From the blatant political disregard for facts, climate change, and immigration policy within the White House to the right-wing series of governments in Europe, East and Southeast Asia, the world seems to be entering a new and worrisome phase. In light of these recent global shifts, how do we keep the personal political with the increasing commodification of “self-care”? Moreover, under the global neoliberal regime and shifts on the international stage in 2016, how do we (re)conceptualize support networks and the feminist concept of “care” that sustains communities that actively perform acts of care? How can we focus on an issue long enough to foster change? How can we make sense of the world in the twenty-first century when information on practically everything exists virtually at our fingertips? The Feminist Technology Playground Project engages with these questions on three levels: 1) the digital/analog; 2) affective realms; and 3) the political. Through these strategies, we articulate our goal of creating embodied communal care practices through an interactive performance. We bring these ideas together through the performance of a feminist playground where we collectively design, explore, and share multiple technologies of care. We understand technologies here in the broadest possible sense; not as machine, but rather as process. Consequently, we work with an assemblage of different technologies to show the contiguity of the digital and analog and the importance of creating a platform for both. Through this exploration, we interrogate the naturalization of types of intellectual and emotional labor, instead considering how to ascribe value to both our own labor and our own play. We further ask how we can teach without establishing new dogmas, and how we participate in forms of community caring practices that can keep us within political spheres.
The Feminist Technology Playground Project focuses on the contemporary moment, but we realize that the technologies of care we identify and appropriate are not new. We have drawn inspiration from our readings, blog posts, and conversations from seminar. Particularly, Anne Balsamo’s work on “digital memories” regarding the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Margaret Morse’s essay “The Poetics of Interactivity” (2003). Through the playground, we seek to reconnect with our community at UCSB within a ritual space-time. We follow Max Haiven and Alex Khasnabish’s point that we must create “time for the unending work of building solidarity and anti-oppression.” By creating this space-time within a communal frame, we aim to disrupt the neoliberal connotations that see the term “self-care” as a closed, commodified, individual pursuit. We reclaim the notion of care through the donation of our own affective labor and collaboration.
In thinking about the role of digital technology, we understand emergent modes of social media as falling prey to the same neoliberal colonization of interiority as concerns the notion of “self-care.” Indeed, the internet enables unprecedented flows of communication around the globe. As many commentators have pointed out, this facet of digital media has tremendous transformative potential. Yet, our tools of communication, too, are often subtly monetized—and, given the increasing visibility of our personal lives in public forums, our private realms become fertile ground for late capitalism. We consequently see an increasing overlap of phatic (community-building) with conative (persuasive) and capitalistic speech acts (e.g. Chandler 2007, 184). Within our time-space, then, we attempt to re-center phatic praxis. We tie the analog components of our project to the notion of digital technologies before, during, and after the performance to ensure the project remains accessible and retains a sense of openness, rather than becoming yet another closed virtual frameworks. In this way, the Feminist Technology Playground Project is more than a rigid experiment with strict rules pertaining to subjects, agents, and receivers. Instead, this project ventures into the messy spaces in-between tightly-controlled academic boundaries and “public” spaces.
We intend to design an experience within the Wireframe Studio that emphasizes embodied care. A survey of mediations throughout the Wireframe Studio, such as audio, video, and tactile performance not only reveals our broad definition of and requirements for self-care from within the playground, but also attempts to grasp and inject these methods into the rituals of daily life. The first affective realm we explore is the University studio where one would expect to find artists making art while also enacting institutional critique—yet we also engage a wider audience outside of the university via a website, social media presence, and supplemental documentation. We transform our feelings and findings into interactive experiments and experiences meant to activate and awaken institutionally repressed desires through play—an intervention that will briefly, but effectively resonate with the community. We plan to explore these dimensions in different mediations: spoken word, songs, projected images/video, nourishment, celebration, ranting, and creating textiles that test the interstices of our everyday interactions with care and technology. For the climax of our performance, we intend to collect and destroy the negative affect collected in written form from our audience through a “rage piñata.” In this, we follow Esteban Muñoz’s assertion that rage can provide a call to activism, to “take space in the social that has been colonized by the logics of white normativity and heteronormativity” (xii). In this way, we see these activities as working within affective dimensions of thinking, grieving, exploring, and playing that are always already political. We see this act of destruction also through Sedgwick’s method of “reparative reading” in a world filled with “paranoia.” In destroying the rage piñata, we hope to clear the table of paranoia, and start a new reparative praxis built upon our project.
We not only plan to document our project through video, sound, and writing, but also hope to translate the performance into an experience that can travel virtually beyond the university. Perhaps we will write DIY step-by-step instructions to practice self-care wherever you are. The afterlife of the Feminist Technology Playground Project will exist in the virtual realm, where viewers can revisit and discover the material origins of the performance and stay attuned to our interest in communal care practices. In this way, the playground becomes an interactive effort to remember and archive as it leaves the physical space and enters the digital realm.
Finally, we consider our own positionality within the greater academic community of UCSB. The technologies of care presented are framed geographically by the university as a “public” academic institution, and are also framed by the present political moment. Through the feminist playground, we ask open-ended questions about being a student, a peer, and a researcher towards the end of the year 2017. We find ourselves at the end of a shaky year—exhausted, disgusted, and terrified of the next horrific headline to be leaked, tweeted, hacked, and posted. It is precisely for this reason that we see our project as a celebration, but not an end in and of itself. Rather, we work towards communal care practices that can sustain us for the long haul.
The playground is an experiment/creation in technology, and the documentation allows for its dispersal after the performance is done. The purpose of the playground is to create a space for self-care from which the subjects, agents, and receivers can focus and perhaps extract meaning temporarily from with our space-time. We can invite people to participate in this experiment. However, we cannot predict the results, nor do we attempt to. We aim instead to create something beyond—beyond standard categories, beyond our normal lived experiences, beyond our academic identities. In the end, our goal is something more mysterious and more unknowing.
Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Haiven, Max and Khansnabish, Alex. The Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity. London: Zed Books, 2014.
Literat, Ioana and Balsamo, Anne. “Stitching the Future of the AIDS Quilt: The Cultural Work of Digital Memorials.” Visual Communications Quarterly 21, no. 3 (2014).
Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Sedgwick, Eve. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.” Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2007): 123-131.