On the one hand this week’s material on Intersectional Feminist Technology has made me question many, if not all, of the institutions and platforms I currently participate in. The myriad of problems our nation started with this year seem to multiply everyday. Acts of destruction, hate, and greed only seem to breed additional vile deeds. I hear about tragedies that could have been prevented if our institutions had made the right (moral, decent, just) decisions to begin with (there are simply too many to list here), but needless to say paranoia has truly creeped into my everyday thoughts. On the other hand, this week’s readings have opened my eyes to many feminist technologies developed by activists, students, teachers, artists, bloggers, etc. to help organizations and communities overcome systematic and institutional norms and effectively induce change.

If your still not paranoid or have a taste for gaudy gold symbols of oppression, like number 45, you can purchase wallpaper designed by Ai Weiwei, such as Golden Age for $600 a roll (please allow two weeks for delivery). Golden Age features interlocking gold motifs of handcuffs, security cameras, and a symbol of a bird that can easily be recognized as the Twitter icon. Golden Age is just one of the many artworks that Ai has produced in response to government surveillance and censorship after he was arrested in Beijing and imprisoned for 81 days on charges of  “economic crimes” after knowingly being censored and spied on since 2009. In Golden Age Ai has brought the reality of surveillance inside the home—a space that’s beginning to be less and less private with the proliferation of social media, Google Earth, cameras, smartphones, and devices like Alexa by Amazon. Like wallpaper, security cameras are becoming more difficult to spot. Here, Ai is commenting on the connection between surveillance and force, as well as the overwhelming presence of security cameras and their ability to blend into the surroundings.

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Ai Weiwei, Golden Age Wallpaper, Marharam Serpentine Galleries Wallpaper Collection, London (65% Cellulose, 35% Latex) matte laminate finish, each roll: 27″ w. x 118″ l.

In the introduction to her book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (2015) Simon Browne discusses the term “sousveillance” that was coined by Steve Mann. Mann defines the act of sousveillance as a tactic deployed by the oppressed to illustrate instances of injustice and hypocrisy. Sousveillance is not performed by institutions of power, but instead is implemented by a person who is not in a traditional position of power. For example, sousveillance occurs when someone records police brutality on their phone and publishes it on the web. Browne builds off of Mann’s recognition of sousveillance and coins the term “dark sousveillance,” which is a method of sousveillance used to avoid the surveillance of white supremacists, “a way to situate the tactics employed to render one’s self out of sight, and strategies used in the flight to freedom from slavery as nec-essarily ones of undersight.”¹ In this case Browne’s goal is to illustrate how strategies have also been developed to make the visible invisible in the slavery and post-slavery era. 

Feminist technologies are created to help people see into the periphery; to in act change and challenge common misconceptions/attitudes towards victims of sexual harassment and women of color. Popular technology is skillfully co-opted by many in the fight for visibility and equality. Platforms like HarassMap and #BlackLivesMatter not only offer help to those in need, but also champion their cause by highlighting how social relations and systems of power are structured to oppress and discriminate.The creators of HarassMap appropriate new technologies to create a map of instances of sexual harassment in Egypt. When learning about the success of HarassMap I couldn’t help but connect it to the Rape Crisis Movement that was formed in the 1970s to foster awareness, aid, and prevention strategies to women in the United States.

In May of 1977 the Woman’s Building at CalArts, the Studio Watts Workshop , and the City of Los Angeles teamed up to sponsor a rape awareness campaign called Three Weeks in May. Among the many demonstrations, workshops, and events that took place at CalArts women artists, such as Suzanne Lacy participated by creating installations that visualized rape data. For example, Maps (1977) is a visual artwork illustrating reported instances of rape that occurred in Los Angeles during the three-week period. On the map Lacy stamped the word “rape” where women had been sexually assaulted. Lacy updated Map each day and by the end of the project she had created a visual record of the instances of sexual violence that had been reported—police-sourced data. This piece was accompanied by four guerrilla performances where Lacy and four others visited sites of where instances of rape occurred. Here they “activated” sidewalks nearby tracing the figure of a woman’s body, “and adding the words, ‘a woman was raped near hear,’ the date of the assault, and a flower.”²

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Suzanne Lacy, A Woman Was Raped Here… 1977. Guerrilla performance by Lacy with Phrane and Melissa Hoffman, as part of Three Weeks in May, 1977.

Chelsea Young’s analysis of harassMap “HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt” (2014) is a useful resource when assessing the “benefits” and “limitations” of these efforts. More than thirty years after the Three Weeks in May project HarassMap, established in 2010, takes these ideas to new heights. Unlike Lacy’s Map, HarassMap creates a continuous space for these issues, which not functions as a safe place for victims to report, but also works to prevent future incidents of sexual harassment from occurring. Crowdsourced data (instead of police-sourced data) is collected via their website, email, SMS, and social media #harassmap, #endsh. We can consider this a type of crowdsourcing and reporting as sousveillance. After being swept up in all of the benefits of crowdsourced data, it was fascinating to learn about the problem of “false positives.” Young discusses the possibility of these maps creating “false positives” meaning that the absence of evidence/data for sexual harassment in areas might not truly reflect the safe-ness of the site. It’s important to consider that these maps could falsely classify areas as safe because of issues regarding access to the tech required to report. Does this mean we need to create a new map indicating where people have this type of tech? Wouldn’t such a map just be more surveillance?

It’s great to learn about all of the immediate benefits of feminist technologies, but at this point I quickly want to point to related issue brought up by Satiya Umoja Noble, in her article “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology” (2016). Noble stresses the ecological impact of digital technologies, such as e-waste that is dumped in Ghana, not to mention the tons of obsolete tech that contains hazardous materials that are routinely deposited in landfills each year.³ I don’t think societies are going to give up their smartphones now that we have them, but shouldn’t these organizations also be fighting for strict regulations/legislation outlining how these products are made, disposed, and made of? After going over this week’s material, I’m not convinced that surveillance, and to a lesser degree sousveillance, allows us to get closer to the truth—allowing us to see with a “naked eye.” Instead, technologies, like surveillance, spawn misconceptions; functioning like a new pair of glasses that blind the wearer to related issues. Because of the scope of these organizations and projects it’s crucial that they work together.

¹Simone Brown, “Introduction” Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2015), 1-29.

²Vivian Green Fryd, “Ending the Silence” Doin’ It In Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building (Otis College of Art and Design, 2011), 159-183.

³Safiya Umoja Noble (2016) “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies” in The Scholar and Feminist Online (Issue 13.3 – 14.1).

Chelsea Young (March 2014) “HarassMap: Using Crowdsourced Data to Map Sexual Harassment in Egypt.”

*Ideas for group project: I’m not sure if we agreed that this project would start with a manifesto (published online/spoken). Then we could further develop ideas put forth in the manifesto to create different media projects based on our collective strengths. This might involve some of the other feminist technologies we have discussed in class, like a hashtag, #syllabus, handbook, etc. We could also try to connect with the Women, Gender and Sexual Equality Center on campus, perhaps get our project put on one of the event calendars. Is it possible to connect with other specific organizations? Can we map out how organizations are not separate entities, but have common goals? How are organizations working together now? How are these patriarchal systems of syntax, funding, access keeping organizations from working together? If we decide to undertake research on a topic that is going to shed light on a feminist issue (such as the absence of women in tech history) how can we work with other organizations to get a good understanding of the big picture and how other issues are related?

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9 thoughts on “peripheral presence in the digital age

  1. Three Weeks in May was effective because the different initiatives (self-defense workshops, information about organizations and activities dealing with violence prevention and support to those affect by it, performance pieces) involved in the project were able to mobilize the local community around a common issue, featuring also the actual presence of women on the streets during those weeks.

    Your post also reminded me that in 2013 an iteration of the HarassMap was launched in Brazil, a collaborative map within the campaign called “Chega de Fiu Fiu” (No More Catcalls) by NGO Think Olga (http://chegadefiufiu.com.br/). I like their format because people were actually encouraged to provide their written accounts, which generated debate and solidarity. The campaign generated a detailed study on street harassment and sexual assault in Brazil and are about to release a crowdfunded movie on the subject. They do not, however, cite any other similar initiatives, what I perceive as an oversight, failing to integrate what might be an extended network of exchange, support, and activism through the internet.

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    1. ### MorrisSara
      Peripheral Presence
      This ideas of “Golden Age” really interests me.
      The art piece you mention, “Golden Age”, and its symbols are spot on in the Time of Trump. It is difficult to forget the continuous proposed imposed bans on many Middle Eastern [read Muslim] nations, the call for higher surveillance of immigrant Latinx communities and the failure for gun reform admits a white supremacist movement that continuous to oppress black people, perhaps best epitomized by Collin Kapernick. The symbols speak so much truth for many different peoples. I think here of Mexicans and their extraction of land and gold through colonization [1492] and the enslavement of black people and more broadly today enslavement of society to capitalism. I quote the zeitgeist Kanye West here when he says in his song, New Slaves, “You see it’s broke nigga racism
      That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”
      And this rich nigga racism
      That’s that “Come in, please buy more
      What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
      All you blacks want all the same things”
      Used to only be niggas now everybody playing
      Spending everything on Alexander Wang
      New Slaves”
      [heres the SNL performance [Kanye West – New Slaves (Live on SNL) – YouTube](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SoKFycTmVU)%5D
      I encourage the reader to watch the video as it is also an artistic way of getting across the message of “New Slaves”. This would also be something to consider doing for the class project.

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  2. I really liked your integration of those art pieces by Ai Weiwei and Suzanne Lacy. In the Golden Age piece I thought of the connection between wealth and and the other factors of surveillance, social media, etc. since you mentioned “45” and his love for all things gold and gaudy. I was also interested in your use or quotation of the word “activated” in terms of Lacy’s writing on the sidewalk – it brings a sort of life and movement to the idea that I hadn’t considered, activating public space.

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  3. I really appreciated your use of Ai Wei Wei’s and Suzanne Lacy’s work. Your connection between a wallpaper (as something that is always there and almost becomes invisible) with surveillance (through security cameras, for example). Also, I agree on the limits of both surveillance and sousveillance, and the possibilities of crowdsourcing towards activism BUT also the possibility of it just becoming more surveillance.

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  4. The Ai Wei Wei wallpaper is a good starting point for considering the role of surveillance in a global context. As with many of the forms we have analyzed thus far, we (including those who are surveilled) are relying on technology in the same way as those doing the surveilling. This duality of the network as being both a space for progress and regress should be considered when developing our group project.

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  5. The Ai Weiwei wallpaper is awesome! I wasn’t aware that this project existed. As others in earlier comments have noted, for our project, it could be interesting to “activate” public space and do a public art project that brings an organization on board. Considering space and place requires us to consider how we are oriented in the world (also harkens back to Solnit’s mapping projects). Laila sent us that email about the release of the JFK papers and that could form the basis for fascinating project about the role of government classifications, redactions, etc. There is definitely something there about redaction paintings–the artist Jenny Holzer often use government documents with redaction to call attention to what you could read through redaction. Now that we will be able to trace around the redactions, something entirely new could be thought about.

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  6. I appreciated that you raised the private/public discussion, insofar as I entirely agree that the former is increasingly colonized by the neoliberal regime. Moreover, we often put content out that in fact invites an external gaze into our private lives through the internet. As you point out, Ai Weiwei’s piece foregrounds the prevalence of surveillance. Additionally, it is marketed as a consumer good, which we pay to bring into our homes. In other words, it seems to thematize our own complicity in the spread of surveillance. This linking of (auto)surveillance and consumer culture is concerning on several levels, but it raises a question about who is ultimately driving this breakdown of the private/public: global neoliberalism, or the individual consumers?

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  7. As we move away from black and white/ good and bad categorizations of things as a whole, we have to find new language and new tools to hold two opposing and contradictory concepts together at the same time. Just as we can recognize the ecological and human toll that this technology takes, we can celebrate innovation and connection. This is the same way you ask for the group project “Can we map out how organizations are not separate entities, but have common goals? How are organizations working together now?” How do we show how things are working together, and actually not always at odds? How do we operate reparatively?

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  8. I love these artistic manifestations of surveillance theory. I’m also really interested in unpacking what you mean by the “naked eye” (“I’m not convinced that surveillance, and to a lesser degree sousveillance, allows us to get closer to the truth—allowing us to see with a ‘naked eye.'”) I’m not trying to push us into an epistemological debate about the impossible singularity of feminist truth, but I would like to hear more about what you mean when you use this term! Or is your point that artistic manifestations allow us to get closer to “truth” than any surveillance tactics? (cc: last week’s remarks on Oscar Eustis’ “As artists, we know that truths do not always hinge on facts.”)

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