‘IT MATTERS WHAT STORIES MAKE WORLDS’
Virtual, coded spaces, folding and unfolding, have long been a refuge for the outsiders; extending the borders of bodily experience and textural publics through co-created digital counterpublics.
Artists looking towards future selves and the virtual dimension question what future publics will technology create and what future selves will be included. Digital counterpublics emerged as rich sites of creative resistance and speculation from those resisting or excluded from dominant publics; the cyberfeminist, the racially marginalised, the Autistic, the disabled, the queer, and the neuroqueer.
Digital publics and counterpublics offer generative potentialities and joyful co-creation with our technological non-human kin. It is here, in these coded spaces, that creative practice is expanded, folded and unfolded. These folds and expansions have the potential to birth utopic borderless selves and inclusive publics, but only if we, the artists, continue to disrupt, to queer, to creatively speculate and write our own stories.
If the only narratives that surround future technologies are founded in neuronormative and normative bodily experiences, then those the world mark as alien-other will remain othered in the future worlds these technologies construct.
“It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”
— Donna Haraway, Staying with the trouble: making kin in the Chthulucene, 2016 (1)
CYBORGS & PUBLICS
A public is many things. It is a textural assemblage. A story threaded between the speaker and witness group. A public, distinct from the public, is a communication feedback loop. ‘A space of discourse organised by nothing other than discourse itself’. (2)
Speaker and witnesses within digitally mediated publics are made cyborg, both implicated in the creation of a digital public. More than simply meaning bodily intervention, the cybernetic organism represents a slippage and breaching of borders; a feedback loop transversing bodies and overcoming boundaries. It is here, on the edges of embodied experience, technologically mediated and outside of dominant public borders, that we the artists, plant seeds in fertile ground for cyborg speculations and utopic counterpublics.
DIGITALLY MEDIATED PUBLICS IN A PANDEMIC WORLD
The pandemic saw a wave of mainstream digital publics. These newly created publics opened up worlds to many excluded from mainstream art publics. Artworks, artists, exhibition openings, lectures and artists talks were suddenly more easily accessible. Pre-pandemic art publics were oftentimes inaccessible or access came at a high cost. That cost being much more significant than just art opening exclusion. Those costs are economic, they are material and embodied and oftentimes, deeply traumatic. Pandemic art publics, for many of us, were a democratisation of those publics; once excluded, now included.
This inclusion was a gift, it was exposure to practice and discourse that had the potential to expand the borders of our own art making. This inclusion was also trans-geographic, creating generative exposure to practices beyond localised art publics. It meant the borders of our own lives and making were extended and enriched, in the way the able take for granted. This digitally mediated inclusion had very real, very material impacts on making, living and knowing through creative practice for those oftentimes excluded from past, dominant art publics.
In a post-pandemic world there has been a rise of calls to go back to ‘in real life’, to face-to-face; with many believing it is a more ‘true’ and ‘real’ experience, framing digital hybridised worlds as fragmented and compromised. But what of those of us who forever exist in a fragmented world, those who move between the ‘real’ and the virtual? What of those of us whose bodyminds are deeply compromised by being forced into dominant art-publics? Or those routinely excluded from them?
What of the disabled, the Autistic and the neuroqueer?
Neuroqueer(ing) is a conscious divergence from the neuronormative, and, in turn heteronormative systems; it is, as defined by Autistic academic Dr. Nick Walker ‘intentional non-compliance with the demands of normative performance’. (3)
Neuroqueering is the queering of neuronormativity, in many ways something artists have been actively engaged in for time immemorial. But as contemporary economies bring the Artist into competition in the dominant centre, those with interpersonal proficiency rise through the ranks of art publics, granted access to ever expanding publics, while those suspended in the periphery remain so. I would, however, like to suggest that suspension in this periphery, itself, can be a site for joyful resistance and creative speculation, a site for the creation of neuroqueer counterpublics.
Neuroqueer(ing) is creative speculation for all the ways both the human and non-human will unfold in future worlds. Coded spaces and digital publics compromise the experience of the so-called ‘real’ only to the extent that some may wish to reconstitute neuronormativity. For us, for the neuroqueer, these hybridised experiences are just as real and material as person-to-person interactions, in fact, oftentimes more so as digital mediation shaves away some of the challenging and traumatic aspects of face-to-face publics.
Publics render many alien-other; the disabled, the Autistic and the neuroqueer. From this alienation unfolds a desire to withdraw into the safety of the alien self and the insulated worlds we, the neuroqueer create outside and inside of neuronormative parameters. And, as many are advocating for, as we return to exclusive publics, that withdrawal and alienation will not always be a choice.
The Xenofeminist (alien/other-feminist), seize alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds, counterpublics. (4) Resting within the framework of xenofeminism (5), acts of alienation could be held as a gesture of joyful and creative neuroqueer resistance. In disrupting the neuronormative, the neuroqueer are made kin with the xenofeminist (6), occupying ‘site(s) of radical recomposition’, as framed by Helen Hester in her Xenofeminist writings. (7) This kin-making becomes intentional intervention into and of, neuronormative art-publics and creation, birthing neuroqueer counterpublics for the alien-artist.
These digital counterpublics constitute an ever-unfolding space of speculation and creation, imagining sites of neuroqueer utopia; it is here, in these coded spaces, that creative practice is expanded upon, for the alien-artist, both within and without, interbodily, as we speculate and create. In the absence of publics that include and care, we will produce our own.
DIGITAL TEXTURAL ASSEMBLAGES & INCLUSIVE CARE
Digital image production, arguably the foundation of digital counterpublics, is ‘characterised as a continuous process of reshaping visual forms out of data’. (8) An ever unfolding and reimagining of meaning and creation. Here, expanded photography and the neuroqueer experience become a series of resonate gestures. Within my own creative practice, the photographic image expands out and through all the making that occurs prior to the production of the digital image. The images are then refracted and expanded beyond a still image surface.
In this expansion, the works speak to the networked nature of the digital image along with the performative implications of image networks. (9) A conscious folding in and folding out of the self. This folding, networked image becomes a method for the actualising of an interbodily being among non-human kin; cyborg beings and neuroqueer counterpublics.
Within these counterpublics I pose joyfully soft and caring tech speculations —what if a cyborg was encased in velvet? Or, what if frilly little nanotech pokeballs did exist? Taking the textural, the soft, the material, and folding it into the virtual—creating digital-textural assemblages and virtual encounters with those assemblages, divergent modes of care are folded into the digital dimension. In so doing I propose divergent and utopic soft-cyborg speculations for systemic, multi-species care.
Recently I have been folding in frills, crochet and cross stitch into the virtual, creating an opportunity for transhistorical entanglement and care. That is, transcending historical boundaries, taking our grandmother's stitches into our future and virtual worlds, taking elements that are soft and nurturing, and proposing new modes of care for our alien bodies.
You and your gestures are implicated as you encounter these textural assemblages in the virtual, giving life to and in a loop of becoming with: sympoiesis, creating neuroqueer counterpublics and joyful resistance.