*OBLIQUE*: Disrupting the essay, taking the pill.
Computational Arts-Based Research and Theory
MFA Computational Arts - Goldsmiths University
Words and artifact by Maite de Orbe Anton Pacheco
SRN: 33669253 // Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following text accompanies the online performance piece 'Oblique' (de Orbe, 2021) where a piece of creative writing on a morning of period cramps and pills is life written and, in the process, being modified by a program as well as triggering the visualization of supporting media such as videos, images, and gifs. This piece is grounded on the concept of 'Situated Knowledges', coined by biologist and theorist Donna Haraway (Haraway, 2016) and aims to explore the ways in which essay writing and subjective experiences can be combined to give agency to non-objective and emotional kinds of expertise. To present the research that has supported the creation of this piece, I will use a Material Semiotics (Law, 2021) approach through which the key ideas will be introduced by case studies and stories. These come from a memory archive -memory understood as a storage system embedded in the RAM hardware of every entity, from insects to bodies scars, to pathways, to rocks, to pollution and so on. The RAM I am picking up the following data from is my head. The text you are about to read is a node. This node is a knot. It belongs to the imagining of a network of intertwined lines of RAMs. It is immaterial but comes from the pulling and amalgam of different theory, literary, and personal threads that give shape to a confused knot. This knot is like the one of your wired earplugs in a closed fabric compartment (pocket) where friction play roles as the matrix medium for interaction. These threads are not tightly pulled, but some are rather loose and already come in their own gnarls which certainly makes the process of weaving clumsy and in requirement of certain responsibility and attention. It is under these parameters that this piece has been created and this text written, under the philosophy of care.
THEY LIKE IT CURVY
CASE STUDY 1: My flatmates Martha and Jaye say that queers do not know how to sit on chairs, and so our kitchen does not have chairs, until I brought two so we could talk to each other while having our morning coffee, and then this conversation arose and then I realized that truly queers do not sit on chairs, just because they do not know how to do it. They were not designed for them. They would rather sit on the counters, stand, wiggle and move around, disturbing the path of the other kitchen users, being clumsy and maybe even loud, probably dropping a few things on the way, making others(d) trip, having boiling coffee spill over white shirts. Playing and dancing around without even realizing, as a consequence of not really knowing how to occupy a space designed by straight lines in which we simply do not know how to behave. We like it curvy. The thing is that one day Flavio was telling this story - he had dropped something already, such as milk, for example, although we never address it just because we know how of a sensible matter this can be for him. And as he was telling this story he walked across the kitchen, spreading the milk around, in an improvised choreography to leave an abstract painting of ephemeral performance art on the floor surface. A material trace to a told story that is in no need for pen and paper.
Being and occupying are two different ways of inhabiting a space. The first one resents, the later resists. Disorientation can be a powerful tool to create friction that can splinter the smooth polished wooden blocks of a square we tend to call room. Academic Sara Ahmed writes: "If a world is organised into straight lines, if there are narrow spaces available to move around in (along a corridor or between that table and that wall), if tools are made for hands that can keep a firm grasp on things, then activities are harder for some to complete than others. Activities can bring you up against walls." (Ahmed, 2016) I read this as a metaphor of a hegemonic way of acting in the world. One way that has comes as natural for those with the free time, tools, and privilege to do so. This space has been designed for one kind of body, their own. That vast majority that does not fit, "that do not move in straight lines; that lose their balance" will find their ways around. From the tiredness to fit, this new way around, this curve that in so many circumstances can also put bodies at risk, is a creative one because it imagines inhabiting. It speculates around the possibility of alternative structures, movements, and use of tools. It is an appropriation of the materials and reassemble into a new personalized design. "When you gather around an insult, you are not obeying an order” (Ahmed, 2016). This artifact, as new, might be undefinable, and here is where the resistance of occupation comes into the game, as “Legibility () is a condition of manipulation” (Halberstam, 2011). The interest on how to reassemble an essay, performance, and website is one of the key explorations from this project.
MY MUM AND THE DICTIONARIES
CASE STUDY 2: Whenever I go back to Spain and reside in the space where I was raised with my mum, I am cautious about the subject matters on the table -enough Xmas dinners I have already spoiled by explaining the behaviour of the ones of my kin (the problem about being non-queer passing in this specific context is that you are not assumed as queer and therefore will take me less seriously when defending queerness because I will not know what I talking about or seen as this activist that focuses on others problems rather than my own). She has this technique to deal with her feeling of threat when I claim that we all tilt towards discrimination as we were fed this since birth, and hence the big labour of deconstruction as a daily compromise. The technique consists in leaving the kitchen - my and my sibling look at each other knowing what is next to come - and returns with this white dictionary divided in two tomes and read the definition of the word we are arguing about as a full stop to the conversation.
Defining can be quite as dangerous redefining. Defining as a being in a space and redefining as occupying it. In “De mujeres y diccionarios” (Spanish for “About woman and dictionaries” (Calero Fernández, Forgas i Berdet and Lledó Cunill, 2004), the 22nd version of the DRAE (Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy) is analyzed to highlight the ways in which language is gendered in favor of masculine identifying bodies. They explain: “Dictionaries - in property, the people who elaborate dictionaries - have a determined way of seeing the world; it is inevitable that this is transmitted through the definitions and example” (p.24). The current board of the DRAE has only one woman on board with the charge of secretary. Therefore, just like the history is commonly said to be written by the winners, assumptions can be made that the definitions my mum will read to me will be those defined by the oppressor. I would like to now point out a different aspect from this definition making; the examples annexed to the supposedly objective description of the term. *Examples, on the other hand, enjoy enormous freedom since their writing is free; in this they radically depart from definitions" (p.24). If examples reside in the criteria of the writer as a writer, -which we all are- and following the trails of Material Semiotics, I have decided to justify this text under examples named as case studies as well as to illustrate, in *OBLIQUE*, the meaning of certain words with media files such as GIFs, videos, and photographs. Moreover, I have become highly aware of the insistent underlying of certain words or expressions that, while being used to employ a more inclusive language, are not recognized by the spelling corrector of a vast amount of writing programs. Several initiatives have aimed to address this by proposing alternative dictionaries such as “Queer Undefined” (Queer Undefined, 2021) and “Alex” (Wormer, 2014) allowing a multiplicity of meanings to terms that are submitted by users. As Ursula K. Le Guin has done across many years of career, naming something allows it to exist (Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, 2018) and to rename is to transgress. How can we use these tools (words) be altered to create an impact? “A shattering can be evocative: it can bring strong images, memories, feelings, to mind” (Ahmed, 2016). This is another of the subjects studied in *OBLIQUE*, which was strongly influenced by science fiction writers such as Le Guin and Octavia Butler (Butler, 2005) which I will proceed to explain in the next case study.
CASE STUDY 3: I grew up to develop body dysmorphia. Before I was 10, I already did not understand my body and its changes. When puberty came these feelings accentuated. Every spring season is a struggle. I did not develop any eating disorders though, which led to a complication of the matter as it made it harder to believe my discomfort. If it were so bad, how could I not express it in exaggerated ways like sever self-harm? It took me a while to realize about patterns regarding my period and my peaks of uneasiness. I came to notice, only after 8 years of having my period that what I had was a severe pre-menstrual syndrome. Other than the basic manifestations -not symptoms- there was no help but therapy and the contraceptive pill. I went on to try the contraceptive pill and lasted no more than three months on it. My body bloated and changed -not ideal-, my mood was more stably depressed, I got new anxieties, my period was dark brown instead of bright red and my sexual thrive died. Brilliant. This pill was toxic, it was extra-terrestrial to my body, I read it as a meteorite. I did not find any more help. Not did my menstruating friends who experienced similar non-investigated challenges with their periods. When I decided to stop taking it I took a series of portraits I found again a year later and decided to start this project.
I agree with Paul B. Preciado (Preciado, 2008) reading on the contraceptive pill. It indeed arrives as a liberation from menstruating bodies to escape the tyranny of motherhood. Yet although it emerged in the 1970's it has not evolved since then and has rather turned into a new way of alienation and perpetuation of the domination of bodies. I would like to point out how this project does not criminalize the contraceptive pill. It is indeed lifesaving and the only resource to avoid life-threatening birth and illegal abortion in many countries - there is a comment on this at one point of the performance- but rather it manifests a general discontent with the cease in investigation around menstruating bodies and sexual health. The communication and knowledge flowing between bodies assimilates other structures rather than the hierarchical. Ones have whispered to others underneath the institutional official knowledge to provide health advice. In this way of communicating nothing is invalid, nothing is discarded, but rather works for you or not. It is a web of connections being the bodies that whisper like witches would allow bodies to abort in the Middle Ages (Federici, 2021). From this form of resistance many science fiction narratives have emerged that compare certain multibodied and swarming organisms such as ants and bees to womxn. Theorist Rosi Braidotti coined the concept of "philosophical nomadism" as that which "brings about the collapse of phallogocentrism precisely by shattering the Same/Other binary that characterized Western cultural and philosophical” (Mader, 2005). This theory is based on the concept of constant transformation and becoming, and it is in this context that insects and monsters come in as a metaphor of that which constantly adapts and dissolves boundaries. Metamorphosing entities are fundamental for this process as it "deploys instead a figurative language that resists linear conceptions of history and teleological assumptions of the subject-a language, in other words, that is more suitable for theorizing change and transform” (Mader, 2005). It is this influence that has inspired the animations of the text, a text, that is also being transformed as written, coded to adapt itself to the new words given as input.
CASE STUDY 4: this performance. on the 27th of April I opened my p5js editor and the project OBLIQUE, i ran the code on a separate website and pressed record. while the coffee was being made in the background i typed my story, an experience of pills and morning cramps. then i closed the tab.
*OBLIQUE* comes as the exploration of all the previous mentions. It is a performative text that explores the ways in which bodies can occupy the digital realm. Meant to be programmed as an event in which users would follow a link, the performer would type in the story, for which the program had been coded for (recognizing, changing, and reacting to the words previously written in the text) while the spectators will, unable to interact with the website until the performance is finished, attend the typing of the text. Once this has finished, the audience will be able to download a poster form like of the website as well as interact with the input text boxes. For this piece, the gif essay by Luiza Pardo (Pardo, 2018), and the Trans Black Archive (Brathwaite-Shirley, 2019) and the entire virtual presence of artist Molly Soda (Soda, 2021) have been key to the aesthetics display of text and visual content. To close with the beginning, this performance places by body in the digital realm to explore how can a body take up online and ephemeral space.
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