An Astounding Display of Ladybrainz (Pt. 2): Feminist Infrastructures and Technocultures

In Part 1 of this series, I gave a more general overview of the Feminist Infrastructures and Technocultures conference that I attended at UC San Diego two weekends ago. In Part 2, I want to highlight some of the work from specific presenters at this conference that makes me excited for current and future feminist interventions in technology and culture. These are listed in an order determined by an online random list generator:

Tina Takemoto (California College of the Arts). http://www.ttakemoto.com/

On a black background, a Japanese woman dressed as a male kitchen worker in a white short-sleeve uniform and hat, kneading bread dough. Across the top, in white text: "Looking for Jiro: a film by Tina Takemoto"
Promotional image pulled from Takemoto’s website.

Professor Takemoto participated both in the screenings on the evening of April 18 as well as the talks on the first day of the conference. I found her work to be both whimsical and poignant, exploring questions of race, gender, and history simultaneously. “Looking for Jiro,” an extended project about a gay Japanese American in the incarceration camps during World War II, is Takemoto’s pursuit of “gay ancestor” Jiro Onuma. Attempting to capture what life as a “dandy gay bachelor” imprisoned in central Utah might have been like, Takemoto has created a repository of everyday queer survival  objects and a drag performance that literalizes the “camp” of the incarceration camp with a Madonna/ABBA mashup and a cheeky drag king routine exploring Onuma’s muscle man fantasies. Takemoto also discussed her guerrilla performance at the opening of Matthew Barney’s Orientalist “Drawing Restraint” exhibit at the SF MoMA.

Zeinabu irene Davis (UC San Diego). http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/zeinabu-irene-davis

An African American woman, smiling, with shoulder-length hair, in a purple knitted turtleneck with a black jacket over it.
Image credit to Wikipedian Almawoo.

Professor Davis screened her short documentary, “Momentum: A Conversation With Black Women on Achieving Advanced Degrees,” a series of conversations with UCSD graduate students about to earn their degrees. Their conversations reaffirmed the importance of community for Black graduate students, and also included some of Davis’s meditations on being a professor at a public institution that serves so few Black students – undergraduates or graduates. She and other conference participants lamented the apparent lack of outreach to the Black community on the part of the UC System as a whole. Like Takemoto, Davis also participated in a panel on the second day of the conference, offering us a preview of her in-progress documentary project, “Spirits of Rebellion: Black Film at UCLA,” a project to profile some of the revolutionary filmmakers involved in the L.A. Rebellion, a group of African and African American film makers at UCLA in the late 1960’s.

Susana Ruiz (University of Southern California/Take Action Games). http://www.takeactiongames.com

Headshot of a white woman with short dark brown hair.
Image credit: iMAP

Ruiz, a doctoral student in USC’s interdivisional Media Arts + Practice (iMAP) program and cofounder of Take Action Games, is a game designer who tackles social justice issues with her craft. Among the more famous entries from her portfolio is Darfur is Dying (2009), which won mtvU’s Darfur Digital Activist competition, a game that raised awareness for conflict in the Sudan at the same time as it produced tens of thousands of letters to Congress from its players. In addition to her other projects, Ruiz gave us the opportunity to playtest a new card game she has in development. Called “A question of CHARACTER,” it is an educational conversation piece game similar to Apples to Apples, in which players must complete sentences according to what a random feminist activist drawn from the deck might have thought. Some activists featured in the cards, such as Angela Davis, are recognizable immediately. Others are less famous, but the game is designed to provide visibility to documentary projects and other resources about these figures. I was on the losing track during the playtest (having experienced the classic A2A failure of having played THE PERFECT CARD one round previously), but sitting a group of feminist academics down to play the game resulted in lively debate and long round deliberations.

Kelli Moore (UC San Diego). http://communication.ucsd.edu/people/phd-students/kelli-moore.html

A Black woman with long locks in a teal shirt.
Image taken from Moore’s public HASTAC profile.

Moore is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSD whose work focuses on community and legal discourses surrounding domestic violence. Her presentation at FemIT centered on developing Fanon’s notion of epidermalization to discuss the simulation of violence against women in digital images – for example, in ads about domestic abuse. Moore traces how simulated images of abuse in the courtroom and in advertisements interact with one another, fueling a process known as signifiance: an authentication of the image through making available suppressed intertextual relationships among witnesses. I was particularly excited to see how this type of work plays out in fields different to mine; having recently completed an essay on the epidermal nature of race in video games, Moore’s work seems quite relevant and productive.

Christina Agapakis (UC Los Angeles). http://agapakis.com

An image of a white woman with dark hair that has been digitally distorted into polygon shards.
Image taken from Agapakis’ public Twitter profile.

Dr. Agapakis is a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA, a synthetic biologist and bioartist with a penchant for making cheeses from human body bacterial colonies. She provided a valuable laboratory scientist perspective at FemIT, and her talk on the possibilities of a feminist synthetic biology offered one of my favorite provocations from the weekend: can we imagine a design culture founded not on engineering principles (which, for example, offers eliminating complexity as a way to solve a problem) but on biological ones? She introduced her talk with some examples of masculinist discourse in the synthetic biology public, specifically surrounding George Church’s reflections on the possibility of cloning Neanderthals. In shifting toward biological design rather than engineering, Agapakis hopes to alter the gendered discourse within these publics.

I only wish there were time and space to detail all of the great scholars, artists, and scientists in attendance at FemIT, but hopefully this post gives you an idea of the astoundin display of ladybrainz to which we were treated. Thank you to the organizers at UCSD for such a productive event, and I look forward to engaging with more techno-feminists in the future.

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