Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces
Monday, May 10, 2010
Blog by Sharon Lin Tay, co-curator of Map Open Space for FLEFF Open Space 2010 and author of Women on the Edge: Twelve Political Film Practices
Sharon Daniel, Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California in Santa Cruz, is the creator of Blood Sugar, a "new media documentary" that won Map Open Space's Curators' Prize for Design.
Blood Sugar http://bloodandsugar.net is an audio archive of conversations with current and former injection drug users whom Daniel met at a needle exchange in a HIV prevention programme in 2000. Here, she engages in a conversation with one of the curators of Map Open Space about the context around, and inspiration for, Blood Sugar.
SLT: How do you see Blood Sugar as intervening in the traditional form of the political documentary?
SD: I see myself as a “context provider,” as opposed to a “content provider and I think of the work I do as a form of “new media documentary.” When I engage with a group of participants and collect their stories – I act as both ethnographer and information architect – designing the structure of a database that both circumscribes and describes a “site” of socio-economic and political experience.
Rather than building a single road across that site to get from point A to point B (or the beginning of an argument to its resolution as a traditional political documentarian might) I attempt to map out an extensive area – say, 100 square miles – then design an interface that will set the viewer down within the boundaries of this territory.
This would allow her to find her own way, to navigate a difficult terrain, to become immersed in it, and, thus, to have a transformative experience -- the kind of transformative experience that only occurs when one steps out of context in order to experience the world from a perspective radically different than one’s own.
SLT: What inspired you to tackle this aspect of social injustice?
SD: In 2001 I lived in an artists’ live/work space in east Oakland. There was an HIV prevention program down the street that ran an open needle exchange three nights a week.
I believed in the efficacy of needle exchange. I was intrigued by the paradoxical, outsider-subject of addiction, the messy socio-political borderline between dependence on licit and illicit drugs, the mystery and violence of the needle. I volunteered at the exchange. Eventually I started to interview people who came to the tent site to swap needles.
I got to know one of the women rather well – the woman that I call A____ in Blood Sugar. The needle exchange was the last frayed layer of the social safety net for someone like A____. I learned a lot from her about the third world inside the first. I learned that the realities of poverty, racism, social isolation, trauma, abuse, and discrimination can make a person, even an extraordinarily intelligent person, vulnerable to addiction and psychosis.
I learned a lot from A_____ about desperation and about resilience. I learned that there is another public outside – a secret public that is simultaneously visible and invisible, and to most, illegible and incomprehensible.
The men and women who spoke with me at the needle exchange, and allowed me to record our conversations, are part of this secret public. They deserve to be heard and understood. The accounts they gave me were not natural, objective descriptions of an unambiguous reality. None of the addicts I met at the exchange presented the identity of the “righteous dopefiend”.
On the contrary, each began with a kind of confession of weakness or disease. The messy details of each life history would then unfold according to the syntax and grammar of the disease-and-recovery discourse that is learned in the kind of quasi-theraputic setting where we met. But the fact that the telling is inflected by its context does not mean that the lived experience related is any less real, or powerful, or deserving of attention.
It is this innovative mode of documentary making, displacing linear and temporal storytelling in favour of organising the complexities of social justice in virtual space, that drew the Map Open Space curators to Sharon Daniel's Blood Sugar. Please view the piece here <http://bloodandsugar.net> and let us know what you think.