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Thursday, June 8 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Willful Interventions: Community Engagement and Critical Making

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Sara Ahmed suggests that the way to transform an institution is through practice, rather than through theorizing. In this panel we discuss resistant practices through the invocation of bodily presence and ethical representation, asking what it means to intervene in spaces not necessarily designed for us.

Virginia Kuhn and Selwa Sweidan begin the panel by discussing their project, Sacred Poses: A Cross-Cultural Movement Analysis Using Motion Capture. Repurposing the tools of the entertainment industry, the Sacred Poses project examines embodiment as expressed through three distinct movement traditions: a) Muslim prayers (salat); b) Tai Chi; and c) Yogic sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) with the goal of comparing the ways in which each disciplines the body in addition to the mind. In concert with a group of advisors that include subject matter experts, choreographers, and an expert in haptics and computer vision, a dancer was trained in each of the three traditions, after which her movements were captured by the fifty cameras in the performance capture stage of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Kuhn and Sweidan will present the early results of this endeavor, arguing for the value of epistemologies concerned with embodied knowledge, that which is considered non-academic. Indeed, as Audre Lorde maintains, in patriarchal systems, women have “come to distrust that power that rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge,”--those ways of knowing that have been vilified in western culture. By reclaiming such knowledge structures and considering them in conjunction with more traditional epistemologies, we might embrace multiple ways of knowing without the immediate judgment of our preconceived notions. In this way, Kuhn and Sweidan maintain, we can more fruitfully intervene in dominant ideologies and challenge oppressive knowledge regimes, opening up a space for a radical type of praxis.

Next, Alexandrina Agloro discusses opportunities and challenges of critical making, justice, and our current funding structures. She addresses ethical considerations for community-based tech research by looking at projects in the early phases of development and prioritizing lived experiences as research. In particular, she discusses 2 projects: collaborative work with a self-professed low-tech historian to develop a video game with migrants, and digital tool development with a national collective of birthworkers of color as ongoing research landscape changes including doing research during the onset of COVID-19, and what the fall of Roe vs. Wade means for health research. Agloro details theoretical grounding and practical how-to’s, including aspects that still need to be considered while doing virtual research: real bodies are still on the other sides of our screens.

Viola Lasmana then explores the practices, ethics, and creative nuances of collaboration across different communities in transnational and global contexts. Drawing from multimedia and transmedia productions by women’s collectives, artists, and media makers, Lasmana emphasizes the significance of the collaborative process and calls attention to roots of the word collaboration; it is more than just working together, but also about making the labor visible: collaborate comes from the Latin laborare, to work. In considering the transformative and at times complicated elements of working together across disparate spaces, Lasmana asks what community means and how community is created through not just an intersection of different identities, but also various media forms and platforms, thereby making what Sara Ahmed calls a “willful archive,” borne out of a feminist and radical practice.

Together these speakers respond to Ahmed’s notion that theory is only as useful as its potential impact on practice. Relying on abstraction, theory tends to “drag away, attach, pull away or divert.” As such, “we may have to drag theory back, to bring it back to life” This panel is an attempt to do just that: bringing theory back to life via critical making, reflection and, above all, an intense care for the world in which we live and the people with whom we interact. It is only through this process, we contend, that we might transform the institutions in which we labor.

avatar for Virginia Kuhn

Virginia Kuhn

Professor, University of Southern California

Alexandrina Agloro

Arizona State University , United States of America

Viola Lasmana

Rutgers University

Selwa Sweidan

PhD Student, University of Southern California

Thursday June 8, 2023 3:30pm - 5:00pm EDT
Engineering 307