Inflections of Technoculture
Biodigital Media, Postcolonial Theory and Feminism
N. 18.2 (2014)
Editors: Iain Chambers and Tiziana Terranova
A double blind peer-reviewed journal, published twice a year by Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”'
Alien Evolution(s). Race, Sex and Genetic Engineering in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy
Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy (1987-1989) offers the reader a far-sighted vision of a shocking encounter between humanity and a bio-technologically advanced race of aliens called Oankali. This article analyses how the aliens modify the established modalities of sexual coupling with the aim of mixing with humans and giving birth to a new, queer and multiracial species that is explicitly echoed in Donna Haraway’s theorization of the “cyborg”. The figure of the cyborg was, for Haraway, strongly intertwined with the history of women of colour, who can be themselves seen as cyborg identities. In this respect, Haraway stresses how cyborg writing is, for women of colour, strongly related to the action of “seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other”. Specifically, Butler’s cyborg trilogy focuses on the Oankali, who introduce a completely new modality of mating akin to bacterial and cyber-sex, all by operating from the standpoint of an anti-racist evolutionary science. By drawing on Luciana Parisi’s notion of “abstract sex” (2004) and by referring to Gloria Anzaldúa’s figure of the “mestiza” (1987), this article examines how Butler’s futuristic world gives posthumanism an anti-racist founding myth. In the post-human universe invented by Butler bodies are able to connect to one another and exchange flows of genetic information. Furthermore, mates are united by strong, indissoluble chemical bonds that, ironically, prove to be much stronger than traditional marriages: this article especially focuses on how the new, post-human hybrid race changes the given modalities of sex in order to create a utopian, feminist and antiracist vision of sexual pleasure. This article examines how the Oankali create a new world in which a post-human race can develop and how the Ooloi, special genetic engineers, challenge any idea of racial purity. The article focuses on how the new modalities of sex they introduce mobilizes a feminist, queer desire, also by exploring the interrelation among natural and sexual selection as analysed by Elizabeth Grosz (2004), placing a special attention to the relation existing between technology, science and race.
Eco-Art Machines. A Chaosmotic Perspective on Postcolonial Capitalism
Putting the complex debate about ecology (for which the essay will draw on the transversal and networked vision theorized by Félix Guattari) in dialogue with Rosi Braidotti’s neomaterialist, postanthopocentric and zoepolitical perpective on contemporary posthuman condition, the article will attempt to reflect on the dynamics of contemporary postcolonial capitalism. The paper will propose a posthuman analysis of a series of works by the art collective Mongrel and its spin-off YoHa, which focus on hegemonic ecologies of power connected to mineral matters that are central to the assemblage of technological devices: Tantalum Memorial (Mongrel, 2008), Aluminium (YoHa, 2008), Coal Fired Computers (YoHa, 2010). The first an installation centered on telephone communication, re-cycling human voices in recorded bits of information; the second a graphic book and a video, compos(t)ing images and data debris of archival nets; the last one an installation of intra-acting human (lung), natural (coal) and technological (computer) matters, they all enact a process of framing, de-framing and re-framing, unfolding as re-cycling processes of human as well as non-human matter. This posthuman entangled matter shows a real as well as virtual complex economic, cultural and political eco-system where hegemonic dynamics of power unfold. In the light of the contemporary debate about art and the politics of ecology, drawing on Guattari’s theoretical reflections on a new esthetic paradigm, traceable in Mongrel’s and YoHa’s art projects, how can we address the question of ecology so that it could help not only the understanding of postcolonial capitalism but also its re-thinking in the frame of a chaosmotic vision of culture, where new, unprecedented subjectivities can arise and a practice of political regeneration can be enacted?
Giuseppe De Riso
Gaming Gender. Virtual Embodiment as a Synaesthetic Experience
Cultural and Post-Colonial Studies have long identified ocularcentrism, or the privilege of vision in culture and thought, as one of the prime causes behind the tendency to manipulate and categorize matter, bodies and meanings. This paper examines the power of computer-generated images to produce a kind of digital interaction which upsets gendered visual and listening conventions, such as those traditionally experienced in cinema. The article will take into consideration Valve’s Portal (2007), a first person videogame which proposes a ‘topological’ way of seeing relying on the synaesthetic working of the human sensorium. Images do not simply represent objects and places, but allow for countless configurations of space. The visual effort to confront with images of pure potential brings about an affective intensification of sensory faculties, especially of the senses of touch and hearing. As a consequence, images are endowed with tactile qualities which make possible the absorption and propagation of sound stimuli. In the game, the ‘haptic’ quality of images works together with acousmatic resonances of female voice in order to recreate a hybrid embodied condition which dissolves the male-female binarism and, in so doing, challenges gendered cultural assumptions and established spectatorial positions.
“A Mirror Permutation of the Nation”. Technology and the Cultural Politics of Race in DJ Spooky’s Re-birth of a Nation
On its 100th anniversary, D.W. Griffith’s silent drama The Birth of Nation (1915) is still attracting critical attention, both as a masterpiece of cinematic technique and as an infamous racially biased account of the birth of US society. This article presents a critical reading of The Birth of Nation through its re-take performed by the African-American DJ and conceptual artist Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky between 2004 and 2008 in his audio-video practice Re-birth of Nation. Drawing from Cultural Studies and Media Theory, this article investigates the intersection between technique, practices of visual memorialization and racialization, and the politics of perception in both artworks. In the first part of the article, I present a critical analysis of The Birth of a Nation as a ‘hegemonic narration’, in which avant-garde aesthetical innovation is put at the service of a racialized account of history. In the second part of the article, I turn my attention to Re-birth of a Nation, by considering how experimental practices and the techniques of DJ culture may help transform ‘History’ (official history) into a series of (unauthorised) histories.
Beyond the ‘Arab Spring’. New Media, Art and Counter-Information in Post-Revolutionary North Africa
The ‘Arab Spring’ possesses an unexplored discoursive dimension made of stratified stereotypical approaches and assumptions linked to the ‘Arab’ world and its horizons of political agency. In the aftermath of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, in a period of renewed censorship and instability, multiple actors coming from citizen journalism and activist/artistic backgrounds collaborate in experimenting post-revolutionary counter-power. The drive to re-appropriate the revolutionary narrative and give continuity to its legacy in the ‘transitional’/post-dictatorship period is marked by an all pervading intertwining of art and counter-information, in collectives focusing on media (such as the Egyptian Mosreen), street art (such as the Tunisian Ahl al Kahf), journalism (Inkyfada) or theatre (Corps Citoyen) projects, as well as for the emerging independent video-makers (such as Ridha Tlili). My article intends to interrogate their interaction with the dominant representation of the uprisings.
A Mediterranean Matri-Archive. Choreographic Fragments of Emerging Corporealities
This paper aims to refigure the question of archive into a gender-critical perspective, and proposes the theorization of a Matri-Archive: an imaginary place of methodological analysis, a performance-zone which serves to retrieve the corporeal memories of women’s creativity emerging from the liquid architecture of the Mediterranean sea. I rely on the philosophical-theoretical debate over the ‘archive fever’, which today still affects many voices of Dance and Performance Studies, in order to discuss the presumed ephemerality of a dance-event, and thus its (im-)possible archivalization. I envision myself an archivist who after experiencing the choreo-graphies produced by three female Mediterranean and postcolonial artists – N. Belaza; G. McMillen; N. Boukhari – attempts a series of archival exercises to argue the technical dissemination, and the poetical return, of their gestures in form of choreographic fragments. This writing virtually lands in Algeria, Turkey and Syria; from these Mediterranean edges, the three ‘archons’ begin to explore the multiple senses of ‘what’ a female corporeality can ‘do/become’ via the subversive power of dance language. A fragmentary consultation is here offered as an analytical and choreo-political practice, both to present some examples of female agency and eventually to state the urgency of acquiring alternative visions for alternative archives.
A Postcolonial Cybersemiotics. Moving-With Shobana Jeyasingh’s Chaosmopolitan Choreographies
This article discusses the articulation of postcolonial thought through the expressive form of choreography, and its relation with a variegated geographic and cultural dimension. It analyses the works of Anglo-Indian choreographer and performer Shobana Jeyasingh, particularly focusing on her use of the Bharata Natyam Indian dance, a technique consisting of detailed hands and feet gestures performed while standing on a bent-knees position. By drawing on Charles S. Peirce’s semiotics, on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s philosophy, and on the cybernetic theories of Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, the article investigates how dance can be considered as a technique rather than a language: a movement technology producing sensations and meanings at the same time. By combining the classicity of Indian tradition with that of Western contemporary dance, Ruma Devi with Merce Cunningham, the purity of the dancing body with its mathematical patterns, and by incorporating video technology to the live performances, Jeyasingh’s choreographies are able to suggest a cybernetic sense of sacredness, intended as a material connection between the dancing body and its (past and future) spatiotemporal enviroment(s).
Ghosting the Postcolonial Archive. Digital Technologies and Diasporic Visualities in Contemporary Black British Art
The essay focuses on the critical articulation of a black diaspora in Europe, through the investigation of two works of contemporary British artists: Keith Piper’s digital video Ghosting the Archive (2005) and Sonia Boyce’s exhibition “Scat” (2013). In his installation Piper intervenes materially in the gaps between the rigid limits of conventional and systematised archives: he opens the boxes of Birmingham Central Library and develops a work that reactivates a concatenation of forgotten experiences of migration. In her exhibition “Scat” Boyce shows three pieces that refer to the unconventional improvisation in jazz and develop a critical dispersal of history: what her works have in common is an interest in the voice, in terms of authority and resistance, and in the reconfiguration of the archive as an aspiration for the future, rather than a mere preservation of the past. Challenging the consecrated reverence of institutionalised archival practices, Piper and Boyce elaborate alternatives devotional collections that are not relegated to a distant and unquestionable past. Enhanced by the digital forms of mediation and technology, their art projects open to the multiple movements of cultural identity and constantly remind us of the actual conditions of mutation, emergence and circulation of diasporic formations.
Coded Borderscapes. Locative Media, Memory and Migration in ManifestAR’s Border Memorial
Augmented Reality technologies challenge the conception of the virtual as a transcendental elsewhere. As Elizabeth Grosz puts it, the virtual is immanent in the real (Grosz 2001). The article will take into account the Augmented Reality Art of Mark Skwarek and his so-called AR interventions designed for smartphones screens, in order to explore how the virtual and the real unbind each other and how matter releases its potential. Mark Skwarek’s virtual interventions try to restore the seamlessness of the borderland and reterritorialize the border by means of topological distortion. In US/Iraqi War Memorial, the artist overlays a virtual necrogeographic map of Iraq designed by a network of burial sites of deceased Americans soldiers and Iraqi civilians during the Second Gulf War. In the Border Memorial: La Frontera de los Muertos, the traditional Mexican festivity El dia de los muertos has been uncannily translated into a memorial that unveils the scope of the loss of life and reveals the places were human remains have been found along the border. Skwarek’s art comes alive on smartphones screens as tridimensional coffins or Oaxacan traditional calaca skeletons: these objects are digitally designed and superimposed in the actual field of view to revive the humanity and reality of the immanent Other (Mezzadra 2012). The two interventions display the sites where memory turns into matter and vice versa: by following Homi Bhabha’s Location of Culture (2004), it will be argued that the virtual image is the blasphemous cultural transduction of the physical space through which newness enters the world.
Al Jazeera’s The Stream. Digital and Diasporic Geographies Beyond the West
A few months after the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, the satellite news channel Al Jazeera English, broadcasting from the Middle-Eastern region for an international public, launched ‘The Stream’, presented as “A television show based on a social media community”. By integrating the social media into the news production process, The Stream is expected, according to its authors, to transfer the geographic and cultural variety of the internet into a television format. This paper aims to explore how a transnational media like Al Jazeera English uses the convergence between television and social networks to ‘give voice’ to the changing relations of power and cultural influence between the West and the Rest, particularly through the category of the ‘diaspora’. By analyzing some episodes of the program, this paper will look at how in The Stram this term, loaded with historic and cultural meaning in migration studies and media- and postcolonial theory, becomes part of the everyday language of a multi-media community. The article analyzes how the term ‘diaspora’ is used and transformed within The Stream media environment: as a field for ‘social change’; as an element contributing to discussion, democracy, modernization; as a key aspect to elaborate the cultural complexity of contemporary societies.
Paratactic Media and Social Networks. Emerging Forms of Resistance to Algorithmic Power
This article deploys the concept of ‘paratactic media’ to define emerging practices which exploit the logic of algorithmic governance in subversive artistic interventions as a means to expose and contest authoritarian regimes of power. By means of an engagement with the works of Istanbul-based artists during the 2013 Gezi Park Resistance in Turkey, the essay explores the ways in which paratactic media are able to uncover and remediate the invisible layers of algorithmic regulation through aesthetics of friction, cacophony, foolishness, depletion and waste.