(Re)writing the Road, a leditor by Martabel Wasserman
I’m the robotic kid lost from the blind eye of the government and wandering the edges of a computerized landscape, all civilization is turning like one huge gear in my head.
-David Wonjarowicz, In the Shadow of the American Dream/ Soon All This Will Be Picturesque Ruins
Just as highways are invisible to me as an infrastructure bound to militarization when I mindlessly listen to NPR or oldies on my commute so too is the infrastructure I use to move through virtual space. Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, are turned into verbs, places, and words in the dictionary. The circuits of my brain have been rerouted by the structures that govern the information age; my ability to imagine and mobilize new possibilities for political action is both advanced and hindered by my constant use of social media. And I am typing away on my computer wondering how it is possible to reconcile that it is both a utopic portal to surpass borders and boundaries and a spectacularized commodity with traceable parts produced by the practices of neoliberalism and alienated labor.
I have recurring fantasies of staging a rolling intervention across the American landscape. I want to recreate rambling journeys, imagine my own queer feminist On the Road or Further fueled by biodiesel. I have yet to come up with a relevant and feasible way to achieve my version of the road fantasy, but this issue of RECAPS has some inspiring examples of transient performances from those who have. Either through the action itself, the language or documentation used to describe it, or a combination of the two, the content demonstrates how movement through actual space can reconstruct its possibilities.
JD Samson and Eileen Myles are two artists that have pried open space for reclaiming the road. JD’s Lesbian Utopia, a ride cross country in a rainbow RV that culminated in an art show and 2006 pin-up calendar, is a particularly resonate example of this. I have not been able to get the questions raised by Myles’s descriptions of the joy and melancholy of sucking up fossil fuels on Southern California highways in Snowflake/different streets out of my head. In their conversation for RECAPS, Eileen and JD discuss childhood road trips, being touring performers, and travel as subject matter in their work.
Daniel Joseph Martinez’s posters were his site-specific contribution to the 2005 San Juan Triennial. The work both responds to and intervenes in the community where he was living in preparation for the show. The posters, pasted all over San Juan, use phrases such as “I Promise To Be Good” and “Freedom Without Love,” to suggestively open up space for interrogating the politics of location and the location of politics.
Flora Kao and Nadia Gaber both contributed poetic essays about their stumblings upon the politics of space. Both of the essays are byproducts of research trips in which the journey itself further revealed the politics underpinning the initial undertakings. Kao provides a history of the road and roadmaps as part of a larger text/image essay on the American southwest titled Homestead. Two Billboards collapses constructions of difference between two nations through highlighting the commonality of militarization.
Like processes of militarization, the ways in which public space is arbitrarily policed by force is something that often goes unrecognized for those who don’t have to confront it as part of their day-to-day lives. The recent lethal police shooting of twenty-five-year-old unarmed civilian Manuel Diaz in Anaheim, California, the home of Disneyland, is an uncanny reminder of how fantasy topographies colonize the national imaginary.
A revolutionary view for reshaping and reclaiming the United States landscape is being bravely and creatively advanced by the No Papers No Fear: Ride for Justice, a bus of undocumented activists currently on route to the Democratic National Convention on September 3rd in North Carolina. We are very lucky to have one of the organizers of the project, Gabriela Alcazar, share insights and photos from the journey in Get on the Docubus. Julio Salgado’s Undocuqueer posters are an amazing addition to RECAPS’s Reprint archive. The images reclaim intersectional queer and undocumented identities not through theoretical or rhetorical strategies, but like the ride, mobilizing the coming out of real activists.
We are also featuring posters in support of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot by Rebecca Lieberman. The group is currently facing up to seven years in jail for a protest performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in March, 2012. International support for the artists has come from months of viral actions, most recently culminating in successful campaign for Madonna to voice her support of the group while she was in Moscow for a concert. JD Samson, who has been very active on social media sites in the movement to support the group, tweeted “We Are All Pussy Riot,” which Lieberman then used as a jumping off point to create timely protest posters that also reclaim the genre’s history with a feminist twist to psychedelia.
Rethinking the information superhighway, how it is structured, and who has access is not simply a related challenge but one that is deeply intertwined with the politics of real landscape. As this ad from the first iPhone promises, virtual infrastructure surpasses the obstacles posed by geographic and political borders. However the privatization of this seemingly boundless frontier constantly redirects its possibilities towards the market and spectacle of self-creation and promotion.
Over the few days I have been writing this, the above image from the first pride parade in Uganda has been blowing up on my Facebook newsfeed. The courage of the subject is unquestionable and unfathomable. To reclaim the streets of a country where homosexuality is not only illegal but the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, (known as “Kill the Gays bill”) is still being debating, much like the No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice, demonstrates what is required to overthrow oppression that is enforced by the law. While solidarity across distances via a Facebook post can change the content of the cyberspaces we inhabit, the structure of the site binds it to the hyper-mediated construction of self that the corporation constructs and taps into as a desire. Not only is there little or nothing at stake for those who post it as part of their LBGT or human rights online activism, there is something to gain in terms branding and credibility.
One way to subvert this is through the invention of an alias. As Bdydbl, who conducted the interview On Wearing Masks, said to me in a recent email:
On Facebook every profile in a sense is an alias, it’s a self via the screen, via images and texts. It’s a fabrication or a series of edits. Some may say that the self is also a projection or as illusory as a profile. Maybe it is I’m not sure…but the whole branding of the self is weird to me so I prefer an alias.
Another strategy is to adopt a pre-existing identity. Activist groups such as Anonymous and The Yes Men have been able redirect our attention towards the powers that patrol public spheres real and virtual by hacking sites or creating hoaxes that appropriate their aesthetics and language. These groups and others demonstrate what can be accomplished with a deep knowledge of the infrastructure of the Internet, raising the question of how to participate in this process with a less specialized skill set.
One of the goals of RECAPS is to create alternative routes for people and ideas to come together across disciplinary boundaries, political foci, aesthetic tactics and geographic distances. Moving between seemingly disparate sources creates links between them: Cora Currier’s Essay How Can An Artist Be? highlights the effective playfulness of Cyclona, Manon, and Lucas Samaras: Images Curated by Sarvia Jasso. The Docutroop video and An Exercise in the Impossible (After Manuel Arechiga) by Artemisa Clark provide different yet compatible possibilities for how to reoccupy public space. My hope is that as readers we can forge deeper connections between these ideas that can in turn generate new content to share. Issue by issue, we are building a virtual archive with maps to re-navigate the tired terrains we travel.
Love and solidarity,
Aug. 13, 2012