Digital Artist May Waver Talks Feminism, Intimacy, and the Internet

Although both contemporary art and the internet have been around for yonks, ‘internet art’ still feels like a fairly new phenomenon (for me anyway) and digital multimedia artists a relatively unexplored field. And although the world wide web is supposed to be a platform that is accessible to everyone and where anyone can have free reign to express themselves, we know that’s not how the cookie really crumbles. Digital art is quite a male-dominated domain and, as this article points out, women have been thriving (read: struggling) to carve out a place for themselves in this medium, with artists such as Petra Cortright and Bunny Rogers leading the way. However, there have been bumps in the road, with reports of Facebook groups such as Starwave, which is aimed at internet-friendly women artists and curators, being full of stories about sexist male gallerists and all-male lineups of the “next big thing” in internet art. There’s of course a plethora of stories about misogyny in the tech world in general.

So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to come across May Waver, a young digi artist whose work is fast garnering attention as it ushers in a new wave of feminist art online. Working predominantly in video, May has exhibited online, in the US, the UK, Peru, Kuwait, New Zealand, and most recently at Lemonade Gallery in London. She’s also co-founded a femme arts and tech collective called Cybertwee, lectured at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and co-hosted a bake sale on the deep web. This girl looks set to break the internet (sorry Kim). I chatted to her about feminism, problematic art, and the overstimulating experience of social media.

You’ve been described as a “digi-feminist artist.” Do you agree with this label?

Feminism, and “feminist,” can mean a lot of different things to different people. I would say that I use digital tools to make art concerned with selfhood / the body, intimacy, and care, and in doing so advocate a feminism that “struggles to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture.” (In the words of bell hooks!)

So if feminism means different things to different people, what does it mean to you?

I have mixed feelings about feminism as a movement that has transformed so many people’s lives for the better, but has also been unwelcoming, even downright oppressive, to women who don’t fit the mold of being cis, white, straight, wealthy. So I’m grateful for feminism, but I think we can do better.

May Waver 2

Your art explores intimacy, care, and our relationships with technology and with each other. What drew you to these topics?

My work is grounded in personal experience, but these topics have been human concerns for a long time. I think they stay relevant because we are constantly confronted with new ways to understand ourselves and each other through new technologies.

Why did you choose the digital medium in particular?

I like making digital audiovisual work because it’s multi-sensory and it’s time-based. Digital drawing on my phone is fun too because it’s on-the-go.

Are you inspired by any other digital media artists?

Very much so! There are so many artists making important / compelling work online. I really admire E. Jane (they/she), who is a “Black conceptual artist that works within digital mediums and performance” (their words). Their work is really powerful and multifaceted. They’re on twitter as @E_SCRAAATCH. I’m also into Morehshin Allahyari’s work—she digitally models and 3D prints reproductions of statues destroyed by ISIS as part of her current series called Material Speculation.

Do you have a project/piece that you’ve done that is particularly memorable to you?

I used to have an Etsy store where I sold personal garments and bedroom items I had used—for example, sheets I slept on, towels I used after a shower, pajamas I slept in. It’s memorable to me as a well-intentioned but problematic work. At the time I made it, I wanted to critique the objectification of girls’ bodies, and the way intimacy is packaged and sold as a commodity. I don’t regret the piece, but in retrospect, I think mimicry of something damaging for the sake of critique isn’t really helping.

It’s interesting that you’ve reflected on a past work as being problematic. I guess that’s the beauty of art—it allows you to constantly build on and reinvent work. Has there been another piece that you thought of differently in retrospect?

The way I think about past projects is always changing because I’m constantly growing and learning new things. It’s interesting when other people describe my work in a way that totally surprises me. It makes me consider my own work through a different lens.

Your last exhibition was in London in December. Can you summarize what afferent was about for our readers?

The show was a multi-sensory environment I created in the gallery, with the focus on a new video I made for the show: afferent: ASMR (crinkles + gentle tapping + soft spoken + buttons + clicks + chewing sounds). I installed speakers in a bed to give viewers a comfy, surround-sound spot to rest and watch the video. This work explores the way internet phenomena like ASMR and careful ‘How To’ videos can be really soothing, pleasurable oases from the sometimes loud and overstimulating experience of social media. I’m also interested in deconstructing the imagined boundary between IRL and URL, and ASMR is an amazing playground for finding links between virtual content and the physical body.

What are you working on now?

I’m in the planning stages of directing a music video for Minneapolis-based rapper/community organizer Tony the Scribe. I’ve also got some shows on the horizon, so stay tuned for those 🙂

One of May’s videos will be exhibited as part of the exhibition “Into You,” at the ATM Gallery, Austin, Texas, March 17–18, 2016, as part of the SxSW festival.

Follow May on insta & twitter.

All images by @hattiecrane

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