Queer Viralities: Resistant Practices in New Media Art & Philosophy

In this panel, we will focus on queer new media art and philosophy that uses and intervenes into the viral to form a radical politics of revolt and utopia. The viral will be engaged with technically, philosophically, artistically, biologically, and affectively.
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Zach Blas
Elle Mehrmand
Micha Cárdenas
Queer Technologist demostration, programming a Gay Bomb
Queer Technologies Logo Swarm

Chair: Zach Blas

The intensification and proliferation of global connectivity has opened digital networked culture to universal contagion. Indeed, it has been argued we now live in a viral ecology under the sign of viral capitalism. As viralities spread into various realms of culture, new media artists explore the viral as that which has the ability to control and restrict as well as distribute and liberate.

Our current viral ecology has opened up new tactics of resistance for various artists, activists, and cultural producers. In this panel, we will focus on queer new media art and philosophy that uses and intervenes into the viral to form a radical politics of revolt and utopia. The viral will be engaged with technically, philosophically, artistically, biologically, and affectively. Our aim is to show that while viral rhetoric and discourses have marginalized and controlled queer populations, the viral remains an allusive, volatile potential that can be experimented with toward creating new queer politics and worlds.

Blas, Cárdenas, and Mehrmand will give theoretical artist talks, and Skanse will follow with a philosophical response to the viral in media theory.

Cárdenas and Mehrmand will discuss their current collaboration virus.cirus, an episodic series of performances using wearable electronics and live audio to bridge virtual and physical spaces that explores queer futures of latex sexuality amidst a speculative world of virus hysteria and DIY medicine. Blas will speak on new works from his ongoing Queer Technologies project that attempt to formulate a viral aesthetics based on a replicating difference of never-being-the-sameness against capital’s own modulating structure. Skanse will address new directions in viral philosophy with particular concern for how this perpetual ‘movement’ of the virus is tied to notions of novelty within contemporary aesthetic discourse. 

Paper Abstracts

I want to touch you: Transreal Aesthetics in virus.circus

by Elle Mehrmand and Micha Cárdenas

Due to recent viral outbreaks, protective latex barriers must be worn at all times.
Skin to skin contact may result in viral contamination.
Failure to comply will result in a minimum of 10 years in a federal penitentiary.
Touching, and illness, are prohibited by law.

The virus must be contained.

virus.circus follows the viral as a transversal line of inquiry that intersects with the militarization of medical authority, microscopic transnational migrations and global economic inequality. Consisting of an episodic series of performances using wearable electronics, soft sensors and live audio to bridge virtual and physical spaces, the performances explore queer futures of latex sexuality and DIY medicine amidst a speculative world of virus hysteria. The history of queer politics shows that the rhetoric of viruses such as HIV are used to control marginalized populations, while viruses such as H1N1 reproduce these structures of power.

virus.circus asks how erotic affect can be a form of resistance to western medicine. Across episodes including virus.circus.touch, virus.circus.breath and virus.circus.probe, Mehrmand and Cárdenas have developed open source hardware and software to facilitate new forms of erotic expression. New possibilities of embodied knowledge unfold through the sonification and visualization of biometric data including heart rate and R-R intervals, as well as data from an ultrasonic rangefinder bra, a pressure sensing choking collar, touch sensitive dress and a motion sensitive glove that controls a strap-on vibrator.

Wearable electronic garments allow the performers to experiment with transreal embodiment, extending their physical bodies sonically and virtually. virus.circus attempts to immerse the audience/participants in an alternate reality by creating a slippage of perception. Code switching between mixed and alternate reality, virus.circus asks how we can use reality as a medium, resonating across a number of modes including public space interventions, performances in museums and galleries, and networked performances.  

Virus, Viral, Queer 

by Zach Blas

In “After Life: De Anima and Unhuman Politics,” Eugene Thacker writes, “If our global context of climate change, disasters, pandemics, or complex networks tells us anything, it is that political thought today demands a concept of life adequate to it anonymous, unhuman dimensions, an unhuman politics, for unhuman life.”

While Galloway & Thacker have urged us not to look for progressive politics in diseases, cancers, and viruses, everything about our contemporary moment forces us to look there. It has been argued we now live in a viral ecology under the sign of viral capitalism, alongside viral media and philosophies. This explosion of all things viral suggests fascinating, weird, and unhuman movements between the life of the virus and the human designation of what is viral. Following this, can we have a notion of the viral that does not coincide with capitalism? Queerness seems to tell us we can.

I will proceed to articulate what a queer viral (or unhuman) politics might (or ought to) be by examining the overlappings, differences, and irreducibilities of the virus (biological entity) and the viral (characteristics of the virus applied to other things). I will specifically consider the virus/viral relation along two axes: 1) from virus to viral based on action: replication and cryptography, or what Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker call the “becoming-number” of the virus, and 2) from virus to viral based on its perceptual world, or how to generate the viral through a speculation on, or “alien phenomenology” of, its “umwelt.” I will argue that the unhuman is the mediating link between the virus and the viral, and that a queer viral politics engages with both these axes in novel ways. I will specifically look at Tim Dean’s writings on barebacking culture, Luce Irigaray’s work on mimicry, and the artwork of Queer Technologies.

Bios of the Participants

Zach Blas

Zach Blas is an artist and writer working at the intersections of networked media, queerness, and the political. His current project, Queer Technologies, is an organization that develops applications and situations for queer intervention and social formation. Zach has exhibited at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, Highways Performance Space, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, File Electronic Language International Festival in Brazil, and the 2010 Arse Elektronika Festival in San Francisco, where he was the recipient of a Prixxx Arse Elektronika. He has recently published in version.org and has work forthcoming in Fibreculture Journal. His work has been written about in Wired, Canon Magazine, and the South Atlantic Quaterly. He is also a PhD student in Literature and Visual Studies at Duke University.

Micha Cárdenas

Micha Cárdenas is an artist/theorist whose transreal work mixes physical and networked spaces in order to explore emerging forms of queer relationality, biopolitics and DIY horizontal knowledge production. She will be starting her PhD study at University of Southern California's Media Arts and Practice PhD program in Fall 2011 and is currently the Interim Associate Director of Art and Technology for UCSD’s Sixth College in the Culture, Art and Technology program. She was previously a lecturer in the Visual Arts department and Critical Gender Studies program at UCSD. She is an artist/researcher with the UCSD School of Medicine, CRCA and the b.a.n.g. lab at Calit2. Her recent publications include Trans Desire/Affective Cyborgs, with Barbara Fornssler, from Atropos Press, “I am Transreal”, in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation from Seal Press and “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study” in Code Drift from CTheory. Her collaboration with Elle Mehrmand, “Mixed Relations,” was the recipient of the UCIRA Emerging Fields Award for 2009. She has exhibited and performed in biennials, museums and galleries in cities around the world including Los Angeles, Tijuana, New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Alexandria, Egypt, Bogota, Colombia, Malaga, Spain, Saas-Fee, Switzerland and Dublin, Ireland. Her work has been written about in publications including Art21, the Associated Press, the LA Times, CNN, BBC World and Wired.

Elle Mehrmand

Elle Mehrmand is a performance/new media artist and musician who uses the body, electronics, video, sound and installation within her work. She is the singer and trombone player of Assembly of Mazes, a music collective who creates dark, electronic, middle eastern, rhythmic jazz rock. Elle is currently an MFA candidate at UCSD, and received her BFA in art photography with a minor in music at CSULB. She will teach “Electronics for Art” at UCSD in Winter 2012. Elle is a part of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre 2.0 and the b.a.n.g. Lab, and she is a researcher at CRCA <Center for Research and Computing in the Arts> at UCSD. Her work has been shown at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions <LACE>, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego <MCASD>, Highways Performance Space, Orange County Museum of Art <OCMA>, UCLA Freud Playhouse, CECUT, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Gallery of the National College of Art and Design. Her performances have been shown in Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Tijuana, Montreal, Dublin, Istanbul and Bogotá. Her work has been discussed in Art21, the LA Times, Juxtapoz Magazine, Networked Performance, the OC Weekly, Furtherfield.org, the CityBeat and VICE magazine.