Black Futurism: Race as Technology


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My presentation for the liquid blackness symposium at Georgia State University.

Published in: Education, Spiritual
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  • Coleman concludes her essay "The Aesthetics of Disappearance (Black Temporality)" in which she frames the work of twentieth century Italian Futurists who attempted to destroy Western icons and replace them with altered systems. She references James A. Snead who saw temporal disruptions like cutting as a break/disruption of syntax, similar to the sensibility of Italian Futurists. This disruption or cut is described as being “black.”
  • Coleman writes, “Understanding black as negation leaves nothing with which to replace the fallen Western paradigm except for fragments of its past.” As a technology, Snead locates an instrument (the cut of blackness) and gives it a function with no particular identity. The silhouette that remains is mobile, able to be collaged, or layered with other things, or repeated. Coleman asks how does the “black” that is cut away (as a subject) find its way back into the picture. Consider these images.
  • Snead also writes that repetition in black culture finds its most characteristic shape in performance: rhythm in music, dance, and language. This includes the visual vernacular that has the power to represent deeper meaning alluding to style, belief systems, geographic region, time period, or cultural directions, to name a few. It also captures the power of computing or creating and using communications and entertainment media. For me, this notion of liquidity is about using computingtools to push and revise the fundamental constructs of reality
  • This is from my exhibition for IBM titled, “Alternate Futures,” specifically “My Steampunk Dream”: According to legend, my ancestors were fascinated with flying; therefore they created increasingly sophisticated ways of creating material, spiritual, and virtual worlds in which flight (i.e. transcendence) was possible. It became a dream of mine to fly so I became an avatar able to defy gravity, and teleport to distant locations at the edges of my imagination. In my dream I am an afrofuturistic, steampunk traveler on an airship traveling back through time.
  • Like a character in an Octavia Butler novel I was transported from 2010 Atlanta to early twentieth century Maryland, the state where I was born. I met my ancestors and learned more about my heritage, what was forgotten over time and waiting to be brought into the present for future generations.
  • "Genetics and the Digital Body" deals with the digitized body and genomics, a discipline in genetics that applies recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism). The process begins with a sample of an individual's DNA. In virtual 3D worlds avatars are also mapped or textured. Here, I combine the notion of mapping and texturing the digital body with genetic codes we often do not see but are used to identify, label, or categorize us according to race.
  • Black Futurism: Race as Technology

    1. 1. Black Futurism: Race as Technology Presenter: Nettrice R. Gaskins
    2. 2. Beth Coleman’s notion of “race as technology” moves toward an aesthetic, an alternate reality where human identity is mutable.
    3. 3. Clockwise from top left: Ellen Gallagher’s “Osedax”; Kara Walker’s “A Work On Progress”; Carrie Mae Weems’ “Roaming; and Wangechi Mutu’s “Non je ne regrette rien.”
    4. 4. Snead’s “black repetition” frames collage, sampling and remixing: signs of change that are cyclical and evident in works of the African Diaspora.
    5. 5. When race is denatured from its historical roots, it can then be freely engaged as a productive tool.
    6. 6. References • Coleman, B. “Race as Technology,” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, Volume 24, Number 1 70. 177-207, 2009. • Liquid Blackness (blackness, aesthetics & liquidity): (PDF) • Snead, J. A. “Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture,” in Black Literature and Literary Theory, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Routledge, 1984), 59.