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Friday, June 9 • 2:45pm - 4:15pm
Performance landscapes: Exploring the affordances of reenactment for reconfiguring the dominant interface design paradigm

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Modes of performance can counteract the portrayal of data colonialism and algorithmic oppression as objects too gargantuan for the average user to comprehend. As such, this panel approaches the practice of performance through a data feminist lens in order to embody processes and practices of systemic oppression (D’Ignazio and Klein, 2020) that so often exceed perception or felt experience. More precisely, it explores reenactment as an avenue to broaden ways of exploring questions regarding which voices are inscribed in and affected by interface affordances and dysaffordances (Wittkower, 2016). Through three diverse and action-based inquiries into methods of reenactment with interfaces, these three presentations approach performance as grounds for the reinterpretation of dominant, neoliberal mechanisms of behavioral change.

Following feminist new materialist perspectives that examine material phenomena as agential assemblages in intra-action (Barad, 2007), this panel explores technocultural performance as distributed between human and nonhuman actors. As each presentation approaches the matter of performance subject and recipient in a different way, our panel explores a wide spectrum of the presentation of the self in everyday life (Goffman, 1956). Black performance studies scholars also provide approaches for unlearning harmful and discriminatory practices (Judd, 2022), which we believe are pertinent for reenacting otherwise experiences of interface design paradigms. All three projects engage with the performativity of language — verbal, non-verbal, and executable — which plays out in contemporary technoculture, with implications for identity regulation and reconstruction. The presentations in this panel all serve to closely examine methods of performance, offering valuable insights for broadening conversations about ethics, justice, and critical making.

Letter from King County Jail: Reflections after the Reenactment
Nathanael Elias Mengist (University of Washington)
Setting the stage for taking performance seriously as an emancipatory exercise, this presentation reenacts and reflects on my brief time as an incarcerated individual. Confined to solitude for 4 days in the 7th floor psychiatric ward of King County Jail, I witnessed abuses that Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. fought against. In my cell, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I remembered that Dr. King wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” while incarcerated during the summer of 1963: the first sign of my calling to pursue ministry. But who is your audience while in solitary confinement, where every single interface is designed to oppress you? Your fellow inmates? The many guards? Or a “prophetic organization” yet to come (Harney & Moten, 2013)? Importantly, what fugitive repurposings of carceral communication technologies could be imagined through ministry with incarcerated people? Inspired by Simone Browne’s (2015) discussion of sousveillance, I repurposed the oppressive interface of the intercom into a tool for counter-surveilling my jailers (i.e. sousveillance). Through video, I will reenact my experience of jail and reflect on key moments using Julius Fleming’s (2022) notion of “Black patience.” This presentation aspires to contribute a black study of performance that not only honors memories but that also makes dreams.

Navigating gray zones of consensual landscapes through the Atlas of Dark Patterns
Darija Medic (University of Colorado Boulder)
This talk introduces two projects that explore performance as action based methods for the research of ethics in user experience design. The first is The Terms of Service Fantasy Reader, a project that builds from a collective participatory performance model exploring reenactment practice such as socio-psychodrama to read through multiple Terms of Service Agreements, which subsequently grow into an interactive online archive and web opera. The second is The Atlas of Dark Patterns, a multimodal framework for naming and broadening the scope of what and how dark patterns could signify in contemporary digital culture. In these projects reenactment methods are applied for leveraging embodiment in order to acknowledge relating to interfaces as a physical, real, continuous tactical exchange of cognition. More precisely, these projects argue that performance methods allow exploring the weaponization of affective relationality between interface and user(s) through a form of surplus reality (Moreno, 1965). The talk will showcase some of the outputs from the collective conversation generated in The Terms of Service Fantasy Reader, how they showed a further need to explore gray zones in consenting as practice in relation to interaction design and how that need resulted in what is currently forming as The Atlas of Dark Patterns. Together, these projects propose performance practice as a valuable asset for the critical making process, establishing potential ground for experiential feedback within design justice oriented user - or rather community experience research and a form of socially-engaged collaborative learning.

Ambient-Incantory-Oracular: Performativity and prediction in vocal interfaces
Alex Borkowski (York University, Toronto)
As smart technologies are becoming an ever-more common feature in North American households, consumers are developing increasingly conversant relationships with computers. The increasing uptake of vocal, as opposed to haptic or textual, input and output is often considered “paradigm shift” in the way that people interface with technology. Yet what precisely is at stake when ambient computing becomes conversational? What transpires when the performativity of language meets predictive analytics? How are assumptions and ideologies regarding voice as an innately human form of expression, a marker of agency and unmediated self-presence, rehearsed and reconstituted through smart technologies? This talk examines contemporary art practices that interrogate the politics of vocal interfaces, as well as the biases and exclusions that permeate the algorithmic milieu to which they belong. By staging conversations with nonhuman agents, artists such as Stephanie Dinkins and Wesley Goatley propose speculative genealogies, and more equitable futures, for such technologies.

Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein. Data Feminism.. MIT Press. 2020.

Wittkower, D. E. (2016, 13-14 May 2016). Principles of anti-discriminatory design. 2016 IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Engineering, Science and Technology (ETHICS)

Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press, 2007

Goffman, Erving. Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, The Overlook Press. 1959

Judd, Bettina. Feelin: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought. Northwestern University Press, 2023.


Nathanael Mengist

PhD Student, University of Washington

Darija Medić

University of Colorado Boulder

Alexandra Borkowski

York University

Friday June 9, 2023 2:45pm - 4:15pm EDT
Steuben 410 (Design Center)