Buffalo(ve) is a multimedia collaborative installation. The lightbox is equipped with an unnamed map of the neighborhood around the Crane Branch Library in Buffalo, New York, which library patrons are invited to contribute their own names to. During the course of the installation, a new clear layer on top of the map is added every few days to give more people the opportunity to share and contribute, as well as create a literally layered archaeology of names that local people give to the landscape around them.
Naming is essentially a social practice, and inscribes values and ideas about a place onto the literal physical landscape. A function of conquest, discovery, and historicization, naming places is usually left up to the strongest, history’s “winners.” However, many places hold secret caches of names — whether they’re what the indigenous people used to call a nearby river, or the name your daughter first gave the grocery store, or a made-up language all your own. Many of these names get lost as people age, die, or move away. Buffalo(ve) is an attempt to preserve some of the hidden, personal, or inscrutable names that we give to our city.
The name Buffalo(ve) comes from a piece of graffiti in a local bathroom, but it also is a nod at the apocryphal origins of the name of the city itself. Supposedly, when French explorers first laid eyes on the Niagara River, they called it “beau fleuve,” or beautiful river. Other legends suggesting the origins of Buffalo’s name exist. While the truth may be unknowable, these conflicting accounts can coexist, just as many layers of personal names may coexist on the Buffalo(ve) map.
Thanks to Buffalo ReUse, Sugar City Arts Collaborative, Aimee Buyea, Jodi Pfister, Katrina Boemig, Matt Kantar, Chris Siano, Crane Branch Library, Beth Lewitzky, Peter Lisker, and Alicia Paolucci for their indispensable help with this project.
play/share beyond/in was a pervasive game project for the Beyond/In Western New York 2010 exhibition, Alternating Currents. The goal of the game was to get players, who might not normally think that a biennial art exhibition has things of interest to them, to visit Beyond/In Western New York 2010 venues, all while exploring the alternate, hidden, or forgotten history of Buffalo, New York. play/share beyond/in is a project of the Intermedia Performance Studio, and we received generous funding from the Digital Humanities Initiative at Buffalo and Beyond/In Western New York 2010. We received sponsorship from the Copy Store in downtown Buffalo, Deeplocal, Inc., Squeaky Wheel Media Arts Center, Hallwalls Contemporay Arts Center, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Albright Knox Art Gallery, and the Departments of Media Study and Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo.
Documentation photographs by Porsche Jones.
On the project, I served first as the community manager, and then as the lead designer and project manager. I was responsible for creative decision-making, coordinating the team, website upkeep, as well as working with the Beyond/In Western New York 2010 education committee and curators on integrating the game with artworks in the exhibition. Initially, I worked under Associate Professor Josephine Anstey; beginning with the fall semester of 2010, I took over the project.
“It was a constantly engaging way to discover parts of the city that even a couple of longtime residents hadn’t seen.” – Colin Dabkowski
The first incarnation of the game occurred during the Buffalo Infringement Festival. My team for this version included members of the University at Buffalo Department of Media Study summer course on pervasive games I taught with Josephine Anstey. This incarnation was a one-day event, launching at 10 on a Saturday and wrapping that afternoon. We hosted eight teams, comprising approximately thirty players, who created photos and video to document their journey around Allentown, Scajaquada, and downtown Buffalo. You can read a review and see media here.
Player photos by Jim Caughill, Katy Brown, Jim Caughill.
The second incarnation was a two-week long event during the first month of Beyond/In Western New York. My team expanded from the pervasive games course members to include collaborators from the Department of Media Study and the Department of Visual Studies. We hosted a dozen teams comprising more than fifty players, who created a variety of media including photographs and video. The play area was also greatly expanded, including sites in South Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as some previously used sites. These included venues for Beyond/In Western New York, with missions that required players to enter the venues, see and interact with the artwork, and document their visits. Winners took home prize packs from Squeaky Wheel Media Arts Center, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Albright Knox Art Gallery. You can read some media coverage here, an interview with me here, and see player media here.
New Cyborg Politics is an ongoing series of performance/theoretical works that engage issues of gender, sexuality, power, and identity formation in a world in flux. Using Donna Haraway’s cyborg theory as an anchor to examine transgender identities, and grounding the theoretical text in personal stories about my lived experiences, I aim to jailbreak important critical discourses from jargon and excessive complexity. Episode One of New Cyborg Politics (“Cyborg Theory, Cyborg Practice”) has appeared as both a performance/lecture and an art book. Episode Two, “Technologies of the Self” is currently in development.
Cyborg Theory, Cyborg Practice
“In a most intelligent narrative, Mak described inner feelings…in this keen evolution of being.” – Elena Cala Buscarino
At the ninth Pecha Kucha Buffalo, I presented a short theoretical paper accompanied by a series of photographs taken by my friend and collaborator, Shasti O’Leary Soudant. The text was adapted and published in Electric Literature‘s blog, The Outlet. Shasti is also working on a hardcover monograph, featuring her photographs and the text of my lecture.
For those who are unfamiliar, Pecha Kucha is a lecture series originally organized by graphic designers in Japan. The idea is that each artist or designer gets 20 20-second slides (amounting to 6:40) to show and explain their work. By cutting out the small talk, audiences get intimately familiar with the work of Pecha Kucha presenters in a very short amount of time. To get a sense of the presentation, view the video of the talk below.
Technologies of the Self
Read the most current draft of this essay here.
In the spring of 2010, Olivier Delrieu-Schulze and I decided to run for President and Vice-President of the Graduate Student Association. Our goals in running were various, but one of the major reasons I chose to pursue office was a sense that the GSA can and should do more as an advocacy organization than it already is. The GSA is a remarkable opportunity for students to affect the way their money is spent. Running for office is a process that engages a number of different sensibilities, skills, and strengths.
One of the remarkable things I discovered while engaging with this formalized, bureaucratic process was that I constantly was thinking of ways that the rules and procedures are a very serious game. While we have specific policy points that deal with the content of the GSA’s activities, I couldn’t help but think about the rulesets that govern what can and can’t be done in the organization. For the most part, the GSA follows the sketch of a parliamentary democracy. Due to the limitations of the academic year, there are some important changes that had to be made to the parliamentary model. What is most interesting to me is the lack of engagement with the framework and ruleset itself — technically, the GSA was founded as a body completely independent of the university. The source of most of our problems during the campaign season may be attributed to an outdated ruleset that had to be hastily repaired.
I find the idea of student government compelling here and now because we can build a model of how the world could function. By thinking broadly about the culture and structure of organizations, as well as more specifically about issues that affect graduate students’ daily lives, such as financial support for conferences, racism on campus, and how best to nurture interdisciplinarity, the GSA is an incredible laboratory to work on building a better world.
Our collected papers, ephemera, and reflections are currently being compiled into an archival website. We don’t want to make these papers public until we’ve created a comprehensive archive, and the results have been made official.
The campaign process was arduous and difficult, with the results of the original polling contested by our opponents. Their complaints bounced the election to the hands of the Student-Wide Judiciary, which ruled that the election results be overturned due to evidence of bias on the part of the election committee. We appealed the decision, and while our appeal was granted, we were forced to re-run the election anyway. The second election results led to Olivier winning the presidency. I lost the vice-presidency.
Nevertheless, running for office was a crucial step in effecting a major change in the attitudes of graduate students toward their government. I remain active in the Senate, where I am pushing for increased engagement. I serve as the chair of the Social Justice committee and am working to advance our agenda in the legislature.
Campaign photos by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.
re/medation is a simple locative media game based on the childhood game of Red Light, Green Light. I got the idea to send groups of players on a mission to interact with as many people as possible on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus because it’s big, barren, and appears to be a series of corridors. There is very little space on campus for public gathering.
In preparation for this game, I did a photographic study of the campus. You can view the best of the photographs in a Google map here.
As a commuter school built after the student riots that took place here in 1970, there was an intentional attempt to keep that kind of violence from occurring again. Unfortunately, the design principles used to achieve these preventative measures also killed much of the kind of open space typical of the American university, which is an essential component of campus civic life. Evidence of this in the evolution of the campus’s physical master plan, which was initially devised in the late 60s and shifts as time progresses.
The game requires players to subscribe to a SMS feed controlled by a game master, who calls “red light” or “green light” just like the childhood game. When the light is green, they can move. When the light is red, they must freeze. The major difference is that, instead of reaching the caller as fast as possible, teams of players must reach the caller with the biggest team. They may use up to, but no more than, the amount of time allotted, or else their team is disqualified.
Not only do re/medation‘s rules cause a bit of a stir with large groups of people roaming around and freezing at seeming random intervals, it also requires players to talk to the people around them — and in order to win, talk to people they may have never met before.
re/medation was run as a project for Stephanie Rothenberg’s Designed Play course. Video stills courtesy of Alice Alexandrescu.
A team attempts to recruit new players in Knox Hall
A team freezes in the hallway between Knox and the Union
Tim Scaffidi and I worked together for a semester on a series of projects creating electronic devices that respond to the capacitance of the human beings and consumer electronics in ordinary space. During the course of development, we experimented with sensor design, reactive systems, and home circuit board etching.
The projects began as a wearable galvanic skin response necklace. Using Arduino boards and conductive fabric, we created a pair of devices that were effective, but clunky. A thorough write-up of the project can be found here.
One of the discoveries we made during this process was that the necklaces lit up even if we didn’t wear them, or the sensor pads had no contact with our skin. Clearly, they were not just reacting to the conductivity change in our skin, but also the static electricity associated with our bodies — our own natural capacitance. As a result, we decided that the next stage should be to create stand-alone capacitance sensors.
The result — which was built without the Arduino board — were tiny sensors that could be placed anywhere. We began referring to them as “bugs,” because the exposed transistors made them resemble insects, and their antennae made it seem that they had long tails.
While we thought the creatures were really beautiful, and in some ways an exciting personal object, our final goal was focused on bringing them more fully into a space. There were a number of new design considerations that we had to take into account for the final version. In order to stabilize the somewhat fragile bugs to allow us to suspend them in space, I did a little research into circuit board etching.
I discovered that it was inexpensive and fairly easy to etch your own circuit boards at home, and learning the skills as well as the mastery of the materials were very appealing to us. A detailed writeup of how we did it can be found here. You can also watch us etch our hearts out, as well as install the final product (below).
The Naked Riot was a collaborative zine project from the group of friends and activists who I hung out with in Ann Arbor during my junior and senior years of college. I’m posting the PDFs of the zine here for posterity; they can also be found at the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP).
As a GSEU shop steward and university community member, I’ve taken a significant role in organizing in the Defend Our Education Coalition. Our website, buyindontsellout.org, as well as most of the content, is written, designed, and maintained by me. I cull relevant news stories, write briefs on current issues, and administer our discussion forums.
The Defend Our Education Coalition is part of a nationwide student movement to resist the corporatization of higher education. The Coalition is comprised of student groups from the State University of New York at Buffalo, as well as Buffalo State College. In addition to student groups, the United University Professions Buffalo chapter, the SUNY faculty union, has officially endorsed our actions. Individuals and groups from across the SUNY system are welcome to join us — read more on our website, and get in touch if you are interested in endorsing our activities.