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System Errors: Abolitionist Technologies and Aesthetics

 

This is a transcription of ‘System Errors: Abolitionist Technologies and Aesthetics’ a panel discussion with Juliana Huxtable, American Artist, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, chaired by Legacy Russell. The event, held on August 17, 2020, was the third in Revolution is Not a One Time Event, a programme organised by Che Gossett, Lola Olufemi and Sarah Shin in collaboration with Arika and hosted by Silver Press.

Listen to the audio at NTS

Sarah:

Without further ado, I’m going to hand over to Legacy Russell who is a writer and curator, currently Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the author of Glitch Feminism, which is her beautiful debut, forthcoming from Verso Books in September. The book is currently 40% off and available for pre-order on the Verso Books website. Congratulations, Legacy! I’m so thrilled that you could join us tonight to chair the event.

 

Legacy:

Thank you so much, Sarah, for having me. So, we are here today for System Errors: Abolitionist Technologies and Aesthetics. This has been generously organised by Che Gosset, Lola Olufemi and Sarah Shin in collaboration with Arika and hosted by Silver Press. I want to note that our artists, who are in the room are American Artist, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, and Juliana Huxtable. Before I begin here today, I want to hold some space in the room for those who cannot be with us. These are spaces for George Floyd,  Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, Tiffany Dior Harris, and so many more who, in memory of their life and death, spur each of us forward toward radical action as we commit in the here and now to changing the world to reflect what we want and need. So, again, to introduce myself for those of you who are just joining, my name is Legacy Russell. I am the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the author of Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, which is forthcoming this September from Verso Books.

The premise of our conversation today is a challenging one and it’s an exciting one. It’s about abolition and where it is, in and of itself, a technology. But also, as well, maybe a proposition, right? It’s a proposition towards a way of subverting, transforming, and hacking technologies as we now know them, towards an emancipatory means. It’s about refusal, one where the foundational aforementioned premise of an abolitionist framework is perhaps one that requires a certain level of examination and expansion. So we’ll expand further today, with our incredible artists, and, hopefully, glitch the system with American Artist, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, and Juliana Huxtable. Unfortunately, Sondra Perry was unable to join us today, but she’ll be greatly missed.

So, welcome to you all. I’ll take a moment to introduce our incredible panellists. American Artist’s work considers Black labour and visibility within networked life. Their practice makes use of video, installation, new media, and writing. Artist is a resident of Red Bull Arts Detroit and a 2018-19 recipient of the Queens Museum-Jerome Foundation Fellowship. They are a former resident of EYEBEAM and completed the Whitney Independent Study program as an artist in 2017. They have exhibited at the Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Koenig & Clinton in New York. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Artforum, and Huffington Post. They have published writing in The New Inquiry and Art21. Artist is part-time faculty at The New School in New York. Welcome, American!

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is an artist working predominantly in digital media – animation, sound and video games – to communicate the experiences of being a Black trans person. Their practice focuses on recording the lives of Black trans people, intertwining lived experience with fiction to imaginatively retell trans stories. Spurred on by a desire to record the history of trans people both living and passed, their work can often be seen as an archive where Black trans people are stored for the future. Brathwaite-Shirley has been known to note that throughout history, Black, queer and trans people have been erased from the archives. Because of this, it is necessary not only to archive their existence, but also the many creative narratives we have used, and continue to share our experiences. Welcome, Danielle!

Using the structures of music as mediums in her multi-media universe, Juliana Huxtable is a DJ and musician, singular in her approach. Where her visual art and poetry navigate the complexity of desire in a life increasingly mediated by technology. Her music utilizes the sounds of technology itself to construct parallel realities to be inhabited and embodied in rhythm and harmonic tableaux. Her sets skilfully deploy the notion of sampling, and re-blogging as DJ strategies, ecstatically mixing an array of influences that frolic at the boundary of genre-intuition and experimentation. At once an assertion of freedom and an ode to the evolutionary structure of electronic music subcultures, she aspires to the sublime in what can often only be described as witchcraft behind the decks and seance from the stage. Welcome, Juliana!

So, we’ll start with a simple question that, actually, is a very hard question, but one that certainly is at the forefront of everyone’s thinking in this present moment. We’ve seen the term used widely, abolish gender, abolish police, abolish landlords, abolish ICE, abolish the SAT ACT, abolish prisons, abolish respectability politics, even abolish J Cole. It’s important to define our terms as we begin today. So, I’m going to start by clarifying our intentions collectively. In a few words: What does abolition mean to you?

Danielle:

To me, abolition means knowing that these structures are built on foundations not to support you, and knowing that changing them is not something that we can do – not something that is structurally possible – and change the way that these institutions, or these spaces do change also crushes and buries throughout that process. So, it’s knowing that in order for us to be centred in the future, and having a future where we won’t be forgotten, these institutions, these spaces, these places have to be rebuilt with us at the foundations of them.

 

Legacy:

Absolutely. Thank you, Danielle. American?

 

American:

Yes, that was an amazing answer. I agree with that as well. And, also,  just to continue on that, understanding that the systems aren’t meant to address anything with any real resolve, thinking about the carceral system, and thinking about how much that does violence, and thinking about how it doesn’t really do anything to bring about any equity or accountability for anyone. So I think also another aspect of abolition, aside from getting rid of these institutions that are doing additional harm and violence, but also imagining and thinking about what are the things that we want, and the ways of holding each other accountable that might actually bring about a better and more accommodating place for us to exist and thrive and think about what we want for our world.

 

Legacy:

Absolutely. I think imagination and accountability are definitely things that are going to be part of our conversation today.

Juliana, what about you?

 

Juliana:

I think that for me, I guess, abolition is the complete and total eradication of a system that perpetuates some sort of collective harm, and I think for me, I think it’s – it was interesting to think about this, because, oftentimes, I think about liberation, and even in terms of like my own work and my own struggles, I think about liberation, but liberation oftentimes has a history of being tied to the individual and individualism being liberated from some sort of system, and I think that it can also be maybe problematically humanist in the sense that liberation historically at times is built upon things like empathy, or sympathy, or even on a more problematic level, like pity, or something like that, and so I think, liberation which takes as its object, the individual or collective that you’re trying to liberate, is different from abolition, which takes as its object, the system itself that’s self-perpetuating those harms, and I think the shift in how you think or act  as a result of that is really important, especially when – and, for me, this is what also characterises abolition, is that the system is so kind of horrendous in the harms that it perpetuates, that it becomes necessary – it’s almost like an ethical imperative, or something, attached with the system that you’re seeking to abolish, which is why it makes sense that the term was birthed in relationship to slavery. That’s how I’ve been thinking about it.

 

Legacy:

I really appreciate that, Juliana, because I think that this question of the moral and ethical obligation towards change and asking questions about what liberation looks like feels really necessary to underscore, and, with each of you, I think, in terms of your practices, they skirt and drive, and re-imagine, and kind of build new futures, so, it’ll be exciting to hear briefly, a little bit about each of your works through your own lenses. It’s worth noting, as you said as well, that the route of abolition comes from a history of slavery and enslaved peoples, one that of course entangles the US and the UK across the pond, but also turns a mirror on a global struggle in solidarity, especially right here and right now in what feels like a pivotal turning point in history. So, with this in mind, I’m wondering if maybe American, you can perhaps get us started in sharing us a little bit about your work? We’ll hear from each of the artists from their perspectives and thinking about: “What is abolition?” as it relates to their current practice, and as well perhaps as sharing about their ongoing research?

American:

Thank you, Legacy. I’m going to share my screen. And I want to try to talk about two projects briefly so I can show you a short video that’s about five minutes.

*screen sharing* https://whitney.org/exhibitions/american-artist

So, the first project that I want to talk about, it’s this online artwork, and the title of it is Looted, and it’s currently on display at the Whitney Museum’s website twice a day at sunrise, and sunset. Basically, you arrive on the site, and all of the images are redacted with this plywood, as if they’ve been boarded up. This project came out of thinking around redaction, refusal, and what it can mean to sort of just remove everything from this experience where you go in and you’re expecting to be able to see everything that the museum has to offer.

And, visually, I was thinking about the fact that the Whitney Museum was literally boarded up, and may still be boarded up, I haven’t been there recently. But thinking about this act of boarding up alongside many other institutions and businesses throughout New York, and thinking about what that is as an act of sort of like protection, protection from who? Who are you sort of guarding? but also, what is it that you’re guarding? The Whitney Museum doesn’t necessarily have looted things because of the type of institution they are – but thinking about it as symbolically representative of all of the museums that do have those kinds of material things – a museum like the Met, with a lot of historical objects.

So, in that act of fear, and desire for security, and trying to create this barrier, or something, to protect from people that are protesting, the death, the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, people who are really asking just for accountability. So: What does it mean to sort of take that opportunity to guard oneself? What are you guarding? Does it even belong to you in the first place? Thinking about this action of looting, not only from the protesters looting, but also thinking of internally what is within the museums as loot. So, what I was thinking about with this piece, is sort of that, you arrive at the museum, and everything is gone, everything’s been stolen. But it works in so many different ways.

So, I’ll leave you with that briefly, and then the other piece I wanted to talk about is this video that I made around technology, thinking about how technology, computers, smartphones that we interact with daily. And how, as objects, they’re built within this legacy of settler colonialism, they’re products and processes that embody anti-Blackness. What would it mean to think about a Black technology, or a Black interface, or one that embodies values that are contrary to everything that we associate with high technology? Also, in that process of imagination, how do we arrive at that? Or how do we bring the white screen to this other place that I’m imagining? And so this film is sort of a response to that, or thinking about that, so, I’ll show this film.

[Video]: VO: We’re live, baby, here in a city, in a distant place near you. Today, we are having a little demonstration. We are going to be having on the main today, this delicious Apple iPhone, real deal, functioning. Let’s check that out if you don’t believe me. Hola.

Today, what I’m going to be doing is I’m going to be cooking it, sautéing it, you know? Getting that sauce, from an American brand we all know and love, Coca-Cola. I’m gonna have to warm up this propane: propane accessories right here, straight out of Arlen, Texas. We are going to have to heat it up, think about 350 degrees, and so basically, we are going to boil this, and then we’re going to cook it for about an hour in the Coca-Cola, and you will see it turn into a really syrupy, you know black, you know, out-of-the-abyss essence, and then we’re going to put the iPhone in there, and then some really cool stuff is gonna to happen. Got the Coca-Cola here. What we’re going to start doing is pouring it in. I’ve got my lovely table here with all my equipment.

Here we go. This is all real, all live. One, two, three. [Pan sizzles]. Look at it. Look at it! Aw! Hot sauce on my burrito, baby! Look at that! It’s about two litres, you know, so, uh let me slow down a little bit. Stir that up a little bit real quick. Let me get my trusted spoon, I never leave it – like a crusty kid.

[To offscreen person] How are you doing, sir? Come back around an hour. We’ll have the meal ready for you!

Okay, okay. Here we are. Here we are, you know? This is the base of the gumbo, you know? You’ve got to have that sauce, you know?

 [To offscreen person] Come back- come in an hour! Yeah, an hour. It’ll be ready for you! Bring a phone!

There we go. Lemme pour the rest of it in there so you can see the theatrical effects. Yes! Yes! Now you understand. The medicine, the Ambrosia. Just about. Two litres. Here we are. The Coke has materialised to the level of heat that we need it to be to get to the next level – the molten lava level, the sunken-place level. Okay. Here we are. Here we are. The Coke is a couple of hundred degrees now, you know? You know I’ve got the sandals on right now. This is the cookout you don’t want to be at. Cause you might melt into a million different pieces. So here we are, I’ve got the iPhone ready. Bout to drop it in. Hola! As you can see. Fully functioning. This is not… a Chinatown duplicate. Apple phone. Here we go. Are you ready? All right. One, two, and three... Ciao! [sound of boiling intensifies]

This is just eating away, roasting away. Oh, oh. It’s getting smoky. I will position myself here. Thank you, sir. Got this last little air bubble there. Slowly, slowly, and it’s gone. Okay. Delectable! It looks like something that the Goonies would come out of. Here we are. I can see it begin to really steel up. It’s getting gooey and metallic. Oooh! Almost lost it out there! You know, it’s falling apart quickly. Turn down the propane just a little bit, just so you can really see. Oh, my God. [Loud sizzling sound]. Woo!  

And this is an iPhone. Or it was. [END VIDEO]

 

Legacy:

Thank you, American! And now, on to Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley.

 

Danielle:

Hi, so I’m Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley. I’m an animator and game designer that specifies in making work that archives Black trans people, and centring Black trans experience. And the first thing I want to talk about is why I archive Black trans people, and why I find it important to record us, and currently I’m showing an image that says “We are living because of our trans sisters who aren’t.” I come at my work with this kind of mentality, that I need to remember those who have laid the path for us, and those who have been doing the work to make sure people like me can be in the position that I’m in, to be proud of who I am and to be standing here making the kind of work that I do. And so it’s with a mind looking back on those that we can’t remember, that weren’t stored, and that were not archived, and making sure that this does not happen for the future generations of Black trans people. It’s important that Black trans people from here on out are archived officially, and in the ways that we need to be. The archive has currently failed us. If you look back into the archive, any archive, we have been erased from it. It’s usually very hard to find depictions of Black trans people, written from our own perspectives. So I think it’s really important to think about how to store a Black trans person, how do you store people who have been erased during the storing process, how do you store a body that has not been stored before. And so, I come on to my next slide which is “terms and conditions”. It’s a very important thing for me to think about: terms and conditions of storing us, of accessing us that have been stored. When you think about terms and conditions, maybe you think about the terms and conditions on your phone and computer that you accept in order to use the device and the apps inside of it. But you don’t often think about terms and conditions in terms of centring a particular person. And I have one here, it says, “Terms and conditions: you must agree to support Black trans people to reap the rewards of being in their presence.” And to me this is an important part of my work, embedding terms and conditions into it, so that you will have to centre Black trans people to enjoy the work, to be in the work. For the work to ask you questions, it has to know that you can centre those within it. And that’s one thing about my work that I’m very keen on, it’s about making those in the audience non-passive members, someone that cannot just watch and idly see images go by, but has to actively engage themselves, their own identity in the work, so that this conflict, these questions, and these choices of accepting and declining are brought within the work and on to the audience member themselves, so they cannot be passive.

An example of when I did this was in https://blacktransarchive.com/. This is a free online game/archive, also called “WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT”. In this game I worked with fifteen Black trans people to figure out how to create an interactive archive. We used the format of a video game, of allowing choices, because we wanted the audience member to have a particularly customised experience to them. We wanted their identity to play a role in what is happening onscreen, and what they are allowed to access and what they do not get the chance to access. Something about archives that I find extremely frustrating is that the archive is often seen as a neutral element, and it’s seen as something that just stores work. But an archive is never neutral, because of those that store it and what those or the body that runs the archive are looking for. They’re looking for particular information and particular data. And they’ll often miss things and maybe actively erase things, and actively erase people. So for me it’s important to really think about how an archive can be interactive, and maybe having things stored that cannot be accessed by certain people. An archive does not have to be neutral because I don’t believe they are in the first place, and it can be completely non-neutral and dependent on the choices of the person that has made before they come to it, when they come to the archive, and during their interaction with the archive. So as an example, if you choose a Black and trans identity option, the archive is very welcoming to you, and allows you to meet some imagined ancestors of yours, and what it would be like to bring those back. But if you chose the cis option it would maybe ask you a few more questions about your privilege, your role in archiving or lack of, or lack of even seeing a space for Black trans people.

 

This is further compounded in another one of my online works. The reason a lot of my works are online is due to accessibility. For me accessibility, being able to access something from anywhere is something that we often don’t get in galleries – you have to go and visit a gallery to see the work. And though there is a surplus of Black trans people visiting galleries, we don’t see ourselves reflected there much. A lot of us have built, or our language has been built and our communities are built online. And that’s somewhere we have easy access to – and unlimited access, that doesn’t involve travelling or risks to safety, or any of those kinds of questions when it comes to your personal interaction with your online device such as a computer or tablet. So creating online accessible online archives and games is important for those I wanted to archive. Creating an archive that is counter to those I want to archive, that you can only go see it in a gallery in a particular part of the world and that is not doing what its supposed to do, it’s not showing the visibility and is not showing those who have been stored and those that do exist, and the story that want to tell, it’s not showing them or giving them a chance to breathe. And so, another kind of semi-archive is www.thepathyouwalk.com. It’s an archive that kind of records, at least my, periods of lockdown, what that was like for me.  And there’s another thing that in addition to the cisgender option has something called the ‘trans tour’, and ‘trans tourism’, the idea of seeing and visiting and partaking in trans work and trans aesthetic is something that is increasingly more of interest to galleries, and to those that aren’t  trans. They kind of want more of an insight into what is going on, but at the same time in a very touristic manner, an outside kind of voyeur way. The Path You Walk kind of takes you on this journey of what a ‘trans tour’ is, and what it means to  be a ‘trans tourist’ and how damaging that can be,  and how trans tourism often expects to see trauma when it  isn’t there, and puts trauma upon bodies. And it believes that because these bodies are made from trauma it can question this person on their trauma and ask them what parts of trauma are they going to share today. And there’s this expectancy that Black trans people should show trauma. Which is something that I actively reel against – I don’t want to show trauma. It’s not about erasing it, it’s about that we live with the trauma that we have, I mean everyone does. We all live with the trauma that we go through. But more important to me is using speculative fiction and using fantasy to re-tell our stories of living with trauma, not the events that caused the trauma. Being able to store that within ourselves, and live with it, and how that looks and what that might even look like. And so as an example I have something called Sisterhood Stew, which is like an imagined stewing pot of sisterhood where everyone takes a little bit from and puts a little bit back. And that’s what sisterhood is to me, it’s this idea of this rotating meal where everyone gets fed and its always, always brewing and always cooking. And that’s what it is. There is trauma in that pot, there is pain in that pot, but there’s so much love and support in that pot, and endless, endless energy for the sisters that need it. And it’s about being able to take from that. And that’s what I really think transness to me when I think about, these things I want to archive, these sisterhood stews that are a massive part of our culture and identity. The reason we exist and the reason I am here today is the sisterhood stew, this kind of rotational help and support we get.

 

And so essentially I went on a big tangent, but to me I make work that imagines a future, our reality where transness is at the centre, and uses fiction to make objects/animations/games that centre us and that think of us as the centre, which often involves building a world from the bottom upwards with a Transcentric mindset. And it sounds like I’m going on and on about tis but that’s the whole point, the whole point is that you go so much on about transness within these worlds that it becomes part of it, and the word ‘trans’ just becomes synonymous with the world, with the objects, and you can’t separate it. Having transness imbued within something so much that you cannot separate it is the point of this world, is the point to get to a world that finds it hard to forget us, finds it hard to erase us, and finds it so easy to have us existing there.

Legacy:

Great. So, Juliana, I’m going to pass it along to you.

Juliana:

I am an artist that works in all sorts of mediums, and I was thinking about the relationship between my work and questions of abolition. As I was getting ready for this I was thinking about this. I think that I’ve, in my own past, thought of my work in terms of liberation, but again I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be on this panel, because I think it’s important to problematise, even just on the level of the language we use – or that I have chosen to use, the relationship between liberation and abolition. So my work always comes from a place of an urgency, and sometimes that urgency doesn’t immediately express itself in terms of political or social ideals, or actions, but it also does at different times, and I think ironically, like, there’s a lot to say about what I try and do in my work – my visual work and in my writing - relating to questions of abolition, and working towards a space of freedom, but I think what really stuck out to me the most was music, and the role that music has played, in my own practice, and my own work, and also the history of music as a space of kind of embodied freedom for Black people.

I was thinking a lot about the work of DeForrest Brown Jr, and his writing on techno specifically, because I’m really invested in dance music and the technology that enables producers to transmit the music itself, and the states of being, and the states of embodiment/disembodiment that music can then engender. And so, I think it raised the question for me, and what I am thinking about a lot of the time when I’m working through questions of music is how rhythm, how language, how voice, how tonality, can instantiate spaces where people are able to experience a state of disembodiment, and so abolishing the kind of over determination and regulatory structures that limit our relationships to our bodies. And that theme even permeates and relates to a lot of my visual work, a lot of my writing, because I think, one thing that I’m frustrated by – and one of the urgencies that frames my work is – the notion that my flesh, that any one singular fleshliness, that the fleshliness of gender-variant people, that the fleshliness of Black people has to, it has to mean something, it has to exist in a certain way, has to reify certain ends or suggestions. My work at large is an attempt to play with, and create spaces to escape that, to where embodying a kind of true sense of liminality is possible.

And I think that technology – it’s hard for me to envision an idea of technology that in and of itself is inherently abolitionist – technology by its virtue can sort of go either way. I think of the history of Black people, and techno music, and techno being birthed from, especially Detroit, and the Midwest, even thinking about House music in Chicago, that it was literally in the place where Black people’s aspirational dreams towards mobility, and in a certain way liberation were formed, via the great migration, the automobile industry, the steel industry. And it was in the collapse of those industries, and in the wake of that collapse that, you had the birth of so much Black electronic music, and dance specifically, as a place, and as a way, of physically enacting a form of abolition. And specifically, what I found really interesting, and what informed my thoughts on this was Frantz Fanon and the Wretched of the Earth (1961). He writes about the dance circle and the dance circle as a sort of mode of violent embodiment, because on one level, I was thinking about the relationship between abolition and violence, in the way that we are talking about it as slavery, I see that it’s inextricable with the questions of colonialism and imperialism. So it was interesting and important for me to think about Frantz Fanon in that context, and dance and the dance circle and Black people’s collective – or “the colonised”, which is the language that he uses in the book – relationship to dance, as a way of enacting a kind of violence as an opportunity to provide a rupture to the colonial kind of meaning-making structure. I feel like that just went into a bunch of different directions, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about specifically in relationship to my work to the degree that I can consider music, and also the participation in electronic music culture, and dancing as an extension of that.

 

Legacy:

Thank you, Juliana. That’s so enriching and actually brings up so many wonderful threads that we can follow on, as we continue in our conversation today. And I appreciate all of our incredible participants, and our attendees and patience across different bandwidths of internet.

Recognising that we want to hear from Danielle, we’re going to pivot back. Please keep an eye out for some links of Danielle’s incredible work: [https://BlackTransarchive.com/]

And I will say just on a note that part of the works that Danielle makes are actually the ones that are very much so hands-on, they require your active participation, so, do continue do follow along in terms of what Danielle is saying, but then also please spend time with the links that they’ve shared, because they are quite exciting, and there is an amazing pathway there to follow. Danielle?

 

Danielle:

So I’m going to start off today by talking about ancestors, and they’re a very important part of my work and they often pop up. And I am often thinking about ancestors because I want to link back to the past, to centre those that have made the stepping stones that have allowed people like me, other Black trans people, to be proud and live now, in the public eye. And this is something that within my work I do by having things like terms and conditions, which means that you cannot enter the work, you can't enjoy the work, the work will not allow you access unless you agree to terms and conditions which centre Black trans people.

Often in our society terms and conditions are used by larger companies in order for us to forego some of our rights, so that we can use the technology, but actually, trying to turn this on its head, I want them to forego them centring themselves, and in the work within my spaces, you can only centre Black trans people, and it's a decentring of whiteness, a decentring of cisness. And there's a real important point that if you do not do this, you are not welcome to enjoy the work, you're not welcome to access the work. This is not a learning environment, it is an environment for others. It's an environment for us. And so if you are unable to decentre yourself, decentre whiteness, decentre cisness, then you are not welcome in the space and we cannot have you there. Having people's identities, present in the space, and having them have to claim it, was something that I did in blacktransarchive.com, where the first choice you would have to make was picking your identity, and you would have to, say, identify as Black or trans or cis, depending on what you identified as determined what the archive would open up to you. And this was a real, real strong feeling within me that made me do this because usually archives do not have a way of monitoring themselves, they do not have a way of questioning the ideas and the intentions of those entering them. And so, I didn't want to archive that was again neutral, that was again passive in its approach to those accessing it, and I wanted it to be non-passive and actually be able to say, “okay, hold on, because of this identity I need to ask you a few more questions. I need to check with you on this and you cannot access these ideas, or you can access these.” It's like an archive with options, the archive itself has options, rather than the options being what the person wants to access. And this was a huge, huge point that we made during the production of blacktransarchive.com because of the this idea of trans tourism, as a job Black tourism, this idea that people want to see work and images made by Black and trans people, but without actually wanting the Black trans person without actually wanting the identity in the work. It's about consuming our aesthetic and consuming what we have, rather than appreciating us and having to come at us with our own terms rather than the terms that they bring.

Legacy:

It’s a fantastic place to start from. And I’m really grateful to be expanding further these questions of the archive, this idea of movement research, and ways that certain types of radical refusal can be enacted in the ways that we are quite literally processing our kind of diasporic experience in our bodies, and then too this question of the kind of economy of technology, which, American, you bring to light with your video, which I always enjoy watching, because you laugh, but also it’s actually not funny. It brings up some big questions about the politics of these machines we use, and as well the prosthetic of them. Part of the historical framework of abolition, as it has been said, is of course entangled with questions of reparations. It’s a redistribution of power, of resources, of generational wealth, of agency, of freedom of movement. This idea of the kind of abolitionist intent, and I say ‘intent’ very specifically because the abolition of slavery was actually not a federal mandate, as we are often taught in school, as in problematically that Lincoln ‘freed’ the slaves, which is a very flattened understanding of a history that is much more complex than that, and as well as people that are deeply impacted even right now in this present moment, but rather, a foundational kind of challenge to the questions of personhood, property and wealth. So, when we talk about emancipation and abolition, as an extension of this, it really has to come with the question of revaluing the Black body; and demands a kind of gutting of the system built on the supremacy of an investment in anti-Black practice. I’m wondering if, across the three of you, you have such enriched ways of approaching how to make work, but also how to push technology further, towards different means, so, putting the question to each of you to reflect on: What would a model of maybe digital reparations look like?

 

American:

When you say digital reparations, the first thing that came to mind was RaFiA’s ‘Pay Black Time’ (2016), artwork and project in practice.

 

Legacy:

Right, right.

 

American:

Yes. Which is basically taking money from white people that felt guilty and like they wanted to do something and channel their money to buy food for Black people, and, it ended up being a lot of work for RaFiA to go through that process. I think it was an amazing example of also how you can think about Mutual Aid, or funding processes happening digitally in a way that maybe might not be possible outside of that.

But the other thing I would say about reparations is that I think a critique of – not a critique of it, but a critique of what a true reparations would look like, a lot of people would say it requires the nation recognising this generational trauma, and thinking about how to implement something systemic or procedural that is a practice of repairing, so that it is not just about guilty white people giving money, (which I think is also amazing) but I think I guess that is sort of what reparations would be in the technical sense. But then I’m like: is that actually possible? This system has no real need or desire to ever sort seek repair, you know? I think that’s why it’s been so easy for people with that power to ignore the idea of reparations, the concept, and not even address it, or have a willingness to study it. I think that leads again to this conversation around abolition, because I do think abolition is about recognising that its sort of an irreconcilable thing, because to even like imagine what repair looks like, it might mean like… not even trying to fix this thing, but like: What do we need? What are we going to do for ourselves outside of that?

 

Legacy:

Right! Definitely. Juliana, and Danielle, do you have any thoughts?

 

Juliana:

 I was similarly thinking about this, because the language of reparations has been used a lot recently, and in response to these sort of crowd-sourcing campaigns, supporting people’s need for housing, or supporting people’s needs for childcare, for surgeries, or for any of the various things that people have been asking for through these processing campaigns. And so it’s been described in a certain way as reparations – at least insofar as it places a request –  if it is from the perspective of Black people asking for the money, the request being sent out to white people, and that white people sort of feeling that they should give that, being a form of reparations. I think that’s interesting, because it raised the question for me, which was sort of what American was just saying, in the sense that historically, there’s like the idea of the “40 acres and a mule”, which would look to the sort of, arguably the state – as some sort of consolidated actor that would then give people, the state as the consolidation of economic and political resources, at least insofar as it can regulate those things, and has historically, especially through the articulation of laws, and legislation, and things like that – being the means of justifying, even if it wasn’t the sole actor. So that was interesting for me, because – I guess in certain forms it is – it almost doesn’t feel like these kinds of crowd-sourced micro transactions are actually reparation in the sense that, 1) you have to ask for it. I don’t think you should have to ask. I don’t think it should be about individuals having to show a hypothetical need, and then that need be met via the voluntarily ‘giving forth’ process. I think the difference between reparations and what that is, is especially on the part of people giving it is perception, being perceived as charity would be important, and although I think it’s really important, and in a lot of ways, a radical way of providing support for people’s needs. But most of the time, at least in a lot of the instances I’m seeing, it’s other people that are in similarly marginal or precarious positions that are giving the money. Maybe it might be, could be partially argued that there is some sort of reparations built in? But…

 

Legacy:

Juliana, I actually absolutely hear you on that, and I wonder if Danielle might be able to expand on that further, thinking about this notion of, as well the digital space, recognising the different projects that take different forms. You know, we’ve seen projects thinking about this question of, for example, bail bonds, and how that has been crowdsourced for, in this period of time, asking questions about ways that our digital space can be used to generate a different type of conversation about economies, right? Maybe offset those things in a way that can be strategic and towards abolitionist means.

Danielle, can you maybe speak a little bit about your practice and how some of those threads come together?

 

Danielle:

Yes, I wanted to agree with what Juliana was saying, in terms of these reparations and the things she said about them. I don’t feel like those are reparations at all, because those people have to want to care, they have to want to care about someone in order to give someone what they actually need to be living. And for me, reparations would be as easy as searching a thing in Google, would be the searching, generating results, generating all these things that you can’t take us out of.

[Audio glitch, unintelligible]

Usually, we are having to find ourselves, find ourselves online, find ourselves in galleries, find ourselves within library books, or look to history, and trying to look for some sort of representation. Actually, I want it to be quite the opposite, where they find it almost impossible to forget us, and that we’re so much at the centre, that, without us, the puzzle does not fit at all. And this digital space which I really feel that we don’t have, like I don’t feel like we have currently have digital representation, because when I think about a Black space online, I think of how later on it will be seen as a risk. [Audio glitch, unintelligible]

 An example would be that a load of content, got blocked because they were spy bots. I feel there’s an erasure written in the code, the code of this online technology that we all have to use, and how can we use, how can you even use something that implicitly has erasure in it, and erases Blackness, within websites or within these online spaces.

 

Legacy:

I think it brings up a great question, this idea of kind of how we encode certain things. I know that, of course, Professor and Sociologist Ruha Benjamin has spoken a lot about what she has noted as “The New Jim Crow”, which is kind of this notion of a history of automation, the invention of the internet, and where those things intersect, but also of course, it brings into light exactly as you were saying, Danielle, and Juliana, and American, these ideas about reparations, but also where that ties to – not only to the economy of it, but the economy of images, really, right?

The tensions across a recognition, a visibility, a representation when we’re engaged with our screens is complex, and part of the challenge there, and as well the violence that we have to face as Black people, and as queer people, is thinking very critically that visibility times representation does not always drive recognition within these machines. So, I’m wondering, as we’re kind of thinking about: What a healing might be, within a cyberspace, to perhaps pivot to each of you to reflect a little bit.

I know, Juliana, you’ve been as a through-line in your work, very committed to the speculative imaginary as a tool towards world-building, and this of course ranges from your engagement in furry culture in what you have called the “fursona” in your work as a way of challenging constructs of identity, to your writing in an incredible science fiction narrative called ‘Life’ with artist Hannah Black.

As we consider abolition as a theme and bring some folks like Samuel Delaney, and Octavia Butler, and even maybe Donna Haraway in her very complicated and at times problematic “Companion Species” argument in where she argues that animals are the signifiers of otherness and that they are the “fleshly material semiotic presences in the body of techno-science”. What are some of the tools that science fiction brings to us in helping us imagine maybe a different future towards the kind of healing, or a kind of restoration towards abolitionist means?

 

Juliana:

Well, I think that what science fiction has really enabled for me as a possibility to think through, and also, deploy in my work, is respond to what I often see as a kind of willingness to only go so far in terms of how we abolish the regulatory structures of identity. And so, I think that, oftentimes, people that are experiencing the most harms are at intersections that are the most sort of overwrought with social and economic and political pressure, and structure, and with the draining of life energy that comes with that, there is an instinct to want to say, “I will only go so far as eradicating these systems to the degree that I can find myself in a place of liberation – as either an individual, or as like what I see as a collective body that I’m a part of or speaking from the position of.” So, I think that a lot of times, specifically with thinking about gender activism, gender abolition, and the abolition of racism, and white supremacy, there’s always this urge, specifically when it comes to other species to say, “Well, I don’t want to compare” – because we’ve historically been compared to animals – almost to push back against the questions of animal liberation because to do so would be to almost go too far or be too exhausting. Because “we’ve already done too much”, or “as trans people we’ve already had to deal with so many questions, so why are we going to deal with the inter-species question?” So, there’s only a limit to how much we can engage the questions of regulation, and kind of oppression of different forms of difference, so, what science fiction has enabled and engendered – as a form of literature, but also as an extended form of cultural production – is to imagine that a difference could be so extreme as to conceal a radical form of complexity. Something like Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, like to be in a situation on a planet where people exist in such a sex and gendered way that’s so radically different; that the assumption is not of difference as an opportunity to reify a form of supremacy, but difference as an opportunity to suspend almost like in awe, the possibility that difference and complexity are maybe more likely to be bedfellows, than difference as some sort of lower position on the pole of intelligence, or sentience, or something like that.

On the other hand, it also provides the opportunity to think about a kind of kinship, kinship between different creatures, like bridging difference, but not bridging difference with a purpose of synthesis, or dominion. And this is something that I see a lot of times in the work of Octavia Butler, a relationship between different species, one that is arguably more technologically advanced in certain ways, and how do we bridge and get past a difference of questions like which one is more or less sentient? Or more or less morally or ethically adept? Or something like that. It’s informed my work, because the inter-species question for me – at least at this point, in my thought processes and in my art-making – is the next kind of frontier to look to, because I think if we place the most vulnerable, and centre the most vulnerable, it will lead to the eradication of all of us. So, thinking about the kind of relationship that we have, to other species as something akin to that, and so by focusing on the kind of question of inter-species dynamics, and also, for me, the trans-species dynamics as the flip side to the two dynamics I was saying that science fiction highlights, those are two modalities that have been interesting for me to think and work through. Specifically in digital spaces, the possibility for avatars, and identifications through avatars and gender as a mode of being.

 

Legacy: So, I think in terms of recognising the kind of shift here, thinking about this question of the avatar. We’re just going to pivot to asking a question of American, which is this question about American Artist, the kind of project of becoming an avatar, because I think that Juliana has brought out this question of what an avatar can do in terms of kinship across species, asking questions about a kind of presence, and how those things can operate differently, but also as well maybe wondering about the idea of what it is to kind of create new presence, and new definitions by quite literally gaming the system, which is playing with FCO, which is what you’ve done, in this kind of lifelong project, as you continue to expand it. As American Artist, that means when you search “American Artist” it brings you up but also as well alongside these kinds of other problematics, which is this visual representation of what an American artist is, which often is a white, cisgendered individual, and often male, so can you talk a little bit about what those tensions have been, and how that has pushed further your exploration of a visibility as an avatar?

 

American:

Yeah, that’s a lovely question. I would also love to respond to some of the sci-fi issues as well. But in response to this question, I do think of that action of the name change as like a hacking or taking in the system. Of finding a way to use it to then negate the identity, and in a place where it’s meant to serve as this point of entry, or access, or identification, it actually sort of like conceals itself, it becomes anonymous, it sort of like dissolves in moments. And, at the same time, it can be hyper specific, like, if I’m interacting with someone in person it’s a very unique name, they might not forget my name, but versus when you operate it digitally, when you go to search it, and nothing can be found. I think of that in relationship to abolition, in terms of like: How can you take the rules that you’re meant to sort of like submit yourself to, and take them to such an extreme place, that they themselves dissolve? And that, in relation to hacking, along the lines of what Ruha Benjamin’s talking about, but also, just in terms of what can be done in terms of abolition, through a radical intervention of technology or software or systems et cetera.

 

Legacy:

Absolutely! Danielle, in terms of your work, you note that you aim to dig out unarchived trans Black ancestors and preserve them for the future, thinking about your Black trans Archive, you’ve noted that this interactive archive was made to store and centre Black trans people, to preserve their experiences, and thoughts, and feelings, and lives to remember us even when we’re at risk of being erased. And you remind us, even when we are playing this game, that we are here because of those that are not. It is very much so something that operates as a kind of contract between those who are the users of this game, this video game that you create, and you, as the creator of it. But, still, in a moment where Black and trans life feels increasingly gamified, via the hermetic nature of the digital, what does it mean for you to politically deploy video games as a strategic tool to allow for Black trans experience to be given a memory, a history, and a life differently?

 

Danielle: 1:03

Yeah, I think for me it really starts from the point of view of the Black trans community and the lack of us being archived, and knowing that, if I use the same structures that the archive currently uses, then we will be lost. So, thinking about how I could archive, as well as what an archive would mean if it was made from the bottom up, with the trans perspective in mind.

Something that a lot of people don’t actually know, and I usually don’t spout about too much is that a lot of the Earth, the images, are actually textured with images of hair, shops, images of things that are from Black people’s bodies, and so that forms like a foundational element of the archive. Not that it necessarily needs to be said, but it needs to be there, so that the 3D space that these avatars stand on can actually support the weight of their existence. I often always hark back to this idea of ‘shore of buried history’, as there is history that holds all of our history that has been forgotten. So it is an unlimited resource of imagination, because we once had a place in society – I truly believe that Black trans people had a place within society – and we have lost what that place is. And in order to find that, you’re going to have to imagine how situations could be, and how we were deeply ingrained in society that we could not have been forgotten.

Yes, this use of game, it’s really strange, because, I think I used to get so frustrated in playing these games, and not seeing us, not seeing any of us, not seeing anything at all, and only having a very small collaboration with a set number of features to be representational of us. And I thought: This is the end, this has to stop! And in order for us to exist in spaces, exist within game spaces, a space that when you put a Black character in the game, it’s, “We don’t like politics in our games,” when you have a trans, they say, “We’re going to boycott that game”, with like The Last of Us II, and put a female character in, they say, “This is not representational of [audio glitch, unintelligible]”. So going into that space and saying “I do not care about your opinions, any of your problems”, saying “It’s made for Black trans people, your point of view is irrelevant, because it’s not made to encompass you, it’s to encompass us”. And I really feel like – I feel like I’m completely losing the track of what I’m saying! I just keep going back to…the Earth, the foundation that everything has to go back to, a single point of who is supporting you. And even when you’re building within 3D – the project needs to be centring those who you want to sit on top.

 

Legacy:

Absolutely. I think recognising this question of representation, and as well of visibility, I do, want to pivot to talk a little bit about digital skins, and recognise the machines that we use. They are very much prosthetics, and they are gendered prosthetics, they are racialised prosthetics, they are extensions of the society that we live in, and the supremacies therein and the supremacies of their creators, engineers, and programmers. In American Artist’s essay Black Gooey Universe (2018), they write about Lisa, which was the first commercial computer to include a GUI: Graphical User Interface. He writes: “Before this, computer monitors appeared black, and native to screens at the time, upon which lines of code were input in green or white characters. Between the Xerox Alto and Apple Lisa, the negative space of the screen began to appear white, replacing the black command line interface used on computers prior to that. The Apple Lisa outsold the black screen Apple II of 1977 offering buyers the ability to point and click on folders and windows in white space reminiscent of blank paper sheets”.

For me, this feels really important because it acknowledges that the machines that we use absolutely have built within them deep bias, and as well, that they are often built to kind of reflect certain skins or binaries. So, I want to kind of push further this notion of a decolonised machine and ask a bit about this idea of defunding it, which is also something that feels really inextricably intertwined in discussions of abolition.

The proposition of defunding the police does challenge us to think through these prosthetics, these technologies, the supremacies of them, how they’re built, funded and deployed. It does feels like a demilitarised police state should in theory have a direct impact on what technologies exist and how those technologies are used towards what means. I’m wondering if, each of you could maybe think a bit about proposing new logics that more effectively and humanely, address, uphold, and centre Black and queer life?

Juliana, do you have any thoughts on this?

 

Juliana:

I think, for me, I’m still actually working through that, because I’ve actually been having a lot of conversations recently about the question of defunding, because I think that, generally, the kind of cultural, the immediate kind of demand for abolition is an interesting shift from what was happening before – even the way that demands like Black Lives Matter had been placing initially – in the way that was being articulated before has shifted to centring abolition as the goal. And I’ve had a lot of people say to me – because I’ve been an advocate of defunding the police, and what I like about it is that it’s a very specific way of achieving the material goal of abolition, in the sense that, if you defund the police, that is essentially the same thing as abolishing the police, because, in this system that we’re in, it is only through the distribution of financial capital that things are really – especially the police – able to sustain themselves. And so, I think that that shift is really kind of starting to change the way that I have begun to think about these questions, but I don’t necessarily know how that plays out in terms of how that plays out digitally. I actually don’t know yet. I’m still in the process of thinking through that. Because the work I’ve been doing lately is to try to understand the historical precedent for the existence of the police in the first place, why they would then be abolished, and what abolition means in this context, so I don’t think I’m in a position to necessarily say.

 

Legacy:

Juliana, you’re hitting it on the head, because, actually, it is a very confusing and often complicated ball of yarn that we’re trying to untangle, and it’s one that of course, we can imagine different futures through. With kind of creative practice, and creative technologies, but also as well recognise that it is, you know... that there is no single solution, right? I think that aspects of this are often better read rhizomatically, even though the complex nuance may make it kind of difficult for us to consider what single solutions can be enacted in the most immediate sense.

I’m going to be pulling a little bit from some of our questions in the chat, but I just wanted to pivot to American, because, thinking about predictive policing - which I know is something you have done wonderful work on. I do feel that specifically is something that when we consider what technologies can kind of be abolished, part of that consideration should be thinking very sensitively too about the fact that with technologies, as we survey ourselves, we are also at points being surveyed, and that that has a very complex history that intersects with all that we are discussing today, so perhaps maybe can you share some thoughts about that?

 

American: Yeah, it’s interesting, specifically about predictive policing. The sort of irony is that, a lot of smaller police departments sort of insist on automation because they feel like they don’t have the resources to properly police, and so they actually adopt these really not good working softwares that are extremely violent and encode all of these biases as a way to deal with that. And, so for that reason, the idea that the police’s response to having less resources is to do something that is immediately more harmful, I think also speaks to why I think many people want the police to be abolished. And I also wanted to say – I think it is also worth thinking about – not like what would be the ideal way for the police to be – to use automation, or digitality – but to think about what is the power of digitisation within the hands of people.

I’m not really interested in seeing what the police can do with computers, or with automated decision systems, but I am interested in a small community. How might people use a network to create forms of mutual care? Or think about forms of accountability? How? Because there is also a huge lack of awareness around digital literacy, and that’s not the fault of anyone. I think, also, there is a moment where it seemed like digital systems were more open and more things were possible, and it’s very quickly becoming this very narrow thing that we’re sort of told how it should operate, and I think in an ideal case, people would have the knowledge and access to be able to use technology, and build technologies that serve their immediate needs, and to think about it in a more decentralised way.

 

Legacy: Thank you. Danielle, to pull a question from the chat, as people are kind of expanding further this notion of non-conforming genders, but also as well trans culture, and trans identity, and thinking of this idea specifically of gaming, and gaming as a glitch in and of itself. Is there a reason why you use gaming versus another mode of expression as your primary channel of creative expression? What does gaming specifically do for you that allows for aspects of these different politics, but, also, histories to be unpacked?

 

Danielle:

Yeah, I feel that one aspect of gaming, is that the gaming community is very much against including Black trans people, or trans people as a whole. As I mentioned a bit before, they have a saying called “no politics in our games”. They assume, having a white man on screen is not politics, if they have a conversation around Black lives, they will do it with white-only characters.

And so, I kind of wanted to invade that space, and say, actually, no, it deserves to have Black trans people in it, and the tools that you use to move, to navigate a 3D environment are exactly the same tools that a Black trans person would be using. A big reason, I mention again from before, is that you can’t see an archive as neutral. It’s implicitly holding bias, by who is filling up the archive, or who is donating money towards them.

Using a video game as an archive, of trying to find something, a format that can fit the change in personal experience, and how a choice, you need to make choices within this archive, determines what you can see. I have constantly said in the making of these, “Please do not create trauma, I do not want to recreate trauma. I do not want to have the moment of trauma be a thing that is continually viewed”. How we deal with trauma, how we move through trauma, and how we deal on the inside with this trauma is the thing that is archived, or, often, larger moments, thoughts and processes.

One of my aims is to allows you to imbue a character with a kind of an idea of a soul – and this is the complete fantasy but – kind of like scanning through, and bringing those that are gone, back, and bringing them back, and trying to imbue a character with features of Blackness, and actually trying finding their soul, and placing them within a system in a way that allows us to interact with them.

 

Legacy:

That’s fantastic, Danielle! I think that it leads us to our next question, which comes from the chat, about material technologies. Recognising that, as Audre Lorde legendarily said, “The master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house”, but maybe they can, right? And so, I think there is something there. The tension that’s maybe provocative, but also, as well, it’s meaningful to meditate on here and now with the three of you, thinking about the idea that, these materials that are technologies are produced through these kinds of extractive practices. As you know, the question builds on colonial relations often, and ones that are quite complicated in terms of their economy. And so how do we reconcile that? What does that look like or feel like? Is it useful for us to be making use of the same tools that have actually been enacted through these histories that we are trying to refuse?

 

Danielle:

Who is that to?

 

Legacy:

To whoever? Juliana, American, Danielle, do you guys have thoughts on that?

It’s a complicated question, and I think it’s one that is an enriched one, but I think it’s one that we navigate often when we are online and thinking about ways where we make ourselves visible or not, as Black and Queer people.

 

Danielle:

Sorry, yes, I think it’s a really strange one, because these online tools allow for such better scope. Usually in this physical life, there are so many barriers and requirements for people like us, we have hoops to jump through, that it is much harder than a digital space, but then behind these digital spaces is code written not by us, and not for us, and none of it is in the language that we understand.

I had a dream the other day of wishing that there actually was a Black tech firm that invented a JavaScript, and what it would even look like, and how the code could present us, its actual lines, and maybe how the sayings, how we tut, how we say things could actually be within the code itself, and what it would mean? To look at the code of a website and see yourself reflected in those surfaces! Because I personally believe that my computer sitting in front of me is trying to erase me, or not recognise me. When I turn on the light, it looks at my face, and it says I don’t know who you are. Those are intrinsic design problems that technologies have, and it’s saying, okay, we use you in order to invent our apps, in order to get the experience you want, but, at the same time, at the flick of a button, you can just be gone. You can be locked out. You can be hacked in numerous ways and told that you don’t deserve to be on here.

So, having a platform essentially that allows for so much scope, allows for a “one-day media-erasing” of you, and I think something that American Artist said that really resonated with me – because I’ve been researching MUDs, Multi User Dungeons, and the early onset of MMO games, and what they use to communicate with each other - is moving towards a kind of Black future of technology that can be maintained by us, to make sure that it does support us, and the systems that run on it can encompass what we need.

 

Legacy:

 I love that, and I think that that brings us to our next and maybe last question, as we are kind of reaching our time limit, is asking this question, exactly as you have kind of proposed, Danielle, About what works needs to be done to decolonise these spaces? It’s about asking who is building them, and imagining maybe a different narrative, or a genesis point for what it could look like, if those Black futures, Queer futures, trans futures, are being built for, and by, us, and that in itself being a radical act; of refusal and abolition. But also, maybe as we’re thinking through the points touched on today: asking for our demands.

I think part of the exercise of a kind of liberation, and as well of an emancipation of a kind of strategic and collective congregation and engagement, is thinking through demands, which often are as abstract, or as fixed as we like to imagine them. They are haunted by our ancestors in all the best ways, but we hold space for them because they feel useful to kind of hold us true and provide clarity to our goals as we exist in the world, and work to build a different type of future. I’m wondering if maybe we can end there, by naming some of those demands, considering maybe what shape they might take.

Juliana?

 

Juliana:

I think, for me, the demand for literacy is really – that the demand for literacy and transparency in terms of how, and in what way technology is being produced, and the structures that mediate that technology itself, which is why I love the idea of something like open source – it’s such a radical concept to me. I wish that that was built into the nature of all the kind of technology and digital platforms, especially as we move into the kind of platform era, I wish that that was more of a part of that. I also think that the demand for an archive, because, for me, and this is a question that I’ve dealt with explicitly in my work, was the sort of gilded promises of the early net.

Thinking about the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, as someone with both parents in one form or another techies, always have the newest technology, always have the newest gadgets, and computers –  both of my parents worked in some capacity in engineering – it was really sad to see the kind of GeoCities, AngelFire, things on the early net which was really presented as if it was a new information age – like an alternative to the overwrought and over-mediated history of printing technology, of academic institutions, of archives in that way – new work, new knowledge formation, new knowledge archives could be formed online. But the lack of an archive really kind of showed itself when, as technology, and as the digital space moved on, as things were consolidated, it became an oligarchy of information, you really lost a lot.

I think that the people who suffered most from that loss were the ones that stood the most to benefit from the idea of an alternative to the problematic history of knowledge and the maintenance of knowledge and sequencing and hierarchy of knowledge that we were unfairly dealt historically. So, I think literacy, transparency and archive would be the demands that I would place.

 

Legacy:

Ooh, that’s powerful, and I also love this idea you’re putting forward, this notion of a maintenance, because that is something that I think is useful to centre here. Enacting the labour and making visible the labour of doing the work of creating these archive spaces, and making these histories known – which is work – which takes time, care and commitment, as each of you have done so sensitively with the archives and work that you are bringing to the fore. American or Danielle?

 

American:

Yeah, I had a thought while Juliana was speaking, I’m not sure if I can totally explain what I was thinking. But thinking around equity, and within technology. I don’t necessarily think the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house, but at the same time I feel like we are kind of stuck and integrated into these systems, so what can we do then? And how can we be different?

I think the sort of concentration of wealth and power within technology is as representative as it is anywhere else, and I think, like, the issue you have with a lot of these computer technologies, is the ones that people interface with the most. Like, within social systems, like trying to apply for benefits, things like that, those are usually the most terribly working softwares, or thinking about the softwares that determine how long people are going to go to jail, or whether they’re going to be a repeat offender, or things like that. These are technologies that are built out of necessity but built poorly, meanwhile, you have all these white tech bros in Silicon Valley who have all this wealth and resources developing technologies that are, I guess, violent in a different way.

To put it simply, a demand might be: How do you balance the intention that’s placed into how the system is developed, across the board, so that a system that is being accessed by many people for something necessary to live, could accommodate more, and not be a terrible and violent experience. So, I don’t know, that’s my vague demand for now.

 

Legacy:

Demands can be vague. That’s the thing that is great and necessary about this moment too, right? I think sometimes people get maybe frustrated by the poetics of demands, recognising that perhaps they are certain strategies of opacity that allow us to perhaps protect different forms of our imaginary. I think that it is useful to recognise, celebrate and make space for a certain poetic within a demand, and allowing that to kind of hold space in and of itself because it lends to a different vision of what the world can be. Any final demands, Danielle?

 

Danielle:

I guess my demands will kind of come from the root of accessibility, and having a more open and accessible way of facing and understanding technology and that it’s part of you, it’s becoming a part of you whereas the magic behind it less and less so.

For me, the access to that magic, where jobs are growing and where artists are being less and less, that would be like a huge part, as well as like, American said, with these websites that are so necessary for people’s living and survival, being the absolute worse, and often closing down when there are too many people on them, or not too many people. Having the know-how and the understanding of how those are coded, alternatives can be made to replace them is something that is really important, because often we have the legwork to do things outside but we don’t have the legwork means online, and we see instances, within like Facebook groups, within self-made groups, but not enough room has been made – which is a weird way to say it – but not enough room has been made to step into this realm.

 

Legacy:

Absolutely! I’m noting that, we are at the end of our time together, which has been such a joy and honour, here with American Artist, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, and Juliana Huxtable, and noting that the question of abolitionist technologies and aesthetics is complex. We’ve only begun to kind of scratch the surface. We could sit here for many hours more and maybe still not reach the bottom of it.

My hope is that, as we are concluding today, and we are thinking through what next steps are as we build our own futures collectively and independently, that we are taking all of these moments, thoughts, opacities, questions of representation, questions of visibility, and access, and care – socially, culturally, and otherwise – to the world at large. That we are continuing in these conversations beyond our immediate screens here and now. As well, encourage you to spend some time with each of our esteemed panellists in spending time with their works as they exist on the internet and beyond, in this most exciting moment that demands the presence of their work, and is expanded by the presence of this work most certainly.

So, thank you all very much, and, of course, thank you to Che Gosset, Lola Olufemi, and Sarah Shin, and as well Arika and Silver Press for bringing us all together. Please keep the conversation going and do follow along on the internet. We’ll see you all soon. Thank you!

Transcript Editor: Faridat Abdulsalami, August 2020


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