“The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.” – Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto (1985).

What we put out into the internet, we put out into the world. Each post, each re-post released into the world wide web has the potential to impact our social landscape. Exploring the internet as a tool which can be used in the production of social reality, Virtual(ity) examines the ways in which digital space can be used to complicate, blur and/or transcend boundaries and borders– borders historically used to separate, classify and dominate people and land in our lived realities.

The first Virtual(ity) work to launch is a dance performance titled Resist/Co-exist, a collaboration between dancers Mushtari Afroz, Tamar Ilana and drummer Ahilan Kathirgamathamby. Resist/ Co-exist tells the story of two dancers from different cultures who have adopted the same home country.Tamar Ilana performs in the Spanish tradition of flamenco while Mushtari Afroz performs in the North Indian Kathak tradition. Drummer Kathirgamathamby aptly supports the narrative with the synchronicity of the beat of his drum. The performance begins with Afroz and Ilana across the room from one another, a long black border of fabric separating them. They dance in circles, eyes locked. Afroz and Ilana remove the black border which separates them. An exchange is happening- of energies and of cultures. Afroz, Ilana and Kathirgamathamby come together in this space to tell a story of equilibrium– of cultural preservation and cross-cultural exchange, of history and progression, of resistance and co-existence. Performed live at 187 Augusta in Toronto while being simultaneously streamed online, Resist/ Co-exist circulates concepts which complicate our notions of immigration and cultural exchange through the unearthing of the similarities, differences and deep historical connections that the Spanish Flamenco and North Indian Kathak traditions have with one another.

From an other to the other (fromanothertotheother.com) is the next Virtual(ity) work to launch– a single-page web installation by artist Xuan Ye. The work is a cumulation of the artists’ personal history documented through photography and writing, consisting of what the artist refers to as “fabled theories, far-fetched fallacies, and waves of the primitive impulses.” Intellectualized by Ye as the Performance of Sensational Experience, the installation is presented to the viewer like a blog-roulette– displaying a random blog entry every time the window is refreshed. The code Ye has written ensures that the next entry the viewer will see is uncertain. The entries can be dated back as far back as when the artist was 14-years old, but are displayed out of chronological order. Immersing the viewer in a roulette of the artists’ personal history, Ye plays with notions of intimacy and interconnectivity through the distribution of language and images on the internet. Like floating in the middle of the sea, clicking through the limitlessness of Ye’s web-based installation can skew the viewer’s sense of time. The internet is like water in that it is also a fluid medium which can shape our world and the way that we experience it. Linking continents, countries and borderlands with one another, water has connected people for generations– and now, technologies have emerged which have the potential to connect us even further, and even more deeply.

A panning camera leads viewers through Zinnia Naqvi’s video titled Veena, scanning a scene of rainbow of saris layered upon a moving image of what appears to be a young woman’s face and figure. An accompanying audio recounts an Indian woman’s experience of migrating to England. Zinnia Naqvi deploys the Apple Inc. dictation accents in the creation of Veena— naming the work after the dictation accent which goes by the same name. One of the available English readers made by Apple Inc., Veena is described by the company to have an “Indian English Voice.” Playing with perceptions of authenticity, Naqvi uses technology to lace together sound, language and images– weaving them together to embody Veena’s identity. Emphasizing the flux, fluidity and complexities of identity, Naqvi leaves particular aspects of Veena’s story untold– is Veena a real human, or is she a simulation? Would being a simulation make Veena’s story any less relatable, or any less real? Unravelling ideas around false nostalgia, orientalism and exoticism while blurring boundaries between human and machine– Veena demonstrates some of the very real complexities and emotions encountered by many diasporic peoples.

Taiwanese-Canadian artist Jessica Leung has a passion for developing deeper connections between intersectional-Deaf communities and Hearing communities. They does this by unpacking and sharing their experience as a gender-non binary, multicultural and Deaf-identity living in a Western and hearing-dominant society. By expressing their subjective multiculturalism through the retelling of their past experiences, Leung opens up complex and nuanced ways of thinking about language, storytelling, identity-formation and self-perception. Shared online for Virtual(ity), Leung is able to communicate with a wider range of viewers through a selection of their drawings and poetry. Leung’s colourful and expressive drawings point to a significance of physical features such as eyes, mouths and hands- all of which are important for communicating in American Sign Language, one of the languages Leung uses in their day-to-day life. Additionally, while all of the selected poems are written in the English language, the grammar flows between English grammatical structures and that of American Sign Language — perhaps illustrating the way in which Deaf folks have had to adapt to living in hearing-dominant societies by learning how to accommodate those who are Hearing and do not know sign language.

In A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s (1984) Donna Haraway notably outlines the exponential advancement of technology and its correlation with our growing dependence upon it. Haraway notes how that has led the human species to chimerize with technology. While some might have concerns about the power held by the companies which grant us these technological splendours, Virtual(ity) is interested in the power which can be utilized by those who hold the devices.


Notes:

  1. Resist/ Co-Exist was originally produced and sponsored by Emerging Young Artists (EYA). The length created was 12 minutes in collaboration with Tamar, Mushtari and Ahilan and was presented as an opening act of EYA’s contemporary art exhibition titled De/Attachment at Narwhal Art Gallery in Toronto on March 17, 2018. We would like to credit them and note their support for the reproduction of Resist/Co-Exist.

References:

  1. Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. (New York, 1988).
  2. Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York Routledge, 1991).
  3. Miller, Dr. Betty G., Dr. Paul Johnston, Dr. Deborah M. Sonnenstrahl, Chuck Baird, Guy Wonder, Alex Wilhite, Sandi Inches Vasnick, Nancy Crighton, & Lai-Yok Ho. The De’VIA Manifesto, Deaf View/ Image Art. The Deaf Way, May 1989.