The artist Angela Washko infiltrates the worlds of men: “I want to shed light on abuses with my stories” – Radar
Thanks to the artist Angela Washko and STUK, we can still go to a café despite covid-19. Granted, it’s a virtual experience and you have to face a horde of seduction coaches who are hard to dismiss. A happy ending is not guaranteed.
The New York artist, game developer and professor Angela Washko (34) shows her top-class feminist art projects in STUK. Through games, interventions, videos, performances and texts, she creates forums for dialogue about feminism and gender.
The New York artist, game developer and professor Angela Washko (34) shows her top-class feminist art projects in STUK. Through games, interventions, videos, performances and texts, she creates forums for dialogue about feminism and gender. During a zoom call across the Atlantic, she tells us about the work she is exhibiting in ‘Point of View’ and what she wants to achieve with it. “Everything I do is based on an interest in perspectives that are underrepresented or misrepresented in the media we consume,” she says. “I want to show how women and people from the LGBTQIA + community live in environments that are not intended for them.” ‘When I did my first job around 2010, I spent a lot of time in the world of World of Warcraft. In such online environments, players often develop their own language, a type of code that they can interact with. It’s something that connects players to the same multi-user video game. Anyone who doesn’t know the codes feels left out of the story. “You are not afraid to confront people who think differently in your work. But they also try not to polarize and to enter into a dialogue with the “other”. Why this approach? Angela Washko: “Polarization is a big problem here in America, but I think you will see it too. Too much thought has been given to Box. People like to talk about each other and would rather point a finger than chat. Hence my interest in creating a dialogue. ““ As a young woman in a gaming environment, I noticed that the language used was often very condescending to women and people with different skin colors, sexualities, or beliefs. Even though I spent a lot of time there and knew the code language, I still didn’t feel at home there. It bothered me so much that I didn’t feel like playing anymore. ” Because my head was still racing, I decided to talk to the players about it. Through interventions, I had conversations with the WoW community about the women-unfriendly, homophobic, racist and discriminatory language that is used in the game. I started the Gender Awareness and Behavioral Awareness Council in World of Warcraft, a kind of public forum where we can talk about these issues. These interventions were documented as videos and can be seen in the exhibition. ‘Traditionally, the art world isn’t immediately known for its friendliness. What is it like for you to get your message across in this environment? Angela Washko: Oh my god! It really is. I’ve never really felt at home in the art world. That’s why I create art in worlds that are traditionally not associated with art. ““ The art world’s obsession with scarcity and the aura around the object is absolutely not in line with the way I work. I would mind if the people I speak to on WoW couldn’t see the videos I’m making about it. Art is a format, but when it comes to distribution, I’m more interested in talking to people outside of the art world. ‘“What I do is difficult to commercialize. I don’t care that much. As a result, it took my work a while to attract the attention of commercial galleries. Or is it also because people in power in the art world find what I do offensive? That could be. Gambling is often looked down on from this world. I was told almost verbatim, “We know video games are a mess. Why are you wasting your time in these virtual worlds for kids?” So I had to explain that the average age of the WoW player is 29 and that I have spoken to a very diverse group of people during my projects. From doctors to lawyers to military veterans, teachers and people who make air conditioners. So I had to take on a dual role. On the one hand, convince the reluctant art scene that it is worth paying attention to gambling and luring them out of their ivory towers. On the other hand, I also wanted to address the problems in this gaming world. So I was really caught between two fires and I didn’t belong anywhere. After the World of Warcraft project, your sights are set on Roosh V, the infamous misogynist pickup artist. He has written a number of ‘Banged’ books on how to get girls to bed in different countries and is a key figure in the manosphere. You finally convinced him to conduct an in-depth video interview. How did you prepare this project? Angela Washko: “At first I thought I could copy my approach from the WoW project to the one with Roosh V. That turned out to be an illusion (laughs).” “Before my WoW project, I had already spent a lot of time playing games. I played at a high level, had cool weapons and the other players respected my skills. I looked good (laughs). So I was able to start my project in a very natural way, because the WoW community knew that I had been playing for a long time and wasn’t just rolling in to ask them bad questions. “” I was also able to hide behind an avatar with an idiotic name. That creates a certain freedom. That is not to say that I think the WoW world is wrong. People spend hours in the game and have real conversations too. It may be full of trolls and dragons, but people develop real relationships with each other and there is a real sense of community. But thanks to the virtual, people soon started telling me very personal things. The conversations covered abortion, sexual harassment, falling in love, and other intimate topics. Some really gained insights after these marathon conversations. I found it very valuable. Even players with a completely different worldview like me usually found it fascinating and educational to talk about these topics. “The difference to Roosh V and the Manosphere is that as a feminist artist I will always be an outsider in this environment. So it was much more difficult to have an honest conversation where the interlocutors are on the same level. Everything about me screamed that I didn’t belong in the manosphere, a movement that emphasizes masculinity, is decidedly anti-feminist, and is often associated with the extreme right. ‘So you had to come up with a different tactic. Angela Washko: “I started reading all about the manosphere that I could reach. Books, forums, blogs: I really got into it. I also quickly noticed that the members of the Manosphere never really had a conversation with feminist women. They based their ideas solely on what they shared on the Internet. So I wanted to talk to them about what was new for both sides. “Before I started, I had experience with the intervention artists on The Yes Men. They practice culture jamming and sneak into places they don’t belong. Now that I wanted to step into a world I didn’t belong in, I realized that as a man you have a great advantage. It is automatically assumed that there is a white man in a suit. They can get away with anything just because they look like men of power. ““ As a feminist woman, if I wanted to have a conversation with Roosh V, I would have to work a lot harder. I had to move heaven and earth to convince him to join a conversation. I emailed him a question every day for a month. That way he checked that I didn’t want to send it in. He wanted to know what the use of an interview was for him. He didn’t want to take money because he thought it was an insult to his manhood. “Fortunately, I had done a lot of research and knew he wanted respect. He wants to be valued and believes that the mainstream media treat him badly. Finally, I was able to convince him by assuring him that a large group of people would see this conversation. After all, I had received a scholarship to do the project and the video was shown in many places, from museums to conferences. That piqued his interest. In the end, he agreed, but everything had to follow his rules and I had to take the submissive role. “In a blog post on mainstream media, I learned that if I insulted him or lost my cool, he would leave. In the video you can see how difficult it is for me to stay calm and positive. I giggle nervously and rock my foot non-stop. I felt very uncomfortable. Roosh V didn’t chop up words and give one misogynist or homophobic answer after another. ‘He even thought your haircut was a joke. Angela Washko: “He called me pumpkin head. And I had to be nice. You understand: it was a challenge. ‘How do you look back on the interview? Angela Washko: ‘With a lot of mixed feelings. In retrospect, I never want to take on this submissive role again in order to be able to penetrate the manosphere. I also don’t want to get the idea that as a woman you have to behave like that in order to deal with such people. I had to be someone completely different, but still look like myself. I had to let him speak too, even though he said terrible things. «» There are also risks associated with this type of interventionist work as a woman. Men may also receive death threats, but I’ve also received numerous reports that I was going to be raped. “During the exhibition you will also get a lot of background information about the video and I will discuss my double feelings about the project.” Would you like to be part of the solution with your work? Angela Washko: “At first I worked according to a kind of naive idealism where I thought I could actually build a kind of bridge and create a place for the people who felt excluded. Gradually I realized that it was more complex. “” After a while, I began to see my role as a storyteller rather than a problem solver. I now know that I cannot solve the problem on my own, but I can bring abuses to light through stories. “Take World of Warcraft: after a while I realized that the responsibility also largely rests with the game’s developers. They had created something without thinking about the risks. They failed to realize that they were promoting intimidation and misogyny. Your world normalizes this type of behavior and that is not okay. We have to approach these types of problems structurally. “” I hope that my role as a storyteller can ultimately help change systems by creating awareness and shaking people up. When people play my game, The Game: The Game, they are harassed by pickup artists like Roosh V and have to try to respond appropriately so that the seducers drain. For a lot of players – especially straight men – it’s really shocking. However, the tactics of the pickup gurus are based on their books and tutorials. This is less of a surprise to women as we really experience this so often. A male reviewer wrote that he almost felt attacked after playing The Game. “Has your vision of feminism changed in the years you’ve worked as a feminist artist? Angela Washko:” Absolutely. I’ve got a much broader idea of feminism. What feminism can mean for our world is much broader than I originally thought. I now see the connections between our patriarchal society and capitalism, racism and climate change. I think it’s very important to be an intersectional feminist who fights for the rights of all women. ““ As an artist, I would therefore like to offer more alternatives in the future. In addition to my role as a storyteller, I also hope to be part of the system change. I really believe in that. ‘Talk about the future. In addition to being an artist, you are also a professor and you teach art students. Do you have a good eye for it? Angela Washko: Definitely. I have great confidence in the youth. I teach various courses including ‘Art & Activism’. As a teacher, I notice how socially and politically committed our students are. You would think this is typical of young people, but they are much more active than the students fifteen years ago when I was a student. It makes me very hopeful when I see her at work. They take to the streets to protest, to join NGOs or to set up their own associations. While I was in DC in March 2016, I met a group of my students. They were disguised and carried original signs with slogans. I was very proud. ” The online culture helps enormously. Even from a small farming village, they can join forces online and find a community. I still remember the rise of the internet and what it meant to me. All of a sudden you realize that there is a whole group of like-minded people out there and that they are easily accessible thanks to the internet. The new generation of young people grew up with it and can therefore deal with it even better than we do. ““ This sense of community among young people makes me happy. The individualism I experienced in art school seems a lot less relevant now. My students just love to work together and find solutions together. I encourage them to do so. I find collaborations much more interesting than imagining the artist as an individual genius. I think that’s a typical example of patriarchal thinking. I am very happy that young people do short jobs and open up opportunities for one another. ‘