hacked / (body hacks mind)? —Fred Moten and Wu Tsang
This piece offers a survey of works living at the nexus of queerness, the body, and technology, loosely grouped based on shared strategies for remaking and resisting.
Dreamscapes and the Transreal
My virtual performance arenas are queer places where the viewer is challenged to adapt to the spirit of my ideas. That’s how I act as a performer. I disrupt logic. —Jacolby Satterwhite
In her book The Transreal: Political Aesthetics of Crossing Realities, artist and theorist Micha Cárdenas describes bodies as distributed: not ending at skin, but dispersed electronically. Cárdenas describes a “transreal” identity in relation to media scholar Henry Jenkins’ “transmedia” model of communication. In both cases, the prefix trans implies an existence that goes beyond merely crossing boundaries; rather, it suggests a dispersed immersion in multiple technologically enhanced worlds at once. To become transreal, then, is to live in simultaneous realities. The following works unhinge those realities.
Porpentine Charity Heartscape and Neotenomie, Probiotic River Therapy, 2016
Probiotic River Therapy synthesizes 3D gaming, interactive fiction, and poetry to create a powerful liminal space: looping, yet expansive. Candy-colored text situates the reader in a string of dreamy vignettes tracing what might be a violent exit from a body—one that feels long awaited and sublime. My face is scattered across the table. I hope I never return to my body.
Jacolby Satterwhite, Reifying Desire, 2014
Satterwhite’s six-part video series incorporates video of his own body, animated figures, and hundreds of his mother’s drawings (his mother, struggling with schizophrenia, drew thousands of inventions in response to late-night infomercials). Satterwhite describes his interdisciplinary practice as an exquisite corpse of performance, drawing, and digital media. He creates a utopian space in which utilitarian objects can be queered and stages a nonpolitical world for his performance that’s rhythmic, elastic, and dazzling.
Micha Cárdenas, Becoming Dragon, 2008
Cárdenas responds to the 365-day ‘Real Life Experience’ (RLE) requirement that transgender people must complete in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery with a query: should there also be a requirement for 365 days of 'Second Life Experience' to undergo Species Reassignment Surgery? To explore this question, Cárdenas staged a 365-hour mixed reality performance, immersing herself in the virtual 3D environment of Second Life for its entire duration. Cárdenas hoped to explore the unique overlap of virtual worlds and biotechnology, referring to both as “technologies of transformation” that resonate through embodied, social, psychological, and sexual experiences.
Queer and Feminist Computation
If the languages are finite, then so, unfortunately, are the life possibilities. —Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker
Media scholar Wendy Chun writes, “programming became programming and software became software when command shifted from commanding a ‘girl’ to commanding a machine.” In the earliest days of programming, Chun explains, women themselves were the computers, and the work was seen as rote, clerical, and unskilled. The invention of software, echoes Gerald Stephen Jackson, spurred an epistemological collapse of programming and problem solving, newly heralding the idea of the individual male genius computer programmer. These projects refuse the embedded masculinity in code at linguistic, structural, and historical levels.
Zach Blas, Queer Technologies, 2007 - 2012
Queer Technologies is a line of products designed by Zach Blas that interrogate the entanglement of heteronormativity, militarization, and capitalism in code, software, and broader technological infrastructures. Blas covertly dropped products like Gay Bombs and ENgenderingGenderChangers in consumer electronic stores and created gallery installations of “Disengenuous bars,” a sardonic version of the Apple Genius bar. transCoder, a queer programming anti-language informed by Lev Manovich’s idea of transcoding as a principle of new media, is a language with no functional implementation. It therefore resists mastery—one of Jack Halberstam’s theses of failure and subversive intellectualism.
Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, Notes for a Liberated Computer Language, 2006
In Notes for a Liberated Computer Language, Galloway and Thacker call for a computer language more akin to the human condition: one that can articulate desire and is politically aware. The result is an index of data types, operators, control structures, and functions that “[shun] typical machinic mandates in favor of an ethos of creative destruction.” Data types—Creature, Zombie, Doubt, Flaw—are ghostly and animate, and memory is not without pain: functions can exorcise, fail, repress, lose, and self-destruct.
I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the State will award me if I behave in the right way. I don’t want any of it. I am a copyleft biopolitical agent that considers sex hormones free and open biocodes, whose use shouldn’t be regulated by the State commandeered by pharmaceutical companies. —Beatriz Preciado
These artist/activist/scientists, informed by maker culture, combat the pathologization of gender by responding directly (and pragmatically) to histories of non-consensual experimentation and the forced collection of biological material from women of color, queers, the colonized, and the poor.
Ryan Hammond, Open Source Gendercodes, Ongoing
Open Source Gendercodes (OSG) is an initiative to develop an open source platform for the production of growth hormones. In their talk at the Beyond Binaries Symposium in January of this year, Hammond described hormones as hyperobjects (a term borrowed from Timothy Morton), forming a “socio-political-material web of becomings massively distributed through time and space.” Hammond’s goal for OSG is one of function: to develop a transgenic plant that would actually and legally allow queer, trans, and gender-hacking individuals to grow their own sex hormones outside of the current pharmaceutical system.
A European collective of self-proclaimed cyborg witches, GynePunk combines feminist sensibility with a DIY hacker mentality to dismantle traditional patient-practitioner roles and develop low-tech, peer-to-peer gynecological healthcare. Acting against exploitative practices plaguing the history of gynecology, GynePunk seeks to develop a toolkit for emergency gynecological healthcare. These toolkits, including a 3D-printed speculum and DIY urinalysis tools, are intended for use by immigrants, refugees, queer people, sex workers, and other communities with limited safe access to healthcare.
Mary Maggic, Genital*Panic, 2018
Mary Maggic, also a collaborator of Ryan Hammond, is developing an Alien Genital Database to work towards dismantling State-enforced regulations that pathologize genital norms and assess reproductive toxicity. Maggic’s Genital*Panic aims to create an open, anonymous index of genital variance, creating space “for the aliens among us.”
Queer Time, Hypertext, and New Narrative Forms
So what do more human forms of digital play look like?….They look like games that are short, small, and generous with the player’s time, that don’t want to consume the player, but that invite them into playful engagement. And they look like games that are positive escapes rather than negative ones, experiences that help us to imagine better worlds rather than simply providing temporary reprieve from the one we live in. —merritt k
Queerness is often theorized as a position of being “outside” of—both a stepping out of normative time and space and a falling into the outer margins of history. Sometimes these arenas are inhabited collectively, though not essentially; it’s what José Esteban Muñoz would describe as belonging-in-difference. Hypertext and interactivity spawn new chronologies, new forms of reader agency, and new representations of sociality and memory in temporal/spatial outsides.
Anna Anthropy, Queers in Love at the End of the World, 2013
Anthropy describes her own work best: “It’s a game about the transformative, transcendent power of queer love, and is dedicated to every queer I’ve ever loved, no matter how briefly, or for how long.” Each second of Anna Anthropy’s 10-second game is imbued with passion. While haunted by an Edelmanian echo of no future—that to be queer in a society driven by reproductive futurism is to have just that, no future—Queers in Love at the End of the World presents an inevitable end, to be sure, but also an end that can be constantly re-lived, and an end that can never be lonely.
Videogames for Humans: Twine Authors in Conversation, edited by merritt k, 2015
Twine, an open source tool for creating interactive branching narratives, has been widely adopted among marginalized game designers and writers. In this 600-page volume, Twine authors are asked to narrate their own play-along of Twine games written by other authors. These games are about the “messy lives on the economic and social margins of society, about the complexities of embodiment and community, about our grotesque cyberpunk dreams and gay pulp fantasies.” The result is the deconstruction of interactive games into their purely textual form, mediated by the candor of a player’s real-time internal monologue. The structure of each play-along presents a simultaneity of past, present, and future. The reader of Videogames for Humans is always met with one story—the Twine game—interwoven with another story: the emotional and analytical response of the player.
Fred Moten and Wu Tsang, Who Touched Me? Miss Communication and Mr. Re, 2016
Moten and Tsang’s Who Touched Me? is a study in communicative ruptures. The print publication documents the development of their collaborative performance Gravitational Feel, described to embody the yet-to-be-realized work in its “virtual state.” Notes, poetry, and fragments of earlier collaborative work are framed by transcribed voicemails untethered from their original speaker. It follows Tsang and Moten’s correspondence chronologically, but their voices meld together with both each other’s and those of outsiders. Words and phrases repeat and resurface, sometimes in the form of a list, as though it were a conversational index. In the words of Moten and Tsang, “the research/experiment is how to sense entanglement.”
The plagiarist (even of the technocratic class) is kept in a deeply marginal position, regardless of the inventive and efficient uses h/is methodology may have for the current state of technology and knowledge. —Critical Art Ensemble
In The Electronic Disturbance, Critical Art Ensemble makes a strong case for the virtues of plagiarism by deeming it not only acceptable, but crucial for techno-cultural production. They write, “This is the age of the recombinant: recombinant bodies, recombinant gender, recombinant texts, recombinant culture.”
Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, 2018
Is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the internet? This is the challenge posed by Contra-Internet, a conceptual mash-up of Beatriz Preciado’s Manifesto Contrasexual, feminist economists J. K. Gibson-Graham’s The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), and the writings of Fredric Jameson. Kneading his recombinant framework of contra-internet, Blas has created a queer science fiction film Jubilee 2033 (after the 1978 queer punk film Jubilee) as well as a video series of “inversion practices.” Inversion Practice #1: Constituting an Outside (Utopian Plagiarism) consists of a screen recording of Blas sifting through PDFs of Preciado, Gibson-Graham, and Jameson and extracting phrases word for word. In a separate document, Blas dumps his plagiarized content but replaces every occurrence of the words “contrasexual,” “capitalism,” and “economy” with “contrainternet,” “internet,” and “network.” It is through transparent, purposeful cutting-and-pasting that Blas has cultivated a rich and malleable theoretical foundation on which to build alternative futures.
At their core, these strategies aren’t new. They don’t have to be visible and far-reaching. They’re about being resourceful, critical, compassionate; being fed up and unabashed, staying in touch, staying alive, and not accepting any existing narrative for yourself. So long as technology expands, the ones at the margins will turn it on its head. They’ll just have all the more tools to do so.