Program notes

7-9pm — Evening session (1)

On What Can a Body Do? by Amanda Cachia 

 A traveling exhibition that began at Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 2012, What Can a Body Do? narrows the question originally posed by Deleuze into: “what can a disabled body do?” The exhibition included work by Joseph Grigely, Christine Sun Kim, Park McArthur, Alison O’Daniel, Carmen Papalia, Laura Swanson, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi, Corban Walker and Artur Zmijewski In her introduction to the catalogue, Cachia asks, “what does it mean to inscribe a contemporary work of art with experiences of disability? What shapes or forms can these inscriptions take? How, precisely, can perceptions of the disabled body be liberated from binary classifications such as “normal” versus “deviant” or “ability” versus “disability” that themselves delimit bodies and constrain action? What alternative frameworks can be employed by scholars, curators, and artists in order to determine a new fate for the often stigmatized disabled identity?” She approaches these questions through Spinoza: ‘We do not even know what a body is capable of’ and ‘We do not even know of what affections we are capable, nor the extent of our power,” noting that it is “important to think about what disability does rather than simply what it is,” asking readers to consider what it would mean for disability to become “an epistemic resource and an embodied cognition embedded with politicized consciousness” and “a way of knowing the world.” For the Feminist IT Assembly, Cachia lectures from a podium of her own design and construction, and object that itself foregrounds questions of tacit normativity and being in the world, to discuss the disruption of subject positions, the complex matter of embodiment that includes impairment as a means for illumination, and the mix of immersive environments, objects, performances and social practices used by these artists to explore non-standard perceptual and sensory experiences and to offer transitive, hybridized and invented ways of being in the world.

– Adapted from text by Amanda Cachia.

On Undoing Time, a work in progress by Sharon Daniel

In her essay “The Database: An Aesthetics of Dignity” Sharon Daniel points out that the term “data” originates from the plural of the Latin word for “something given.” She also observes that such marks or traces should always be read in the context of what N. Katherine Hayles calls the “materiality of informatics,” which includes material, technological, economic, and social structures that may perpetuate injustice.  As a self-described “abolitionist” documenting the prison-industrial complex through art, Daniel has created a number of database projects in which the voices and written texts of marginalized individuals are hyperlinked to highlight shared narratives about addiction, abuse, exploitation, illness, and alienation and to expose the insidious causal chains that reinforce institutionalized oppression.  Unlike “data mining” activities that may dehumanize and depersonalize quantified political subjects, Daniel’s data visualizations assert the dignity of those who bear witness and affirm the connections between aesthetics and ethics made possible when conventional ideologies about beauty are rejected.

Daniel’s previous collaborations with digital designer Eric Loyer produced the online audio archive Public Secrets (, which catalogues testimonies of incarcerated women about the injustices of the criminal justice system, and the interactive net art piece Blood Sugar (www., which examines the social and political construction of poverty, alienation, and addiction in a dynamic interface that uses sound files of recorded conversations with injection drug users.  Rather than show the faces of her informants in these two works created for the innovative electronic journal Vectors, she and Loyer present the audience with grids, blocks, waveforms, and constellations that represent their devastating biopolitical realities without allowing the audience recourse to traditional modes of spectatorship, such as those defined by sentimentality or voyeurism.

At Feminist Infrastructures & Technocultures, Daniel will present Undoing Time, a video work-in-progress produced in collaboration with current and former inmates, which breaks with the convention of abstraction and stylization that she used in her Vectors pieces.  Undoing Time displays intimate embodied portraits of the incarcerated working and speaking about their experiences of lived temporality and raises fundamental questions about the injustice of current regimes of punishment, sentencing, and prison labor.  In the footage the Feminist IT audience will also see gendered technologies like the sewing machine at work and the manufacture of res publica like the American flag, as Daniel explores “making things public” in a number of ways.

-Elizabeth Losh, UCSD

On Jordan Crandall’s Unmanned

Art historian and curator Ariella Azoulay suggests that in our time of “endless war” the domestication of military behavioral and surveillance technologies is giving shape to new ways of thinking the political. As we struggle to enter documentary images of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into public debate and cultural memory the ethos of the post-modern subject emerges through the witness who disseminates counter-hegemonic narratives of war. The remote operated drone is the military information technology par excellence. The domestication of war technology has redrawn the horizon of human action.

Motivated by an urgency to “disarm an increasingly militarized society,” visual artist and media theorist Jordan Crandall uses our generational investment in information technology to remediate naturalizing accounts of subject formation in terms of data processing. Crandall focuses on the data processing aspects of surveillance technology that suture the military to the mainstream (Drive); entertainment to security (Homefront); and eros to paranoia (Heatseeking).

At Feminist Infrastructures and Techno-cultures: Cross-disciplinary Legacies and Futures Jordan Crandall will present Unmanned, a solo-operated “philosophical theater” performance that explores twenty-first century convergences between humans and technology. Like Virgil’s Aeneid from which the piece borrows its opening motto (“Arma virumque cano”), Unmanned begins in the middle of things, with the crash of a drone and sings the song of arms and men. The twenty-first century drone achieves its coherence and masterful precision from specialized information processing systems enfolded within a singular technical entity. Piloted from a distance, the drone is a metaphor for shifting relationships between humans and the technological others we use to challenge the natural world. The removal of the human from the confines of the technical apparatus calls into being new forms of human subjection and identification that Crandall embodies through a repertoire of racialized masculinities. As the footage suggests, the drone provides a locus of collective performances of sublime ascent (assent) and troubled descent (dissent).

– Kelli Moore, Communication, UCSD

On Erika Suderburg’s Decline and Fall (2007)

Erika Suderburg has had a career-long engagement with the politics of leading us to notice the impact of embodied action on spatialized infrastructures and sites, a way of thinking beautifully articulated not only in her films and installations, but also in her book Space, Site, Intervention (Minnesota 2000). In the epic 12-part experimental documentary Decline and Fall, Suderburg uses the long take, mobile camera, the time travel of archival film appropriation, and fleeting ambient sound to draw her audience into sustained engagement over slow time with seemingly incidental collisions of urban infrastructure and embodied group action in and upon the cities and landscapes that make up different levels and formations of national territories during periods of political pressure. Whether documenting through the spatialized systems of war or the distributed action of political protest, Suderburg frames empire as a system of decomposition over time in spaces ranging from Rome to Los Angeles and Mexico. A series of segments taken from mid 20th century US War Department and Department of Defense training and target assessment film shot in Germany and Italy include aerial gun camera footage that offers a perspective on the embodied work of mass decimation (such as the bombing of Dresden), a perspective brought to the ground and weighted by documentation from the ground of the plodding collective activity of workers preparing to rebuild, as with the footage of the Trümmerfrauen, the Rubble Women who sorted through endless piles of brick, scraping and cleaning each crumbling remnant by hand to make stock from which to build out from the ruins of war. In the film’s opening segment Suderburg’s camera follows the perimeter of the ruins of the Roman Colosseum, her starting point in a peace march attended by a crowd of nearly 3 million into which the camera loses itself along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a boulevard ironically constructed under Mussollini’s failed rule. Ruins, living monuments to dead empires, and the collectivities that pass through them to conduct the surprisingly methodical and often quite mundane preparations for the physical activities of group protest draw our attention to the mixed and varied chronicities of infrastructural decline and fall, of surveillance’s embodiments in which bodies from above leap and fall below, where the mass destruction and the plodding work of many hands makes reconstruction a process that, like protest, takes collective synchronicity and boring repetitions in chants, slogans, signs and gestures. The monumental is brought down, and the mundane work of the hand becomes the site of sustained regard. Rome, the Yucatán, Berlin and Los Angeles are tapped for documentary contemplation on time and the work of the camera body, and for pondering the body’s emplacement in the infrastructural, as well as the everydayness of the monument and as the monumental weight of collective repetition in this subtle memorialization of public life during the chronic states of empire’s decline and fall. For the Feminist IT screening of Decline and Fall, we will view Sections 10 through 11, in which the March 13 2003 Echo Park protest’s candelight wall cuts to Rome and the Coliseum at night, and then to CNN live in Baghdad, with Operation Shock and Awe, and then the 2003 Iraqi border and BBC night-vision surveillance, and finally closing with celestial visions over Chichén Itzá (400 A.D. – 1400 A.D), the Pyramid of Kukulkán , El Carocol (Observatory), a temple in a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization in the northern center of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Yucatan state of present-day Mexico. Like the other sites Suderburg studiously documents throughout the film, Chichén Itzá contains stone buildings in the light of decomposition—the everyday structures of temples, monuments, baths, and playing fields where bodies congregate and bring pressure to the material infrastructures of everyday life.

– Lisa Cartwright, Communication and Science Studies, UCSD

Looking for Jiro (2011, 6m), Tina Takemoto

Looking for Jiro is a queer camp meditation on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, part of a “survival kit” Takemoto produced through Lineages: Matchmaking in the Archive, a project in which artists were matched with the personal effects of non-living people archived in the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.  Takemoto was matched with Jiro Onuma, a gay Issei bachelor who collected pictures of “muscle men” and belonged to a bodybuilding correspondence school. At age 38, Onuma was imprisoned at Topaz concentration camp in Utah, where he worked in the mess hall. This queer musical mash-up video features drag king performance, U.S. war propaganda footage, and homoerotic bread making to imagine Onuma’s queer desire within camp confines.

On Tina Takemoto’s Looking for Jiro

Tina Takemoto remembers hearing “family stories about Japanese internment camps.”  What she does not remember hearing is “anything about the gay and lesbian experience of the camps.”  For Takemoto, a queer, fourth-generation Japanese theorist and artist, this absence is salient.  It’s also a source of inspiration. Expanding upon her previous investigations of race, queer identity, memory and grief, Takemoto’s most recent work explores the LGBT experience of Japanese American incarceration during WWII.  To be Japanese in 1940s America was to be isolated and to be imprisoned.  To be LGBT was to experience analogous constraint and marginalization. Both identifications – one racial and one sexual – were something to be kept hidden.

At Feminist Infrastuctures & Technocultures, Takemoto will present Looking for Jiro, a short video meditation on the hidden dimensions of queer sexuality in Japanese American interment camps.  The video is part historical research and part artistic reflection. It is part of a “survival kit” Takemoto produced through Lineages: Matchmaking in the Archive, a project in which artists were matched with the personal effects of non-living people archived in the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.  Takemoto was matched with Jiro Onuma, a gay Issei bachelor imprisoned at Topaz concentration camp in Utah.  Onuma, who worked in the prison mess hall and collected pictures of muscular men, provides a rich subjective core from which Takemoto is able to interweave artifacts of sentimental expression, historical zones of institutionalized exclusion and still present realities of discrimination.  True to the form of feminist theories, Looking for Jiro offers no single answer or form.  Set to the tune of an ABBA/Madonna musical mash-up and featuring drag queen performance, official US propaganda footage, muscle building, and homoerotic bread making, Looking for Jiro imagines how Onuma survived the boredom, humiliation, and hetorenormativity of incarceration.

– Tara Zepel, Art History, Theory & Criticism, UCSD

9-10:30pm — Evening session (2)

The Insomniacs (2008), dir. Kami Chisholm, original music by Roshanak Kheshti (11m)

Bell has insomnia. So one restless night, she decides to go to the local Insomniac’s Anonymous 3 a.m. meeting, and there she meets Helena, the girl of her waking dreams. After the meeting, Bell and Helena explore their connection back at Bell’s apartment, where they crawl into bed and sleep together as the sun begins to rise.

On Roshanak Kheshti’s sound theory

In the aftermath of the feminist film studies that called attention to the persistent absence of female narrators in cinema and literature, we witness the proliferation of the automated female voice in cars, mobile phone devices and architectural spaces. In her essay, “Inversion, Signifiance, and the Loss of Self in Sound,” Roshanak Kheshti offers an approach to thinking about the commodification of the female voice in the world music industry: “Sound production technologies are used to pronounce and suppress presences and absences of all sorts of bodies and grains with the objective of manipulating the listener’s relation with these bodies and with significance.” In the context of what Jonathan Sterne calls “acoustic modernity,” Roshanak Kheshti examines how sound production technologies orchestrate the aesthetic experience and practice of popular music genres and ultimately, the listening subject. Inquiring after the industrialization of perception, Kheshti continually draws upon ethnographic encounter, sound performance, psychoanalysis, and critical philosophy to analyze particular listening events where sound materializes bodies but not in a material sense. The interdisciplinary alliances motivating Kheshti’s approach are attuned to the heuristic function of the human ear: as digital sound technologies route the experience of aural pleasure to the ear they inscribe the experience with synthetic aural elements. The eye is no longer the primary organ through which consumption occurs.

– Kelli Moore, Department of Communication, UCSD

Chant from an Island (Fatimah Tobing Rony, 25 min), from Chants of Lotus [Perempuan Punya Cerita], Nia diNata, Lasya Susatyo, Upi, and Fatimah Tobing Rony (2008)

Financed by the Kalyana Shira Foundation project and with the goal of giving Indonesian woman a right to voice their opinions, Chants Of Lotus is a film with four episodes, written respectively by Vivian Idris and Melissa Karim and directed by Fatimah T. Rony, Upi Avianti, Nia diNata and Lasja Susatyo. The intention is to tell stories from a feminine point of view in different geographical and social contexts in Indonesia. The film was the most controversial winner at the Indonesian Film Awards in 2008. Presented in the full original version as the closing movie at the Jakarta International Film Festival in 2007, Chants Of Lotus (Perempuan punya cerita, or “the women have stories”) met serious resistance from the from the Indonesian film censor board, who demanded heavy editing before authorizing the film’s release. The producer and one of the directors, Nia Dinata, launched a vigorous campaign to defend the artistic integrity of the film as a reaction to this, taking a request to the Constitutional Court for the MFI (Masyarakat Filem Indonesia or the Indonesian Film Society) to reform the censor system. A documentary was made about this case, but unfortunately, a censured version of the film was released in Indonesia in the end, while the full version is only available of screening at festivals and international markets. The film was heavily censored by the Indonesian government.

 – From comments posted by Liana Engie, written by Rylee Rubalcava, Michelle Fong, and Liana Engie, to Asianamericansinmedia 

On Fatimah Rony’s Chants from an Island

The first episode in the powerful omnibus film Chants of Lotus, Fatimah Tobing Rony’s Chant From An Island presents the island space as an open and porous locus through which is provided insight about larger networks of power. Shot on a small island three hours away from the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta, Chant From An Island tells the stories of Sumantri, the island’s midwife, and Wulan, a teen with autism cared for by her grandmother. As Sumantri reluctantly prepares to leave her community and move across the water to Jakarta for treatment of stage-three breast cancer, she learns that her friend Wulan has been raped and is pregnant. Sumantri faces the decision of whether or not to carry out an abortion under the watchful eye of the local authorities, men who warm her that they already suspect her of having performed such a procedure before. In this country with the world’s largest Muslim population, abortion (for any reason) is illegal. The authorities make light of the rape, arranging monetary compensation.

Requiring an interpretive gaze from its audience, Chant From an Island constantly pushes spectator attention towards the space of the island as strongly as it directs the gaze toward narrative detail. Indeed, even the high-contrast lighting featured in all of the film’s night scenes is more than merely a stylistic element. It divides the frame into distinct pools of illumination and shadow, suggesting the lack of basic infrastructure but also articulating social divisions. Harnessing the spatial quality of the medium of film itself, Rony uses space as a politically and emotionally expressive element. The setting is much more than just a picturesque backdrop to a powerful narrative.

– Saundarya Thapa, Film and Media, UCLA