“There’s no such thing as a female genius:
when she does exist, it is a man.”
Octave Uzanne

A forum dedicated to innovation by women in technology, science and art at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution / 4.0.

The first edition of Nova XX will happen in Brussels from 9th to 30th December 2017. The main events include an exhibition of 9 installations by artists from Brussels and elsewhere in Europe, as well as a presentation of 7 Brussels Start-ups, and four presentations on different themes.

In total, the festival will showcase the work of some 16 female geniuses at the top of their respective hybrid fields of expertise. From art to start-ups, the works presented during the forum will all pay testament to the participants’ unique research process and desire to innovate.

  • iMal
  • Fondation GLUON
  • LAb[au]
  • Kikk Festival
  • Iles Asbl
  • Nicolas Wierinck


History and our collective memory often only include a limited number stories about women or references to them. Only quite recently have women been properly included in the field of art history. In accounts of Prehistory and Antiquity women were glorified or seen as muses, and it was only much later that the identity of the ‘female creator’ was recognised. Our individual and collective identities are established and constructed based on accepted models, so we have to ask which famous female role models we should adopt.

Who has authority? Who decides what counts as acceptable or valued? Which figure should be considered worthy of reverence by those who are not revered? Few people are able to make a list of women who are active in science; even fewer when it comes to new technologies. How many people know Joan Clarke, Margaret Hamilton, Grace Hopper, Rosalind Elsie Franklin, Lise Meitner, Ada Lovelace, Ginny Rometty… compared to those who have heard of Edison, Einstein, Tesla, Kepler, Newton, Elon Musk, Bill Gates… Without making any predictions, or venturing to outline any essentialist differentiation between male and female creativity, we must ask ourselves why there is such unequal recognition and validation of women’s and men’s work.

Female creatives are still mostly on the margins of sectors linked to innovation, and they are hugely under-valued.  Science and technology, and related sectors, often prove to be Old Boys Schools.

There is no conspiracy behind all this, but rather it is the effect of the reproduction of a system of inequality.

Nova XX aims to give the proper space to works created by women. The forum also hopes to contribute to an inter-disciplinary approach by facilitating meetings between innovators in different but complementary fields. By addressing younger generations, Nova XX also seeks to discover new talent and encourage younger women to follow this vocation.

Our generation are both the witnesses and driving force behind an exceptional revolution of almost Copernican magnitude. The fourth industrial revolution – the digital revolution, including sectors such as the internet, A.I., big data, 3D printing, biotechnologies, robotics…– is leading to profound changes in society. The innovations and emerging technologies are spreading at an incredible rate.

According to the World Bank, over 1.2 billion people – or 20% of the population on earth – still have no access to electricity, yet the number of mobile phone subscriptions increased from 1 billion in 2000 to over 7 billion by the end of 2016. In the developing world, by the end of 2016 coverage of mobile subscriptions had reached 94.1%, compared with 126.7% in developed countries. In 2015, access to mobile phones among the global population increased from 0.2% to 98.6%, whereas access to water increased at a considerably lower rate, from 76,1% à 91%. The global revenue of BtoC e-commerce increased to 1,915 billion dollars in 2016, an increase of 24% compared to 2015, according to eMarketer. This figure represents 8.7% of all retail sales in the world, compared to 7.4% one year earlier. Between now and 2020, this is predicted to rise to 14.6% of all retail sales in the world. Uber does not own a single car; Airbnb owns no rooms; Facebook does not develop any content… the very concept of ownership is evolving.

Nowadays, the size of businesses and the number of people they employ is not linked to their productivity and market capitalisation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a profound impact on how much capital is required to start a business, and also what size it will be.

Innovations resulting from the convergence of different technologies are no longer just found in futuristic, utopian or dystopian films: new technology is being used in digital manufacture within biology – think of 3D printing of a kidney – or in people’s work towards 4D printing, from better genetic sequencing thanks to increased processing power…  we are reaching dizzying levels of technical prowess. If the three most popular social networks – Facebook / Twitter / Instagram – were nations, then these three networks alone, while created with very limited levels of investment, would together represent 1 billion people more than the population of China.

One characteristic particular to the fourth industrial revolution is its interdisciplinarity, and the increasing coordination and integration of innovation from completely different fields.

This industrial revolution offers opportunities which are equalled only by the challenges it poses. How can we make sure that it is not simply going to lead to even more inequality – and even more fragmentation and polarisation within populations?

The inequality between those who work for a living, and those who live off capital – whether intellectual or physical – will keep growing. If we see inequality as a source of problems, if we continue to consider it as a scourge of society, then we must consider how we can construct a new social contract which also takes account of the fourth industrial revolution.

At the dawn of this revolution, it is becoming crucial to address the issue of gender inequality. This is a fact which can be measured and quantified: women still occupy only a marginal position in the fields of ICT (information and communication technology) and STEM (sciences, technology, engineering & mathematics). Women are underrepresented in the whole ‘ecosystem’ of technological innovation.

– On average, in Europe only 30% of women opt to study and work in science, mathematics, computer and new technologies.

– In OECD countries, 80% of the work done by women is in service industries, compared to 60% of work done by men.

(These sectors represent lower levels of salary compared to the domains which are dominated by men).

– According to the latest estimates by ILO (International Labour Organisation, 2016), globally women earn just 77% of what men earn on average.

– Within the European Union, women comprise only 21% of the members of boards of directors of listed companies, an increase of 9.3% since 2010 (EU, 2015).

– Only 3.6% of the largest listed companies in the EU have a woman CEO (EU, 2015).

– In 2015, 46% of men globally have internet access compared to 41% of women. This disparity is even more pro-nounced in the developing world, where women are 15.4% less likely to have internet access, compared to a disparity of just 5.4% in so-called ‘developed’ countries.

In companies such as Apple, Facebook and Twitter, 7 out of 10 of the employees are men. The ratio is even more unequal when it comes to positions of leadership, where almost 4 out of 5 posts are occupied by men.

It is also important to consider these figures in relation to other facets of diversity. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the workforces of the ten largest companies in Silicon Valley were 70% white, compared to the whole population of California which is on average only 55% white. Yahoo recently revealed that 2% of their employees were African-American, compared to 15% of the total population of the United States.

What is the new ecosystem that we have to construct, and what political, legal and regulatory measures should we use for this? What values and ethical principles should guide our work? And what vision of society should we work towards?

Women have only belatedly reached the level of creator – or, rather, perhaps, only belatedly been recognised as such. It was in 1985 in New York that the Guerrilla Girls denounced the almost total absence of women artists from the contemporary art scene with their slogan: “Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Around the same time, a 1980 survey had revealed that in modern art collections, fewer than 5% of the artists were women, whereas women were depicted in 85% of the nude paintings.

For many years now, at international meetings in the world of digital technology, people have been asking: “Why are there so few women artists in this field?” Yet people only rarely ask the question the other way round: “Why are there so many men in this field?”

The many facets of digital creation: “augmented reality”, “audio-visual art”, “generative art”, “interactive art”, “Net-Art” etc… all allow us to harness the potential of the numerous new technologies in numerous and unprecedented ways.

Digital art makes use of – and also interferes with – the techniques as they exist in a certain period, depending on both hardware and software.

The time has come to break down barriers; there is ever more frequent collaboration between different fields of art, higher education and research. The ways in which we create, produce and attribute value to art have changed profoundly, along with the very status of ‘viewer’ and appropriation of artistic production. Digital creation is booming and this is due to the number of creators in general, but it is also due to the number of women creators, just like in the world of start-ups.

Artists, just like scientists and entrepreneurs, explore new horizons. A fundamental aspect of their work is to question their own “state of being”. This state of “non-definiteness” should be sparked off, but also cultivated and shared.

From now on it is up to all of us – men and women – to reflect on how to put these new ecosystems into practice, how to develop new and ingenious measures to encourage and stimulate innovation.

Make way for Nova XX – make way for visibility for women creators.


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