I just blogged at fembot for their section called “Laundry Day” (“short, teachable pieces of feminist media criticism about ongoing controversies and issues.”) My writing is in conversation with Wendy Hsu and Carey Sargent, who write about “Grrrltronica, Plasticity, and Friendship ” for their entry for this special focus on “feminist media production.”

My entry focuses upon the many little media things I received from audience members after my talks last year, like this video by Wendy (after I spoke at Occidental college), who (like many others at many places) responded to my mantrafesto and other thoughts about feminist (and otherwise) online spaces.

(This is re-posted from my Online Feminist Spaces project)

I’m back from Colby College in Maine which also signals the almost-end to the six-month experiment I’ve been running on my Feminist Online Spaces project, and at real places across the country (Concordia in Montreal, UCLA, Rutgers in NJ, Yale in CT, Occidental in CA, Re:Humanities in PA, Feminist Documentary at Smith in MA , and Colby) as I attempt to use an Online Space to enact and hold a set of media objects and circular (Call and Response and Call Again) movements that might propel feminists from:

  • Reception to Production
  • Commenting to Connection
  • Production to Collaboration
  • and the Internet to the Real World (and back again)

The successes seem notable: the primary being the palpable sense of excitement, shock, playfulness, worry, and community that was produced in each and every place on my road trip when I unmade protocol by asking audience members to respond to my scholarly talk by making something quick and rudimentary that would last, that would become public, that would leave their place and sit on mine, that represented each one of them and their place and their ideas about feminism and place, and that would give them each some small piece of authorial control in a situation not typically structured to do so. Make they did, and many of the objects were quite extraordinary (especially given how quickly they were made), and all of them were generous and generative.

My main goal, however–again, I think successfully played out–was less things than process based: not to acquire the objects and more to turn the room into something holding interactions akin to those of the Internet, and then allowing the felt experience of this altered interaction to shed light on the different ways we form community and connection in live, digital, and their linked places.

But lots of this didn’t work so well, too, in ways that were informative. First off, there was a structuring power imbalance between me, the outsider (with the website, and the plane ticket and speaker’s stipend, and the carefully crafted and long talk) and the placed audience (who freely gave up their words but with only five minutes to author them) that most closely mirrors the imbalance of (corporate) websites. The impulse or call was mine and my feminist audiences playfully or politely responded. For the most part, they then produced the expendable, one-off objects that define most of our interactions online, albeit, in this case, more focused on one sustained question and politics.

This led me to try to imagine how I might enable more careful, and communal, interaction and towards this I began collaborating with some of the people I had met along the way, most critically with Wendy Hsu and Carey Sargent (Grapefruit Experiment), who I met at Occidental College, where they are post-docs in the Digital Humanities. I invited them to remix something from the Gallery of audience-made objects, which led to the “But I Like Kittens Remix,” and I then connected them to Marty Fink, at Concordia, who worked with them, and others from her local community, to make the song’s cover art.

Then, when I went to the Tri-College Digital Humanities Conference and to Women, Social Justice and Documentary at Smith, I tried (working with Wendy and Carey) to more strongly align community response towards building something together, and requested that people provide sounds that would be used in a song made again by Grapefruit Experiment. From this was made Kong Jian. At Colby, we asked for cover art, and got great stuff again.

Needless to say, while I love all the things people made, and even the process(es), I learned that the ownership, structure, impulse, and infrastructure, while certainly dispersed, stay locked or perhaps laced to me: the instigator and authority. While I am aware that seeds have been planted in many places by using the road, and planes, and rooms, and from those many theres, people will take these ideas and use them as they will, I am still interested in thinking about the best uses of on and offline spaces for making production, connection, collaboration and community, something yet unrealized (by me, online).

My Fall Road Show has been a fruitful opportunity to play out, in person, many of the issues of concern for my Online Feminist Spaces project: namely my interest in performing and interrogating in form the unique and mutually-influencing strengths of on/off line community and interaction. For instance, I have been quite interested in the intentional deployment of feeling in an (academic) room as one critical part of this live, human (or feminist) interaction that is almost impossible to replicate online. However, given that academic talks are supposed to be devoid of feeling or even performativity (the norm is more like a human-fronted power-point or journal article), simply by being present and also interactive and emotional, I change the rules of engagement towards feminism’s commitments to the personal, communal, and emotional, as well as the intellectual. As any good professor knows, to move the room in some sort of orchestrated way across ideas and through communally experienced feelings is one fine path towards education and community building. Now, let’s imagine the same things in reverse.

Say, you don’t go to the scholarly conference (because it’s too expensive, or you want to make a more radical intervention) and you perform your presence instead online? What does that gesture tell us about the possibilities, strengths, and norms of the scholarly exchange of ideas, in rooms, between people? Wendy Hsu (who I met in person at Oxy last week) did just this last Friday at the annual meetings of the Society of Ethnomusicologists. I also pulled off something of the same at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in 2010. The point of such efforts is not a lazy relay of an old form into a new one (slapping a book written on paper on to the internet, recording a talk that is twenty minutes and dumping it onto YouTube, although both of these efforts allow for greater access and the killing of far fewer trees) but rather the transformation of forms (and the media that hold them) in relation to scholarly findings about space, liveness, and new media. Neither strictly a “video essay” (a form I teach in my Visual Research Methods course) nor a scholarly conference talk, efforts like Hsu’s at creative, performative, reflexive, politicized public scholarship about and in new media ask us to consider via form the “responsibilities, rights, visibility and consequence” of our scholarly labor while claiming (at least for Hsu) spaces outside of “Orientalism and racial melancholia” by engaging, aligning, and recording affect and absence, performance and presence.

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