Laura McLean

VNS Matrix

They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work.
They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.
Every miscarriage is a work accident.
Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both working conditions . . . but homosexuality is workers’ control of production, not the end of work.
More smiles? More money. Nothing will be so powerful in destroying the healing virtues of a smile.
Neuroses, suicides, desexualization: occupational diseases of the housewife.[1]

Silvia Federici introduced her seminal text Wages Against Housework with the statement above in 1975, during her involvement with the international Wages for Housework Campaign. Today an esteemed elder of the autonomist feminist tradition, Federici’s work is informed by the understanding that ‘the reproduction of human beings is the foundation of every economic and political system’, and that the domestic labour of women–invisible, embodied, undervalued, and exploited–is what underpins and sustains this foundation.[2]

This issue of Runway takes this key concern of Federici’s–reproductive labour, and its withdrawal–into the field of contemporary art, and traces its influence on and relevance for generations of practitioners. Federici’s renunciation of the role of the housewife was a reaction to post-war patriarchy in Italy and was spurred by the energy of the women’s movements of the 1970s. Yet as the sites and systems that frame and generate forms of reproductive labour change with the times, so too do the strategies and techniques of the artists and activists that seek to make this labour visible, valued, and directed towards emancipatory autonomy rather than the perpetuation of a capitalist system.

Jump forward to the early 1990s, for example, when a new virtual realm of production and reproduction was emerging as an alternate, immaterial sphere of existence. In the murky early days of the internet, cyberspace offered a place of anonymity and reinvention, of post-gender, post-human possibility. From this product of the military-industrial complex run riot, they say, ‘VNS Matrix crawled out of the cyberswamp in the particularly hot summer of 1991… on a mission to hijack the toys from technocowboys and remap cyberculture with a feminist bent’.[3] Their Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century proclaimed ‘we are the virus of the new world disorder / rupturing the symbolic from within / saboteurs of big daddy mainframe / the clitoris is the direct line to the matrix / VNS MATRIX / terminators of the moral code’. Summoning cyberfeminism into existence simultaneously with Sadie Plant in the UK and Nancy Paterson in Canada, VNS Matrix knew that to claim a stake in constructing architectures of autonomy for everyone, the politics and culture of the web could not be left to the (cis white) boys to conceptualise and create.

Today capitalism has soaked deep into Web 2.0, and both realms, the material and the not-so-immaterial (hello server farms), shape our environments, lives, and bodies with ever increasing degrees of complexity and unpredictability. On the 25th anniversary of the Cyberfeminist Manifesto, Runway has invited VNS Matrix to publish their recent Tender Hex for the Anthropocene and co-edit this issue to reflect on the politics of reproductive labour in an age in which the physical, virtual, natural, cultural, human, and non-human are inextricably entangled.

As a result, this issue features a diverse array of contributors, and draws on conceptual touchstones stretching across time and space, to examine women’s labour in the arts and reproductive labour as art, the economics of artmaking, bioart and ecofeminism, artmaking and motherhood, affect and the care economy, the reproduction of queer space, and much more. Fittingly, the online platform of Runway has been heavily utilised by contributors, and issue #32 RE/PRODUCTION is dense with text, image, code, sound, and video waiting to be discovered. Dive in!

Laura McLean


in tongues of fire
singing the impossible into being
moresing new becomings

Drawing on theories generated by the Italian autonomia movement, Sylvère Lotringer describes ‘abstract intelligence and immaterial signs’ as being ‘the major productive force’ in the post-Fordist economy. He depicts a new class composition of workers whose ‘entire life is live labor, an invisible and indivisible commodity.’ Paolo Virno speaks of ‘virtuosity’, where innate human abilities such as ‘linguistic competence’, ‘imagination’, symbolic thought and abstract reasoning become the productive forces animating contemporary work processes. Add to this heady mix all the forms of ‘affective’ labour outsourced to soft armies of underpaid and unpaid care workers—sex workers, comfort givers, homemakers—and the end result is the paradigmatic form of labour today. Welcome to the flexitariat. We are all precarious!

Why is it vital for artists and poets to reflect on the conditions of labour under the dark star of late capitalism? Surely the economists and technocrats have it all under control, and one day the dry-mouthed mutterances of trickle-down benefits will materialise. Cultural activists and all those who belong to the creative resistance (not to be confused with the abomination of the creative industries) are adroit in bringing their risk-taking experimental blasphemous methodologies to any social inquiry. It’s what they do, day in, day out.

That’s why, when Runway asked VNS Matrix to curate a special (unsealed) section of this issue, we responded by inviting a coterie of queered artists/poets/philosophers/big brains with virtuosity to burn (baby, burn) to unleash their feralmones. This ‘bestiary of We’, a collective nuisance if ever there was one, includes Cigdem Aydemir, Linda Dement and Amy Ireland, Quinn Eades, Helen Hester and Zahra Stardust, Teri Hoskin, and Melinda Rackham. We knew they would surprise and delight us with their refractory gaze and we were not disappointed. We pussy salute them!

work must be perverted, labour reframed,
redeployed in the service of the birds
unking the castles, crown the swans
fly on our feet
towards a new nature
Terminators, unking Big Daddy Mainframe!

– VNS Matrix



[1] Silvia Federici, ‘Wages Against Housework’, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012, p.15

[2] Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012, p.2

[3] http://vnsmatrix.net/about/


Laura McLean (Sydney/London) is a curator and writer, and Deputy Chair of Runway. Holding an MFA (Distinction) in Curating from Goldsmiths College, and a BVA (Hons...

Cyberfeminism is one of many feminisms, and feminism has not gone away. – doll yoko VNS Matrix (articulated as V.N.S. a fauxcronym) was a cyberfeminist...


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