Not only does SFPC have some really exciting teachers, the TAs are all involved in interesting work too! Ann is the critical theory TA, and was also a student last session and so has invaluable insights into the final exhibition process. Her final project was this Blood Battery:
In many cultures ‘blood’ represents familial or cultural connection; it is a synonym for belonging. As a mixed race woman, I am often confronted with questions about my racial authenticity. And the purity (or lack thereof) of my blood is used as a metaphor for why I should be included or excluded from certain spaces. (read more)
I really love how bodily confrontational it is. It's not immediately consumable but forces a potentially uncomfortable double-take. I think this can be very difficult to accomplish in (new) media art (especially interactive work) as inadvertently there is often a little awe or whimsy in just the construction of it. Phil recently tried to make a game that was a bit of commentary on the common connection between new technologies and the military, but by virtue of being a game it's just naturally a little fun. How do we provoke other emotions? Another reason I'm particularly interested in the Blood Battery is because I've been unsure how much "tech" I want in my project, and it's helped me think about how I want to use tech to say something in a way I couldn't without it, but I don't want to make something about tech (not right now anyway). The Blood Battery looks like all wires and glowing red but they're not what make it interesting, the blood is.
People do expect a sort of frustration with technology the way one expects it of government bureaucracy—think the post office, the dmv—but it's because the printer is jammed on something important, or the website wont load for the tickets they want. There's a larger end goal than game points. Moving to New York I was thrown in a fresh transgender hell of finding a new doctor, new pharmacy, a horrible therapist encounter, weird state laws, etc. just to maintain myself, and I've been thinking about how to share that experience but am running up against this wall of "how do I make it interactive but unfun." Can I harness the frustration of a broken echeck-in machine to talk about the frustration of a broken medical system. If it's too unfun people wont interact, if it's fun they've missed the point. Maybe make the unfun tangental to the actual experience? Like a game that mangles your name or your avatar no matter how many times you edit it. Actually that's a pretty accurate metaphor for how I move through the world I guess.
But thinking of the blood battery, I want that bodily feeling. That sort of fascination/horror that I feel coming from stares in public, repurposed for my own satisfaction. There's always questions people want to ask a Real Live Trans Person, and being that I'm aggressively out I try to be open to having to do trans 101 so that so other folks don't have to be, but of course I don't always relish it. Medical questions are to be expected, and so I've been considering how I might make something with the needles I use for weekly intramuscular injections. They are long, an inch and a half, and unforgiving if inserted incorrectly. They've become mundane to me but only through sheer force of will. Being a craft packrat and that they're a pain to dispose of (find your local biohazard sharps accepter) I have every one I've ever used. That I can mark time by these injections got me thinking about trying to make a calendar.
The other thing with starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is that even within the community it becomes this marker of time. How long have you been on T? Before and After pics? How long till your voice dropped? Understandably too, it's a big shift, and my first year it very much felt like something I was "doing," like it took daily energy to rebuild myself in this weird and unexplainable way. Now in year two there is some settling, some acclimation. The thing is, I'm never going to be "done." If I want the effects of T, I can never stop taking it. This is true of many medications*, and an odd burden to bear. There's also frustration in wondering "what if I had started sooner?" like there's all this time I can't get back. A calendar of needles seems like it could both express this weight of time that rolls over me some days but also be that confrontational bodily answer. I like that for other trans folks it could be a kind of acknowledgment, a commiseration**, and at the same time say to cis folks "look! yep this is it!" I am also thinking of the history of LGBT art, and in particular artists working with blood and bodies to discuss the AIDS crisis. That sometimes we have to be a little exhibitionist to tell our stories.
I'm not exactly sure how this would work or what it would look like. Ann suggested that since the needles are metal maybe they could be used to close a circuit, which I really like, but they'd have to be running in parallel not serial. Or maybe they are in serial and the joke is the light at the end will never light up. I am thinking maybe some sort of display that has how long it's been but also a countdown to the next shot. I have all my little empty vials too and would like to incorporate those somehow. The imp in me wants to just stuff fairy lights into them & string them up in some ham-fisted commentary on what people expect of masculinity and what I actually want.
So I don't know. This sort of style of art is very foreign to me, and especially thinking about making art that heavily relies on the concept behind it I get bogged down in "is this interesting? even if it is, interesting enough to do more than talk about but actually make?" But coming from illustration where I don't even know if people read the instagram captions it's also exciting in that it is expected there will be an explanation. If not this hopefully I cobble together something else worth asking about.
*I have very incoherent mental mumblings about who takes on medicating themselves in not clear-cut illness cases; for example cis women taking various birth control methods with side effects deemed unbearable to cis men. in a world where gender was never forced on me to begin with, I wouldn’t have taken on transness
**obviously not all trans folks have any interest in medication! (and like, cis dude body builders shoot up more T than me) also hopefully obvious I'm speaking less to the experience of trans women; though shots are an option pills are an equally effective method (oral testosterone so far not as much, though there is gel). I think in some ways the normalizing of the 'medicalization' of transness actually helps hold up cis gender visions, but this is a larger topic for another day. It is a difficult balance coping with now and hoping to create a different future.