In 1983, the same year that Macintosh released their personal computer christened the Lisa, Donna Haraway published The Cyborg Manifesto, a technofeminist battle cry and provocation against the dualism of culture and nature. "We are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system," she reminded us, now more than 30 years ago. In the meantime, technologies have continued to mediate our identities with exponential intensity. Last year, a collective named Laboria Cuboniks updated Haraway's Marxist/social-feminism to our digital era, "a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity [...] A reality cross-hatched with fibre-optic cables. Their collaboratively-penned Manifesto on Xenofeminism (2015) offered strategies to navigate more equitable futures, urging "to seize alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds."
Like these self-proclaimed xenofeminists, artist Juliana Huxtable (b. 1987, Bryan-College Station, Texas) organizes her work around a desire to fashion queer utopias, taking advantage of digital tools while remaining skeptical of the myth that the virtual engenders limitless freedoms. Though her art-making could be described as mostly based on poetry, performance, and self-portraiture, she's also a prolific DJ and party architect, and her nightlife projects are frequently contextualized as a part of her practice. Regardless of the medium, the body and its contested conceptualization are at the forefront of Huxtable's work, and embodied experience is the approach from which she interrogates subjects like history. race, mediation, and memory. Huxtable frequently employs vocal manipulations, like reverb and digital modulation, in her live spoken word performances. These textures remind the audience of the physical properties of the voice speaking, the sound waves that pour from the lungs and throat. The content of Huxtable's poetry similarly works to deconstruct taken-for-granted assumptions. For example, during In Visible Architecture, performed at Artists Space in 2013, she repeats the phrase, "lines as bodies and line bodies Drawing our attention to one of the most simple mediating technologies, lines, Huxtable cautions that nothing is given - Cuboniks' manifesto suggests a consequence of forgetting this: "Like every myth of the given, a stable foundation is fabulated for a real world of chaos, violence, and doubt" With the same aims of disillusioning a semblance of order, throughout Huxtable's work, she references other technologies - xeroxes, textbooks, online encyclopedias, video games-calling attention to material realities that produce knowledge, dismantling the myth that binary gender and colonialist history, for example, are real. In her most comprehensive performance to date, There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed, co-commissioned by MOMA and Performa, first presented in New York (November 2015) and which made its international premiere at the Images Festival in Toronto (April 2016), Huxtable focuses mostly on these histories, untangling myth from fact and making conspicuous the whitewashed histories that pervade popular culture.
In a white Ren-faire gown and painted-on eyebrows, Huxtable takes the stage for There Are Certain Facts looking every bit an angel of history, but a generic history. In period-piece drag or historical cosplay, she inhabits trappings that suggest what Walter Benjamin calls "homogenous empty time," at once imitating and critiquing the cultural products of universal history, her black body implicitly contradicting clips from Hollywood films excerpted and remixed on a screen behind her, movies that misrepresent Egyptians as white and tribespeople from one million B.C. as blue-eyed. In the three-act performance, the materiality of cultural me- mory rubs up against the ephemerality of digital media, pivoting on the central contradiction of history's twin natures, embodied and alienated. "I mean, everyone gets their citations from Wikipedia," Huxtable coos, deadpan and digitally modulated, her voice creaking with vocal fry. "Nobody has time for those corny books in the library... They are so heavy. They make my back sweat With her tone, Huxtable undermines emancipatory narratives, unequivocally heralding a transhumanist future free of moistened shirts underneath heavy backpacks.
In the second act of the performance, Huxtable narrates the anxious exasperation of digital ephemeralities suggesting the necessity of having somewhere to store data and locate one's identity. A glitchy Tron-like blue animation of her face is projected on a screen behind her, as she performs a series of voicemail messages- "Hi Geo, it's me again." Tumultuous drums and scree- ching violin performed live by collaborators Joseph Heffernan and Sadaf H. Nava further undermine the stresses of flailing in hyper-reality, trapped in a netherworld, neither totally physical or digital. Again Huxtable's strategies for illustrating our current predicament align her with Cuboniks' manifesto, in which the collective asserts, "rather than arguing for the primacy of the virtual over the material, or the material over the virtual, xenofeminism grasps points of power and powerlessness in both, to unfold this knowledge as effective interventions in our jointly composed reality"
The interplay of the virtual and the material is vital both to how Huxtable describes her personal coming-of-age experience as well as to her hybrid attempts at building communities. In Universal Crop Tops for All the Self Canonized Saints of Becoming, a series of four inkjet prints, two poems and two self-portraits, commissioned for the New Museum 2015 Triennial Surround Audience, Huxtable suggests the echo chamber between corporeal matter and virtual representation is both fantasy and nightmare. At once, Huxtable refers to a new-universal experience of self-becoming in a hybrid digital age, but also speaks to her specific experiences as a Black trans woman, simultaneously internalizing gender policing and icons like Missy Elliot, narrating the fractured reality of riding the subway while listening to mixes through headphones, creating new worlds through the pastiche of lyrics and beats. Chronicling her mediated experiences as a body outside of oppressive reigning norms, Huxtable puts the natural/artificial and di- gital/material binaries in conversation, emphasizing the vested interest women, queers, gender-non-conforming, differently-abled, and non-white people all have in reconfiguring our current cultural hegemonies.
While Huxtable's poetry and performances suggest the urgency for these reconfigurations, she also enacts her own interventions through nightlife happenings. Her #SHOCKVALUE parties, for example, rely on the meshing of Internet and IRL cultures, the digital spaces where they are promoted and archived and the physical places where they take place. Huxtable is skeptical of virtual utopian dreams, sensitive to how they can become nightmares, but not resigned to the potentials that can be embodied.