[-empyre-] [–empyre–] Refiguring the Future, Week 1: Exhibition as Ecosystem

Dorothy Santos dorothy.r.santos at gmail.com
Sun Mar 10 12:57:15 AEDT 2019

Hello Everyone, 

Thank you, Sarah and Lola, for inviting us to respond to Week 1: Exhibition as Ecosystem. 

I wanted to start with question Heather posed at the end of her reflection, "What does a radically inclusive future look like?" While I think about the possibilities all the time, it's not only about the optics of an inclusive future (both literally and figuratively), but what it feels like, how it is built, for whom and by whom. I want to know what an inclusive future entails for all types of bodies, identities, and expressions. Refiguring the Future (RtF) is only the beginning of a movement and the hope is to build an ecosystem from which we are able to operate and support one another. 

The conversations behind the planning, curating, and organizing of the RtF exhibition and conference forced the collective and our collaborators to confront, not only gender-bias but accessibility and inclusion as well. A radically inclusive future isn't only about "knowing your guest" and "offering seats at the table," it's about building AND sustaining the systems that serve us and continue to challenge our assumptions and prejudices. It is a future we were are constantly evolving. Most importantly, it's about having difficult conversations. As one of our RtF keynote speakers, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, so beautifully articulated in her answer to an audience member question about building a world/society with more empathy (yes, I transcribed her answer below). She stated,

"Empathy can definitely humanize those choices, but I think that's also what I was so struck by in terms of my work with Dalit Women Fight and with #BlackLivesMatter is that even when provided the human perspective, the human voice, the actual person that became a body in the act of violence of white supremacy or caste apartheid, empathy was not the problem. It wasn't an empathy gap. I really think it's about the fact that people that are privileged have a very hard time letting go of that privilege and don't want to be confronted with the bodies they create in the wake of that. So, I have not actually pursued that line of thought because I have been always been put in positions where I have to have empathy for people that have been violent towards me or my community. I think that in some ways, I've done that so much that I no longer find that as a useful tactic anymore." (statement provided at 45:23 audience question re: empathy, TS response at 45:44)

::mic drop:: If you're so inclined, you can find her Thenmozhi's talk here.

I shared the aforementioned excerpt from Soundararajan's talk to emphasize the importance of revealing the gut-wrenching truth that empathy can only go so far. When an institution (group and/or individual) is challenged but refuses to respond and engage in dialogue and/or does not check their privilege, this non-action becomes a signal for direct action. The REFRESH collective was created to think through and affect systemic change in an art world (system) that wasn't serving us. It was about taking matters into our own hands and creating the space and platform we didn't see within the realms and intersections of art, science, and technology. Collective work is FAR from easy. It takes intellectual and emotional stamina, endurance, and intention. It also takes patience and a willingness to understand what is new and different. It's also about being mindful about how artists' work is both in conversation with other works in addition to being on a continuum of work that preceded it.  

To echo Heather's sentiment about the element of surprise, I absolutely agree. I, too, want to be surprised by how an artist is exploring issues of biosurveillance, tactical media, networked culture, disability, and other urgent cultural and social concerns. In addition to surprise, I want work that provokes me to take. Work that requires me take action, use my imagination, and/or motivates me to make, write, and think in a completely new way will always captivate my attention. All the artists, writers, scholars involved in RtF have done all of this and more. 

Many thanks if you’ve gotten this far. I look forward to how the conversation expands and unfolds. 


Dorothy R. Santos
writer | curator | researcher | artist
Bio lives here
Newsletter archive here 


PRNT SCRN Launch ~ Episode 4: Not Your Average Playtest, Part 1
Listen and please share!

Friday, February 8 - March 31, 2019 Refiguring the Future Exhibition, co-curated by Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Dorothy R. Santos (New York, NY) From Friday, February 8 through March 31, 2019 at 205 Hudson Gallery, New York, NY, Refiguring the Future will be on view. The exhibition is organized by REFRESH in partnership with Eyebeam and Hunter College Art Galleries.
Friday, April 26, 2019 | Common Field 2019 | We Like Our Size, Thank You: Resisting Organizational Growth with Capitalism (Philadelphia, PA) This conversation between Liat Berdugo, Leila Weefur, Jerome Rivera Pansa, and myself looks at the radical act of resisting growth, and instead focusing on sustaining current endeavors. 

> On Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 2:13 PM Heather Dewey-Hagborg <stigmergy at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello everyone,
> It is a pleasure to join you in this discussion, and share a bit about REFRESH, the collective Dorothy and I participate in, as well as "Refiguring the Future" our inaugural exhibition and conference, and some of my personal thoughts and reflections.
> https://refreshart.tech/
> http://www.eyebeam.org/rtf/
> came out of a social media campaign some might be familiar with #KissMyArs which started around 2015 and called attention to 3 decades of sexism in the awarding of Ars Electronica's top prize, the golden nica. We wrote in detail about this in the Guardian in 2016
> https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2016/sep/12/ars-electronica-festival-gender
> The campaign caught on, the article was shared thousands of times - but Ars Electronica did not respond. 
> After 2 years of calling attention to the problem we wanted to do something proactive, to show them just what they were missing. REFRESH collective was born out of this ambition to develop sustainable and inclusive curatorial practices. 
> For the next 2 years we fundraised and shopped around our idea, which developed from the seed of wanting to highlight underrepresented artists working with science and technology, to tackling the topic of narrative around "the future."
> This curatorial theme came about in the wake of Brexit and Trump, with this overwhelming feeling that there was a need for new narratives, different visions of what and how the future could be, that weren't dominated by cis white male perspectives, as science fiction in particular has so much been. 
> Long story short, we partnered with Eyebeam, who connected us with Hunter College Galleries (shout out to Sally Schwed!)
> and the plans began to come together. 
> The artists included: Morehshin Allahyari, Lee Blalock, Zach Blas, micha cárdenas and Abraham Avnisan, In Her Interior (Virginia Barratt and Francesca da Rimini), Mary Maggic, Lauren McCarthy, shawné michaelain holloway, Claire and Martha Pentecost, Sonya Rapoport, Barak adé Soleil, Sputniko! and Tomomi Nishizawa, Stephanie Syjuco, and Pinar Yoldas.
> To briefly quote our curatorial statement, the artists we curated together for "Refiguring the Future":
> "provide a starting point for conversation and future-making. They offer a view of both the present and the future that is not ordinarily visible—one that is inclusive, diverse, and filled with a multitude of bodies and vantage points. Their views are neither utopic nor dystopic, but rather engaged with the complexities of lived experience. With this, we begin to move beyond a discourse of despair and inevitability, beyond a discussion of the end of history or the end of novelty. Refiguring the Future aims to inspire new avenues for thought and encourage the collective construction of new paths forward, ones that are inclusive, forward-thinking, and unexpected."
> For me personally, it is this last point that is most exciting and important - I want to be surprised.
> To this end we commissioned new works from almost every artist in the show and indeed did not know before opening night how it would all turn out! We had a deep trust in the community we had assembled and believed, whatever it would be, it would be good.
> And, I would say, it was :)
> I was deeply moved by the intersection of communities that came out, on opening night and to the next two days of conference activities. It wasn't just the usual suspects, or the same old nyc art & tech folks, but so many people I met for the first time, people traveling from Chicago, California, the south. It was such an open and generous group, everyone eager to talk about the issues we are facing, and how we can move forward.
> I don't have any conclusions exactly, but I feel very inspired to continue the conversation, and I hope we can pick that up a bit here.
> So, with that, I would perhaps end with a question. 
> What does a radically inclusive future look like?
> Looking forward to the conversation.
> Heather
>> On Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 9:28 AM Lola Martinez <lola.martinez at eyebeam.org> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> First and foremost, many thanks to Sarah for inviting me to
>> co-moderate and to Renate who gave us this platform to continue our
>> conversations around Refiguring the Future.
>> As the Eyebeam/REFRESH Curatorial and Engagement Fellow, I am involved
>> in most aspects of Refiguring the Future, from assisting with the
>> exhibition to co-curating the conference alongside REFRESH member
>> Maandeeq Mohamed and organizing public programming.
>> Refiguring the Future’s overarching frameworks and thematics have served
>> as a departure point for my thinking around these various components,
>> particularly in the conference which expanded upon the ideas
>> interwoven in the exhibition. The Refiguring the Future conference
>> acted as a platform for collective engagement, which brought together
>> an array of artists, educators, writers, and cultural strategists to
>> envision a shared liberatory world-building politic. By generating a
>> speculative space which went against technological forces, we asked
>> what possibilities could arise when accelerating technologies are
>> paused and world-building is privileged anew?
>> During my initial engagement with Refiguring the Future, I was drawn
>> to ecological concerns through the works of Abraham Avnisan, micha
>> cárdenas, and Claire and Martha Pentecost. The exhibition speculates
>> that, “to refigure the future requires acknowledging our existence in
>> an unsustainable present.” Claire and Martha Pentecost‘s young adult
>> novel, "The Spirit the Water Bear",  a 15-year-old activist urges her
>> community to acknowledge the devastation already caused by climate
>> change in coastal South Carolina. In Sin Sol, micha cárdenas and
>> Abraham Avnisan use augmented reality to allow gallery visitors to see
>> from the perspective of a transgender Latinx artificial intelligence
>> character as they navigate a landscape transformed by climate change.
>> These artists provided a starting point for research which led to a
>> panel discussion, Symbiotic Ecologies. The discussion was prompted by
>> narratives of colonial legacy, migration, and extinction which have
>> shifted our cultural imagining of ecologies. Beginning by
>> acknowledging our existence in unsustainable climates, this panel
>> brought forth artistic and activist practices which provoke and foster
>> symbiotic relationships, for new understandings within environmental
>> predicaments. Participants included: Sofía Córdova, who complicates
>> narratives on the athropocene through science fiction; Jaskiran
>> Dhillon who foregrounds the leadership of Indigenous youth at Standing
>> Rock in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline; and Sofía
>> Unanue on the La Maraña collective which dared to imagine a
>> community-driven alternative to Puerto Rico's future in reaction to
>> the bleak aftermath of hurricanes Irma and María.
>> To learn more of the conference and view video documentation:
>> https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBez-U3NPcCu2THKggOiS4kJWGOsEi0C1
>> On Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 10:27 PM Sarah Watson <sarahawatson at gmail.com> wrote:
>> >
>> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> > Since "Refiguring the Future" opened on February 8 at the Hunter
>> > College Art Galleries' 205 Hudson Gallery, I have more or less been
>> > living with the exhibition: turning it on and off, tending to
>> > misbehaving technology, spending focused time with each work, and
>> > caring and tending to the show. Having this sustained time in one of
>> > our exhibition is rare. Usually the shows goes up and then I have to
>> > turn my attention to the next exhibition. This constant pace of
>> > exhibition making can sometimes feel like being on a hamster wheel.
>> > I'm sure others who work at small or perhaps not so small institutions
>> > can relate to this feeling.
>> >
>> > In part, I am afforded the opportunity to spend so much time in
>> > "Refiguring the Future" since I am teaching a Graduate Curatorial
>> > Methods course centered around the exhibition. As a class we meet,
>> > discuss, and move through the show every Tuesday afternoon. The class
>> > is an experiment, as I have never structured a curatorial class within
>> > an exhibition––both thematically and physically.  It is through this
>> > ongoing time in "Refiguring the Future" that I started to think of the
>> > exhibition as an ecosystem.
>> >
>> > Taking this week to focus on the creation of this ecosystem, we have
>> > invited the co-curators of "Refiguring the Future" Heather
>> > Dewey-Hagbog (US) and Dorothy R. Santos (US) to share how the idea for
>> > "Refiguring the Future" came to be and how certain works and artists
>> > influenced the curatorial direction of the exhibition and conference.
>> > Together we will think on what shifts when we identify the exhibition
>> > not as static, but rather as an evolving complex and interconnected
>> > system.
>> >
>> > Heather Dewey-Hagborg
>> > Dr. Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and educator
>> > who is interested in art as research and critical practice. Her
>> > controversial biopolitical art practice includes the project Stranger
>> > Visions in which she created portrait sculptures from analyses of
>> > genetic material (hair, cigarette butts, chewed up gum) collected in
>> > public places. Heather has shown work internationally at events and
>> > venues including the World Economic Forum, the Daejeon Biennale, the
>> > Guangzhou Triennial, and the Shenzhen Urbanism and Architecture
>> > Biennale, the Van Abbemuseum, Transmediale and PS1 MOMA. Her work is
>> > held in public collections of the Centre Pompidou, the Victoria and
>> > Albert Museum, and the New York Historical Society, among others, and
>> > has been widely discussed in the media, from the New York Times and
>> > the BBC to Art Forum and Wired. Heather has a PhD in Electronic Arts
>> > from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
>> >
>> > Dorothy R. Santos
>> > Dorothy R. Santos is a Filipinx American writer, curator, and
>> > researcher whose academic interests include digital art, computational
>> > media, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco,
>> > California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology
>> > from the University of San Francisco and received her Master’s degree
>> > in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts.
>> > She is currently a Ph.D. student in Film and Digital Media at the
>> > University of California, Santa Cruz as a Eugene V. Cota-Robles
>> > fellow. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Rhizome,
>> > Hyperallergic, Ars Technica, Vice Motherboard, and SF MOMA’s Open
>> > Space.
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > empyre forum
>> > empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>> > http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>> -- 
>> Lola Martinez | they/them
>> Eyebeam/REFRESH Curatorial and Engagement Fellow
>> Visit Refiguring the Future: Exhibition Feb 8 - Mar 31
>> 199 Cook Street
>> Suite 104
>> Brooklyn, NY, 11206
>> M. +1 305 586 4728
>> www.eyebeam.org
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> -- 
> Heather Dewey-Hagborg
> www.deweyhagborg.com
> @hdeweyh
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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