6 Women Changing the Face of Computer Art
If you had told me one year ago that I would be an avid creative coder, I would have never believed you. When I was in high school, the idea of computer coding always just sort of scared me, like it was some large, mysterious block of the world that I would never be able to handle. I could have never envisioned my artwork connected with technology.
Then, I started my sophomore year at Northwestern University, and signed up for a creative coding class in my Television/Film Department, per the advice of my academic advisor. I figured I would probably drop out after the first class period. However, I walked in on the first day and everything changed. My professor was an incredibly welcoming and intelligent woman who insisted to the small class (of 5 students) that the course would be very accessible to beginner coders. She showed us a slideshow of modern computer artworks - gallery pieces that transformed based on coordinates of viewers’ positions, artistic video games that delivered incredibly touching, personal messages, algorithmic computer shapes that looked like intricately painted murals. It was magic - I was sold.
After a year in creative coding classes, I have now almost completed an academic concentration in Media and Game Design. I can code in multiple languages, on multiple platforms. I have cultivated an artistic sensibility in pieces that exist on public webpages. All of this would have been completely impossible without the guidance and encouragement of my incredible first coding professor. As a woman, she has never guilted me for asking for help, and she has never been condescending towards me about technical issues.
I’ve been so lucky to have this experience during my educational journey. Now, I want to celebrate other women who are doing the same. Here are six amazing female computer artists who are using their talents to further coding/technological literacy among young women. Let’s go #GirlsWhoCode!
Angela uses her software skills to create digital forums to discuss “feminism and the spaces most hostile towards it,” as she says on her website. She features her Digi-Feminism Archive, a historical collection of online feminist movements. One of her most famous pieces, “The Game”, is a video game in which the user is confronted with predatory practices used by prominent seduction coaches (pick-up artists). It creates an uncomfortable and fairly threatening situation, in which the user must make choices to navigate the terrain safely.
Heather Kelly is a video game designer and co-founder of Kokoromi, an experimental video game collective that promotes the understanding of video games as an art form. She has created interactive smart toys, projections, and web communities specifically for young women. Her game “Lapis”, shown above, is a game played on a DS that teaches women how to reach orgasm. The user wins the game by properly simulating the sensation with the stylus on a cartoon bunny. Different methods work for different bunnies, and winning methods change over time throughout the game.
Rhaida, based out of The Hauge, Netherlands, identifies herself in her bio as a “Creative Muslim Woman” who “stands for diversity & female empowerment.” Much of her art explores life as a Muslim woman in a global cultural context. Her long captions, when translated, discuss her relationship with the hijab, depictions of Muslim women in popular media, diversity, and acceptance. Follow her for simultaneously stunning and educational posts that stimulate intriguing dialogues.
Hannah Epstein is incredibly unique, because she works both with traditional folk textiles and experimental games and video. She is a trained folklorist, and her playful works employ inventive methods of storytelling. She encourages active participation from users and prompts them to question existing structures of power.
Phoenix Perry uses her advanced mathematical and technological knowledge to study how organizational structures can affect social change. She has founded an impressive number of progressive organizations, including Code Liberation - a group that encourages women, nonbinary, femme, and girl-identifying people to create digital games and creative technology. She also creates games herself, such as "Bot Party", (featured above), which investigates intimacy through physical interaction and sound.
As Chloe says herself on her website, she is “ passionate about using play as a force for doing good.” She creates incredibly creative toys and digital games that look straight out of a kid’s imagination. She recently founded Humans Who Play, a design company that partners with organizations to create “playful, tech-forward, and incredibly high quality learning.” Her piece “Minicade” is a mobile web app that allows users to create their own games with friends, while learning code in the process.
I often find myself spending hours on the websites of these women, and so many more. I have found them so inspiring as I navigate the confusing and often male-dominated field of coding. However, these women have transformed computer technologies to be used for creative expression, education, and social change.
If you are interested in learning the basics of coding, I recommend downloading Processing (a free coding program) to your computer from Processing.org or checking out p5.js online. Daneil Schiffman creates easy to follow instructional videos on his youtube channel. Also, watch Lauren McCarthy’s videos to learn more about her creation, p5.js. Click on any of these links to explore their works, and play away!