Femmebit 2019: Realizing the Future for Women in Art and New Technology
Written by Genie Davis
On the last weekend in May, the annual FEMMEBIT Festival brought more than 75 diverse female-identifying artists in video and new technology to Los Angeles. The 3-day event featured everything from moving-image art screenings to light and sound installations, engaging symposiums, mixed reality experiences, live audiovisual performances, and site-specific, immersive activations.
According to Femmebit co-founder Janna Avner, one of the most exciting aspects of the event is simply “The fact that we’re exhibiting over 75 women artists in tech… because it indicates that a large group of artists exists within a nascent art-tech movement beyond mainstream culture. We can create a major festival because we’re backed by this strong creative community.”
Avner was inspired four years ago to create the festival because she felt the art world could provide “more inclusive, grass roots, and cross-disciplinary approaches to culture, and that these artworks should be understood intersectionally — through science, tech and artificial intelligence, film, and brand strategy sectors.”
She graduated from Yale in 2012 with a background in oil painting and writing, and hoped to work outside and between conceptual frameworks provided by older histories in academia.
“Embracing the here and now, which is in part defined by problems in gender parity and the rise of nationalism in America, I teamed up with Kate Parsons and Sharsten Plenge to realize the dream of working with new and innovative approaches to art creation that specifically center on social progress for women,” she explains.
This year’s FEMMEBIT was currently sponsored by organizations including Yale in Hollywood, Yale Alumni Art League, Coaxial Arts Foundation, WOAH, The Nook Gallery LA, FLOATLAND, Dublab music, and is finding financial support via the organization’s Go Fund Me campaign. Avner notes that the festival is “fairly grass roots at the moment.” Nonetheless, the festival put together a somewhat astonishing mix of programming ranging from panel presentations and screenings to the art exhibition itself this year, and promises more in 2020.
“New digital platforms have taken us back to the highly inquisitive and experimental avant-garde, which means the range of formats for exhibiting content reflects these experimental mediums,” Avner relates. “FEMMEBIT exhibits video art, VR, AR, and light installations incorporating the latest in new technologies. Certain artworks immerse the viewer in kaleidoscopic fields of color, like the works of Anna Luisa Petrisko or Alex Pelly, while other works intimate new cyborgian narratives to strengthen woman’s role to society and to herself.” She calls these works persona-based, and says artists such as Suzy Poling, Jennifer Juniper Stratford, Claire Evans, and others “allow the viewer to enter virtual spaces where anything is possible.”
Along with FEMMEBIT, Avnar continues with her own work as an oil painter, one responsive to new technologies. She also curates shows in the VR/AR space. “My practice finds hybrid approaches to understanding the 2D arts with the Z-plane – along the X-, Y- axes. I exhibit my paintings as still lifes, figurations, and landscapes that locate form in virtual spaces.” She also co-created the Nook Gallery in Inglewood with Richelle Gribble. The gallery’s goal is to exhibit work about environmental sustainability and the art-tech overlap.
She describes both her curation and her own use of materials in her own work to be based on “how form is constructed in virtual and augmented reality software.”
With FEMMEBIT, Avner’s goal is to make sure area art lovers can explore art at a minimal cost, and experience new ways of exploring and enjoying it, she says.
Among the festival highlights, attendees experienced Nancy Baker Cahill’s new AR project. Avner describes AR pioneer Cahill’s work as being “made accessible to the public as a viable and democratic platform and the closest thing to ‘art for everyone.’” This is something that Avner views as extremely important in a digital age where “everyone is isolated and glued to their screens. The regional component to the sites Nancy chooses, as well as the artists and participants she works with, indicate that she uses technology to forge and reinforce community dynamics. I strongly support artworks like hers, which aim high.” Cahill is well known for creating a free AR app, 4th Wall, which invites viewers to place art in 360 degrees anywhere in the world. “The 4th wall app helps promote a positive future,” Avner enthuses. Cahill also recently had two major works featured at Desert X in the greater Palm Springs area.
Along with Cahill, other exhibiting artists this year included Jennifer Moon, Julie Weitz, Rachel Mason, Cara Levine, Kate Durbin, Eileen Cowin, Nikita Gale, and Petra Cortright, among others.
Held this year at Civic Center Studios in DTLA, FEMMEBIT 2019 was produced by Avner in conjunction with cofounders Kate Parsons, Sharsten Plenge; and Dahn Gim, cofound of MAKINGOUT.LA; Eva Aguila Founder, Coaxial Arts Foundation; and Richelle Gribble, cofounder, The Nook Gallery.
Civic Center Studios is located at: 207 South Broadway, Suite One, Los Angeles, CA 90012