possibly avoid being tracked doing something like that?”
Violet Forest had a similar story: “I knew someone who was buying psychedelics off of [the deep web]. I asked him to show me. I was, of course, freaked out by what goes on in there, but I didn’t really see it as a place to experiment with artistically because it’s so intimidating.”
Now, a bake sale is coming to the notorious deep web, thanks to Hileman, Forest, and May Waver. Together, the three artists make up the founders of a collective called cybertwee, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign in September, they’re working to challenge the reputation and the male domination of the deep web with edible glitter and exclusive cybertwee video content. They’re asking the question, “What happens when something innocent and cute takes place on the deep web?”
On Friday, November 13, the bake sale will go live for 24 hours only. The handmade cookies (a sampling is shown in the photo above) will cost $7 for a set of five, and customers can pay with Bitcoin – they recommend buying some as soon as possible to make sure they’re available in time for the bake sale. All proceeds for the sale will go to GynePunk, a group using technology to benefit the reproductive health of disadvantaged women.
romantic is not weak. feminine is not weak. cute is not weak. we are fragmented and multifaceted bbs.
– Excerpt from the cybertwee manifesto
Emily Braun: How did cybertwee begin? How does it relate to cyberpunk or other movements? And how does it relate to your previous work?
Gabriella Hileman: When I was working on my undergrad thesis, I was looking at feminine cyborgs in the cyberpunk genre and their relationship to technofeminism and cyberfeminism. Most of these feminine characters were authored by men. Fiction has been a tool for people with less opportunity to escape or create their own narratives historically, so I felt like the voice of women was missing. The characters were sexualized as part of a male fantasy or didn’t seem to have the same motives as I would in their situations. We wanted to take that genre and do to it what the indie pop music movement in the 80’s did to punk, which was to take a culture centered around aggression and cynicism, and to counter it with the politics of emotional experience and social bonding, which we feel is equally radical.
Violet and May and I were all making work about the complexities surrounding embracing feminine culture in the 21st century, so we came together to write about that and to investigate what being part of a community of femme culture means in this rapidly evolving technological landscape, and to write and overwrite with our own narratives.
Braun: Have you personally experienced sexism or misogyny in the tech world? How about in the art
May Waver: I’m not really in the tech world, but I have experienced misogyny in art contexts. These sectors don’t exist in a vacuum. Sexism is built into their foundations because they’re part of a sexist, racist society. Last year, Artnet asked artist Marilyn Minter if the art world is biased; she laughed and said, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
Violet Forest: I’m in the tech world as a front end developer, and I feel like you’re damned if you express how you feel about it and you’re damned if you don’t. I don’t feel like I can genuinely speak of the misogyny I’ve experienced, because I’m afraid I’ll get shunned for speaking my mind, unless I’m in a conference specifically dedicated to bringing women in tech together to talk about women in the tech field.
In the art world, I feel like art that is made for aesthetic purposes is generally looked down upon. It’s like, finally, I have an excuse to make art that is just “pretty” and “dreamy”. Why did I even need an excuse in the first place?
Hileman: For the most part in school, instructors and peers were very supportive and excited to teach the skills surrounding these things. On the personal front, I’ve had romantic relationships where I was told that I didn’t know what I was doing, that certain STEM skills wouldn’t be something I would be interested in, and successes I’ve met in the art or tech worlds were met with discouragement or reduced to flukes, which was really disheartening and hurtful at the time.
Braun: Do you think the treatment of women in these industries is improving at all?
Waver: I would say it’s changing. Maybe women are more visible and/or hold more positions of power in these industries than, say, 50 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the overall treatment of women and marginalized people in art and tech is improving.
Forest: At least in Chicago, there is a lot of effort in raising awareness of women in the tech field. I went to a hackathon the other day called “She Hacks Chi” where we all had to make a web or mobile app that would help young girls from 8-15 years old get into the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math). They’re trying to extend STEM to STEAM (the “A” stands for arts). I think we’re at a point where we’re actively trying to do something about it, so yes, I have a lot of faith that the effort will pay off. Personally, all of the conversation about it has inspired me immensely.
Hileman: I’ve seen a lot of efforts to bring historical women in tech back into the public eye, which I really appreciate. I think a lot of why there are so few women in these fields is because women are generally socialized to believe that they aren’t as good at math or science as boys. Or if they are, we’ve been taught that men don’t like women that are smarter than them in practice. There’s a dynamic there that makes a teenage girl feel like an outsider or “nerdy” if she pursues these things, which is at odds with the social and romantic motives of a girl that age.
I think we need to work on changing that. Books or movies could be really good for this. I love that Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time is a scientist. I’d love to see more characters like that. As far as treatment in these industries in adulthood, I think proper HR trainings and education to bring awareness to these issues will go a long way.
Braun: With the internet (and the constant growth of technology), there have been so many changes within the art world and an ever-expanding potential for more. What do you think is the biggest change for art brought about by the internet?
Forest: It definitely has something to do with the internet connecting individuals over a network.
Hileman: To me, the biggest change has been the extension of what Walter Benjamin talks about in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The “aura” associated with the “original” becomes difficult to locate. Ownership of ideas and works becomes misty. When things are subject to virality, they lose quality, mutate, and are supplemented with unique jokes or made up facts. It’s very interesting. If symbols and words are how we are supposed to communicate truth to those around us, the noise overload of the internet puts any semblance of imagined truth out of reach. Additionally, I feel like our brains are becoming less wired towards memorization of individual bits of data, like, “How do I change the oil in my car?”, and instead create placeholders like, “Where do I find out how to change the oil in my car?” We are becoming more directories than encyclopedias.
Braun: I’m loving the different products & fashions posted to the cybertwee Facebook group. If you could have just one of the objects from a recent post, what would you choose?
Waver: I really want a Clippa Mini tools clip: a little stainless steel hair clip that doubles as a screw driver, wrench, trolley coin, ruler, and serrated cutting edge. It’s cute, and it seems extremely useful!
Hileman: Anything from Mcqueen’s Givenchy Ready to Wear A/W 1999 collection!
Braun: Describe cybertwee in under ten words.
Forest: The soft algorithm boldly emits the rose.
Braun: What role does technology play in your lives?
Waver: If you think of all tools and systems as technologies, then it plays a major role! Not only is the internet a technology that connects me to people and gives me spaces to express my self – selfhood itself is a technology. In a similar vein, Jesse Darling has pointed out that, “even time—as we know it—is virtual: a technological construct.” But the technologies I think about most on a day-to-day basis are my means of communication: phones, the internet, language.
Forest: I have a closer relationship to software than I do with hardware. I grew up on the internet and learned my socialization skills from AOL and AIM, and I was part of a group of pre-teens on the internet in the early 2000’s who were designing blinkies and dolls and gifs and making Photoshop tutorials for each other and creating our own websites. And now, I make websites professionally, and I make software as an art practice. And every day, I’m awed by the magic of algorithms and math that goes on in software, and I’m even awed by the meme trends that go on in social media and the way people are embracing it.
Hileman: I am not sure where natural ends and unnatural begins, or where bodies end and technologies begin. You could think of symbiotic relationships in nature as technologies even, like ants farming fungi and raising aphids as livestock. To me, technology is just part of the continuum of nature, but I’m a bit of a determinist.
Braun: What’s the biggest potential use for the internet that hasn’t been fully realized yet?
Waver: Tinder for Cute Animals in Your Area.
Forest: I think all the technology is there; there’s just not enough people playing with it. It’s like people have cars, but they don’t know what’s under the hood of their car. But if things like programming and electronics were common education like arithmetic and reading, all that potential, especially femme potential, would spiral into something beautiful.
Hileman: This is probably idealistic, but the exponential power of sharing of ideas and knowledge uniting the world’s best minds to find ways to reverse climate change, exploitative mining of resources, the ostracization and oppression of groups, over-production, etc.
Braun: And how do you embrace femininity in your lives?
Waver: My personal femininity is about being in flux and allowing myself to perform it differently at any time depending on my mood, the weather, online versus at work… I think patriarchy values a sort of steadfast “authenticity,” and I just don’t believe that exists. One of my favorite artists, E. Jane, says, “I think artifice is always fine, because at the end of the day we all have some level of it.”
Hileman: I feel similarly. I love being severe and pointed at times, like an anime villainess, wearing cloaks and such. I really want a motorcycle. Alternatively, I love buying flowers and using scented soap. I especially like private, indulgent forms of femininity that are sense based – lots of soft textures and smells. I have a silky robe that feels beautiful. Doting on people I love and singing in spritely tones makes me very happy. I love collecting little trinkets. I have several passed down from my mom and grandmother. I love the idea of carrying matriarchal relics and this sort of unspoken vow to hold onto them and protect them.
Braun: How do emotions have a role in technology?
Waver: I think emotions have a major impact on the kinds of technologies we develop, and for what purposes. Feelings also govern how different tools and systems are used once they exist. For example, the early internet was developed out of fear and competition as a wartime technology; now, we can use it to find love.
Hileman: Relationships are the largest forces of change in our lives. We all grapple with forms of alienation, but most of us are moving within groups of people in our work spaces, on social media, in our schools, and in our families. Our relationships are formed by sharing and building emotions with one another. Humans are emotional beings, and as we continue to develop technology and it become more and more a part of our daily lives, we are emotional cyborgs, for better or for worse.
Braun: So what’s your ultimate goal with cybertwee?
Hileman: Our goals have changed over time and will continue to evolve. I think our primary goal is just to stimulate questions around topics important to us and to foster a place in which we can share our creations and learn skills together that we might otherwise be intimidated by.
Braun: And now, you’re stimulating questions about Bitcoin and the deep web! How did you first learn about these topics?
Forest: The words get thrown around a lot as a huge mystery. That’s kind of why we thought the bake sale would be important, to kind of debunk it ourselves.
Hileman: I guess several years ago, I somehow stumbled across that Google Image result of an iceberg, with the “regular” visible web above the water and the huge mass underneath. I didn’t really understand what made up the stuff underwater, but I was really surprised. I had never realized there was more going on.
Braun: Why do you think it’s important to bring baked goods to the deep web? (Or more generally, something innocent.) Why is the deep web itself important? Why is Bitcoin important?
Forest: With cybertwee, we’re exploring, “What would cyberpunk look like if it was made by a bunch of girls instead of guys?” With the discussion of cyberpunk comes the topic of cypherpunk. We’re selling cookies on the web to get our toes wet with encryption, and in that process, we are sharing our experience with those partaking in the fundraiser.
Hileman: Personally, I feel like one of the risks of technology becoming more and more integrated with our lives is our increasing sacrifice of privacy. With new technology, we always have to be aware of who we’re allowing to access our data and whether they can use that data against us, either a corporate infrastructure or other people who might want to exercise authority over us. I want to learn how to protect myself from hackers who could extort me and be able to share important and confidential information with my peers without worrying who might be able to see it.
The same goes for Bitcoin – I think it’s important to be able to maintain anonymity from corporations, and the idea of a currency that isn’t prone to inflation is very appealing to me. I think to us, the deep web workshop and the cookies are about bringing those skills to those who might not seek them out on their own or might feel intimidated. The cookies represent a neutral product that can open people to that kind of culture and think about it in ways that aren’t just associated with drugs or other illegal activities.
– Emily Braun
All photos & graphics in this post are credited to cybertwee, except for the Givenchy gif, which was found on the vl4da tumblr.