In Spring 2019, I re-booted my course, Feminist Online Spaces. This time I taught it with Masters students in Liberal Studies (MALS) at the CUNY Graduate Center and it was called Contemporary Feminist Theories: The Nowheres & Everywhere of Online Feminism. Some quick research established that the last time I had used this site was six years previously in August 2013. At that time it was serving as a research and teaching site for me as well as the temporary internet home for the then still-forming FemTechnet. The last post from that use was called “Ramping Up: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology.” It held some of our collective work as a small number of us began to nourish the roots of what would become FemTechNet’s signature and multiple enterprises including our DOCC, Feminist Wikistorming, and many other projects. We were meeting at my house in Highland Park, CA and in IRL inventing digital worlds, classes, tool kits, community and more. This post features a photo of Adrianne Wadewitz, the feminist Wikipedian and FemTechNet early stalwart, who died tragically about a year later.

Adrianne Wadewitz, ’13

See the rest on Online Feminist Spaces.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, twelve committed participants are joining in sustained conversation, tool building, and programming, while attending ethically and thoughtfully to the buzzing interplay of feelings, intimate community, video, and tech as part of the VHS Archives Working Group at the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY GC. Engaging three community partners—the XFR CollectiveInterference Archive, and Visual AIDS—and one design practice, Partner and Partners, this year’s Working Group is building an open source “tool” that should be used on a short stacks of videos by a known and manageable group of participants (party-goers). The tool will help partiers to best care.share for digital and other fragile objects of and for the community who made or needs them. Our prototype for a lightweight open source website generator (the “tool“)  should facilitate ethical research about and activation of small collections of digitized videotape. Using the tool, each communal engagement with video is a “party“: a gathering of humans to work collectively and in real-time on an actionable task spending time in and enjoying each other’s presence and some tapes; shared, task-focused, committed engagements with the materials enabled by using the tool (“My VHS Archives Party.”)

We prioritize keeping VHS and other fragile materials small and local: to respect the uses and needs of specific communities, the importance of engaging with archives in a group setting, and of dedicating both time and presence to community archival work. The tapes should connect to or produce a project of and for a community who understand, need, and want them.

To learn more about our methods for caring.sharing for vulnerable video and the party games this inspires please see “Party Games with VHS Archives,” published on the GC Center for Humanities blog.

 

I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd International Conference on Interface Politics, “After Post-Truth,” in Barcelona, Spain, November 28-30, 2018. Scores of speakers, hours of intensity, dark findings about seamless interfaces—even so, the experience was deeply replenishing for no reason more central than that there I was, in Spain no less, and in community with many many others, from around the world, all of us, paying attention. This, the conference co-organizer, Jorge Luis Marzo (with Bani Brusadin) described at our introductory sessions as “an urgent abandonment from the real being replaced by our desire and will to freedom.”

While I can not cover all that I learned, or even all that moved me there (people and their ideas and actions), I will use this brief recap of the highlights of the proceedings to help me to better understand critical frameworks that link to the work I have been doing towards the completion and release of my new website (thanks Ethel Moore and Partner and Partners), fakenews-poetry.org: a useful and pretty container holding the media, ephemera, and yes, the poems, that I have been producing with so many others by initiating, in 2018, something like fifteen Fake News Poetry Workshops, around the world, as Radical Digital Media Literacy given the Fact of Fake News. For some, this post might serve as an introduction to the larger #100hardtruths-#fakenews project (initiated during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, thanks to Craig Dietrich for that website), while for others, it might be a recap of the concerns and practices the project engages or a chance to see your own work held alongside that of others who engaged in different places and communities.

But most importantly, this post and the site serves as an invitation to mount and run your own Workshop, in your community, with your own poets, theorists, and participants (feel free to reach out to me! Stage 2 of the website will build out more how-to documents.)

But the project is always, also about sharing what we do and know about fake news and related travesties. In Barcelona, I learned about a number of exciting sister projects, all seeking, as do I, to break through the transparency of interfaces, and to reveal, understand, undermine, or remake all that might be algorithmically, ideologically, financially, and psychically hidden behind the ever more huge and inapproachable back-end, our frothy frozen impenetrable cloud:

  • bellingcat: the home of online investigations.
  • HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis.
  • Safebook by Ben Grosser. Facebook without the content!
  • Algorithms Allowed, and much more charting the real costs of “free” interfaces (see image below), by Joana Moll,
  • Digital Dietetics, by Javier Lopes, Pedro Fernandez de Castro, and Victor Sampedro. Their project uses a dietary model to facilitate a critical digital citizenship where limiting consumption, setting collective goals for media interaction, and being with others who know more are steps towards better digital health.
  • the films of Metahaven, emphasizing our simultaneous time-scales, each a version of competing or even co-exiting realities: real for people in parallel, these versions  are incompatible and also all “true.”

Joana Moll, DEFOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOREST

As critically for my own heart, mind, and practice, I heard presentations that named dynamics that help focus or nuance some of my own perhaps more inchoate motives for the fakenews-poetry project:

  • Doro Wiese‘s explanation that information does not not allow us to feel in time, and then many related pleas for slowness.
  • a shared response by many of the speakers to begin research into the (very recent) past of the internet to understand how earlier cycles of sudden technological, corporate, and digital change have been reacted to by humans.
  • careful attention to delineate between the precise terms and functions of a variety of truth vocabularies—veracity, sincerity, frankness, persuasion, evidence, proof—both in regards to how information is produced, packaged, and sold but also for our (changing) sense of selves as political, psychoanalytic, and human subjects, sometimes embodied.
  • an understanding of truth in a time of post-facts as that which produces a sense of coherence, even if it is false, and despite any evidence, thus a new kind of “partisan knowledge” (Emillie V. De Keulenaar)
  • a related set of attempts to understand how algorithms and computational propaganda have been used to “dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay” (Berke Alikasifoglu and Gabriele Cosentino)
  • several returns to Hito Steyerl’s idea of the “poor image” (what I have called “bad video” in my perhaps old but still too-valid YouTube work), and its links to veracity, and more so addiction, and its sustaining but false forms of intimacy (one click away, so close, just nearby, an immediacy [do see Pooja Rangan here!])
  • significant work on new and consolidating interface realisms (what Christian Andersen and Soren Polk call the “metainterface,” one that both represents and produces our new [fake, post-truth] realities, all the while obscuring the labor, networks, and other resources that produce it).
  • a continuing keen attention to collectives, commons, publics, and lived networks, including the work by Marco Deseriis on “Condividual” activities: “sharing as ‘dividing’ together.”

Then, some useful questions and tactics:

  • do people even want to be truthful (anymore)?
  • strive for trust over truth: create invitations to engage with evidence rather than statements of truth which only lead to suspicion (Enrico Beccari)
  • Pay Attention to What I do Not Say

With this last tactic as a directive and method, I will conclude by nodding briefly at what was impossible not to notice as being invisible and unsaid at this wonderful event: the many approaches, politics, people, and theories whose names and terms and needs were never (or rarely) uttered over hours and days of astute and informative analysis: that is, just about anything to do with race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, indigeneity, ability, age and as often as not gender or feminism. These body- and place-based, situated politics, theories, lived experiences and methods with their own regal, lengthy, powerful ideas, movements, and actions that have been so central to our experiences, analyses, critiques and movements about the internet and its world (from #Blacklivesmatter to #metoo, from Donna Haraway to my/our own femtechnet and in particular our “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Workbook“) were, oddly, invisibilized. A cultural and intellectual outsider, I am not sure why these movements and their core theories and practices of justice, epistemology, creativity, and sustainability were not go-to reservoirs of inspiration and power for most of my fellow panelists. Certainly, a significant amount of the evil, despair, violence, and injustice that has been enacted in and by corporate and political regimes of post-truth have been against others seemingly marked by difference of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and otherwise. And, responsive movements have been mounted digitally, and otherwise, in response. Perhaps the connection of these movements and methods to “identity” or the “body” or “community” or “care” or the “individual” make these vital traditions seem inadequate in the face of the immensity of our data and its infrastructure that enclouds us? I really don’t understand … But, I will not testify to the definitive necessity of these traditions, because that’s been done everywhere by my allies and colleagues for decades (you can find many links to such research and action in the #100hardtruths primer), but I will end by repeating what I said in my own presentation:

I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments, post truth but gentle, not easily spreadable or digestable, not expendable, but rather demanding your attention and care—so perhaps for this moment at least, made for and consumed by small local groups that will listen together in time. With diverse participants in unique places, I am exploring truth and authentication systems that veer away from cameras, and indexical “truth,” thus mobilizing other systems outside of journalistic evidence or slick socials. I want to engage in alternative formats for the generation and movement of meaningful fragments that can mobilize and save honest expressions about our lived experiences of the internet’s deceptions in ways that might momentarily liberate us, or at least partially remove us from the logics of capitalist and governmental watching and lying that have underwritten this dangerous dishonest flow.

What if we aimed for gentle truths? For now.

From Toronto Fake News Poetry Workshop

 

Committed media praxis is a doing as much as it is a knowing. Queerness is a manner of being as much as it is a politics, theory, or set of modish objects. Our labor in queer cinema studies might result in institutional anthologies, retrospectives, or canons, but for me it needs smaller, stranger sites, activities, and outcomes that honor how it’s done: its moods, weather, learning and loving.

Alex, Carolyn, Jazzy and Deborah at Union Square Park, as part of the event, “Dear J,” revisiting “Homosexuals: One Child’s Point of View,” featuring Jazzy and directed by her mother, Juanita Mohammed (1990)

In this talk, I introduce a multi-sited project (three websites: a graduate class, an in-process web app for vulnerable video, and a working group sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, at the CUNY Graduate Center) where I engage in inter-disciplinary, community-based, activist queer film scholarship: VHS Archives. In the talk, I will show some attempts to work with and use some of my own queer media archives, initially held on VHS tape. How I do and did this, often with others in and outside the academy, taking up many art forms and as well as adaptive platforms, and now making use of my own and other’s soon to be lost video fragments, is what I have longed called my committed media praxis. Theory adjacent and conversant, sexual and political proclivities in flux, responsive to communities and collaborators, primarily and definitively process-oriented and often production-based, my committed media praxis in queer media and its archives is about using media as one part of a beloved community’s efforts at doing our best at living queer feminist lives.

Please find here, my power point, script, and three screenshots of me reading (pretty poorly) from my computer: “My VHS Archives: confessions from the field of queer feminist media praxis,” for The Labour of Media (Studies): Activism, Education, and Industry Conference, held at Concordia University, November 17, 2018. Do take a look at the three sites linked above. There’s much to see and explore by colleagues, students, technologists, archivists, friends, and loved ones.

Snow kept me from physically attending.

 

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.

I gave a “talk” at the CUNY Grad Center: one of many attempts to document, process, and share this year-plus long project, a multi-temporal, many-sited, process-rich, collaborative investigation of learning, making and living in feminist social networks, no matter how messy.

website#ev-ent-anglement considers how or if affect flows within on/offline queer/feminist spaces because I am concerned that many of our current digital practices are not yet as grounded as we deserve. It believes that we can learn from doing, and that we can do better.

Feel free to read more (and cut/paste+bleed at will) on the ev-ent-anglement.

In this, my third blog post of the summer about what to make of and do with the radical evidentiary images by ordinary people that can sometimes go viral and thus contribute to activism against documented injustice (and also do other things), I will speak briefly about New Documents, a powerful and important show that I saw at the Bronx Documentary Center.

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While it continues to be my belief that “hoping footage goes viral” can only be one item in a much longer list of hopes, and their associated activities, when our goals are making changes to brutal, sanctioned, ongoing systemic conditions that produce and allow for atrocities and violence that might be documented by ordinary citizens and victims, what I will focus on here is how the show itself enacts some of these necessary next steps by rendering itself as a physical manifestation of what is also needed after documentation, after the sharing of said document (virally or otherwise), that is if change is the goal (and not virality in and of itself).

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New Documents is an impressive piece of activist curation that moves from 1904 to the present day, judiciously choosing about fifteen pieces of photo, video, and film, each an inspiring example of what we now call citizen journalism (citizen-made images from Aushwitz to Dealey Plaza, from Vietnam to Tompkins Square Park, Tunisia, Libya, the Pepper Spraying cop, and then finally, St. Paul, Minnesota.) The show is daring, brutal, and unsparing. It asks us to look carefully at images, like the most recent in the show, those shot by Diamond Reynolds of the Philando Castile murder, that in an earlier post in this series I said I was not yet ready to see (please do read a dialogue I am having with Kimberley Fain about our choice to look). First made in photographs and later in film and video, each document in this spare show is seen on a tiny screen, cut into a wall, and placed on one side of the gallery. This arrangement serves as a timeline, a set of windows, and as a procedure for close concentration and attention.

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Wall text below each document allows the activist orientation and analysis of the curators to be clear. If an atrocity is witnessed and documented, and if this documentation is seen, results will occur. Often very big ones.

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The role of documenting and in this way testifying to atrocity is a critical and certain one. Without this courageous artistic political act there is little evidence from which activists can establish the truth of their experience and move forward to fight for reckoning, justice and change. However, there is nothing like a one-to-one causality between documenting atrocity and making change in the conditions that cause and support state and other systemic violence and oppression against citizens. This shooting/result equation is not exact, immediate, or even really quantifiable for any number of reasons that tend to reflect the same systematic cruelty that supported the original violence including but not limited to who controls images, and their interpretation, circulation, availability, ownership, and the punishments associated to acts of witness and activism.

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My previous writing and thinking about witness video that is hosted and made viral on YouTube and other social networks, in particular about one of the first celebrated examples of viral witness video, the image of Neda Agha-Soltan being killed at a protest in Iran in 2009 (also shown in the New Documents show), cautioned that there are many systems that surround viral videos and function to complicate any easy or obvious or necessary move from virality to change. While video can and must testify to abuse and is integral to campaigns for justice, it is also necessary for activists to consider how any particular video is seen, used, supported and shared within complex contexts that can either undermine, challenge, or support the maintenance of the systematic cruelty that is documented. I’d like to name some of the systems and conditions that surround viral video again here:

  • the platform itself, i.e. YouTube or other corporate social media sites that hold, own and share (citizen-made) video
  • the ads and comments and other visible windows or screens that frame it on the site and/or on your screen
  • the interpretations of those who give words to the image, be they citizen or mainstream journalists, day to day social media users or the corporations that pose as users
  • the governments and other institutions that monitor, censor, support and/or punish image-makers
  • the regimes of viewing that organize how we watch short, fast, spreadable images; that is to say mostly as interchangeable, consumable, expendable, fast bits of entertainment or stimuli, what I have elsewhere called “video slogans
  • the fragile and/or inaccessible technologies that shoot, share, and save images
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A cracked and dislodged mobile phone in the New Documents show testifies to the fragility of the technologies that capture, hold and share viral video, and to the many ways that activists, denied full access to infrastructural support, must make do even so

And it is just here, looking at the cracked phone on display, where my praise of New Documents really begins. This room, in its place, the Bronx, NYC, with more surrounding wall text (on the other walls, see below), and the volunteer who believes in the Bronx, and photography, and the power of its people, is one such radical place for the watching, thinking about, and making use of witness images. This place is a context from which these images accrue deeper meaning and greater value, written as they are, not into a callous, corporate internet, or a ready-steady flow of social media, but rather, a well-thought-out history, analysis, community and purpose, a place where small screen evidence by ordinary people can meet more ordinary people who care enough to get there, learn more, and engage.

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In the Bronx Documentary Center I spent fifteen or more minutes (after viewing and photographing the show) speaking to the activist, artist, scholar, volunteer pictured below (I have lost the green pad where I wrote down your name, please email me at work if you see this and I will name you!)

IMG_2191We spoke about her radical education in Women’s Studies at UCLA, and her return to the Bronx to do her activist work within her community. We talked about the value of a radical art space within this burrough. How activists, artists, students, and passers-by use this space. We discussed some of my critiques of virality, and she told me about hard decisions the curators had made around this and other issues to mount this timely, necessary, and controversial show.

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Our time together, in this space, not any, with its analyses and histories and commitments loud and clear, not intruded upon by any corporation, or stream of shares or responses, made these New Documents newly visible to me and resulted in many things that I have attempted to quantify here. In my previous post, Tiny Screens/Power Scenes, I concluded:

I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.

How lucky I am then, to see, learn from and engage with a more powerful way to view viral video of black death and other historical atrocities. And how lucky we all are that we have access to the internet, so that I can share this place, The Bronx Documentary Center (in such partial ways, I know), with others who can not get to NYC and can learn from and engage together even so.