- Hybrid Practices
As a digital media artist, my work is located at the nexus of historically distinct practices and modes of knowledge production: art and activism, theory and practice. Underlying all of my research is a commitment to participatory culture. In my scholarship, I trace a thread through social theory that ties the potential for self-representation to social change. In my creative practice, I take hold of this thread. I think of the Internet as a public space and see my work online as "public art," but I want to expand the definition of who constitutes the "public" in this context and create a more inclusive public sphere—both in the digital domain and in the physical domain. To this end, I establish ongoing project collaborations with nonprofit organizations that empower participants from marginalized groups to represent their own experiences in information space.
In this passage from "The Author as Producer," Walter Benjamin precisely describes what I see as my artistic vision and my position as a practitioner.
What matters, therefore, is the exemplary character of production, which is able first to induce other producers to produce, and second to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers—that is, readers or spectators into collaborators.1
I see myself as a context-provider stretching the concept of artistic creation from making content to making context. Context provision comprises both Benjamin's "exemplary character of production" and his "apparatus." A context-provider does not speak for others, but "induces" others to speak for themselves by providing both the means, or tools, and the context where they can speak and be heard.
What connects all my recent projects is a desire to effect social change—first, by providing technologically disenfranchised communities with the means or tools and access to information spaces, and second, by facilitating collective self-representation across socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic barriers. For example, for a number of years, I have worked in various ways with the HIV Education and Prevention Program of Alameda County (HEPPAC) in an effort to engage injection drug users in a process of self-representation. The first phase of this [End Page 154] collaboration involved training the organization's staff and clients to use disposable cameras and author Web sites populated with their own images. During the second phase of my work with HEPPAC, I have recorded many hours of conversation with a number of injection drug users who use the needle exchange and other services provided by HEPPAC. These recordings provide much of the media for a forthcoming new media documentary work on addiction titled Blood Sugar, a companion piece to Public Secrets.
Public Secrets emerged from my work with the nonprofit human rights organization Justice Now and with twenty women incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California, the largest female correctional facility in the United States. My collaborations with HEPPAC and Justice Now are motivated by our collective desire to create a context in which the voices of marginalized and disenfranchised persons, their stories and their perspectives, can be heard in the public domain. Our objectives are:
1. To expose the social and political implications of the "war on drugs," including the disproportionate incarceration and subsequent political disenfranchisement of impoverished people of color.
2. To empower the participants to represent themselves in the media and, thus, to participate in and shape the public discourse around the social conditions and material circumstances they face on a daily basis.
For both injection drug users living outside the norms of society in the shadow of the criminal justice system and women trapped inside the prison system, our recorded conversations are acts of juridical and political testimony. By giving evidence—by acting as witnesses to their own experience and making their statements public—they become the source of their own resubjectification and stake out a claim to dignity. This claim to dignity and subjectivity enables the participants to challenge the alienating effect of poverty, the inequitable principles of distributive justice, and the dehumanizing mechanisms of the prison industrial complex.