Tonite I had a special invitation to present a talk at the Unity House a dorm floor where undergraduates at UC Berkeley have the opportunity to explore diverse genders and sexualities on campus.
I was thrilled to be asked to present my research on queer media imagery, but also realized I would love to conduct a new media art workshop for the students instead. Beginning with an invitation by Oberlin College: Following the Asian American Muse; From All Media to New Media I developed a special new media workshop/project which offers the opportunity for students to participate as critics and artists. They are asked to re-mix media images through collage and collectivity. Thus, instead of me talking at them, through my critique of media, the engagement becomes a more open ended discussion and creation of what representation and issues of race, gender, and sexuality means to the particular group. Oftentimes, it is beautifully personal and political. Since Oberlin, Ive conducted the workshops at LYRIC, Cal Queer and Asian Conference, and now at UC Berkeleys Unity House!, The digital archive itself is still in process and will be launched in late April! Im quite excited to share the archive the students created, and as participating artists in this project. Their re-mixing and engagement with media, for me, feels so different from much of scholarly media critique. Through the process of facilitating this workshop, I've heard and seen nuanced and thoughtful vocalizations and creations that are not simply participatory--the critiques are emotional, personal, and alive.
If not apparent, I really really appreciated my time this evening with the very brilliant, awesome, and talented students of the Unity House. It was particularly uplifting to be in the company of undergraduates invested in issues of gender and sexuality, and the media. Even after the workshop, at the collective dinner, students could not stop discussing various queer media representation, like LOGO Television Levi Advertisements (Is it okay that Levis has two version of the same commercial one that is gay aired on LOGO, and the other that is straight for the mainstream channels?), is Glee a good representation or is it still upholding stereotypes of gay men as effeminate? (the students were divided on this one!) How do we negotiate that queers are oftentimes stuck in a moment of being sensationalized in order to be seen? Does that look like me? How far have we come, really?
The amazing dinner conversation followed the workshop process where the students were just as engaged! It felt inspiring that the Unity House students-- in various disciplines of biology, art history, economics, media studies, history, and gender and womens studies--were all invested and had much to contribute to issues of media and queer studies in the workshop, as well as after!
The workshop itself was filled with really poignant moments, which Ill share a few here. From sharing what the word representation means to them ( "visuality" "copy" "image"), stories of when they saw the first image that was queer, or non-normative, gender-non-conforming etc. (Will and Grace, George Michael, Bob Sponge Square Pants) A survey of the pertinent queer media studies work follows this dicussion. Basically, tons of media queer studies books, which I love to bring and pass around to demonstrate hey! there is an archive out there! There are many writers thinking about LGBTQ images and representation and in fact we have a history!
In particular, I like to start with seminal book, Vitto Russo's Celluloid Closet to Jose Munoz beautiful book of utter survival, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics to demonstrate the range of literature, and the history that is present and continually thriving. After the short talk via book introductions; the students engage in the fun fun part! Bringing their own voices to the media images! Through remixing, I encourage them to chose a media image that resonates with them, on a personal level. In groups, they share why they chose that particular image.
Tonite we had Ru Paul, Harvey Milk, Brokeback Mountain, Jenny Shimizu, Ellen & Portia, and The L Word among other representations join us, and then become transformed. Through their own remixing, I was thrilled to see the students take on the task of writing back to the media images, of drawing and cutting, coloring, post-it noting and critiquing the media images through creation. It is always such an empowering process hearing them speak about the images they remixed. Always poignant, thoughtful, and powerful, the students in all the workshops never cease to fail to bring utter perception to the media imagery. They demonstrate how media is not all powerful and seamless, that we are all critics and creators, and not simply consumers of media. This evening's participants were exceptional, as were previous workshops. It was truly a delight to hear and engage with the students, learning from and with them.
Special thanks to all the students, and Wade Crawford for his kind invitation!
Please stay tuned for the end of April, when the project website and all the wonderful digital artwork from the participating students/artists/media critics will be launched! For now, I hope you enjoy some of the photos of the Unity House workshop above!