Feminist artistic attuning to the pandemic

by Magdalena Goetz

Artistic interventions centring around queer/feminist discourses and practices are attuning differently to the pandemic: using social media and smartphones they invite participants to a virus version of a festival on digital feminism via YouTube and Telegram chats, to a collaborative feminist reading group via Zoom, to a solidarity online protest wearing digital masks featuring the hashtag #technofeministcare via Facebook and Instagram as well as to a DIY-YouTube-video on how to create your own antivirus nails. Following various artistic practices, I intend to reflect upon feminist artistic attuning to the pandemic and, hence, on the attuning of my own research practices.

dgtl fmnsm, HOT MESS *virus version*

In March of 2020, instead of travelling to Berlin to partake in HOT MESS curated by the international network dgtl fmnsm as part of the festival Spy on Me #2. Artistic Manoeuvres for the Digital Present at HAU Hebel am Ufer, I became a participant of its *virus version* sitting on my sofa at home,1 equipped with my laptop, tablet and smartphone. For three days and/or nights I followed dgtl fmnsm’s festival stream and its densely packed schedule transmitted onto and shared via screens and social media: I participated in ‘A place taking manual (virus version)’ via Facebook,2 creating what was envisioned as ‘small DIY versions of the festival in all our homes while streaming HOT MESS content!’;3 I was part of a virtual tour of the unactualised immersive spatial installation by watching a YouTube video of a pre-recorded tour through a SketchUp model; I partook in the ‘#alieneffect Instagram Facefilter Tutorial’ to learn how to create an AR filter;4 I saw the 3-hour long live online show ‘GLEAM, LIVE OFFLINE: HOT MESS’ – all on the HAU YouTube channel. In the ‘Center for Speculation’ I was an active participant in ‘MELT DOWN – Meltionary’ on the platform Discord,5 and took a ‘Telegram Trip’ – reading, writing, chatting, adding and sharing gifs and emojis with other participants.

As the physical get-together and the ‘immersive installation where everything should have taken place’ were cancelled IRL (in real life),6 dgtl fmnsm instead envisioned ‘shared experiences around politics and culture in the digital world and in times of crisis’7 with HOT MESS attempting ‘a loving and critical devotion to these user interfaces’ exploring ‘the remaining possibilities to untangle the depths of our devices layer by layer.’8

From my comfortable home-bound perspective HOT MESS did create a multi-layered, multi-sited experience with moments of intimate sharing and ‘being-with’ and ‘becoming-with’. What it also produced, though, was a feeling of tiredness due to what might be described – analogue to ‘Zoom fatigue’ – as another level of ‘social media fatigue’: after hours of watching live-streams, of being in touch only with screens, I got weary and tired of ‘not-being-with’ in physical space. Having experienced it before at other dgtl fmnsm formats, I missed the connection, meetings in person, encountering art works and one another in the physical, socializing beyond social media platforms, having private, more intimate conversations and shared experiences beyond interfaces.

Screenshots taken from various content shared via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Discord while streaming HOT MESS *virus version*

Over the next few months, more art exhibitions, workshops, and performances involving physical contact were cancelled, leading to more, alternative artistic and media practices attuning to the pandemic and reacting to it in various ways.

#purplenoise, #technofeministcare #mayday2020

On May 1st, the self-proclaimed interdisciplinary techno-feminist research group #purplenoise declared an online strike on social media by flooding their Instagram and Facebook pages with images of the protesters’ faces all wearing a white mask featuring the two hashtags #purplenoise and #technofeministcare as well as a so-called gender meme, a diversified gender symbol, both in purple colour.9 Alluding to the international worker’s day and strike, the artist group uses the hashtag #mayday2020, and demands to ‘show your hidden face’.10 Prior to #mayday2020, their #technofeministcare manifesto was released demanding ‘solidarity on all levels’.11 Protests on the streets as well as online, was a strategy deployed by #purplenoise since its launch in 2018. As such, the #mayday protest is a continuation of their online practices with a shifted focus on the pandemic and techno-feminist care, while putting emphasis on new conditions of striking and showing one’s face in public.

Screenshots from the #purplenoise Facebook and Instagram accounts from #mayday2020

Young Girl Reading Group, PE VI: YGRG 166 / 167 / 168

Young Girl Reading Group (YGRG) held three online reading group sessions in April and May of 2020 via Zoom, as part of a newly established online version of Elbow Room,12 an event series by Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in Düsseldorf, which had to close due to COVID-19. Initiated by artist duo Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė in 2013, YGRG started as a reading group meeting weekly to collectively read texts exploring the ‘intersections between gender and technology’.13 After registering via e-mail, I received the dial-in data for the Zoom-meeting as well as the texts as pdf-files. Being one of about twelve participants we met on May, 11th to read a selected chapter of Zakiya Hanahfi’s The Monster in the Machine together, one after the other, passing on the word after having read out loud paragraphs. After finishing, we discussed our reading impressions, the text, and how it related to the current corona crisis. Compared to reading while being in a physical site together, reading collectively via Zoom shifted the experience of ‘being-with’, of ‘coming together’: the mediated voices had diverging technical quality, making it at times hard to follow; it was difficult to find into a rhythm of change of readers; after a while, my focus on the text drifted off. The technological mediation led to distancing effects not experienced by me when reading together in situ.

Screenshot from the YGRG 166, 167, 168 Facebook event, photo of my technical set-up during the reading group, and screenshot from the website of Kunstverein Düsseldorf

Nadja Buttendorf, Antivirus Nails (fka Smartphone Friendly Nails)

According to the motto ‘important new questions, old project reworked!’,14 Nadja Buttendorf released a revised version of her Smartphone Friendly Nails under the new title Antivirus Nails.15 With a ‘triptych online tutorial’ on how to do your own anti-virus nails and a video on ‘how to use the ATM without touching the screen’, both available on YouTube, Buttendorf offers a creative fashion ‘solution’ with a fake nail and tin foil to prevent having to touch-sensitive screens with one’s bare finger in times of the pandemic. Using the form of a DIY online tutorial and reworking an older art project, Buttendorf draws on an art practice characteristic for her,16 reframing, thereby, attuning it to for the current pandemic circumstances without changing her artistic practice as such.

Screenshots of Nadja Buttendorf’s Antivirus Nails tutorials on Instagram and YouTube

Attuning: ‘important new questions, old project reworked!’

The artists I am looking at in my research attuned their artistic practices differently as they reacted to the pandemic with new or reworked artworks and practices dealing with COVID-19. As all the artistic positions make use of and reflect digital (social) media use, their practices did not change fundamentally but rather shifted to a purely digital form, which they worked with as well as against in their performative works in physical spaces. However, this did not change their artistic practices as a whole. Rather, it can be described as shifting to specific pandemic contents and/or media usage and/or digital formats, while building upon their established artistic practices. The absence of artistic practices in physical space was, nonetheless, drastic: exhibitions, festivals, workshops, and performances involving in-person meetings were all cancelled. Substitutes in virtual forms, like online exhibitions, video streaming, or other creative forms mediated via Telegram chats, Instagram, Facebook, Discord, and YouTube, allowed participation and research practices from afar without physical contact.

What was striking to me in that regard, was the fact that the pandemic caused a backslide to formats already deemed outdated: An artistic field dedicated to ‘digital feminism’, to reflect the interrelations between gender and technology, that – way before the pandemic – declared its need to re-enter physical space and emphasized the role of bodies encountering and being-with one another, then was constrained to digital and virtually mediated formats due to the pandemic. Technologically and artistically they were well-equipped to create these formats, nevertheless, it entailed to do without the physical level so central to their practice.

In light of the pandemic, as artists attuned their practices to various degrees, my own research practices shifted on a spectrum as well as in a twofold way: they were limited, as they were reduced to online formats not allowing me to do field research as intended, as well as expanded, in terms of creating digital formats that would not have been created otherwise, giving me remote access. Instead of taking photos, making audio and video recordings of artistic practices on site, I turned to screenshots, saving files, photos of technical set-ups, and recordings of already digitally mediated formats. Further, with videoconferencing software becoming ubiquitous, it became easier for me to partake in and have conservations with artists, opening up new entry points I did not have before, enabling me to rework my research practice to the ‘important new questions’ in the pandemic situation.

  1. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): Dgtl fmnsm HOT MESS *virus version*, Facebook page, Details, Schedule, This and all following links have last been accessed on October, 13th, 2020.
  2. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): A place taking manual (virus version), by die Blaue Distanz (Anna Erdmann & Franziska Goralski),
  3. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): A place taking manual (virus version), Facebook video post from March 19th, 2020,
  4. 321HAU (2020): Alla Popp – #alieneffect Facefilter Workshop for Beginner,
  5. Dgtlfmnsm / HAU Hebbel am Ufer (2020): Centre for Speculation (Virus Version)’
  6. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): A place taking manual (virus version), Facebook video post from March 19th, 2020,
  7. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): Facebook post from March 13th, 2020,
  8. Dgtlfmnsm (2020): About, dgtl fmnsm HOT MESS,
  9. #purplenoise (2020): #purple noise,
  10. #purplenoise (2020): Facebook-post from May 1st, 2020, shared via ‘Coco Sollfrank’,
  11. #purplenoise (2020): #technofeministcare manifesto,
  12. As such, Elbow Room was focusing on ‘the examination, appropriation and negotiation of digital spaces of production […] against the background of the current state of emergency, of masking, quarantine and self-isolation.’ Cf. Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2020): Elbow Room, PE VI: YGRG 166, Dorota Gawęda & Eglė Kulbokaitė, Monday, April 27, 2020, 7 PM,
  13. Cf. ARIEL (2020): YGRG Archive, About YGRG,
  14. Nadja Buttendorf (2020): Instagram post from March 27th, 2020 @nadjalien
  15. Nadja Buttendorf (2017/2020): Antivirus Nails (fka Smartphone Friendly Nails) – how to use the ATM without touching the screen, 2017/2020,
  16. Cf. Götz, Magdalena (20019): Postdigital – post-partizipativ? Diskurse und Praktiken der Teilhabe in der aktuellen Medienkunst am Beispiel von Nadja Buttendorfs #HotPhones – high-tech self-care, in: Kristin Klein, Willy Noll (Hg.): Postdigital Landscapes. Kunst und Medienbildung in der digital vernetzten Welt, Zeitschrift Kunst Medien Bildung | zkmb 2019,

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