[-empyre-] failure, collaboration, masks

Renate Ferro rtf9 at cornell.edu
Sun Jun 2 00:27:17 EST 2013

Zach thanks so much for the footnote to Jack Halberstarn's "The Queer
Art of Failure." I think I found a pdf online....


On Thu, May 30, 2013 at 6:15 PM, Zach Blas <zachblas at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> hi again!
> i'm glad that renate picked up on failure and its relations to
> collaboration. i'm quite interested in failure right now, especially
> how it's recently been taken up in queer theoretical works like jack
> halberstam's "the queer art of failure." halberstam argues that
> failure is a crucial component of queer aesthetics, since queers
> having been failing to conform / adhere to various normalizing
> impulses for quite some time. halberstam describes failure as a style,
> a way of life, for queers. here, queer failure is about realizing the
> potential and other possibilities that open when one doesn't attempt
> to align with standardized / mainstream notions of success.
> being attuned to this kind of failure seems rather crucial when
> collaborating because failure is always occurring. the collaborative
> process takes its twists, turns, bumps, diversions, and embracing
> those moments of failure during the collaborative process is what
> pushes the work further (for me, at least). in the mask-making
> workshops i've led, the moments of failure have been powerful learning
> experiences that help me continue to develop these workshops, almost
> more so than when the workshop goes perfectly (but perfectly has never
> really happened, of course). i guess what i'm getting at here is that
> it's really worth embracing those moments of collaborative failure,
> even if they're painful and difficult.
> as for the issues of aloneness vs collaboration that ana and renate
> have brought up, it seems like these two are never really completely
> detached. the longer i am a practicing artist, the more and more i
> fully realize just how collaborative art-making is, even if the
> project isn't explicitly collaborative--from receiving critique and
> feedback, material help / support, finding exhibition sites...the list
> can go on and on. even during a collaborative workshop, for example,
> the creative constraints mentioned previously could be thought of as
> individualized parts that an artist has pre-determined before the
> collaborative process begins, so you have both aspects at work here.
> i'm not that interested in debating whether collaboration or working
> alone is "natural" or not; we all come to that through our specific
> social and cultural situatedness. i see no problem with an artist
> withdrawing to work alone; i enjoy thinking of that gesture as a
> collaboratively antagonistic relation to sociality.
> johannes, thanks for your message and questions! i'm really drawn to
> the mask as an artist because it resides on a blurry boundary between
> practical use and a more utopic/transformative demand: the mask can
> aid in practically cloaking oneself from a variety of surveillance
> devices, but the mask in protest today--from anonymous and black blocs
> to pussy riot solidarity protests and the zapatistas--is also about
> positive collective transformation. on this front, the mask is a
> utopic refusal to be normatively legible, to be represented by the
> state...there is a commonizing impulse at work with the mask. i see it
> as a kind of aesthetic, creative, performative exodus that attempts to
> imagine an exit out of the current socio-political situation. in this
> sense, i find theoretical work on opacity by philsophers like edouard
> glissant and nicholas de villier incredibly compelling and useful.
> their writing insists on a kind of
> ontological/ethical/politica/creative opacity at the individual and
> relational levels...and in the midst of global, obsessive drives to
> standardize how human presence is calculated, parsed, and interpreted
> by technologies like biometrics and gps, theories of opacity seem so
> incredibly important and highly needed. also, i'm deeply influenced
> and moved by much transgender scholarship on the admission and
> regulation of gender by biometrics and surveillance technologies. work
> by dean spade and toby beauchamp really expose the violence
> transgender people encounter with reductive approaches to identity,
> like biometrics. dean spade has a powerful conception of critical
> trans resistance that focuses on the idea of transformative justice
> that is, again, more utopic and impractical, such as prison abolition.
> but taking such a stance is critical, and i hope the masks i am
> collectively developing in these workshops are gesturing toward such
> transformative visions.
> but you are right, johannes, you can't wear this mask when you're at a
> border checkpoint--a location where you would absolutely want to. so
> as an artwork, it's important for the mask workshops to help everyone
> involved envision and construct a utopic proposition that blurs the
> relations of practicalities and utopic--perhaps "impossible"--demands.
> you might think of something like theatre of the oppressed workshops
> here as a correlation. the interventions we perform are more
> speculative and creative--but they are certainly real, public, and
> create tangible disturbances.
> there are several groups of people / organizations that i want to do
> these workshops with, and undocumented persons are important to
> include. but such things take time, as i begin by developing
> relationships with people instead of just cold-calling them about a
> workshop.
> one element of this workshop that has actually been a struggle is
> color! the masks are always 1 solid color (those creative constraints,
> again!). but if the masks are about getting out of the normative traps
> of identity by collectivizing, using colors like black, yellow, and
> white become troublesome because the masks can be reduced to
> blackface, yellowface, whiteface. this is an on-going issue that is
> always addressed in the workshops, and we try to decide on color
> collectively. but i am still searching for a creative constraint that
> can offer a way to work with color sustainably, throughout many
> workshops.
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art
Cornell University
Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office #420
Ithaca, NY  14853
Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
URL:  http://www.renateferro.net
Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net

Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space

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