Mary Flanagan
State University of New York, Buffalo, USA

Abstract: For DAC 2000 I would like to show WORK, a gallery installation which will premiere at DAC. The project will expose the contradictory relationship women occupy between the role of author and the role of user when working in corporate settings, with personal and private realities when managing, and with women’s bodies-- the interface for work-- and technology. The goal of this piece is to put the user inside the tension women have maintaining multiple and opposed identities as corporate worker, family member, and self.

Statistics about women in the workplace show that women are entering corporate America in growing numbers from all class backgrounds and making many gains in previously male-dominated fields (Castro and Furchtgott-Roth, 1997). However, sexism and other obstacles for women permeate all levels of work, even managerial levels. Several studies have found that there are disproportionately few women in corporate executive positions. While it seems that the feminist movement has achieved a victory by opening doors to women in upper level positions, a deeper examination reveals that this goal has not yet been fully achieved. In our culture, a successful career is considered essential to happiness. Yet questions arise as to whether success for women will mean mastering the system and achieving success within it or transforming its basic values. What is success for women in the American corporate system?

While women in management represent a small percentage of working women, they seem to be in a position of both economic and professional liberation. Often women who have worked their way up to a management level are thought to have "made it" and achieved "successful" careers. However, successful integration of women in the corporate workplace is not simply a matter of placing women at the management level. While management may seem like a golden spot to be for women struggling with their career dreams, the experience of being a woman in management is under-explored in critical and creative spheres. It is a seldom-discussed experience in which the subtleties of authority, self-esteem, control, and glass ceilings manifest in their most deviant and deceptive ways. Far from a rewarding career, a management position can be the site of a very fierce struggle for identity.

Physical Elements of the Installation and Their Function

I will construct a physical interactive installation of WORK by creating a "sound and image sculpture." This sculpture is a miniature, physical interactive sound environment which brings into focus the invisible and complex relationships of women in work environments.

The concrete physical elements of the installation will be a pedestal and a stretched fabric projection screen 12’ above the pedestal. There will be a video projector over the screen suspended from the ceiling or projecting from below, and inside the pedestal will be Altec Lansing multimedia speakers and the sensors for the exhibit. The sensors in the pedestal will be "I-Cube" controlled distance sensors laid out in a grid fashion which will trigger sounds from the speakers and images from the projector. In addition, a laptop computer controlling the sound-sensor relationship will reside in the pedestal. The pedestal will be custom created and will lock.

Navigation and Interaction

The installation will occupy a 8’ x 8’space. Interactor/participants approach the pedestal, which seemingly has "nothing" to display.

Users will move their hands in the air around the sculpture locations until they "touch" a sound; they will gradually define with the movement of their hands the "physical" boundaries of the sculptures through audio cues. The first sculpture will be defined by sounds and movements of the exterior vs interior. Everyday language, gender positioning, and other outward, social, surface constructs will be depicted. Users will define this sculpture by pressing in with their hands to find the exterior points, the "walls" of the invisible being. The interior sounds will consist of thoughts, self-questioning, doubts, and interior conversations. These will play until the user finds the surface, which is a smooth sound, a together sound, a seamless composition. The particular movement (pushing out or pressing in) the user performs for an individual sculpture will be directly linked to the content of the sound.

Media Used

Sound work will include interviews of women working, sound clips from management training sessions, quotes from famous management books, and ambient/musical sounds.

Images will be interactively linked with the sounds generated and will be abstract scenes of women’s work lives (these scenes will also appear in the WORK CD-ROM and on the web site). Images will play a secondary role in support of the sound. The focus of the installation will be on the dynamic creation of the sounds, what the sounds mean or say, and the shapes the sounds are making.

About the Presenter: Mary Flanagan is a multimedia producer, teacher, and maker of personal digital work. Currently she is an Assistant Professor of Digital Arts in the Department of Media Study, State University of New York at Buffalo, where she is producing an online educational game for girls ages 9-11 funded by the National Science Foundation. She also has a co-edited collection of fiction and critical essays, Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture, forthcoming from MIT Press. Flanagan will be joining the faculty at Concordia University, Montréal, in Fall 2000, where she will teach about gender and technology, cyberculture, interactive/new media, and animation.