Roxanne introduces the “conversations” format which combined methods of artistic research and instigated the transdisciplinary research undergirding the publication of Revisualising Intersectionality. Although each conversation was dedicated to one concept, namely trans*, sameness, perception, and intimacy, in the chapter, Roxanne explains how they are all positioned as epistemologies that challenge binaries (e.g., queer theory) and categorisation (e.g., critical race theory). Via readings of Doireann O’Malley’s film Prototypes and Stephanie Comilang’s sci-fi documentary Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise), Roxanne draws attention to how visuality influences the presentation of bodies across structural and societal paradigms and how our external experience is based on visual sense-making.
- Artistic Research
Revisualising Intersectionality emerges from a joint interest in probing artistic research methodologies and theoretical approaches that rupture binaries whilst employing the concept of intersectionality via the visual sphere. In preparation for the publication, the three authors of the book debated how the visual can dissolve certain categories and help us think across disciplines. With the overall aim to confront the constraints of categories, we sought to interpolate the visual through explorative modes of critique. That is why we explored both the collaborative and conversational forms of critique as inspired by artistic research methodologies introduced in Artistic Research—Theories, Methods and Practices (2005) by Mika Hannula, Juha Suoranta, and Tere Vadén. The authors propose that artistic research needs to integrate different forms of thought and expression which aid in developing new and dynamic outcomes. In order to achieve such research outcomes that open space for critical engagement, Hannula, Suoranta, and Vadén suggest that researchers develop their own research method (2014: 68). Additionally, Hannula et al. “present five approaches that can be of use when developing new methodological tools for artistic research” which are, “conversation and dialogue, analysis of media objects, collaborative case studies, ethnography and interventions, and design-based research” (2014: 68). Two approaches we wanted to implement were “conversation and dialogue” and “collaborative case studies” (Hannula et al. 2014: 68). The first is a method that takes dialectics into account, both in writing and speaking, where new “languages of critique and hope” arrive through “conversation and dialogue” (Hannula et al. 2014: 71). The second, “collaborative case studies”, is an approach that insists on research developed among a group of researchers and artists alike which is exhibited in participatory activities and knowledge sharing (Hannula et al. 2014: 89). Following this lead, we instigated a series of events called “conversations” that took place in Berlin in the second half of 2019 and brought into dialogue artistic practice and critical texts to open a space for discussion among scholars, researchers, artists, and other participants on how intersectionality is imagined visually and how visual imaginaries can help understand intersectional forms of social stratification. In this way, we investigated how visuality influences the presentation of bodies across structural and societal paradigms and how we shape our external experience based on our visual sense-making.
By critically engaging with the visual sphere alongside the concept intersectionality, we intended to challenge the current discourse surrounding intersectionality from a different vantage point. Although the term was coined by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw in 1989, historically, it had been attributed to other Black women activists and scholars. These historical moments trace back to Mary Church Terrell’s words on overcoming sex and race in 1904 at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin as well as in 1892 when Anna J. Cooper conveyed the multiple forms of oppression Black women encounter (Hark 2019). Nevertheless, by understanding intersectionality beyond constraints of structural inequalities that emerge from social categorisation and the marginalisation of women of colour from mainstream feminism, we arrive at moments of critique that invoke multiple disciplines of praxis and thought. Such critique involves the intermingling of social science , cultural theory, and visual disciplines in order to assist in thinking about the complexities surrounding (in)visibility and categorisation, especially alongside the expansion of technology and surveillance software which significantly impacts our cognition.
As digital platforms serve as guideposts for visual exposure online, the visibility of bodies increases, asking us to think about ways in which intersectionality can address the systemic structures located within technology. We are forced to confront new layers of systemic oppression from the offline to the online space. We enter a chaotic field of “diversity and inclusion” dialogues across these systems, which is why, artistic knowledge production, visuality, and the new, digital, modes through which difference acquires meaning appeared crucial for our interrogation. Consequently, the “revis(ualis)ing intersectionality: conversations” event series approached the visual sphere as a concept to think through new inequalities and discover how we can make sense of the visibility of difference without imposing a fixed meaning of categories such as gender, race, and class. It was important to us not to conflate the concept of intersectionality with utopian fantasies of universality and inclusion but rather to use it as a conduit for non-normative ways of critically engaging with the world using the visual sphere as a starting point while implementing “conversation and dialogue” and “collaborative case studies”.
The visual sphere re-presents bodies through the historical, present, and future image. The visual, as a theoretical and abstract concept, is both cognitive and embodied which impacts our identity, our sense of belonging (or feeling of sameness and community with others), and our relation to self and world. Additionally, images are affective on multiple levels regarding the cerebral, visceral, internal, and external experience. As sensing bodies are always in motion due to the external experience, the corporeal experience is affected on social (cultural), cognitive (psychoanalytical) and political levels. Bodies as sites of categorisation are re-presented in the visual sphere, imposed upon, and shaken, which prompted us to re-engage with the concept of intersectionality in relation to artistic forms such as film and performance. Since bodies are moving visual markers, as in dance or performance art, images in motion, as seen in film for example and non-static entities more generally, we must challenge forms of categorisation. By taking the collaborative and the conversation space between researchers and artists, we sought to examine visuality and intersectionality from four distinct perspectives.
Although each conversation was dedicated to one concept, namely trans*, sameness, perception, and intimacy, they were all positioned as epistemologies that challenge binaries (e.g., queer and transgender theory) and categorisation (e.g., critical race theory). As most disciplines have sought to find a relation between intersectionality and their own trajectory by illustrating how a particular methodology situates intersectionality in accordance with named discipline, each conversation within this series of events brought together multiple disciplinary angles and methodologies to serve as a basis for questioning. Each section below addresses the epistemology of the conversation more thoroughly by describing the event, the terms that were discussed, and what was presented visually in more detail.
Cinema is a medium that captures bodies through the moving image. In this way, the body becomes a vector of passage. As the reproduced image fuels affect and intention, generally the body responds to the environment and creates meaning of self and others. The narrative encompassing the body or the bodies within the film reproduces various encounters of meaning. The filmic body expands into the multitude. This kind of corporeal conversion prompted us to ask how intersectionality, cinematic representation, and queer theory converge towards a critique that works to deconstruct social and cultural structures that uphold binaries by looking at the moving image (cinema ) with the trans* body as a site of passage.
For this conversation entitled trans*, we choose to view Doireann O’Malley’s film Prototypes , which “explores new perspectives on trans identity through the lens of a post psychoanalytic, schizo-analytic methodology, entangling rhizomatic forms of thought, systems theory, consciousness, machine learning and quantum transformation” (O’Malley 2018). The film, more specifically, focuses on transgender female to male identity and transition processes, community, kinship, as well as otherworldly science fiction-esque realms. Throughout the film, we are taken on a journey of architecturally stark landscapes, dreamscapes which involve Jungian conversations. These conversations seem to carry a desire to uncover the unconscious world of being in a trans* body and overall utopian visions for trans* community, sexuality, and general beingness to exist and expand into. The film allows us to think outside of categorisation, beyond the binary, and more imaginatively when it comes to trans* bodies and cinema. The film, as such, confronts the binaries societal structures forced onto bodies which allows for a merging between intersectionality, film as a visual medium, and the trans* body as the moment from which we explore questions and discussions inspired by the preliminary text for this first conversation.
Prior to the conversation, participants read “Cinematic/Trans*/Bodies Now (and Then, and to Come)” by Cáel M. Keegan, Laura Horak, and Eliza Steinbock, a building block approach to the screening of Doireann O’Malley’s Prototypes . We wanted to provide a text that asked us to enquire about tensions the trans* body and visual representations carry within cinema. The Somatechnics article by Keegan et al. describes somatechnical approaches as ways in which “cinematic experiences might transition bodies in characteristically trans* modes of wayward gendering, inspired by definitions of transgender as ‘a movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place’” (2018: 2). The term somatechnics used here in relation to trans* cinema and bodies, provides space for expansion, multiplicity, and non-linearity. We learn that somatechnics, according to Keegan et al., is about “building spaces where such new and transmuted filed formations might come together” (2018: 3) falling in line with the exploratory vision of the conversations format.
Additionally, we learn that the term somatechnics emerges from the desire for a “balance with trans* as a way to move newly among times and spaces, across fields and forms, toward (im)possible sensations, affects, and futures—always rooted in the material realities of transgender life as it has been historically and bodily constituted” (Keegan et al. 2018: 3). Moreover, we explored trans* as explained by Jack Halberstam, who reminds us that “trans * can be a name for expansive forms of difference, haptic relations of knowing, uncertain modes of being, and the disaggregation of identity politics predicated upon the separating out of many kinds of experience that actually blend together, intersect and mix” (2018: 5). The coalescing of Halberstam’s notion on trans*, somatechnics, and O’Malley’s Prototypes , prompted participants to meditate on the trans* body via representation, visualisation, and the multiple meanings and prospects that unfold within the cinematic space.
One metaphor participants spoke of was the images of architectural structures and their relation to the trans* body. Throughout the film, the analogy of architecture is seen as a structure and a body. As we move from the isolated tall houses and square stark window frames to nature, we engage with the preconceived notion of architectural and bodily functionalities, limitations, and possibilities of conversion. We are also forced to think about the shift from nature to the artificial online spaces as a moment of modification regarding the body and how it digitally transmits as well.
In the film, the camera moves between durational moments of pre-defined spaces such as windows, buildings, and landscapes, making a connection to pre-determined gender roles. And as the camera continues to move through these shape-shifting spaces, the notion of predetermination is challenged. The moving images of rooms and structures going through the building and unbuilding process are a clear parallel to the trans* body. Consequently, Halberstam’s work regarding transition and functionality guided this part of the evening’s discussion on how architecture, or space more generally, and transness converge and dissect the binary.
Not only is there a hybridity between architectural structures and the corporeal, time within the film is also exhibited non-linearly. Between the durational shots, the conversations between individuals and the psychoanalyst and the community gatherings (Fig. 3.1), time becomes unknown. The architectural images and bodies become thresholds that are transitive and mouldable, like time travelling on bodies, within bodies and beyond bodies. Additionally, the dialogues between the psychoanalyst and the individuals, though they differ in character and details which are shared, shed light on histories of experience with anti-trans violence but also brought forward the possibility of a utopia in another dimension.
Towards the end of the film, we see the protagonist interact with a portal, which is physically imagined as a mirror, perhaps a vision of the multiverse and a departure. As the protagonist stands in front of the portal, we enter the multiverse, both a quantum space and syntax, or perhaps even the void (Fig. 3.2). A space where syntax and the grammar of the (trans *) body no longer exist—a utopia. In other words, we move from the architecture and nature analogy through forming of the unconscious to semiotics of trans* and utopia. Thereafter, trans* semiotics moves from the material world into other dimensions that are non-linear. The film’s re-presentation of architecture and bodies asks us to think beyond or across gender normativity by creating an environment of malleable structures and transitioning bodies, both together and separate, inviting or even romanticising utopia, as a physical elsewhere or other space in the science-fiction scenario of the film.
Trans*, as our first conversation, set the scene for our next conversation, sameness. Sameness took our previous engagement with cinema but with an aim to interpolate the meaning of being like one another, being together and the visual presentations of each character and the lives they lead.
Despite decades of feminist theorizing on the question of difference, difference continues to be ‘difference from,’ that is, the difference from ‘white woman.’ Distinct from a frame that privileges ‘difference within,’ ‘difference from’ produces difference as a contradiction rather than as a recognizing it as a perpetual and continuous process of splitting. (Puar 2012: 53)
As Jasbir Puar criticises the duality of intersectionality via its relationship with difference, but not with sameness, our second conversation was dedicated to moving beyond the framework of difference and interest in what Puar calls “splitting” (2012: 53). Additionally, moving towards the process of thinking through ways in which visuality proposes conceptions of sameness was core to this conversation.
Since categories enact frameworks of difference according to varying identifiers, sameness must also play an important role with regard how to revis(ualis)e intersectionality. In addition to examining similarities in behaviour, identity, and marginalisation, sameness also implies shared experience and connection between the self and others. Some of our questions were: how can we view sameness without the binary of difference, if intersectionality relates to difference by way of categorisation and the separation implied therein, how can we also usefully employ it to interrogate sameness?
For this conversation, we screened Filipina-Canadian filmmaker Stephanie Comilang’s Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise ), which is a science fiction documentary set in Hong Kong (Fig. 3.3). The sci-fi film documents the lives of three migrant Filipina domestic workers who are subject to forced labour, exploitation, and human trafficking. As a result, these injustices are shared between them and displayed in their individual and collective routines. Furthermore, most of the footage is displayed through the lens of an omnipresent drone called Paradise. Throughout the film, we experience the disheartening circumstances the women encounter, but also share with one another.
Prior to the screening, participants read “Black Cyberfeminism: Ways forward for Intersectionality and Digital Sociology” by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2016). McMillan Cottom’s text examines the unequal power relations within digital spaces, highlighting the vulnerability Black women experience through forms of hypervisibility and algorithmic stratification online. Furthermore, the text explores “what intersectionality brings to digital sociology” (McMillan Cottom 2016: 211). She describes how digital sociology observes, “social processes at the micro, meso, and macro level(s) that are mediated by digital logics, technologies, and platforms” (McMillan Cottom 2016: 211). Though McMillan Cottom’s examination dives into an analysis of Black women’s vulnerabilities online and the structural inequalities therein, we were able to apply the concept of digital sociology on all three levels within the film. From the perspective of the drone, Paradise, we experience the domestic worker’s daily lives individually and collectively on micro, meso, and macro levels.
The drone, Paradise, is a technological tool that is used to narrate and capture the lives of the women workers in the film. In this way, through the gaze of Paradise, we experience how the women share a sense of sameness. Throughout the film, we are shown various scenes of the women participating in different rituals together. In one scene, the women dance in formation with one another. Another scene displays the women sharing food and conversation in open spaces throughout the city. Both scenes highlight a kind of harmony experienced between the women when they are together, a kind of sameness outside of their labour as domestic workers (Fig. 3.4). Consequently, in the conversation, we discussed how the domestic female workers in the film are made the “same” in relation to their employers, their wardrobes, as well as in their daily routines with work and socialising and how Paradise might influence this. Each of their routines and shared experiences are social practices exhibited on micro and meso levels. The women come together for community, sharing and dancing forming community. At the same time, the women remain unseen, socially unrecognised, and marginalised reduced to a fixed identity as migrant domestic workers. On a macro level, this quality of having a fixed identity is presented by Paradise’s pervasive surveying as meditated through digitisation.
With its omnipresence, the drone’s gaze emphasises the influence digital technologies have on the social processes of the women in the film. Because we experience the women’s lives through the gaze of Paradise, we are provided with different perspectives regarding their routines and the way they share a sense of sameness. In addition to narrating the film, Paradise also serves as the channel of communication the domestic workers use to transmit their messages back home. We see the women taking photos and video messages to send to their families (Fig. 3.3). Thus, the women use Paradise as a medium of communication and connection. These methods of communication reinforce digital modes of data collection. By digitising their memories and sending them back to their families, they form a database of entangled images and data, contributing to the macro level of big data. Big data here symbolises a digital form of sameness, a large collection of images, messages, and videos.
The social and digital practices of the women nearly collapse into one through the lens of Paradise. We do not experience one without the other. As our second conversation, sameness investigated connectivity outside of categorisation within the medium of film. As the women shared rituals and routines outside of their domestic work, they enforced modes of sameness beyond the confines of categorisation as domestic workers. Their embodied practices disrupt categorisation based on their migration and work status and include communal and creative practices that extend into the realm of the digital, thereby also blurring the boundaries between creative use on the micro levels and surveillance practices on the macro level of global digital technologies and migration regimes. The visual representation of their lives does address intersectional modes of oppression that female domestic workers face but it also extends again into a creative utopian collective mode of producing your own images, sharing connection across space via video and dance. For the third conversation, we moved more towards the performative and physical avenues for exploring the visual and the intersectional.
Cognitive science tells us that our ways of understanding each other is influenced by how we understand ourselves. This kind of epistemology of self and other, as experienced through perception, largely relies on the visual, on what is (in)visible and how that visual information is perceived by us. Furthermore, perception interrogates how visual information guides our actions in interacting with others as well as the environment. For the third conversation, we turned to perception to explore the psychological and social processes we experience when seeing and perceiving ourselves and others.
Because perception is multifaceted with regard to the visual, we integrated a more performative and physical medium in this conversation. We wanted to shift the focus from film to a more embodied form of epistemology. There were two moving parts to this conversation which included an explorative talk by Ashkan Sepahvand and live illustration by Nine Yamamoto-Masson. The combination of Sepahvand’s talk and Yamamoto-Masson’s drawing created an immediacy of information, expanding the discussion space into an artistic practice along with exploration of texts and visual media. The atmosphere was continually shifting our own perceptions, with participants at times sitting still and at times moving between the front and the back of the room where the speaker and artist were situated.
Ashkan Sepahvand led a talk on his current artistic research project on the AIDS crisis (Fig. 3.5). Sepahvand is interested in developing a queer critique of political visibility, suggesting instead an aesthetics of the (in)visible and a politics of (dis)appearance. His talk asked the following questions: what does it mean to be seen, who is doing the looking, what are the risks of showing? (Sepahvand 2019). During the conversation, we engaged with voice, sound, and text, specifically reading from Larry Mitchell’s The Faggots and Their Friends between Revolutions published in 1977. Sepahvand stated, “as positions that evade or refuse representation, transparency, clarity, and understanding, I am interested in how these instead propose the visionary, sensory, imaginary, and mysterious as modalities for queer knowledge-(un)making” (2019). Throughout his talk, participants read from Mitchell’s text, walked through and navigated the space with their bodies, challenging new forms of perception.
In addition to Sepahvand’s interdisciplinary work, Yamamoto-Masson’s live drawings also engaged with the sensory. As seen below, the drawing displays faces with the words “become ungovernable” (Fig. 3.6). One might perceive that Yamamoto-Masson is questioning un/seenness and (in)visibility but also the idea that means of social control rely on the (hyper)visibility of certain populations.
Our third conversation asked us to think more experientially. Sepahvand’s talk highlighted that perception is a relation, where agency extends beyond the visual. And Nine Yamamoto-Masson’s live drawings encountered the space by taking the room of moving bodies into account and illustrating various drawings alongside the participants’ exploration of the room. The discourse between the two became a perceptual echo. The final conversation, intimacy, also addressed the performative and experimental.
Digital technologies promote hypervisibility of our bodies, as presented online, which shapes our relations, our intimacies. Where we might mutually recognise a shared togetherness within the digital sphere, we might also inhabit a feeling of isolation, or even seduction. We are intimate with the digital; the data that is collected about us and by us is a form of intimacy. Our relationship with digital technology moulds how we mediate intimacy.
For our final conversation, we wanted to investigate the concept of intimacy as an unfolding form of oppression and/or togetherness through the performative and artistic as mediums of expression. With the increased inclusion of digital technologies in our daily experience, our understanding of intimacy shifts. Lauren Berlant reminds us that intimacy is a complicated narrative. Berlant explains:
To intimate is to communicate with the sparest of signs and gestures, and at its root, intimacy has the quality of eloquence and brevity. But intimacy also involves an aspiration for a narrative about something shared, a story about both oneself and others that will turn out in a particular way. (1998: 281)
As intimacy expands our narratives and relation to others, with others, which is only intensified by digital technologies, we were curious in thinking about intimacy as a way of experiencing or seeing intersectionality. Intimacy as a relation between body and digitality, between digital bodies and digitality. Some questions we asked were, how does the growing implementation of digital technologies in our daily lives, and the inescapability therein, shape our encounter(s) with intimacy?
This conversation was led by a talk from Shaka McGlotten whose work focuses on anthropology and art, combining Black studies and queer theory, to consider new media technologies. Their talk discussed the algorithmic intimacies tied to streaking, which is a “term used to describe forms of gamified sociability that emerged from social media apps like Snapchat where streaking refers to ongoing and uninterrupted series of exchanges. The point is to keep the streak alive” (McGlotten 2019). Streaking within the digital manipulates ways in which we intimate with one another regarding what we share of ourselves and with whom and the responses we receive. It becomes an endless feedback loop with intimacy at its core of questioning and commanding that we confront the digital identity we are building online of ourselves in relation to others and the intersectional modes of being perceived as an identity online.
After McGlotten’s talk, Zander Porter and James Batchelor performed an “embodied interrelation” titled “Alien Intimacy” (2019). Porter and Batchelor described their performance as “a dance of ‘human’ and ‘alien’ embodiments” which “speculates on the movement of an interpersonally constructed alien sense, conjuring the connection for the visible and the invisible or the physically embodied and the virtually disembodied” (Batchelor and Porter 2019). The performance between the two of them displayed a kind of intimacy that lies between two bodies, when two bodies are close but do not touch, the “almost touchable” (Batchelor and Porter 2019). Covered in silver paint, matching black tops, and blue accented shorts, the duo performed a dance on stage sharing a small space (Fig. 3.7). The choreography exhibited many movements between Batchelor and Porter moving towards one another without touching, jumping up and down or circling the stage, highlighting the negative space between the bodies which became a form of intimacy. These choreographed gestures break down and break out of the confines of the assumption which tells us intimacy must include touch. Here, the choreography is an embodied gesture of intimacy shared between the two showing us that intimacy does not need to include touch (Fig. 3.8).
The conversation that followed amongst Shaka McGlotten, Zander Porter, James Batchelor, the participants, and me covered many different concerns inspired by both the talk and performance (Fig. 3.9). Many questions and responses explored intimacy and intersectionality from different perspectives often connected to the feeling of alienation. Because intersectionality is deeply tied to identity politics and the way in which we navigate from our own subjectivities, we often feel alien to ourselves. We are constantly perceiving ourselves through the perspective of the other, materially (labour forces, friends, family, e.g.), and digitally (the algorithm, data mining practices, e.g.). Often this view obscures our reality enforcing a feeling of isolation, rather than intimacy. Online, we are tied to digitally static identities due to the constraints of the algorithm, the data that is collected about us and the output we are given online through advertisements for example, asks us to find new ways that help us break out of stasis and experience intimacy. Thereby, we might investigate ways in which different forms of artistic expression like dance and performance might be gestural responses to the feeling of alienation exacerbated by technology (e.g., data mining, the algorithm, the streak).
Thereafter, we debated how touch transforms the meaning of intimacy with regard to technology of haptics and how we literally touch and use our phones. One might argue that we are more intimate with our smartphone than with each other. The conversation did not stop at (non)touch and technology, it expanded into more discussion about the vulnerabilities of QBIPOC experience in digital spheres and the different forms of intimacy that might transpire on social media platforms. We discussed how technology amplifies hypervisibility of QBIPOC bodies due to surveillance and data mining extraction and asked questions of finding and creating safe online spaces to be in with other QBIPOC. Finally, we closed the conversation acknowledging that communication is also a form intimacy, which can be explored in offline and online spaces.
Each conversation considered two of the five approaches introduced by Hannula et al.: “conversation and dialogue” and “collaborative case studies” (2014: 68). By taking these two approaches and pairing them with a different concept, we discovered “new languages of critique and hope” (Hannula et al. 2014: 71), providing different vantage points regarding intersectionality and the visual sphere. From trans*, where we arrived at notions about the malleability of the body and how this malleability changes given the gaze through which we view a body and how this gaze can be shifted from the confines of heteronormativity in trans utopian cinematic representation. For sameness, we explored cinema once again but through the “eyes” of the drone and learned about sameness as embodied conviviality (rituals, dance, ceremony) as opposed to the categories of identity that intersectionality highlights (race, class, gender). Our conversation on perception extended the more physical dimension of perception by pairing Sepahvand’s talk with Yamamoto-Masson’s live drawing. We shifted our perceptions by exploring the collaborative research methodology more specifically in relation to communal reading practices and visual representation. And our final conversation blended a lecture and a performance that explored new forms of intimacy online and offline, especially between BIPOC. Each different outcome provided us with more questions about intersectionality’s relationship with the visual sphere. Since intersectionality provides a platform to ask questions about how to think across categories, using artistic research methods alongside the titular concepts for each conversation, we formed new critiques regarding the un/seen and hypervisibility more generally. Bringing in these different approaches showed us that conversation is much more than a verbal dialogue but also a collaboration.
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Roxanne, T. (2022). Revisualising Intersectionality: Conversations. In: Revisualising Intersectionality. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-93209-1_3
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