Event-making: Performance, Performativity, and Political Activism

For years event-making has been part of my research & pedagogical practice. This year, I finally wrote a little thing about it for the WGSS newsletter. Dedicated with love to all of the GLITTERverts out there who, when they have a great idea, think “This would make a FABULOUS event and I know JUST the BRILLIANT people to invite” before they think “I should write an article about this.”

Visiting Scholar, T. L. Cowan, Explores Performance, Performativity, and Political Activism

 

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I came to Yale this year as the Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Lecturer and Digital Humanities Fellow and was very happy to have WGSS as my “teaching” home. In the Spring Term, I taught two courses, “Performativity & Social Change” and “Transgender Cultural Production,” and organized four public events, presented in conjunction with these WGSS courses and in collaboration with several sponsoring units, including the Digital Humanities (DH) Lab and the Native American Cultural Center (NACC), and the Mellon Graduate Concentration in the Digital Humanities, “(En)Visualizing Knowledge: Text Mining, Mapping, Network Analysis, Archiving and Big Data,” taught by Inderpal Grewal and Laura Wexler.

As a long-time cabaret performer, curator and producer, I continue to use methods of the event as central to my scholarly practice. I believe that creating intra-disciplinary spaces through which folks come together to share in the project of building understanding across difference contributes to an ethics of accountability within and between communities of scholars, artists, and activists. It’s an engaged pedagogy (thanks, bell hooks & M. Jacqui Alexander).

Two of these events were offered as part of a DH LAB series that my collaborator Marijeta Bosovic (Slavic Studies) and I curated, entitled “Digital Non-Neutrality: Decolonizing and Queering DH Tools and Practices.” This ongoing series aims to center the work of scholars, artists and activists who are building and transforming DH pedagogy and scholarship in the activist intellectual traditions of WGSS (especially Transnational, Women of Color and Third World US Feminisms), LGBTS (especially Queer of Color critique), Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Indigenous Studies and Critical Disability/Crip Studies—using grassroots- and humanities-based analyses to engage with emerging digital methods and materials. In early February, Dorothy Kim (Vassar) joined us at Yale and presented new work entitled “How to #Decolonize the Digital Humanities: or, a Practical Guide to Making DH Less White.” In late March, Moya Bailey (Northeastern) and Jalylah Burrell (Yale) presented “Sounds of Digital Joy: Black Women’s Sonic Space,” a hands-on workshop drawn from their own scholarship and community-based DJ and podcast practices.

March was a busy month.

On March 8th (International Women’s Day), Jaskiran Dhillon (The New School) and Maria Hupfield (Independent Artist, Anishinaabe) joined us in WGSS and the NACC for “Accomplice & Art Practice: Indigenous Feminist Activism & Performance.” This event drew together the integral intersections of performance, activism and scholarship in Indigenous political struggles, including struggles against gender-based violence and struggles for territorial and cultural sovereignty in the ongoing settler colonial histories of the past and present. In this event we began with presentations in William L. Harkness Hall, where WGSS lives, and then we moved together to the Native American Cultural Center for a really fabulous reception, hosted by the NACC. I am very grateful to Kelly Fayard, NACC’s Director, for making this happen. On March 28th, the first day back after Spring Break, novelist Imogen Binnie and publisher Tom Léger made their way to New Haven for a special presentation of Binnie’s novel Nevada and a discussion about transgender literary production in contemporary cultural scenes.

The common denominator across all of these events is that they were all embedded in the project of building accountability into our scholarly, artistic and activist practices. Rather than imagining scholarship as a project that studies activist and cultural phenomena and formations from an objective distance, these events helped those who participated to think about the ways in which we inhabit—are implicated in and might contribute to—the generative, often-difficult, joyful, and historically and geographically-situated formations and phenomena that we study.

And all of this would not be possible without the people in WGSS & LGBTS—especially Linda Hase, Maureen Gardner & Margaret Homans; the DH Lab—especially Catherine DeRose, Monica Ong-Reed & Peter Leonard; and the MacMillan Center—especially Lisa Brennan, Marilyn Wilkes, Whitney Doel, Lourdes Haynes, George Joseph, Elisha Cruz and Rahima Chaudhury. Thank you!

Performance Studies & DH #HASTAC16

Cabaret Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the slides for my presentation “The Cabaret Commons: Transmedial Drag, Archiving Fabulous & The Digital Dilemma of Accountability” for the An Archive and Repertoire of Digital Humanities and Media Projects in the Performing Arts panel at the HASTAC 2016 Conference in Phoenix, AZ.

Slides: HASTAC 2016 – Performance Studies + DH

Interdisciplinary Performance Studies Working Group @ Yale

I’m happy to be giving this talk at IPSWY Feb 9, 2016.

Transmedial Drag: Cabaret Methods, Digital Platforms and Technologies of Fabulous

Jess Dobkin_How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015) Photo by David Hawe

Jess Dobkin_How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015) Photo by David Hawe

For over a century, cabaret—or the often satirical, adult-oriented variety show— has been of central importance to trans- feminist and queer subcultural social, political and aesthetic formations in cities and towns around the world. This presentation considers the long-standing cabaret method as one that has necessarily thematized ‘presence’ and ‘the live’ as essential characteristics of these events, while simultaneously drawing attention to the mediated qualities of that presence and liveness. Through their perpetual disappearance, many cabarets are never documented, or retain only fleeting ephemeral traces of their existence. And because cabarets tend to happen quite regularly, just as one would fade away, a new one would come into existence. The cabaret cycle of presence and disappearance has, at times, been interrupted by rare video and photo documentation, often accompanied by anecdotal evidence. With the emergence of consumer mobile photo and video technologies, online social media, digital archiving and other forms of ‘new media,’ it might seem that cabaret socialities, politics and aesthetics are dramatically shifting, and that the new possibilities for digital presence through transmedia reproduction might eclipse an earlier devotion to ‘liveness.’ This presentation focuses on this old/new tension and argues that cabaret methods continue to shape translocal trans- feminist and queer subcultures, and that cabaret’s transmedial history provides necessary community experience for the political and ethical dilemmas posed by digital culture.

T.L. Cowan is the 2015-2016 Bicentennial Lecturer of Canadian Studies in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Digital Humanities Fellow at Yale University. T.L. is visiting from The New School, where she is Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies and Lecturer of Culture & Media at Eugene Lang College. T.L. is also co-facilitator of the Feminist Technology Network. T.L.’s recent publications include articles in ephemera: theory and politics in organization (2014), Transgender Studies Quarterly (2014), Women’s Studies Quarterly (2014), and Ada: Gender, New Media, and Technology (2014), as well as chapters in Queer Dramaturges: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer (Palgrave 2015) and MOOCs and Open Education Around the World (Routledge 2015). T.L.’s first book, entitled Poetry’s Bastard: The Illegitimate Genealogies, Cultures and Politics of Text-Based Performance in Canada is under contract with Wilfrid Laurier UP. She is currently completing two additional books: a monograph entitled Sliding Scale: Transfeminist and Queer Cabaret Methods – Mexico City, Montreal, New York City, and a co-authored book, with Jasmine Rault, entitled Checking In: Transfeminist and Queer Labour in Networked Economies.

 

Yale University Sarah Pettit Doctoral Dissertation Workshop

I’ll be a faculty mentor, along with Prof. Karen Nakamura and Prof. LaMonda Horton Stallings, for this amazing workshop opportunity @ Yale in May 2016.

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Here is the full Call for Applications:

Sarah Pettit Doctoral Fellowship in Lesbian Studies

Doctoral Dissertation Workshop—“Freaks”

Yale LGBT Studies is pleased to announce that the Sarah Pettit Doctoral Fellowship in Lesbian Studies at Yale University is welcoming applications for a biennial dissertation-writing workshop for a select group of doctoral fellows coming from universities outside of Yale. The 2016 Yale Pettit Doctoral Fellowship Workshop will take place May 16-20th, 2016 in New Haven, CT and will be organized around the theme “Freaks.”

2016 Pettit Fellowship Thematic

What are the behaviors, embodiments, and habits of mind that constitute the freakish? How do reactions to divergence—from a nervous giggle to a scream—produce and maintain boundaries of acceptable difference, between assimilation and exclusion? Freaks, as a group designation, has particular salience in colonial histories and empire’s present. The forced relocation of individuals from the colonies to the metropole for display operated according similar logics as later Freak shows. Freak shows and carnivals are spaces of confrontation between putatively “normal” spectators and the entertainment: bodies marked as other by virtue of their race, gender, sexuality, and disability. Given these histories and their contemporary sedimentations, Freaks have suggestive implications for other kinds of meaning-making and ways of being in the world.

We welcome applicants from the humanities, social sciences, performing and fine arts, and beyond, within the field of lesbian studies (read broadly), to engage with the concept of freaks, conceived expansively as problem, provocation, subjectivity, ethic, and/or aesthetic. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Female masculinities and other queer subjects within freak shows, carnivals, international exhibits
  • Lesbianized subjectivities and histories
  • “Savages”
  • Disability and the cripped body
  • “Freaks of Nature”
  • Policed bodies and sexualities
  • Freaks in pop culture and media
  • Performances of the freaky
  • Freaky lifestyles
  • Spectacles and the spectacular

Fellows will first come together for a two-day intensive workshop at Yale University, where they will present and engage with each other’s work. They will meet with and receive feedback from the workshop’s three faculty mentors: Prof. Karen Nakamura (Yale/UC Berkeley), Prof. LaMonda Horton-Stallings (University of Maryland) and Prof. T.L. Cowan (The New School and Yale University).

Following the workshop, fellows will stay in New Haven for an additional three days to take advantage of Yale University libraries and resources. Selected fellows will receive small stipends and travel funding in addition to room and board for the week of the workshop.

We also envision a follow-up meeting in 2017 of the fellows and mentors as part of a longer-term mentoring relationship.

Eligibility

Applicants must be enrolled doctoral candidates who have completed coursework, qualifying exams, and submitted their dissertation prospectus (e.g., ABD status). Students studying or located in all geographical regions are welcome. However, funds from the Pettit Fellowship may not be able to cover the total cost of travel for many students coming from international locations. We encourage students from non-US locations to apply for supplementary travel funding from their home institutions.

Students who are working on projects within the thematic and within the scope of lesbian studies (read broadly) are encouraged apply. The committee interprets “Lesbian Studies” in this context as being able to encompass the study of a broad range of genders, gender identities, and sexualities within multiple disciplines.

Background

The Sarah Pettit Fund was established in 2003 as a permanent endowment to honor and perpetuate the memory of lesbian activist Sarah Pettit, who earned her BA from Yale in 1988. Pettit died in 2003 in the midst of a high profile career as a writer, editor, and LGBTQ advocate. She was for many years the editor-in-chief and vice president of OUT Magazine, which she co-founded in 1992. In 1999, she was appointed the senior editor of Newsweek’s Arts and Entertainment section. She served on the advisory board of the New York Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project.

From 2006 to 2014, the Sarah Pettit Fellowship was run as a biennial fellowship providing a year of support to a graduate student, from an institution other than Yale, who was writing a dissertation in LGBT Studies, with lesbian studies as its focus. From 2016 onwards, the format changed to a biennial dissertation-writing workshop for scholars working on themes in lesbian studies.

Applications

Applications are due February 15, 2016 and should include:

  • cover letter
  • dissertation abstract
  • one-page chapter or topic proposal for presentation and discussion at the workshop
  • curriculum vitae
  • letter of support from the dissertation advisor and the name of two additional references

Instructions for submission will be at http://lgbts.yale.edu/pettit Questions about the program may be directed to lgbt.studies@yale.edu

New position at Yale

I just realized that I forgot to update about my new position at Yale this year! Exciting news: I’m the 2015-16 Canadian Bicentennial Lecturer in Canadian Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Digital Humanties Fellow at Yale. Here’s my new profile page.

Keywords in Critical Ethnic Studies @ Yale

Teach IN @Yale

I’ll be the faculty co-facilitator for the the #Trans Feminism seminar at the Keywords in Critical Studies @ Yale on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – January 18, 2016. I’m very much looking forward to working with the folks working to transform and expand knowledge production @ Yale. Here is the KeywordsProgram.

Sustainable Tools for Precarious Subjects

I’m looking forward to meeting the folks in this ASTR working group early on Sunday morning, Nov 8th. And even more looking forward to the book we’re making together and the larger, connected research-creation project I’m working on with collaborators-comrades Natalie Alvarez & Keren Zaiontz.

Sustainable Tools for Precarious Subjects: Performance Actions and Human Rights
Conveners: Natalie Alvarez (Brock University) and Keren Zaiontz (Queen’s University)

–Samer Al-Saber (Florida State University)
“Beyond States and Passport Privileges: Interconnected Performances of Activism in Palestine”

–T.L. Cowan (New School)
“Mass Cabaret Online and in the Streets: Translocal Activist Performance”

–Leah Decter (Queen’s University)
“Dispersed Sustainabilities: Considering the Legacies of Encounter”

–Peter Dickinson (Simon Fraser University)
“Curating the Revolution: Rabih Mroué and the Activist Pixel”

–Serap Erincin (Pennsylvania State University)
“Performing Transnational Human Rights in Turkey: Minorities, Biopolitics, and Politics of Mourning”

–Miriam Felton-Dansky (Bard College)
“The Right to Go Dark: Chris Kondek’s Anonymous P

–Catherine Graham (McMaster University)
“Traces of Frames and Signals to Allies We Do Not Yet Know”

–Kimberley Jannarone (University of California, Santa Cruz)
“Oyoun Theater and the Gaza Monologues Project”

–Debra Levine (New York University, Abu Dhabi)
“Falling Through the Roof / Dropping Like Beyoncé”

–Duygu Erdogan Monson (University of Washington)
“Using Performance as a Tool of Resistance: Artist-Activists in Gezi Park Confronting Authoritarianism and the Islamist Leanings in Turkish Government”

–Christian Nagler (University of California, Berkeley)
“Debt Forgiveness, the Promise, and the Performativity of Financial Contracts: Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee”

–Julie Salverson (Queen’s University)
“Half-Lives, Invisible Activisms”

–Alexis M. Skinner (Louisiana State University)
“#PerformingADiscourse”

–J.B. Spiegel (Concordia University)
“What Became of the Wolves (or Pandas, Mice, and Wolves, oh my!)?: Creative Activism and the Persistence of Anti-Austerity Mobilization, Still ‘in the Red’ in Quebec”

–Lily Wei (Independent Artist)
“The City as Battleground: The Multi-Faceted Performances of Mobilized Citizens in Neoliberal Taipei”

Abunaddara: The Right to an Image @ The Vera List Center

This weekend I’ll be attending the Abunaddara: The Right to an Image conference at the Vera List Center for Art & Politics. Jasmine Rault and I will be moderating the final panel on Saturday, Oct. 24: The Right To an Image. The event is free and open to the public.

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition: Abounaddara. The Right to the Image

From the event website:
Around the world new critical practices of image production, scholarship, artmaking, activism, and legal action are evolving to combat political and humanitarian crises. To dissect these practices, this conference is grounded in the work of the anonymous filmmaking collective Abounaddara who has released one film each week since the start of the Syrian revolution, presenting all sides of the conflict to global audiences in an “emergency cinema” that includes over 300 films to date. Collectively Abounaddara’s films seek to establish the right to the image as a recognized human right. Each panel addresses one aspect of Abounaddara’s practice through diverse contexts to see how it is enacted in other global socio-political situations and to build an analysis of methods of worldwide.

The three panels on October 23 reflect Abounaddara’s filmmaking tactics and also mirror the three thematic shifts in the concurrent exhibition of their work at the Aronson Galleries, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons School for Design. Every week, the exhibition will focus on a different strategy and feature a different selection of approximately 30 films. These central tactics are: portraiture and participation, subverting images, and open-endedness as tactic. The two panels on October 24 shift to the deeper implications underlying Abounaddara’s work first through a discussion of organizing in the contemporary world and concluding with an evaluation of their core campaign of the right to the image for all, proposed as an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each panel opens with a brief section of related Abounaddara’s films, selected by the filmmakers.

Abounaddara. The Right to the Image conference launches The New School’s public recognition of Abounddara as the recipients of the second Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics in conjunction with an exhibition, a film series, integration into classes across the university, and an upcoming publication.

 

 

Performance Lecture at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg

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A Full Head of STEAMM featuring Mrs. Trixie Cane LIVE! | A Respondent Talk by T.L. Cowan

October 8, 2015 – 7pm to 9pm
Plug In ICA | 460 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Canada

Plug In ICA, in partnership with The Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Winnipeg is pleased to present “A Full Head of STEAMM- Feminist Interventions in Science Technology Engineering Arts Math and Media – Featuring Mrs. Trixie Cane LIVE!” Trixie is the alter ego of artist and academic T.L. Cowan, who has been invited by Plug In ICA and IWGS to respond to the exhibition Mother of This Domain by Aleksandra Domanović.

T.L. Cowan’s research-creation works focus on feminist and queer sensibilities and politics, especially in the contexts of media and performance. Her practice includes persona-based performances, in which she inhabits different characters and identifies. Cowan is also Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies at The New School University.

Cowan is a writer, performer, video-maker, curator and professor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her ongoing performance and video cycles include The Twisted She Project – an inter-medial collaborative collage about perversion, popularity and pathology; the GLITTERfesto: An Open Call For A Revolutionary Movement Of Activist Performance Based On The Premise That Social Justice is Fabulous; and Forgiving Medjugorje – a meditation on sex, religion, reconciliation and money. Her 2013 video and performance I Disown You Right Back, starring her alter ego, Mrs. Trixie Cane, has thrilled audiences internationally. Since getting her start in Vancouver’s raging spoken word scene in the 1990s, T.L.’s work has been featured at MIX NYC, the Opentoe Peepshow, Belladonna*, Sister Spit’s Spoken Word Circus, Montreal’s Edgy Women Festival, Edmonton’s Visualeyez Festival of Performance & Time-Based Art, Loud & Queer, Next Fest, Performance Studies International, Toronto’s Festival of Original Theatre, and the Glastonbury Festival of Music & Contemporary Art.

Plug In ICA thankfully acknowledges the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg for this co-presentation.

As always we are grateful for the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council and Winnipeg Arts Council as well as contribution from our generous donors, valued members and dedicated volunteers.

For general information please contact: info@plugin.org

For media inquiries please contact: Janique Vigier at janique@plugin.org or by telephone at (204) 942-104 ext 27.

https://plugin.org/events/201510/full-head-steamm-featuring-mrs-trixie-cane-live-respondent-talk-tl-cowan

FemTechNet Roadshow Blog Series May 2015

In May 2015, I edited a series of “keyword” blog essays for FemTechNet. Here they are in one place!