Report: Techno Resistance and Black Futures
After Rome, my visit to the Techno Resistance, Black Futures conference came as a nice complementary experience. While Fear and Loathing of the Online Self was more concerned with the circulation of identity and its political potential, the event at Goldsmiths focused a bit more on the ideological quality of its content. The day-long event alternated densely theoretical papers and performances, which gave the whole thing a nice rhythm. Logistics and a perhaps-too-relaxed lunch break prevented me from attending all the presentations, which means I will only discuss the few I remember best.
The relationship between the digital and intersectionality came up a few times across the event. In a talk on queer black bodies in VR, artist and poet Jay Bernard referred to it as an amazing software for those outside of society. Questioning sexual acronyms — compounds that are rapidly crumbling under their own weight — Bernard wondered if perhaps VR can be a way to exist outside language. If it won’t crack the code of life itself, maybe it could still be a good way to explore the erasure of the body.
The performance by experimental choreographer Malik Nashad Sharpe (Marikiscrycrycry) explored fluidity in a different way. Alternating free-form dancing to the enactment of common media stereotypes, the artist moved from an energetic hip-hop attitude to the embodiment of victimhood, from holding a (water)gun to casually addressing the audience in a direct dialogue.
Florence Okoye brought a more theoretical perspective, focused on AfroFuturism as intersectional transhumanism. The UX designer/theorist appropriately argued transhumanists like Elon Musk & co. are typically unwilling to engage with and account for social dynamics in their models. The AfroFuturist approach, Okoye argued, would instead push forward an intrinsically African philosophy of technology, one that emphasises the humanity of technology and promotes a collectivist approach.
Kodwo Eshun delivered a compelling and conceptually intense paper about GlissantBot, a Twitter account that posts random quotes from the renowned Caribbean poet every 15 minutes. According to Eshun, the bot represents a type of black technopoetics, a vector between computation, creolisation and creolité. Leveraging the Markoff chain, a process of randomisation within a finite space, the bot is only determined by the present. If Glissant designed poetics for producing the unpredictable, the inability of computation to generate the unpredictable puts it on the opposite side — and, Eshun argues, closer to creolisation. Having already imposed randomisation on French language and generated créolité, according to the Goldsmiths scholar creolisation is in this sense already machinic.
The relationship between black bodies and space was a recurring theme of the conference, not only on the geographical scale of colonialism.
In Larry Achiampong’s performance, for example, a highlife soundtrack accompanied us in a quasi-cinematic journey across a digital landscape from a video game. As the camera panned epically, sentences like “our realities become their fantasies” and “pimp the system” alternated with names of figures like Martin Luther King and Magneto, as well as Ghanaian expressions like “Sankofa”, a reminder to look back.
Ashwani Sharma approached space in a very different way. The UEL professor made the example of a Flying Lotus video by Kahlil Joseph, Until The Quiet Comes, as a material and immaterial reimagination of the cartography of black life, a dreamscape playing with racialised urban spacetime. Sharma highlighted the liquidity of water across black social life as a material element of the video, referencing Karen Barad’s quantum entanglements and the micro-molecular quantum of blackness. [In terms of blackness and liquidity, this is another great reference].
Speaking of fragmentation and racialisation of space, Ezekiel Dixon-Román gave a very timely talk on racialised algorithms. He started with a clip from The Wire, in which Lieutenant Daniels (one of the main characters) discusses the advantages of training policemen properly against serious crimes instead of making lots of small arrests just for statistical gain. Román explained how algorithms inherit sociopolitical relations that make them racialised entities, largely based on false positives and perpetuating social inequality. Wishing for an ontological and epistemological shift, the scholar listed a few possible ways to at least steer the unstoppable train of predictive policing: listening to the voices of communities, data auditing, and perhaps using statistical randomisation instead of prediction.
The conference maintained a good balance between concepts and aesthetics, digging into the media deep enough without compromising on ideological analysis. In a time and a space — globalised cities — in which diversity and the digital are the dominant condition, it is crucial to think of both at the same time. While the digital might be inherently intersectional, it is also inherently divisive, and we should keep reminding ourselves of this paradox.