Blog Post

producing a [feminist] [decolonial] [multiple] world through a frame: Dalida Maria Benfield

 

 Hotel/Panama, "Frames", at GASP projects, Boston, Dec. 2010. Photo by: Andrew Han Kim

 

producing a [feminist] [decolonial] [multiple] 

world through a frame: a HASTAC blog interview with

Dalida Maria Benfield

 

To Continue in the Queer and Feminist New Media Spaces fun, I had conducted a series of blog  interviews with artists, activists, and scholars engaging with new media and its myriad of  intersections. This HASTAC blog interview features Dalida Maria Benfield! As a feminist scholar,  artist, AND activist, Dalida Maria Benfield bridges theory and praxis by her engagement with  media on several fronts. Benfield provides a rich and rigorous discussion: how media is multiple,  feminist, and collective. Media can be created with a"committed-in-process poetics," as  Benfield shares.  With praxis at the center of her theorization and creation of media, Benfield  provides: "It is a correction and a beginning."

1. How does your work, artistic and scholarly, engage with gender/sexuality/ and queer media studies?

DMB: I have been involved in cyborg/feminist/queer/U.S. woman of color/Latina/ translocal media art and politics (with different emphases at various times) since 1982... when I made my first super 8 "experimental" film (luckily for me under the tutelage of Abigail Child  and was stunned at the power and joy of putting a frame on the   world,producing a world through frame...and a camera has been my cyborgian  extension since. 

My media work, which has usually been collective, has produced lots of different  cinematic languages, production modes, and forms of distribution. This has gone  through different phases, ebbs and flows spilling across different forms & platforms... including video and performance art, avant-garde/experimental film, activism  and organizing, popular media education, community media, university teaching and  organizing, and scholarship and writing.

Canal Zone/La Zona del Canal, a single channel video and video installation, 1992 - 1995.

I have thought/practiced media politics with different lenses, including a feminist lens, a US woman of color feminist lens, a US people of color lens, a transnational feminist lens, a Third Cinema lens, a Global South lens, a collective/decentered authorship lens, and a decolonial feminist lens. Early on, my work focused more on visual poetry along with  critiques of dominant cinema, and representations of women; exploring the possibility of a women's cinematic writing. Soon, however, an approach to cinematic praxis that engaged  an intersectional analysis of the intermeshing of oppressions (which I understand through  the work of my colleague and former collaborator Mara Lugones) and the imperative of  "world-traveling" became the center of my work. The impact of this was to be less   politically dogmatic and prescriptive and more open-ended in my representational   approaches, connecting them to people and situations. A multi-dimensional analysis  requires multiple dimensions of representation, including a multi-dimensional process of production and reading/viewing/listening. I am committed to a cyborgian "differential"  practice (Haraway, Sandoval), which I take to be nota given but a capacity to be continually  renewed and practiced. Also, the outside/in/inside/out movement (Trinh) is  another crucial capacity, one that is formative for my understanding of the radical possibility  of Third Cinema.

These both have distinct visual/aural/temporal/spatial consequences. There are many   feminist/queer/ethnic studies/critical race/media studies scholars and filmmakers  whose work is extremely important to me, as a thinker, mediamaker and activist. I have often reflected on the temporal/spatial/geo-political gaps between sites of media thought and action.  There is an enormous need to share work translocally, trans time-space, and to avoid the  constraints of academia, the geo-politics of knowledge production, and the disciplining of  media studies. The dossier I recently edited is one attempt to create an undisciplined, unruly  platform for theorizing and making:

http://trinity.duke.edu/globalstudies/volume-31-decolonizing-the-digitaldigital-decolonization

Video Machete - NO PICTURES conversations in process, 1999 - 2001.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s I benefited from US women of color scholarship on the politics of representation across the registers of literature, cinema and visual art, as well  as the theoretical texts of Third Cinema and Latin American Cinema. During these years,  I was equally involved in a praxical engagement with production and activism as well  as with scholarship. This meant hours and  hours and hours of conversation and  various forms of productive entanglements. Through this I have a very good sense of the  gap that often exists between scholarship and the multiple dimensions of the praxical  engagements of artists and activists, and in part is the motivation for my current    commitment to research and writing, as I think it's crucial to think and work  translationally across these different discursive streams, to create theories and media together and to initiate mobile, dispersed networks of sense, and exchange and support.

The many groups and collectives that I have worked with have been committed to creating spaces for activism, production and distribution.These have also been theoretically engaged  and intensely politically creative spaces. This work includes being the Program Director  at the Women in the Director's Chair FIlm and Video Festival, which was a very active site  of  Queer and women of color and transnational feminist filmmaking and discussion,  and subsequently being on the collective board of that organization for several years  (the organization folded in 2006 and the archive is housed at Stanford co-founding  and co-directing Video Machete (which included the activist-scholar-artists Chris Bratton,  Cesar Sanchez, Bea Santiago-Muoz, tammy ko Robinson, Eric Torres, Roberto Gonzalez,   Stacey Goldate, Kyle Harris and Davida Ingram, and many others over the years  1994 - 2007) a media activism space and collective that practiced a inter-trans-cultural/racial/ gender/generational collectivity that I have not seen before or since, which I mention in honor  of those compaeros/as (http://www.videomachete.org); and co-founding the  Women's International Information Project, which later grew into  Beyondmedia Education (http://www.beyondmedia.org/) through the leadership of  Salome Chasnoff. Each one of these projects had its own set of constraints and possibilities,  through which emerged imaginings and networks. These were/are all sited in Chicago,  with translocal effects and relationships.

Canal Zone/La Zona del Canal, a single channel video and video installation, 1992 - 1995.

The videos I produced from 1982 - 1994 were auto/bio/graphical works, in which I meditated   on questions of race, gender, the body, nation, politics of narrativity, and various other  dilemmas of the visual and aural. My videotape, "Canal Zone/La Zona del Canal", was  produced over a period of 5 years, and completed in 1994. It marked a kind of culmination of  this  trajectory of work for me. It was a labor of love for my mother and superimposes her story  over the Panama Canal.

During this time, I also co-produced a video, "Las Mujeres de Pilsen" with the   philosopher-activist  Mara Lugones. This marked a very important turn toward considering  the gendered and raced  dilemmas of testimony. The work I produced from 1994 to the present  emphasizes the conversations that emerge through different moments of political engagement  and the formation of collective relationships. Some of this work also constitutes direct  aesthetic/political interventions and actions aimed at very particular urgent situations.   At the same time, I have continued to produce other forms of work, including performances, books and net art that explore different questions,often related to personal/political/poetic  dilemmas from everyday life. Throughout all of these works, I am also very interested in  *conscientizacin* (Freire) as media; and as an ongoing process of non-institutionalized  political education/formation; taking the opportunity of art and media as always an opportunity to work politically/personally through challenges and to create  an/other imagining/possibility  with others.

Hotel/Panama, "Decolonial Aesthetics" curated by Walter Mignolo in Bogota, Colombia, 2010.

2. Why might "media" be important to think about in terms of these axes of   difference? Including race?

Thinking through media along these axes of difference creates spaces for the formulation   of relationships and subjectivities that are enabling of a wider set of possibilities,   conversations and texts. Axes of difference also constitute quite simply the ground, unstable as it is, from which I speak, think and make media.   

I have been thinking a lot right now around the co-construction of cinematic media and  colonial visualities.  This is not a blind alley,  but rather is instructive in understanding  how and why media is so central in the construction of multiple markers of race and  gender, not to mention other binaries and coordinates. This also explains why creating  media that stands for multiplicity, produced with other people insubstantially committed  and transformative political situations, and that also talks back to racist, sexist,  capitalist media, while also centering lots of other gazes, is necessary and transformative  work, again, without any orthodoxy or prescription, but with an open-ended,  committed-in-process poetics. It also just feels right. It is a correction and a beginning.

 Hotel/Panama, "Decolonial Aesthetics" curated by Walter Mignolo in Bogota,  Colombia, 2010.

After many years of thinking of this media as "alternative" media, I grew quite  weary of  the either/or dialectics of that formulation and am now working on theorizing this media in a more negotiated and contingent way, which for me only opens more possibilities of   theorizing its agency. This is very helpful, praxically. I think it's a way out of the isolationist   vortex that the phrase "independent media" can and has led to. I also became impelled by  desire to work translocally and transnationally. My political commitments are towards building flexible translocal  frameworks, and much media activism, art and scholarship,   including that on flexible citizenship, sodalities, netizens, etc. all help to build  a case for the  absolute necessity of thinking globally, or with a "globality against  globalization" (Dussel).

In particular, I'm most interested now in how theories of Third Cinema/Third Space   praxis can be thought alongside digital cultures, with a more pointed and  concise engagement with gender. I think Third Cinema not in the past, but now.  The teleologies  of modernity have relegated it, along with many other unfinished   projects, to a neutralized, gelatinized, irrelevant past. I think it is crucial to wrest  this radical philosophy and its multiple cinematic texts from this prison and  actively acknowledge its ongoing legacies.

Alongside this, I am also thinking the question of the coloniality of power, knowledge  and gender (as formulated by Anibal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Mara Lugones, et al) in the context of what Armand Mattelart describes as the "cult of a project-less  modernity that has submitted to a technological determinism in the guise of refounding the social bond."

 Video Machete - NO PICTURES, 1997.

I think that the necessity, desirability and teleology of a global digital order need to be   challenged, including the orthodoxy of the digital divide. As a person committed to  diverse, distributed forms and spaces of media cultures and production, however, this creates quite a thorny dilemma, requiring a re-formulation of notions of "access" and  "media democracy." I did a little bit of this work in the chapter co-authored with  Joanna Arevalo for  "Making Our Media..." which talks about the World Summit  on Information Society, which I attended as a co-organizer of the North American  Media Justice Delegation. 

We critique the dominance of the "ICT4D" paradigm, question its embedded capitalist,  nationalist and citizenship projects, and also call for further work on comparative,  translocal articulations of media and communication rights rather than a transnational  discourse that tends to elide differences not to mention non-citizens. Fortunately,  along with many who are questioning the orthodoxies of discourses of human rights  and women's rights (Boa de Sousa Santos, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Silvia_Rivera_Cusicanqui, Gayatri Spivak, amongst others), development and technology  (Arturo Escobar, Ravi Sundaram, Sarai and Raqs Media Collective, Geert Lovink -  see the incommunicado reader (http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/ inc-readers/incommunicado/),  and even sustainability (Catherine Walsh,   http://www.sidint.net/interview-with-catherine-walsh-human-development-and-buen-vivir/),  there seems to me to be the opportunity for producing a decolonial approach to global ICT  and media production that discerns and avoids the traps of the geo-politics of  race/gender/knowledge that are part and parcel of the colonial matrix of power... it is towards this that I hope my work will contribute.

"Watch/Wait", Emergency Bienniale in Chechnya (http://www.emergency-biennale.org/ curated by Evelyne Jouanno, Bialystok, Poland. Photo by: Michal Strokowski. 2008.

To contact Dalida Maria Benfield directly, please email: dalidamariab@gmail.com.

 

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