BELFAST call for interviews for transgender interactive documentary

I’m going to Belfast between 24th June and 11th July to spend some time at the PS2 art space. While I’m there, I hope to carry out interviews with local transgender people, for a forthcoming project with a working title of “Cis Penance”. I’m very keen to hear from anyone who might be interested in being interviewed – please check out the details below!

Project information

Overview

“Cis Penance” aims to use videogame-like installations to draw attention to issues affecting transgender people in the UK, with a particular focus on how institutional and social structures alter our relationship to time and our life paths, through lengthy waiting processes. Interviews with 60 transgender people from around the UK will be represented as interactive text, projected onto a long, embroidered e-textile portraying people waiting in a queue. Kind of a queer cybertwee Bayeux tapestry. Anyone interested in being interviewed is welcome to contact me: zoyander@gmail.com

Background

This project builds on my previous work, “Interactive portraits: trans people in Japan 2018“, which has toured exhibitions and festivals, including Docfest, Now Play This, and the Rainbow Arcade exhibition at the Schwules Museum in Berlin. Whereas that project featured 12 interviews carried out in Japan, this new project aims to incorporate 60 interviews carried out in different locations in the UK.

Participant information

The format I use makes anonymity very easy to achieve, as I do not use interview audio in the final piece and I do not record video footage. Interviewees’ physical appearances will not be portrayed in the installation piece, instead represented by one of 60 abstract embroidered figures. Interviewees can choose to use their real name, an existing pseudonym that they might use online, or a randomly-assigned pseudonym. My interview method focuses on allowing participants to set the agenda, to reflect the kinds of topics that actually come out in conversations between trans people, rather than directing the conversation to serve cisgender curiosity.

Interview information

Interviews will last about 45 minutes. The Belfast interviews will be carried out in the Paragon Studios space. They will be recorded as audio only, and transcribed into text extracts for the interactive work. Audio recordings will not be used in the final installation piece, but interviewees can opt in to allowing the audio to be used in accompanying multimedia materials. The recordings might be archived in a museum or library collection at some point, to preserve them for the historical record.

Interviewees are welcome to participate without talking about their transition. I use an open-ended format that gives the interviewee autonomy over the topics of discussion, but questions I might ask to help things along could include:

  • How do you see yourself?
  • What brings you satisfaction in life?
  • What aspects of your life would you like to be different?
  • What challenges do you face in making this happen?
  • How have things changed for you in the past few years?

Dates and contact

I hope to interview around 15 transgender people while I am in Belfast between 24th June and 11th July. Anyone interested in being interviewed can contact me using zoyander@gmail.com.

Mid docfest update

Docfest is about halfway done,
and it’s been so lovely so far.
The Interactive Portrait Cushions
are hung right of the entrance to
the exhibition space, and I’ve had
great conversations with people about the unique pleasures and challenges of handmade computers.

I just finished a panel discussion with IP Yuk Yiu about his piece, to Call a Horse a Deer, comparing our approaches to simple interface design for conceptually complex works.

On Tuesday I will be on a
panel with Georgie Pinn in the
context of a series of discussions
about ecological and environmental
issues. I’m very excited that this
provides the opportunity to talk
about how computer media and
empathy discourse relate to bigger
global issues such as resource extraction, and waste flows to the global south.

Critaoke

I’m going to embarrass myself this Saturday by performing a Karaoke version of Sara Ahmed’s “Feminist Killjoys” to the tune of Chiquitita (I haven’t called it Critiquita, but gosh that seems like a missed opportunity now). Details below.

Description

Join us as we mark the closing of Re-collections with Crit-a-Oke – a free cabaret event featuring live performances, projections and karaoke.

Crit-a-Oke feels like a late night party lecture. Squashing art criticism, theory and academic texts into a karaoke blender and sipping on the thinky musical smoothie that drips from the other side.

Think Donna Summer and the S.C.U.M. Manifesto.

Ask, “Does your Mother Know” about John Berger?

Get thoughtful and dancey all at once as Sheffield’s artists and thinkers perform their favourite arty texts as you’ve never heard them, to the songs that you (probably) know.

Specially created visuals projected during the performances will reference Site’s lifespan from 1979 to the present, with contributions from Society of Explorers.

Performing on the night:

  • Tsarzi
  • Sarah Christie
  • Matthew Cull
  • Oriana Franceschi
  • Caitlin Merrett King & Josef Shanley Jackson
  • Miriam Miller
  • Zoyander Street
  • Lucy Vann

Kollective Coffee and Kitchen will be open late serving refreshments.

Crit-a-Oke is brought to you by Tžužjj – a curatorial project between Louis Palliser-Ames and James Harper.

Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/598394327325506/

Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/crit-a-oke-closing-party-tickets-60570695581

Interactive portraits at Doc/Fest

Interactive Portraits has been selected for the Sheffield Doc/Fest Alternate Realities exhibition at the Site Gallery! Check out the other pieces in the show here: https://sheffdocfest.com/films/interactive

Mine isn’t the only piece portraying LGBT issues. My Mother’s Kitchen by Maeve Marsde and Tea Uglow is an interactive documentary based on interviews with eight LGBTQI+ people, that takes shape around domestic spaces. Through the Wardrobe by Rob Eagle is an augmented reality installation centering on clothes and gender expression. Another Dream by Tamara Shogaolu is a Virtual Reality piece about a lesbian couple from Egypt who have to figure out what to do in the wake of post-revolution attacks on the community.

To_Call_a_Horse_a_Deer_-_1st_Option

I’m excited to see To Call a Horse a Deer in the nominations for Best Digital Experience – I played it at AMAZE and found it very distressing and compelling. It’s not AR, VR, MR, or whatever, it’s just a lo-fi text-based game that gets into your head and alters reality for a little while. It sort of hypnotised me into a conceptual sensation I haven’t felt before, except perhaps when I was catatonic with depression – though the content isn’t actually depressing or overwrought in any way. Putting that weird sensation in the context of a representation of state oppression is fascinating – I always associate fascism with the stirring up of popular passions, but this is portraying something else, a kind of enforced dissociation.

Video: Curating artist-made games at SF MoMA

This is a short documentary that I made a while ago but never published, about a pop-up exhibition of games that showed at SF MoMA back in 2017 at the same time as GDC. Giving this video a quick editing pass today before uploading it, I was struck by how much of an impact this interview must have had on me. Two years later, I’m still chewing on the ideas brought up here. I’m so glad that I’ve finally made the time to share this material!

This was one of my stops on a train journey down the West Coast of North America, during which I recorded a load of footage for a series of short documentaries about people who curate and archive games. I have a page for the whole series here. In the past few weeks I’ve been uploading them to Vimeo, and with this video uploaded I’ve finally finished the series!

Video: Collecting games at UC Irvine

This is a short documentary that I made a while ago but never published, about a collection of videogames that has come to be used to teach students at UC Irvine.

Back in 2017, I recorded a load of footage for a series of short documentaries about people who curate and archive games. I have a page for the whole series here.

Some stuff got published on sites that briefly had a budget for freelance video, but there were multiple issues that led to the series never finishing. Three of them were hosted by a website that technically isn’t really running anymore, and I don’t know what the future fate of their Youtube channel might be, so I’ve been uploading them to Vimeo.

The one I uploaded today never got published before – with this done, I have one more left to finish before this particular unfinished project is finally tidied away!

What kind of a world will videogames rebuild?

Business Insider has an eye-catching take on the fire of Notre-Dame: “rebuild effort could get help from an unlikely source: a videogame” – basically, they recreated it so accurately in Assassin’s Creed that the research that went into the game could now be used in restoration efforts. So far so postmodern – simulations are informing the construction of reality, heritage is a simulacrum, history is over.

The notion that the Notre-Dame spire could be rebuilt based on a level designer’s work “to make sure that each brick was as it should be” is impressive, and it’s a bit of a testament to the value of artists’ painstaking attempts to document the world. I trained as a design historian, so I care about preserving the history of the built world. But I’m secure enough in that commitment to be a bit contrarian about it. Preserving history isn’t the same as reproducing it. “As it should be” is a different proposition to “what it could be”.

As people talk about what it will take to rebuild, I wonder whether we’re going to hear much critique of the subtle conservatism in conservation, or the hegemonic mythology in heritage. This is a question that comes to mind often when I think about bigger issues such as climate change and neoliberalism. What images are even available for us to think about rebuilding? What is most readily available to us is our shared cultural memory of things as they were, or as described here, “as they should be”.

Assassin’s Creed games have worked to reify a particular image of history and turn it into a playground of monuments – now that image of history is shaping what people expect to see from attempts to rebuild in the future. This is a particularly on-the-nose example of how videogames’ imaginaries contribute to wider cultural imaginaries. On its own, there’s nothing tremendously problematic about deciding to rebuild the spire in the image of its original design, but we should pay attention to these moments when we assume consent for investing resources in recreating the past rather than building something new.

Without wanting to engage in too much whataboutery, it might be worth noting that the Grenfell Fire did not stimulate this same cultural reflex – as I remember it, we did not all start commonsensically talking about how we’re going to rebuild our social housing stock, and as such we did not start looking at how videogames could help planners to imagine the way forward.

Rather than leaning on a self-congratulatory story about how videogames are helping to rebuild heritage, anybody committed to the cultural value of videogames has an opportunity here to be critical about what heritage is, what it does, and what other forms rebuilding could take.

In Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway talks about some of the imaginaries of flourishing and ongoingness that have developed in marginalised cultures – that is relevant here as we think about communities that have seen repeated destructions of their own heritage, through slavery, colonialism, and ongoing violence. A videogames culture that elevates marginalised voices could help to expand our imaginaries of the future. A videogames culture that values fringe work and creative risks might not be seen as an “unlikely source” for worldbuilding. A videogames culture that takes responsibility for its cultural role might offer futurisms other than gritty dystopias, disrupting the assumed dichotomy between conservation and ruin.