Kin Web Series

Hello from the field, literally and figuratively. I am writing from my territories where I’ve been hunkered down with a manuscript (and healing) for the last month. And, if you can’t tell by the delicate #aesthetic pumpkins in one of the following photos, which confirm my assent into the auntie circle, I’ve been feeling festive this fall. This post already feels like an homage to LiveJournal, non? Remember LiveJournal? Remember DeadJournal? I think I still have one of both out there (but I’ll leave that for the internet historians).

The Indigenous Digital Humanities (IDH) Lab has been hard at work connecting the early networks that will comprise its System, Hubs, and Constellations. We are particularly excited to finally announce our first set of collaborators and community partnerships that help will define our first Hub. But before I move on, it occurs to me that you, dear reader, might be wondering what all these words mean in this context: Hub? Constellation? IDH?! Let me elaborate.

What is IDH?

The IDH Lab is situated in the Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) and the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University. IDH is a Digital Humanities (DH) Lab for all the Others. IDH operates through and understanding that Indigenous digital visual cultures, new media, and Indigenous technologies have under-represented the perspectives of queer and trans folks, #MeToo era feminists, and other knowledge producers who don’t fit the perfect image of the resurgent and “traditional” NDN performed for a non-Indigenous spectatorship. This is a Lab for NDNs who know that representation of Indigenous peoples in the future isn’t enough. This is a Lab for NDNs who only ever seem to be represented in the future, as if we don’t exist in the present. This is a Lab for NDNs who aren’t gamers, but still want to collaborate beyond physical and virtual boundaries in digital media and tech.

The tendency in DH scholarship when approaching Indigenous perspectives is to retroactively place Indigenous new media and digital art practices from the 1990s into contemporary understandings of DH histories, and/or call for increased representations of Indigenous peoples in the disseminations of the field. The problem with the former is that early new media and digital makers, creators, and historians—and later generations of Indigenous peoples who carried forward the legacy of their methodological frameworks—defined their movements by their refusal of the colonial temporality infused into early digital spaces, technologies, and histories. Further, these spaces were forged alongside international visual art institutions and, therefore, aligned with art industries in the development and dissemination of their work (as opposed to a community of DH practitioners). Amending histories in DH to retroactively include Indigenous new media practitioners and digital artists, and/or positioning Indigenous digital creators and makers not as producers of moments in DH history but as objects of study within already established discourses of DH, is settler temporal, not Indigenous temporal, DH scholarship.

Historically, DH discourse has been deeply rooted in exclusionary tech-speak and protocols, and has facilitated the emergence of a field-wide postmodern abstraction naturalized within the discourses of DH that can make practitioners, at times, cagily inattentive to the material dimensions of the field. In the image of capitalist and colonizing tech industries—driven by systems of extraction that perpetuate domination over the land, and a production over people model that exploits human labour—feminist DH scholars have argued that the men-dominated fields of technology and research about technology have been coded with masculinist computational methods.

The IDH Lab addresses the colonial underpinning of DH scholarship and DH technologies as ultimately STEMing from a multi-pronged system of coloniality that operates through modes of patriarchy and masculinism, that evolved alongside Western expansion and Enlightenment, and afforded Man, alone, the divine right of God to produce knowledge and its co-related human centricity. Yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, this Lab is a posthumanist Lab and it considers the technologies we work with to be animate and potential kin.

DH can also provide a limitless utopia for an emerging, multi-generational movement of Indigenous creators and makers working in digital visual cultures and with technologies, who feel pushed out of the ever-precarious fields that compose fine art and often put profit over people. And these movements are pointing to the multiple knowledges, methods, and materials that they require to weave together a sense of self and people, when they were forced out of community and ceremony. DH can encompass the fluid and multimedia methods that our collaborators work within: networks of writers, artists, makers, content creators, and more! DH can provide a place for the Others, all we who have been without a disciplinary home because our bodies are too much.

This is a Lab that will be built and led by Indigenous makers and creators. This is a Lab that will not be led by the interests of extractive industries that exploit Indigenous makers, creators, and (world)builders. This is a Lab for de-centralizing modes of power in the technologies we infuse our ontologies with. This is a Lab for appendages, pleasure machines, feminist AI and a whole world of sapphic ecologies and possible technologies. This is a Lab for the future, including the future of tech. Importantly, this Lab follows in the footsteps of our big siblings and kin, queer and trans DH, to meet Indigenous digital humanists in the technologies they are working in.

What is the IDH CHART?

What can we say? Lesbians get things done. Queer ecologies have informed queer networks and technologies. Consider, won’t you, the numerous hookup apps that have been built for gay men that emulate the cruising subcultures that have been developing in back alleys, mall bathrooms, and parks for decades. But, imo, there has never been a successful and safe version of these hookup apps for lesbians, queers, and trans folks. One short lived dream of developing such a digital space was, made in the image of THE CHART: a fictional lesbian network contained in the mind of The L Word‘s token bisexual character Alex Piezecki.

In retrospect, The L Word approached Latinx, Black, bisexual, and trans storylines in appalling violent manners and likely informed my own normalization of intimate violence within lesbian communities. But, for a few blissfully ignorant years around 2005, which is coincidentally when I was “coming out” (and before I knew how bogus that concept was to me personally or that I am not, in fact, a lesbian), The L Word was a cultural reset.

THE CHART was a nebulous of romantic relationships between bisexual women, queers, and lesbians that started as a drawing on a chalk board in Alice’s office, who depicted a wild web of arrows and names all circulating around figures, such as resident player and toxic masc Shane. An emulation of a galaxy or a spider’s web of intimate connection, THE CHART represented a lesbian ecology that matched those I recognized from my own communities at the time. THE CHART represented temporaries of sapphic refusal, built outside of a cis-centric and masculist ordering of the world that felt so constraining to me as a youth living in Regina, SK. Damian Bellino and Anne Rodeman called THE CHART a visual and digital representation of “the complex relationships within a chosen queer family.” Life would come to imitate art when the series’ creator Ilene Chaiken launched an advertiser supported social networking site for lesbians and their networks.

The IDH CHART uses the language of THE CHART—System, Hub, and Constellation—to acknowledge a legacy of queer ecologies that have influenced the ethics and practices of DH practitioners who will work with IDH. The IDH CHART is made in the image of queer ecologies like THE CHART, which have been and continue to be important to Indigenous peoples who have not yet seen themselves extensively represented in Indigenous visual cultures, literatures about the present, and film and television. At its ideal, THE CHART shows how networks should not be performed for institutions and spectatorships; they should be intimate and defined through shared and specific temporalities. And, if we can take anything from the pitfalls of an identity-based movement like lesbian communities, that flattened difference in the early 2000s and thereby reinforced modes of power, THE CHART shows that intimate networks should never be monetized and aligned with the never ceasing tick of capitalism.

Hub 1: Digital Imaging

We are excited to be in the process of building our first constellations of collaborators around our first Hub: Digital Imaging. Last week, IDH was lucky to be asked to pitch a web series that our newly formed production collective has been developing at ImagineNative Industry Days. ImagineNative is the largest international Indigenous film festival and digital media space, and is hub of activity each October for Indigenous creative communities internationally. Before I get into Digital Imagining and the web series, I want to discuss the above drawing of our IDH CHART that will represent our evolving network of collaborative creators and makers.

THE CHART is not the only instance of intimately made objects that represent queer ecologies of refusal. During the 1990s riot grrrl zine movement, young women defined the temporality of their movements by handwriting zines, photo copying them, and handing them out at punk shows. There has been an enduring legacy to zine culture and queer zine fairs are still held yearly in metropolises across Canada and the US. In fact, I started my own writing practice and creative networks when tabling queer fairs with my now defunct zine distro Critical Sass Press.

The early video monologues of Thirza Cuthand, IDH collaborator, feel similar to a perzine—a zine about the personal experiences of its author—dealing with the isolation of living in Saskatoon as an NDN lesbian in the late 1990s. There was something empowering about the DIY/zine culture that was percolating throughout lesbian feminist spaces in the 1990s, at least partially influenced by a legacy of third-wave and riot grrrl feminism. This affect is reinforced at the end of Thirza Cuthand’s short film Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory when Hole plays over credits that are scribbled on loose-leaf paper and then taken away one at a time by hand. The credits end with Cuthand closing her hot pink binder with a sticker on the outside the reads “dyke visibility.”

Cuthand was isolated in her room, using new media as a means of sending her post-reality monologues into the world, hoping and praying for connection. These are the forms of intimacies and legacies that IDH references with our early handwritten webs representing our ever evolving networks and collaborations that represent an intimate network of collaborative kin. In the image of the feminist and queer ecologies that influenced IDH networks, the IDH CHART will grow organically, through forms of kinship, over time, and represent real, sustainable relationships between friends, collaborators, and creative networks of IDH makers and creators.

While representation alone should not be a final goal of NDN temporalities, media can provide an initial imaginary for NDN futures, one grounded in processes of communal- and self-transformation, defined through accessible modes of expression, and devised through collaborative methods. Representation in digital visual cultures will be the foundations of the Lab’s early research disseminations wherein we will collaborate with with filmmakers, artists, and curators to produce digital visual cultures that represent diverse and contemporary Two-Spirit and Indigenous queer and trans peoples through four media initiatives.

The first Digital Imaging initiative is Kin, a web series generously funded by ImagineNative and APTN and directed by Cree- Métis director and artist Thirza Cuthand and Métis director Justin Ducharme. The first season will air on the APTN streaming service. The Lab will be home to a production collective that will work towards increased representation of Indigenous queer, trans, and Two-Spirit peoples in media through Kin and future projects.

The second Digital Imaging initiative is @IndigiTikTok, a TikTok channel by and for Indigenous youth, developed by Dene community researcher and University of Denver Ph.D. student Charlie Amáyá Scott. If you haven’t read the charter for the platform yet, you can read it here. Channel takeovers will happen bi-weekly, so take the opportunity to follow now! If you’d like to keep up with what we will be working on over the next several years, also follow our Instagram (@idh_rucdh) and Twitter account (@idh_rucdh).

—Lindsay Nixon

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