Wrapping Up Ev-ent-anglement 1

September 2, 2014

On August 27, 2014 I gave a live “talk” at the Noise Summer Seminar in Utrecht. If you weren’t in the room, you might not understand why I call it a “talk.” I have been experimenting with academic talks for quite awhile and in a variety of places, transforming them to performances that manifest many of my recent feminist scholarly and political interests in embodied/digital spaces and pedagogy, participation/consumption and media praxis, affect/cognition/distraction and feminist goals, and a dispersal of power/control/ feelings both online and off. The “talk” was a multi-media show where competing tracks of information and action produced a barrage—my speaking voice, my moving body, the engaged bodies of my audience, media playing, and instructions to interact digitally in real-time at the same-time—where at least some of the intended take-away was different from a usual “talk”: feelings about/during the “talk” over a list of points, concepts, or completed ideas enumerated therein. The “talk” itself was also an experiment; but typically, talks report the results of completed (and successful) experiments. Given these upendings of many of the set scripts and conventions of the academic “talk,” it should come as no surprise that vulnerability, disorientation, and even anger were affective states that defined the event, even more so than might be usual, and certainly, atypically, as its primary “take home.”

IMG_1873 Of course, every talk is an “event,” and every event is an “entanglement” of technology, humanity, representation, and affect. But this talk was the first “ev-ent-anglement” because I attempted to use a simple web-based technology (another WordPress site with plug-ins developed by my technologist Risa Goodman) to both activate and record action, interaction, feelings, and ideas from all players (speaker and audience, online and off) both in synchronous and asynchronous encounters.

The audience as I saw them in the ev-ent-angement
The audience as I saw them in the ev-ent-anglement

Everything found there—my six blog posts, a PDF and power point of my talk, approximately 50 tweets made during and after the event from in the room and the world at large, about 20 instagram images produced similarly, and 19 “comments” which are actually word-based contributions that often also contain videos and links, these penned primarily by people off-site—is the ev-ent-anglement #1, an experiment in digital embodied collective feminist media praxis.

From Ingrid Reyberg
From Ingrid Reyberg

The now completed “talk,” the larger on/offline “event,” and their “ev-en-tanglement” are an experiment that is both a success and a failure. And here, where we are not embodied together, where there are only cold screens and words between us, I can at last begin to report, in lists, the “take home” strengths and weaknesses of this first iteration:

  • “Talks” begin and end in a room over a set period of time. But there is rarely the need or desire for them to continue as some sort of producing-community. Their stickiness derives in real-time from the speaker’s charisma, the quality and/or clarity of her ideas, and connections that live between people in any room. Bu this “talk” hoped people would stay connected to it, and continue to participate even once the “event” was over. It is hard to produce this level of commitment and participation to events that are both the “property” of the speaker and which are understood to have a fixed duration and structuring power relations (this is why Anne Balsamo and I decided to create our feminist technology community, FemTechNet, using the framework of a “class”: it binds people together in an ongoing, committed set of relations over a rather lengthy time period). But this question of producing a framework that helps to continue commitment and interaction is of course also a man problematic of activism (what to do after the march…)
  • Because this was a “talk” and I was the “speaker” and a “teacher,” I gave the attendees a “script” in which I requested them to post twice. But because I am a professor and they are students, traditional power dynamics maintained even as I was attempting to upend them (in parts). This “requirement” had one effect of getting participants to engage but it also made them feel over-controlled; like their participation wasn’t voluntary. This balance between prescribed and free interaction is hard to nuance in a public “talk” where who I am, what I want, what I am owed, and who we are together is weak, temporary, and not commonly noted in the first place
  • I traded affect for content—disorientation, distraction, confusion, uncertainty, creativity, play—but my content is not expendable and matters to me (it’s found in the paper, part of the ev-ent-anglement). This trade was part of a larger set of trade-offs that were the content of my talk (thus I was attempting to “teach” through affect or praxis over cognition and theory
  • It is not clear to me whether tweets, instragrams or words can effectively capture “affect,” a critical component of any “entanglement,” that is unless participants are willing to get creative, personal, private, and experimental themselves, all of these being modes that are rarely shared in an academic context because they make human students vulnerable
  • However, something (like affect and ideas and images and the very technologies that produce, record and link these) is captured here, and it’s a lot more than what is typically recorded in a “talk” (if anything is recorded at all; most “events” are ephemeral, although that is probably not true at all today): the intentional contributions of all participants willing to engage
  • the ev-ent-anglement—as a technological cut/paste and bleed—  itself produces collages, montages, quilts, through the algorithms of the several sites it is built from. There are beautiful, complex, weird, surprising and unintended affects and effects which are much closer to an entanglement than a “talk” as this website pulls together a great variety of fragments from a diverse collective or participants
  • the ev-ent-anglement is affect as praxis and I prefer praxis to “theory”
  • the ev-ent-anglement is collectivity in practice and I prefer this to private engagements
  • the ev-en-tangement is distraction in practice, allowing us to attend to the positive and negative affordances of this all-to -common state
  • the ev-ent-anglement is action and production in practice, allowing us to consider making as a form of learning
  • the ev-ent-anglement succeeded in promoting vulnerability, and some undoing of typical power relations, without anyone getting hurt (although there was some expressed concern, primarily through tweets, that my power point slide of images of self-cutting made some people in the room “feel uncomfortable“)
  • the ev-ent-anglement rather successfully linked off and online spaces, producing a momentary “community” that had  lot of intellectual and creative firepower
  • how to do more (and better) with this is an open question with which I conclude this wrap up.
Alanna Thain's #cut/paste+bleed
Alanna Thain’s #cut/paste+bleed

Feminist Tech Gift Exchange

December 19, 2013

The final for my Pitzer node of FemTechNet’s DOCC 2013 was a craftmaking/gift exchange project where my 12 students had to make something that expressed a feminist interpretation or use of technology by making something to hold and cherish and then give away.

Objectives (developed  by Anca Birzescu and Radhika Gajjala):

  • Experiment with hands-on, applied skills outside of traditional academic writing
  • Make feminist theoretical terms, ideas, and arguments approachable, accessible, and/or available in other formats, vernaculars, and to new audiences
  • Connect theories and practices of feminism along key themes
  • Materially and then also virtually present your ideas, interpretations, critiques to others involved in the DOCC2013
  • Understand “value” outside present day post-industrial capitalistic frameworks
  • Create community through gift giving

My students’ beautiful and smart objects are now open for your bids: you simply need to email the maker(s) with a description of the object’s value. The highest bid wins the object!

  • The Wire Queen Emerging Sexualities is a handmade laptop that gorges upon body parts and disgorges chaotic disruptions of freedom and pleasure, like any good cyberfeminist should!
  • A Heel Planter transforms “an effeminate machine, which is predominantly used by women to enhance their femininity into a planter and therefore a technology because it actively creates and grows life.”
  • Gendered Toys—real labor involved to change—but well worth the effort…
  • An Hourglass Nebula Compost Box with Compostable Jewelry countering technologies of death with “technologies of fertility, or technologies of life” inspired by the life and work of Beatriz Da Costa
  • A Humanoid Figure that transforms old electronics “to symbolize the ways which we are constructed by technology, and how ultimately the archive of what we leave behind of our lives is based in technological ways of capturing meaning.”
  • Labor Under the Net of Capitalism, an art project capturing paper pigeons in a delicate net that “shows that our labor underneath the capitalist white supremacist system is distorted into a form of behavior that does not benefit us” (video pending)
  • A Digital Corruption and Compression Reflection that “transforms code to a physical medium, then makes that medium inaccessible” as a method to protect against the simplification and shaming of gender online
  • A Plae Time Cloth that intersects language, computers, and textiles through a traditional Thai craft that sometimes serves as a baby cradle, but in this rendition stays hard and soft, old and new for cyberfeminist use

Let the use-value begin!

We’re all (hello, Sussex), now, everywhere here (on the Internet), aren’t we? Undoubtedly, scholars made lots of words before now, but they couldn’t show it all to you like a purge; they couldn’t cart it around, showing it again and again;  it didn’t return, quite like this, to either bite you in the ass, or say it better than one ever could, even though of course, oddly, it was oneself who has said it once before.

By moving these words to video and text, never to be on paper, not to be linear, and also always available on the Internet, I establish, in form, one answer to how the affordances of both the digital and the room, the staying and the going, affect our feminist and queer possibilities. For, of course, I’ve flown to England; there’s something we want, or prefer, or need from the body, even as she also sits, and writes, and speaks, and shares so abundantly at home in the digital. Thus, I return and loop back to the leaving and the staying, the making, taking, foresaking and staking. Situated and floating, flying even, I will answer your three questions in long form (but only in person), but here first in short:

  1. How does imagining queer & feminist lives and futures link with social media and other digital media practices? … Badly
  2. How can we understand the interconnections between radical art practices and cyberfeminisms? We must leave and ever more deeply embed.
  3. What is the role of science and technology more widely in the ways social practices and cultural identities are shaping today?

We must engage in Techno feminism, a collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression online, and also in Presumptive feminism, one that always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak. (these are from a longer list of online feminisms from my article on the Online Feminist Cyber-closet).

I suggest that we must strive to make a concerted effort to remember something quickly becoming lost: that is, to dare to think just past the digital, to engage ever so slightly beyond representation, and to struggle to look to and reoccupy our bodies and lived spaces. So: hello Sussex! Not to fear, I will be asking you to move online soon enough …

I begin my talk with this video about repurposing social media spaces, such as this one, for the specific purposes of multi-disciplinary and multi-modal teaching and learning, as well as for its scholarship by showing this video, so representing, in form, my feminist commitment to engage in self-reflexive, situated critiques of the Internet that model here the kind of culture I hope it to be, a place that enacts collaboration, connections between the classroom and the world, intentional and ethical links between and within real and virtual experiences and private and public knowledge, and a commitment to finding, teaching, and using the forms of literacy best suited for these places and practices.

I self-reflexively argue above, here, and in the talk: engaged, situated pedagogy and research in the digital humanities demand new writing and speaking forms, as well as the presentational and publishing platforms to hold them.

#tooFEW

March 15, 2013

There’s the good news, the bad news, and the good news again:

  • sistersaredoingitforourselves;

Join us!

WikipediaParty_Flier

Feminist-IT-SaveTheDate-lowres

On DML Central, my friend and colleague, Liz Losh, interviews me (and my collaborator, Anne Balsamo, for Part II), about our MDCLE:

“Next year, over a hundred feminist scholars are slated to teach a new kind of online course—the first “MDCLE” or “massively distributed collaborative learning experiment”—tentatively titled “Feminist Dialogues on Technology.”  Drawing on the model of the “MOOC,” or the massively open online course, like the artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction courses at Stanford that have enrolled tens of thousands of students, this venture is also aimed at a very large audience, although taught and thought through a feminist architecture and pedagogy.”

AIDS Feelings

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.

I’ve returned from SCMS and Louisiana (having seen two alligators in the wild on a hike and eaten crawfish and shrimp in innumerable yummy formats) and would like to briefly mention a few of my more memorable media encounters: like the alligator, anxiety-defined all.

Tara McPherson organized New Media Futures: The Digital + the Academy, the workshop where she and I spoke with Nick Mirzoeff, Joan Saab, and Wendy Chun about how digital technologies are altering our new media labor (research and teaching), writing, and publishing practices. While the fact that the projector did not work, definitively disenabling our techie show ‘n tell (has this even not happened at a conference where I am speaking about the Internet?), and thereby providing some felt anxiety for each of the able speakers who could not readily rely on machines to illustrate our points as planned, I’m more interested in highlighting some of Wendy’s brilliant observations about anxiety and new media (studies). She suggested that fears about the future of new media (and its theories and applications) are definitive of the findings and methods of the field, as well as anticipating and self-defining the very forms that new media will take, leading to more uneasiness, more anxious findings, and more twittery tools needed to soothe our ever more shattered nerves and brains. For instance, an anxiety about loss leads to tools that save and thereby produce easily erased, unfindable, updated, quickly unusable, outmoded, unstable records that so engulf us that we become too overwhelmed to remember or (re)visit our saved stuff, thus already producing the loss we anxiously anticipated and the need to build even newer tools and theories to remedy all the more future loss we do and must anticipate.

Now, one might imagine that old-school (dying?) feminist (academic) blogging (and “self-promotion”), the topic of another workshop I attended (highlighting the powerful blogging and other online experiences of Miranda Banks, Ryan Bowles, Alisa Perren, Anne Petersen, Julie Russo, Patty Ahn, and Inna Arzumanova), might be a remedy to our nervous media condition in that blogs (like this one) might allow the lady-theorist (like this one) to calmly, and perhaps communally (or at least in-community) name her own terms, moods, tools, and forms; boy did Wendy Chun get this one right! These amazing, ambitious, bright, primarily young academic women (most were in grad school or ABD, one had just gotten tenure), as well as the mostly young feminists in the room, discussed their blogging, tweeting, and online personae (and thereby use of new media tools and the futures anticipated, hoped for, and associated) as organized by what … Anxiety of course (about being hired, promoted, and otherwise evaluated) and even fear (of hostile readers and punitive potential committees).

Their anxiety made me feel, well, anxious (to feel so differently from everyone else in the room, my comrades, and then try to articulate it cogently) but mostly sad. Then mad, and now compelled to speak and explain. My feminist (academic) blogging might be understood or termed as “self-promotion,” or even “self-branding” (a term tossed about, uneasily, at the session), just look below: I pitch my films and books. Yet I truly think of this very same practice (without fear) as a public engagement in thinking out loud, honing a voice, self-naming, community-building, and stake-holding.

This media platform, like all others, is pretty neutral (yes I know, ownership, design, protocols have meaning, but this is not my point here). Rather, we assign to platforms like blogging (or are assigned) feelings and anticipated futures, but we feminists need not accept the anxiety that holds us in check, that makes us self-doubt, that assures us that speaking about our own good work or new ideas is somehow too prideful rather than merely productive. Feminism gives us all the tools we need to understand that economic conditions like a depression and an academy that sells advanced degrees to pay for itself,  social conditions like patriarchy and racism and homophobia, and psychological conditions like anxiety, should not be suffered as a personal, debilitating and self-censoring problem, but should be understood and fought as political issues best addressed by being named, refused, refined, and remade within the power of movements and with the tools of technology. Sure, all these amazing young women should be anxious about getting a job, but they shouldn’t be anxious about blogging that fact, or blaming whoever they want to blame, or naming the forces in their way, and then doing, showing, and sharing their great work, from which we can all learn and build. I choose anger over anxiety any day (including in your comments, or as I like to think of them my no-mments. We fruitfully discussed in the workshop the value of the under-sung, underdone labor of commenting to better build dialogue, community, and confidence in the anxious world of feminist academic blogging).

Also, a shout out to a great panel I went to on Interactivity. Marina Hassapopoulou spoke about the legacy of expanded cinema and video installation to help us historicize new media, Aubrey Anable about the lie that interactivity is a forum for democratic participation in the new urban planning of New Orleans, and Vinicius Navarro about the new media index as an emptiness that points to a referent in-between.