Please see on full post at the Center for the Humanities blog.

The VHS Archives Working Group worked. Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities* at the CUNY GC, and engaging in 2017-2018 over seven meetings and one public presentation (Come Play with our VHS Archive), approximately twenty people**—anyone with an interest in the places where analog videotape meets queer histories and queer/feminist/of color AIDS activism—came together to consider “the difficulties, surprises, losses and bounty that adhere to the task of collecting, preserving, and facilitating access and ethical questions related to the reuse of video materials documenting queer and trans lives.” At each of our meetings “members of the group presented the holdings, concerns, worries, plans for, and uses of a VHS archive important to their scholarship, activism, art-making or community.”

The VHS Working Group worked it. We watched a lot of eclectic tape: clips from Erica’s Transexual Love Trip (1998), YouTube videos of footage from a now-closed Los Angeles nightclub called Arena Café, retro-chic porn tapes, documentation of 1980s performance art and poetry readings (by Neil Greenberg, Assotto Saint, and others), footage for never-to-be-made art works by great artists lost too early to AIDS (the work of Jim Lyons, transferred from Hi-8). We didn’t watch some images: the footage of people suffering from AIDS that one of our members was commissioned to seek, to be used as B-roll for a soon-to-be-released mainstream TV documentary on AIDS in the 1980s. Happily, we did see Pharmaco-Pornographic feminist videos from the 70s and 80s (Valie Export and Lisa Steele) and today’s YouTube videos depicting more contemporary images of feminist fashion (see Medical Landscapes, Birthday Suits & Memory in DenimRhea Tapp).

… (the rest is here)

* The VHS Working Group was supported by the kind and professional efforts of the Center for the Humanities Staff, including Kendra Sullivan, Sampson Starkweather, Jordan Lord, and Alisa Besher.

**The VHS Working Group was attended by Shanti Avirgan (AIDS activist videomaker and researcher), Kyle Croft (CUNY Art History MA student), Jean Carlomusto (AIDS activist video maker and professor, LIU), Lisa Cohen (writer and scholar of queer history and biography, Wesleyan University), Juan Fernández (CUNY Media Studies MA student), Anthony Freeman (CUNY doctoral student in Social Work), Michael Henry Grant (media archivist), Theodore Kerr (independent scholar and AIDS cultural worker), Amy Herzog (CUNY, Media Studies scholar), Alexandra Juhasz (AIDS media activist and scholar, Brooklyn College, CUNY), Ann Matsuuchi (librarian and professor, CUNY, LaGuardia Community College), Tara Mateik (video artist and scholar, CUNY, Staten Island), Rachel Mattson (XFR Collective), Karl McCool (Electronic Arts Intermix), Greg Mihalko (Partner and Partners), Helena Shaskevich (CUNY Art History doctoral student), Claire Fox (budding media archivist), Kat Roberts (CUNY, MALS student), Rhea Tapp (MA Media Studies student, CUNY, Queens College).

Advertisements

I interview Carolee Schneeman on the MS. Blog Q&A. Here’s a taste.

Alex: So you are saying that even though your work was eventually, if perhaps belatedly canonized within art and film history, it was appreciated for only a small prism of your feminist activity, that which focuses upon the representation of your own sexuality and body.

Carolee: Yes, a very narrow prism: the ghetto of feminism. You can have this erotic, even prurient dynamic in your work that we are going to pay attention to, but the rest of it is too astonishing, complex, and beyond our need to control how we characterize women’s work.

This is such an important insight about your feminist work and legacy; and a very painful one. Is it possible to not diminish or simplify that part of the project, the body work, the representation of femal sexuality, which is so essential to your work and so essential to the needs of women?

It is as variable as women’s experience. There are aspects of sexuality that I’ve always had to fight for that are not available erotic experiences for lots of women. There’s just so much variation that I cannot represent more than the area that I know well.

But in the show, I saw for the first time your Sexuality Perameters Survey (1967-1971 + 1975) where you you “attempt to note main parameters of lovemaking. Only from a woman’s point of view” by interviewing scores of women and documenting their detailed, intimate answers about sex and sexuality on handmade typewritten grids. I love those charts! The PS1 show highlights work you made that catalogs your relationship to other people’s sexual and relational experience as well as your own sexual and domestic intimacy with male lovers and companions, and with your cats as well.

In film I was able to most clarify this area of contradiction. The films are constantly talking to each other. The ideality of Fuses (1965) gets impinged next with Viet-Flakes (1965; a compilation of Vietnam War-era horrors garnered from magazine and newspaper clippings) and the surround of that morbid suppression of life. I still get very upset when I look at it. Then, the destruction of Palestinian culture overwhelmed all my considerations of the mid 80s into the 90s and that has no resolution. No formal political clarification. Actually it’s more repressive than ever. Now, Palestinians have no right to represent themselves in any aspect of the U.S. government. That’s just been put through as a law.

Over tea and croissants at her Westbeth Studio, filmmaker and artist Barbara Hammer met feminist film scholar and filmmaker Dr. Alexandra Juhasz for a lively back and forth about Hammer’s New York city-wide retrospective. Hammer’s vast, fifty-plus year oeuvre of film, performance, and never-before-seen art and ephemera is currently on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (“Barbara Hammer: Evidentiary Bodies,” through January 28, 2018), and was recently on view at Company Gallery (“Truant: Photographs, 1970 – 1979,” October 22 through November 26). Performances, readings, and film programs are being staged at participating venues (including Queer|Art|Film at the IFC on December 4, and a screening of Sisters! [1974] at the Metrograph on December 17). Barbara and Alex had engaged in another lively interview twenty years earlier as part of Dr. Juhasz’s 1998 documentary and book Women of Vision: 18 Histories in Feminist Film and Video (viewable for free at snagfilms.com). Their decades-long intergenerational conversation focuses on the changing, growing powers of female, queer, and feminist artists. You can read it on The Brooklyn Rail. Our conclusion is below.

Women I Love, Barbara Hammer, 1976

Alex: Twenty years ago I asked you what is your place in feminist film history, and you were around fifty-five, and you said, “I hope that work will be seen as a progression of sophistication and development as it traces one lesbian’s life in the second half of the twentieth century. This is a space now filled, where before there was a lack, a void. Now I have sisters and brothers around me in queer cinema. I want to keep working with my eyes open, learning from others, going to see new work, trying to do the best I can to develop further my visual language.” What have you done since then to further your visual language?

Barbara: My retrospective brings in all the different branches of my work, from performance to photography to installations to journal keeping to writing, and of course to 16mm film, super 8 film, digital film and video. That’s the language: a diverse one that can move in any direction according to the idea or emotional motivation. I think many youth currently in art school are brought up with that language. They don’t define themselves as filmmakers as we were taught to do. So maybe we’ve arrived at the place where a young artist in art school begins from a place where everything is available.

Below please find my Resolution for the panel, “Ex-Post-Facto? The Anthropology of Media and Journalism in a Post-Truth Era,” to be presented in my absence at AAA on December 1, 2017. Sadly, I can’t attend because I’ll be participating in a Day With(out) Art event in New York City.

Given that scholars and makers of documentary, visual anthropology, journalism, and autobiography have been investigating the construction, forms and circulation of reality-based truth claims in their fields of practice since the invention of these disciplines.

Given that these forms vary across time, culture, media, convention, and discipline.

Given that teachers have attempted, for as long as such claims have been made, to educate about the traditions, forms, and conditions that produce, authorize, circulate, and challenge mediated truth claims because such a “media literacy” is closely connected to citizenship, power, and knowledge.

Given that the mobilization of powerful, loose, and adapting theories and practices of mediated truth claims, under the nomenclature “fake news,” took by surprise even the most committed practitioners, scholars and educators signaled above.

Given, as Naomi Schiller and Robert Samet suggest, that “the deconstruction of claims to absolute truth have us in a kind of bind, one that has become ever more dangerous. In the current climate, anthropological approaches to media as a social practice can bear uncomfortable, even uncanny, resemblance to critiques circulating within the ‘alt-right’ in the United States.”

Let it hereby be resolved that our previous practices of “digital media literacy,” while  useful and relevant for the previous epoch, are no longer equipped for our emergent reality.

Radical digital media literacy is required in a post-truth anti-Trump era.

Given that I was just one within a vast community of scholars, media makers, teachers, and students, over time and across disciplines, who drew “on anti-essentialist theories to show the relationship between power, knowledge, and the construction of truth,” particularly in my earlier work on the productive possibilities of fake documentaries (in the 1990s), and the insidious, definitive “increasingly unproductive” dangers of the destabilization of the fake/real binary as definitive of the forms and platforms of internet culture, most definitively of videos on YouTube (in the 2000s). When our current president and the broader culture became fixated on the problem of “fake news,” especially during the first 100 days of the new administration when this felt the most rabid and destabilizing, I felt compelled and qualified to act in this time of confusion, despair, and self-criticism.

I pledged: For 100 days, aligning and twinned with the new President’s opening timeline, to blog every day about fake news and is so doing produce an online primer of digital media literacy.

Given that my painful if productive effort of informed, desperate citizenship eventually took the form of a digital tower of 100 blog posts, #100hardtruths-#fakenews, each cell holding either my efforts or those of a great many others across a range of fields also contemporaneously attempting to understand, combat, respond to, analyze, and teach about the crisis of fake news as is was unfolding.

Juhasz image

Screen-grab of the final twenty #100hardtruths.

Given that this high and vast monolith itself holds an immensity of deep efforts, inter-disciplinary knowledge, diverse resources and thoughtful tools but that, in this form, these many useful things remain hard to navigate and needing of literacy efforts in their own right so as to make them the most useful for the many people interested in this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will transform my own preliminary efforts at “an online primer of digital media literacy” to become something even more useful, responsive, thoughtful and focused on educating about, and working against, the enduring and complex crisis at hand by experimenting (with others) with new formats and practices for radical digital media literacy.

Given, as Naomi and Robert suggest that “this presents new dilemmas both for our teaching and our research. What is to be done with our constructivist analyses of truth in a post-truth era? What would it mean to reclaim objectivity, validation, and truth?”

Let me suggest five alternatives toward a radical digital media literacy in our post-truth anti-Trump era:

  1. fake news r us: we are implicated by, produce, and circulate this crisis whenever we study, teach, or try to fix it.
  2. virality is virility: a potent mix of internet-fueled falsity, masculine grandiosity, and  resulting real-world bellicosity undergirds fake news and our efforts to understand it.
  3. art answers to fake questions: departures from evidence-based, indexically-linked practices into realms of truth-telling verifiable by different logics might get us out of the he-said/he-said rabbit-hole we currently find ourselves in.
  4. our internet truths trump media lies: we must name, share and honor our own lived experiences within social media as another form of honesty in desperate times. Let’s do this first offline, together where we live, work, struggle or learn.
  5. heed the poet’s call: poetry, a time-honored word-based form of truth-telling outside the logics of indexical mediation might be one well-honed literacy practice well-suited to this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will work with poets in their local communities to adapt, transform, extend, translate and all-in-all make more usable my original “online digital media primer.” That I will experiment with others in place-based, local, embodied poetry workshops that begin with the five alternatives above and my #100hardtruths-#fakenews primer as resources toward new forms of radical digital media literacy. That in so doing we will engage together in place-based, people-made, word-bound expressions of individual’s and community’s truths about social media, fake news, and post-truth outside of the indexical, evidentiary traditions that currently bind us and the technologies that are built upon, reinforce and monetize such expression.

I hope to conduct such workshops with Art and Public Policy MA students at NYU working with the artist, Pato Hebert; members of the literary journal club at La Guardia Community College in NYC working with the writer Lisa Cohen; at Occidental College and with the Get Lit Players in LA, at the University of Sussex, working with writing students under the tutelage of Samuel Soloman, and then elsewhere until 100 poems are written as new practices of and resources toward radical digital media literacy.

Please stay tuned.

“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars),” Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser from The Speed of Darkness, 1968.
(gifted to the project by Barbara Browning)

On May 17, 2017, I had the honor of engaging in conversation with the Haitian film director, Arnold Antonin, after the screening of his film Six Exceptional Haitian Women (6 Femmes d’exception). This screening was one in a series of evenings with the filmmaker as part of the first inaugural film screening series of Brooklyn College’s new CUNY Haitian Studies Institute under the directorship of Jean-Eddy Saint Paul.

Arnold Antonin

After the screening of this subtle and powerful film, I made a few statements about the film and then asked Antonin some questions about his filmmaking. A short précis of these remarks, as well as a brief description of the film follows.

As is expressed in its title, Six Exceptional Haitian Women presents day-in-the-life portraits of its well-regarded subjects, each a practicing artist, and we come to learn, a woman in her eighties or nineties.

Micheline Laudun Denis

It was my utter surprise at the characters’ ages that occasioned my first remarks. Without the accompanying subtitles explaining their ages the fact of their shared longevity would not be legible. In fact, when I saw the film the first time on the small screen of my computer, I did not notice these titles, thus I only realized the age of the subjects when I read the description of the film on Antonin’s website:

The youngest is 80. the least young is 105. They are Odette Roy Fombrun, Paulette Poujol Oriol, Emerante De Pradines, Micheline Laudun Denis, Vivianne Gauthier, Madeleine Desrosiers Tizo. They are active and creative women who have significantly contributed to the social and cultural life of their country. Each has the Elixir of Youth and reveals its secrets to us. They are all exceptional women

I had not clocked their actual ages for two important reasons that reveal a great deal about the film: 1) the women present themselves, and then are also presented by the filmmaker, as lively, engaged, active and bursting with life 2) the subject of their age takes second stage to the more central questions of the film: how to be an artist, how to live a good life, how to be a Haitian woman.

Odette Roy Fombrun

This gentle, hands-off approach is another noteworthy strength of Antonin’s filmmaking where his light hand allows the women’s strong presence, joie de vivre, and daily rhythms to dominate the framing and pacing of their presentation. While Antonin is not absent—we see him in some shots interacting with his subject and hear him at times—this is not his story, nor need it be given the combined power of voice, presence and artistry exhibited by his esteemed subjects. Instead, Antonin’s infrequent presence and interactions are discreet and friendly. There is an ease in these interactions, as well as the courage to take his time with them, that allow his subjects to comfortable, engaged, lively, and honest. Their conversations move with little self-consciousness from their artistic influences, youth and families, to their sex lives and current artistic projects. In conversation, Antonin explained that his subjects were all already well-known to him, either through their shared engagement within the lively artistic communities of Haiti or through his mother, another woman of their generation, and friend to several of them.

Paulette Poujol Oriol

The film’s subtle but pronounced feminism was also notable, another result of Antonin’s understated style. In his film, women are capable, powerful, successful, and resilient artists working within diverse traditions and genres—dance, music, performance, midwifery, writing. Some are currently married, others widowed, some never married. They have children and are childless. They seem to span several stations across a spectrum of education and class. What they all share, however, is a notable commitment to making significant spaces, across their long lives and currently, for their own art practice, health, and chosen ways of living. Perhaps given their age, or their comfort with Antonin, they each speak about this self-centering without hesitation or defensiveness. Rarely do we see women—in cinema or daily life—who exhibit this level of self-confidence. This is a noticeable and refreshing pleasure.

Vivianne Gauthier

So, instead of speaking about feminism overtly it is enacted in every frame of Six Exceptional Haitian Women. In our conversation about the film with a predominantly Haitian audience, spectators named the women’s effortless empowered self-inhabitation as particularly noteworthy given the predominance of a particular breed of Haitian machismo which would have formed and framed the lives of these women born in the early part of the previous century, and even today.

Emerante De Pradines

What we learn from Antonin’s powerful film, and its equally powerful subjects, is itself exceptional. By allowing us time to sit with, meet, and learn from these Haitian women, a summative lesson is expressed by the film, again without didacticism or heavy intervention: a long and good life is built upon passionate realized commitments to art, love, nation, and self.

 

“we can’t build a wall. we can only spout pure water again and again and drown his lies” (Eileen Myles, Resist Much, obey little)

The Great Wave, Hokusai, 1829–1832, “A History of the World in 100 Objects, #93”

        “Defiant Yet Jubilant Voices Flood U.S. Cities” (Day 2, “[Almost] 100 Days of Page One Headlines“)

Poets are summoned to a stronger imagination of language and humanity in a time of new and radical Weathers. White House Inc. is the last gasp of the dying Confederacy, but its spectacle is dangerous and addictive so hold onto your mind. Fascism loves distraction. Keep the world safe for poetry. Open the book of love and resistance. Don’t tarry! (Anne Waldman, Resist Much, obey little)

Speak and Spell, 1 of 100 projects from Digital Archaeology

“White House Memo: Trump Rejects 100-Day Test, Yet Seeks an A” (Day 95)

I accept and hereby complete my parallel digital 100-Day Test, #100hardtruths-#fakenews. Unlike my partner in crime, I seek no rank nor grade nor accrual of followers. I have counted right along side him, but I hope more as mattering than tabulating. For this is not a game, although it has become for me a very much needed daily practice with a 100 count. In my version of the test, I am accountable for the value of and values within what I have built and shared herein.

I reject 45’s methods, logics, beliefs, and linked actions that have been spread and benefited by the #fakenews, while acknowledging that in so doing, I too have shared in. I accept that I am complicit and accountable for my role therein. I would like to learn how to not participate-and-collaborate. I seek to grasp how to take part in digital defiance without collusion.

pic.twitter.com/CGHc07iOgk

With this last collection of collections above and below, this final accounting of accountings, I testify to the magnificent swell of our jubilant voices and poetic defiance held herein, to the value of our technological archeology and journalistic integrity, the “expansion of consciousness, empathy, and insight,” and to the ever more desperate need for our “stronger imagination of language and humanity.”

After the first 100 days, I pledge to heed the poets’ call:

  • Working with others, I will “open the book of love and resistance” by taking this at last complete digital into the world thereby connecting it to other people and other primers.
  • In community, I will “spout pure water again and again and drown his lies” in the many forms that #100hardtruths-#fakenews embraces and engages: education, activism, history, science, technology, conversation, and art.

See More:

In Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, Tiziana Terranova (2004) begins “this is a book about information overload in network societies and about how we might start to think our way through it.”

Here on #100hardtruths #99, coming finally to my end point, I reiterate “this is a digital primer about, within, and against information overload in network societies—in the guise of #fakenews and all it might bear—and about how we might start to think our way through it.”

In the 99 posts preceding, I have argued, shown, or succumbed to several findings about how to think our way through (and within) #fakenews. One of these came late, by way of my sister Antonia—read some good books—that is take advantage of the depth of understanding, commitment, and expressive intensity that hunkering down with a good book (and other long-forms) can emanate. (I have no interest in quibbling about what counts as long-form, and I have no investment in material vs digital production per se.) I do suggest, again and again, that one way to think through #fakenews is to commune with an artist, author, theorist, polemicist with time (and better yet in the company of others). Enjoy the insane potential of human production. Then attempt how to re-enliven and share this sustaining encounter with equal penetration and connection (again I have no investment in material vs digital production, per se.)

Terranova writes: “Proposition: Information is what stands out from noise.” She continues:

Corollary 1a: Within informational cultures, the struggle over meanings is subordinated to that over ‘media effects’

Corollary 1b: The cultural politics of information involves a return to the minimum conditions of communication (the relation of signal to noise and the problem of making contact)

This matters to me because in seeking or sharing clarity in the form of somewhat facetious, somewhat sincere “hardtruths,” I find I often, still, get mired in and produce noise against all my best efforts (i.e. writing short posts, relying on images, building a simple pretty interface, sharing via social networks in even more redacted forms). I find that even when I gain discrete moments of clarity across this project, this is quickly drowned out by the noise of its own escalating plentitude and the logics of its internet home.

The problems of “making contact” has also been central to the project. While I, or it, aligns with others with frequency and sometimes satisfying volume, given the painful truths of its internet home, I have found I am most fulfilled in my quest to better understand #fakenews when sharing #100hardtruths-#fakenews with people, in person, or one-on-one on the internet: my “people need people” superhardtruth #9.

Terranova explains that “contact” trumps “accuracy” in the information age, and this is what I have been resisting throughout: trump, his trumping of accuracy, and his (and #fakenews’) winning logic whereby a satisfyingly brief exchange is the coin of the realm, even as this proves superhardtruth #3, “short, fast and fun will be the death of us, or at least some.” She continues: “This is why the social management of communication favors the short slogan or even the iconic power of the logo.” (I go on and on against slogans in my earlier attack on short form in the form of another of my invented internet short (but huge) forms, Learning from YouTube).

a cultural politics of information opens up a heightened awareness of the importance of minute and apparently inconsequential decisions as they are implemented in architecture and design, on television and the internet, in medical research and news-making, in personal relationships and working practices … this dimension is concerned only with the successful transmission of messages.

This matters to me because I am not a machine, nor am I tyrant, a corporation, a nation-state or someone’s or something’s data or product. I am a person, and I want and need more than “the successful transmission of messages.” I want, with others, connection, goodness, honesty, reason, feeling, and change.

Terranova move on and gets righteous. She anticipates my sorrow, and then, counter-intuitively projects a place for my needs, for our human rights and power, in network cultures: “Corollary II: Information cultures challenge the coincidence of the real with the possible” because this place is as infinite as are people, especially people in connection.

Beyond the possible of the real is thus the openness of the virtual … Whether it is about the flash-like appearance or disappearance of the electronic commons … or the virtuality of another world perceived during a mass demonstration or a workshop or a camp, the cultural politics of information involves a stab at the fabric of possibility, an undoing of the coincidence of the real with the given.

Her thinking is hard, because this is hard. Go read it! That’s one of the other, final, takeaways of this project. Thinking about, being in, responding to, changing things, striving for social justice and ethical engagement in network culture is complicated. Superhardtruth #8: “people need time to ponder so they can be truly ethical and thoughtful.” No easy fixes. No quick studies. No simplistic strategies. No I get it from a slogan or an aphorism. Superhardtruth #10: “people need art and complexity.”

Our New President, Maxim Pozdorovkin. Our New President uses found footage, fake news and state-controlled political programming to reveal the variety of ways Trump’s newfound Russian supporters express their devotion (https://fieldofvision.org/our-new-president)

Yes: sitting together in the noise, being together in the clarifying beauty and intensity of our shared humanity and profound human production.

As much as this project has left me blue (through its blighted linkage to 99 days of destruction. Superhardtruth #5: “our tiny contributions cascade into the mother of all bombs”), I have been consistently and persistently saved by the grace of others (found sometimes, no often, on the internet). Superhardconclusion: “people make the internet. and bombs. and #fakenews. and poetry and song and community. Only we have the power to know and do better.”

The cultural politics of information is no radical alternative that springs out of a negativity to confront a monolithic social technology of power. It is rather a positive feedback effect of information cultures as such.

See More: