Dissertation Colloquium: “Copper and Cult: Intra-Actions Bronze Age to A-Life”
Media archaeology is a Media Studies term used to connote alternative or unexcavated media histories. Thereby, through a media archaeology lens I am re-casting Bronze Age Levantine goddesses of love and sexuality, who were also goddesses associated with copper, as “proto-cybergoddesses.” This is because copper has played an important role in media technology history, including the history of networked information systems from the telegraph to the internet. Further, I am offering a glimpse into a speculative future in which copper plays a role in quantum computing, and hence the faster evolution of artificial life, or “a-life.” This punctuated past-to-future trajectory makes a circle such that ancient love and sexuality goddesses, associated with fecundity of the land and sometimes with motherhood, again become associated with life-generation in a posthumanist context.
I am using this media archaeology story about the relationship between copper and Levantine goddess cults as a case study for the cyberarchaeology project component of my dissertation. My media project seeks to redefine interaction design as intra-action design in a strategic effort to heighten a sense of narrative, spatial, and temporal immersion in an archaeological story. Intra-action is a term used by feminist physicist-philosopher Karen Barad, a professor in the History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz. Whereas interaction implies separate agencies between subject and object, intra-action argues for fluid, entangled agencies among human and non-human actors. Intra-action breaks subject-object binaries and hierarchies in favor of dynamic, relational dances. Decentralizing the hierarchical position of the human in an interactive story can suggest a sort of immersive animism as a design metaphor. So you could also say I am seeking to redefine human-centered design as posthumanist design. I argue that this is a more compelling way to immerse a story participant in cultures and time periods that were indeed more animistic and more attuned to non-human creatures and elemental forces as media, i.e. carriers of meaning and information.
Mapping Hathor Through Canaan
(Presented at “Digital Humanities, Egyptology & Heritage Preservation: A Comparative Perspective” at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley; earlier draft presented at Univerity of Bath, England's VR/AR/MR interdisciplinary research group.)
I am interested in spatial storytelling via immersive multi-sensory experiences that bring history alive. I am also interested in how sensory archaeology can inform such storytelling. My current research towards these goals focuses on story-mapping the Egyptian goddess Hathor through Canaan. This mapping is centered in Timna Park, Israel. Timna is a site where ancient Egyptians under five pharaohs, starting with Seti I about 3200 years ago, mined copper and worshipped the goddess Hathor. Hathor was typically known as a goddess of sound, sensuality, sexuality, fertility, motherhood, and celebration; but the miners also sought her protection as the “Goddess of the Mountain.” Related to this moniker, Hathor was deemed a goddess of copper, malachite and turquoise. Because archaeological stories, not least of all those centered around mining, take place in landscapes and benefit from the establishment of an embodied sense of place, through stories of Hathor worship I am seeking to create a feminist methodology of socially aware, fluid, ground-based tales via sound, space and the body. I offer this story-mapping of social practice as an alternative to the convention of 2D, static, aerial mapping which is limited to a remote visuality and stakes its ideological roots in militarism and colonialism.
In Search of Citizen Archaeology: Mapping the #NEWPALMYRA Project
Using the #NEWPALMYRA project as a case study, this paper explores ways in which crowdsourcing, online 3D modeling, and 3D printing of artifacts can be examined as forms of conceptual mapping, and how these modes of mapping relate to global citizenship. The #NEWPALMYRA project grew as a response to the tragedies executed against Palmyra by ISIL. Working with tech consultants in the United Arab Emirates, San Francisco, and the MIT Media Lab, #NEWPALMYRA is a crowdsourced, open-sourced, internationally collaborative project “dedicated to the capture, preservation, sharing, and creative reuse of data about Palmyra.” The project includes an online data repository whereby citizen archaeologists and cultural heritage enthusiasts upload their photos to the #NEWPALMYRA website, similarly to Project Mosul, then volunteers code the 2D images into 3D models. The models are released to the public domain under a creative commons license, and available for artists, teachers, researchers and others to reference, download and 3D print.
Queering Binaries in “The Yacoubian Building” (directed by Marwan Hamed, 2006)
“The Yacoubian Building” achieves its gradual tangling of binaries through the allegorical use of architecture and design, indoor and outdoor soundscapes, and poetics of lighting. Reading the film through such a lens, interpreting Hamed’s characterization of gay male relationships, specifically, becomes more challenging. At first read these relationships, rather than being radically “queered,” actually conform in some ways to established conventions within Egyptian cinema as outlined by Samar Habib. However, does the director perhaps go beyond Egyptian cinematic tradition to establish more complex social statements as he does throughout the film as a whole?
2012Sleuthing Clues About a Roman Mosaic Starring Ten Sporty Women
In the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, a small chamber is decorated with a fourth- century c.e. floor mosaic depicting ten sporty female figures. It is casually termed “The Bikini Girls Mosaic” because the women all wear bikinis. Since depictions of female athletes in antiquity are rare, this piece inspired me, as a New Media artist and as a Boston-qualifying marathon runner, to create a contemporary homage to these ancient women, whether they were actual documented people or imagined figures. I did this reserach paper in preparation for creating simple 2D animations from the mosaic, and site-specifically geo-locating them using augmented reality.
In order to conceptualize my contemporary piece, I needed to engage in a dialogue across space and time with the ancient artist who created the mosaic. I was striving to hear what he (presumably, given the artist’s culture) was trying to say through the piece so that I could position myself to respond. Would I be debuting the artist’s message to a new, contemporary audience, or would I be offering a critical rebuttal from my own time period? In a sense, I was playing a volley-game with the original artist; but would that game be cooperative or competitive?
Thus, in researching this mosaic, I set out to interpret how the artist intended the ancient viewer to interpret it. Were these women athletes to be taken seriously, or was this image some sort of parody? Further, who can we determine that ancient viewer to be? Was this piece intended for guests of the villa or for residents? Was it in a location that only women would access, was it for general viewing, or was it perhaps even an ancient Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition objectifying the “bikini girls” for men? If the intended audience was women, was the purpose of the image to empower and encourage their fitness, to commemorate an event, to simply to serve as decoration, or something else?
The aims of cultural heritage teams and the aims of artists differ. The former seeks to offer creative models of what the past may have been like based on the material record; i.e., they are engaged in scholarship that seeks to be as "objective" as possible given available evidence. The artist may be inspired by history, but has license to be as subjective as he or she wants to be; such is the nature of art. Heritage teams may be motivated foremost my a quest for knowledge, whereas artists may be more motivated by emotional response. However, both can learn from one another to meet their different, but overlapping, goals.
I hate gender stereotypes. I hate essentialist thinking about men and women, or "feminine" and "masculine." I hate how people (including advertisers) try to box me in and make assuptions about what I think, what I like, how I should behave, what I am or am not good at based on these stereotypes. It has been a frustrating decade in terms of how much marketing effort has gone into convincing people it's "hip" to revive and "reclaiming" a lot of old-school b.s.. It has been like the 1950s redux, particularly in regard to the "male gaze" and female objectification/commodification--something many of us believed we were 30 years past. There has even been a lot of popular effort to use "science" to "prove" that men are this and women are that. I think looking at sources from different time periods and different cultures helps to demonstrate that gender is largely socialized rather than biologically predetermined, that how gender is socialized reflects the values of a culture, and that much of what we call "traditional" gender roles is only Victorianism. Sometimes ancient texts seem more "progressive" than the modern day. In some ways, The Song of Songs is one of those texts.
This paper was inspired by a collection of documentary photographs by Danwen Xing which I saw at the Whitney Museum of Art. I knew that e-waste was becoming an issue, but I did not realize the extent of this environmental and public health challenge. Upon researching it further, I found out how women are affected by the cradle-to-grave process of electronics manufacturing. I realized that cyberfeminism, while a fun and empowering addition to feminist discourse, had a big elitist blind spot: the health and safety of our sisters, mostly in the Third World, who make our toys and tools, then pick through the decaying corpses of them to get scrap metals to sell so they can feed their kids. (Note: Awareness of this situation has grown since writing this paper, and some laws and policies have been duly updated. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a good place to start investigating current policies.)
Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian artist born in Lebanon and living in exile in London. For her, the most important element of her art is its relationship to the body. When Hatoum emigrated from the Middle East to England, she immediately felt a sense of displacement when she perceived a mind/body disjunct that contradicted her own cultural experience.
This essay contemplates considerations of representation and interpretation for one element of a cultural heritage project.