April 4, 2012
This afternoon, my graduate student in Cultural Studies, Ana Thorne, successfully defended her dissertation, Framing a Blaxicana Identity: A Cultural Ethnography of Family, Race and Community in the Valley Homes, Lincoln Heights, Ohio, 1955-1960. It was an emotional experience: Ana turned 65 this year, and wrote compellingly in her dissertation about how the racial segregation experienced by citizens of her her all-black town, Lincoln Heights, had initially limited her access to education as a girl. Now, she’s Dr. Thorne!
In this original, creative, and elegant study, Ana presses her family’s (and her embodied) stories of the pleasures and dangers of crossing and blending racial categories within the oppressive historical regimes of racial oppression and segregation to allow us to understand that even in an “all-black” context, race is more mobile, dangerous, complex, and contingent then we like to remember.
She writes: “This research will draw its conclusions regarding the construction of a Blaxicana identity by using a critical, self-reflexive method of inquiry that incorporates the author’s memories, impressions and artifacts from the 1950’s. The author’s interracial family experience, defined by an African American father from Nashville, Tennessee and a Mexican mother from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, presents the opportunity to examine what was then, considering the time and place, an uncommon combination.”
April 2, 2012
Home after back-to-back events where I wore one hat that just might be construed as two (an interesting slip [of the tongue] or tip [of the hat] that helps point out some of my unease with [my place in] the “Digital Humanities,” more on that to come).
The first was just that: Re:Humanities, a student-run undergraduate conference where a day of really impressive student presentations were book-ended by addresses by professors (myself and Katherine Harris) who spoke on our own pedagogic commitments to undergraduate research.
While there was much to note here, I’ll focus my observations on the related themes and contradictions of expertise, authority, authoring, and professional(ism)(ilization) in the realm of the digital (humanities). We enjoyed polished, first rate and diverse student presentations on topics ranging from the mapping of Soweto, to websites devoted to postcolonial feminism, Paris monuments, and global street-art, to pleas for better digital design or citation practices, to the digitizing and narrativizing of rare books. It was crystal clear that digital humanities opens up a place, multiple methods, and voice for qualified young participants who would otherwise not be so readily enabled to “publish” or circulate their work while also being so creative and impassioned about both the content and forms of their fledgling scholarly endeavors. Many of the students commented that doing work for an audience larger than one professor (and maybe their Mom), promotes a higher degree of commitment, professionalism, and passion then they feel when writing a paper, and this reminded me of something I already knew and already do…
The subject of the second conference: Women, Social Justice and Documentary, held at Smith College. Granted, this group of faculty, artists, and students had not really heard of the “digital humanities,” although they were also interested in thinking about the relationship between making things like documentaries, and their academic (arts and humanities) studies, and (feminist) passions and commitments. In this case, a decades-long struggle to find and circulate a voice by those deauthorized by gender, race, sexuality, and other forms of patriarchal oppression has created a substantive history of media objects, and an infrastructure that holds them (including distribution, festivals, scholarship, and pedagogy).
Why, we might ask, doesn’t Digital Humanities know about the work and struggles and conquests of (see Hammer Retrospective at the Tate above) the speakers at the second conference like Lourdes Portillo, Barbara Hammer, or Rea Tajiri who have been interpreting their impassioned, politicized ideas into forms of media and pedagogy for decades and this to an enthusiastic audience who has responded in kind with criticism and media production of our own?
I’d have to say the answer to this is why I don’t whole-heartedly embrace the digital humanities (while I’m happy to be embraced by them). The “field” does the amazing potentially radicalizing work of asking humanities professors (and students) to take account for their audiences, commitments, forms, and the uses of their work. But this was always there to take account of, merely being obscured by the transparent (and patriarchal) protocols of publishing and pedagogy that have suddenly been miraculously revealed because of the confounding force of the digital. However, this turn is occurring, for the most part, as if plenty of fields, and professors, and artists, and students, and humanists hadn’t been already been doing this for years (and therefore without turning to these necessarily radical traditions of political scholars, theoretical artists, and humanities activists).
I wrote just such a comment recently on Miriam Posner’s blog:
“Just got turned on to your blog. How thrilling! When I think (and write and d0) about doing as making as thinking I have often made videos as well as books, and more currently “ video-books” (which are really just big web-pages), so what I think has been lost in this “all Digital Humanities are communities of practice speak” (and particularly that this is a radicalizing moment for humanists) is not simply that people crafted before in that twee sense, but that academic writing is and always was doing, as it was craft, and that these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this). I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently, Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates at the 2012 MLA Convention. I love your four points at the end for the reason that it marks practice as political, and hope you’ll take a peek at some of the similar principles I’m working through at my Feminist Online Spaces site (a work in progress to be sure).”
March 9, 2012
I was driving home from the opening of Natalie Bookchin‘s amazing multi channel video installation, Now he’s out in public and everyone can see with fellow “video artists” Rachel Mayeri and Anne Bray and we were commenting on how hard it must be to make something that eloquent and prescient and beautiful—the result of two years of hard thinking and feverish work—and to live with the knowledge that the only people who will ever really see it are those lucky enough to walk through the doors of Hollywood’s LACE Gallery between the dates of March 8-April 15, 2012. Just look where YouTube has taken us to …
We want to believe that (like “video art” but so much more) all of our work can and should last forever, move where it must, and be seen by all who need it. This promise—that each and every one of our words, opinions, and voices will play a part of the cultural dialogue—is also (one of) the sad stories of Bookchin’s piece: a minimalist, refined statement upon the current and changing power of place and placenessless, circulation and stagnancy, video and sculpture, and voice and agency via YouTube. Eighteen monitors seem to float, hanging elegantly as they do from cables and hooks, suspended across a large blackened and muffled gallery in a dumbfounding materilazation of circuitry, a compelling literalization of cyberspace, freeing visitors to walk into and through the multiple competing screens that usually sit so flat in front of us. While her other recent work (seen most recently at LACMA) begins to disperse one story across a sea of embodied voices—none of them her own, all of them eerily in synch, mouthing one way of being and knowing, even as each one of us retains our autonomy or not, lost as we are in a sea of undifferentiated testimony
the new project fractures and sprays these “scatter-shot online voices” across the room, forcing the viewer’s body (not the computer screen) to hold all this variation, and pain, anger, desire, and loneliness. By forcing the work to be and stay room-, place- and time-bound, known as it will be only in and through our bodies (and sometimes those bodies dancing together across the room), Bookchin reminds us that speaking into the void (and being saved by the Internet) is no replacement for the beauties of ineffable place.
October 25, 2011
On Friday we spent a fruitful day discussing some of the ideas raised by, work made for, and communities engaged within PerpiTube. The day’s structure moved us from a panel about curating on/about YouTube, to artists talks about making work for this show (and its varied gallery and YouTube iterations), to small group discussions that looked closely at a few of the (many) videos in the show, to a closing conversation about the lived and practical effects of moving voice via YouTube to communities (like former prisoners and recovering drug addicts, and others deemed marginal or unauthorized) who were once outside media discourse but always part of this show, and now can (more) easily access these tools and their audiences.
Given that they day was so packed with intelligent, complex, and competing dialogue, this post does not serve as a recap, but rather a highlight of four concepts that stuck with me.
- Quality and authorization: How does the white box of the art gallery bestow authority, and how does YouTube erase it? How are the qualities we might want from “art video” seen in a gallery related to what we need from YouTube videos watched at home? In this, the comments at the symposium from some of the female participants from Prototypes seem quite critical: the stature of Pitzer, and the assumed prominence of PerpiTube, contributed to a perception of quality or authority, validity, and purpose connected to their participation that would have otherwise been deemed inconsequential (perhaps to themselves and certainly to perceived outsiders). In other words, if many of our participants had been able to speak on YouTube on their own already, outside the frame of the show, would anyone have listened or cared or does the connection to Pitzer and PerpiTube’s other artists raise the value (if not the quality) of the work?
- Reception and production: In what ways are the consumption of YouTube videos productive or purposeful? In what ways are making videos unproductive? What happens in a room, with an audience, within a rarified discourse that can not happen when watching work alone on YouTube? How does private contemplation, close viewing, and individual control better and build our perception? Ineffectual and unstudied making (like most of what we see on YouTube) is not in itself a higher form of media interaction than careful reception, but how does one build a studied and purposeful reception?
- Montage and re-contextualization: Is a YouTube practice best-suited by self-referentiality and appropriation? What is lost as we move media objects willy-nilly? Is the (best) work of a YouTube artist to provide context and meaning (or purpose) to other YouTube video through the act of montage or through the practices of curation, discussion, or framing?
- YouTube literacy: Given that our show is about and now on YouTube (and no longer in a gallery), and questions YouTube’s possible uses for expression and interaction, how much sophistication do we demand of our viewers about YouTube’s architecture? Our show is viewed through playlists (the only way to organize things on YouTube unless one has larger institutional privileges), but many of our viewers are not familiar with playlists (or channels) given that their only experience with YouTube is to watch one video at a time, often found somewhere else. Furthermore, YouTube literacy improves the quality of work and reception, and the possibility for connection. What does it mean to smack a traditional “art video” into the YouTube space, and what makes a work best-suited for YouTube (humor, summary, self-reflexivity, montage, etc)?
Soon, the videos that recorded this day will be added to the unruly chaos that is already the YouTube show. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll take some time on your own to watch the conversation as it unfolded, and decide how you can purposefully engage as Dr. Strangelove did here, through a video:
October 19, 2011
My talk at Concordia stirred a lot of feelings in the community: an intended effect of my “mixed reality experience” produced through the experiences of real bodies, watching digital materials, in real rooms. I didn’t expect the anger, however. Here’s a review by Jacob Roberts, from The Link, that gets to some of those complex responses.
October 18, 2011
October 13, 2011
I’m in Montreal, getting ready to give a talk “Remembering AIDS Online: Networking, Viruses, Virality, and Arteries” as part of Concordia University’s eighteen year old, multi-disciplinary, year-long undergraduate course and lecture series: HIV/AIDS Project. As my host and Project founder, Tom Waugh explains, the Project links students to internships, the community, and AIDS scholars and activists. I’m honored to be a part of it.
I’ll be sharing my most recent work that is attempting to theorize the distinctions and through-lines of the online documentary by looking at how my earlier activist AIDS video project (and those of many of my peers), as well as our associated projects of memorialization, have moved from linear video (and other materials) to new digital platforms and uses. I make wacky use of power point to create a “mixed reality experience” (this term comes from Anne Balsamo’s Quilty project, which I discuss, a digital interface that she is building that allows the AIDS Quilt to be viewed on a hand-held, table-like device). Their attempt to repurpose and repopulate an old memorial material becomes the quilt metaphor (and practice) that I will point to and attempt to embody in a room with others during my talk tonight.
Over the course of 40 minutes, 37 power point slides, many quotes, and a handful of AIDS media old and new, I plan to focus upon four tangled lines of thinking about the changing shape of documentary and memorials, and how they contribute to or shape our shifting perceptions of AIDS. I will consider:
1) How AIDS documentaries change as they move from the linear form of video used by myself and others when the AIDS crisis began in the 1980s, to today’s online documentary forms.
2) How memory and memorials are dependent upon their forms and materials
3) How documentary and other memorials have and might continue to serve AIDS activism
4) How “public mixed reality experiences,” using documentary to build temporary memorials, in lived and live offline rooms, might also serve AIDS activism, and its memory.
The talk will next become a more traditional essay that I will publish in the Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Documentary Cinema that I am co-editing with fellow AIDS video activist and now documentary scholar, Alisa Lebow.
Tomorrow, I also get to work closely with a small number of students and activists from Montreal and Concordia in a hands-on multi-media workshop where I will introduce them to,and ask them to participate in, my new work on Online Feminist Spaces. It looks to be an exciting couple of days in Canada.
September 11, 2011
I made a quick trip to NY to attend the celebration for NYU’s Culture and Media Program which I participated in somewhat unofficially in its earliest years by taking the courses Ethnographic Film I and II at the tail end of my Cinema Studies doctoral course work. This participation changed my work (and life, ultimately) in a variety of ways, most critically leading me to the unparalleled Faye Ginsburg, and allowing me to reframe my dissertation on AIDS activist video through ethnographic film’s focus on representation as a lived, cross-cultural, ethical experience rather than cinema studies’ then choke-hold on the text. Faye went on to be my mentor, and it is her endless dedication that was life-changing, literally connecting me to Pitzer, where I have spent the majority of my career. Hopefully, I believe, also life changing in that I have spend these years trying to be at least half as fine a feminist mentor as was bestowed to me, following Faye’s lead.
And clearly, in this I am not alone. There was a huge turn-out for the day-plus long event, and here we could see the profound legacy of feminist mentoring, teaching, and institution-building: a room full of warm, smart, innovative, feminist anthropologists and media studies scholars, racing around the globe, mixing production, theory, and on the ground commitment in their studies and teaching. It was a profoundly moving reminder that our efforts as teachers are the most meaningful in the creative and intellectual possibilities we can enable for the lives and work of those that follow us. Thanks Faye.
August 16, 2011
- they construct dogmatically linear narratives with staccato marches forward to metronome of sun, wave, and cuckoo
- they piece their homages-to-the-day from found source material
- compilation films both, they redirect their footage to new “trans-media” screens: from YouTube to art-house, from cineplex to museum
- triumphs of the database, they impose new logics (of narrative, linearity, causality) through montage
- false devotees of duration, they foreshorten time’s stickiness with a jittery compulsion for change
- there were lotsa clock-shots in both
But here the similarities end, for
- one is built from trash, finding the artful in the prosaic; while the other builds from both competent industry product and great masterpieces alike, re-locating the art squarely to the artist’s hand and mind
- one is a sappy celebration of humanity and community and commonality; the other, a high-brow parlor game for would-be cineastes
- one finds narrative pleasure in documentary’s unexpected truth (long takes are only granted for scenes of quirky, revealing, to-the-camera soul-bearing); the other disturbs originary narrative coherence through its showy and artful cornucopia of associational documentary editing techniques (color, movement, weather, feeling)
With so many images and so little time, at last dawns the era of the editor: the wife at the editing bay, not the man with the movie camera.
August 8, 2011
The second section, Isolation/Connection, of PerpiTube, my show with Pato Hebert, has ended with an uplifting set of provocations from Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Center:
Jutta, and Judy Drummond the day before, both ask whether we can have a “do-over” by looking back at our gross failures at human connection—rooted in fears of difference and the violence and isolation this breeds, which has been an ongoing theme of this section—and pro-actively build a better future for all humans.
“In the digital reality, things can take a form best for each individual,” explains Treviranus. While it is certainly true that experiences of Native people, and the many others oppressed by imperialist violence have occurred in the “Solid World,” Treviranus asks us to consider how the stretchiness of digital space creates the room we have always needed for inclusion and justice. The tension between what happens in and between physical and digital realities is a core interest of the show: by making it better in here, do we see ripples out there?